My face burned red. The inside of my forehead was ablaze. My stomach curdled sending pressure through my throat, and, a cacophony of caustic retorts formed in my head. Now to select the right response to start my visceral verbal slaughter; that would show him. Yes, if I could just make him feel how he was making me feel right now.
Brothers have a way of making you feel this way — especially little brothers.
It must be in the instruction manual that comes at birth to later-born siblings: they are masters at getting under someone’s skin. They just know how to take the silliest, most trivial things and turn them into life-or-death conflicts.
This talent for driving a brother up a wall does not end with family conflicts over toys, video games or any form of semi-competitive activity. Unfortunately, the penchant people possess for causing conflict extends to all of us. It can come from bosses, co-workers, parents, grandparents, friends, enemies and so on. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be limited to games and playthings. It extends to trivial emails, micromanaging bosses, passive-aggressive comments, insensitive comments and the like. The causes for conflict are everywhere.
What is truly interesting is that many people run from conflict. Many individuals disdain the very idea of potential conflict. When a situation arises that might cause them to have to address another person causing them some form of distress, they push their frustrations down and persist forward as if nothing happened — leaving the other individual to assume everything is fine. Refusing to acknowledge conflict is a lose-lose. Oftentimes, the person avoiding the pain and frustration that comes with settling a conflict begins to feel even worse. Generally, I think this fear of conflict stems from fear of being able to solve the conflict. It comes from fear of irreconcilable fallout. I believe many people are afraid that a conflict will result in a broken relationship. The problem is that running from conflict is not healthy; in fact, it is not biblical.
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus responds to the disciple’s question about whom the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is. Jesus then begins a discourse on the greatest in heaven. He lays down the values of the kingdom of God. One such value is the proper response when a brother or sister sins against you. Jesus says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
This is pretty straightforward. With all the grace you can pray for, approach the other person about your conflict. If they fail to understand or refuse to accept their fault, bring a third or fourth party with you. What I find especially compelling is the last verse: “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
My Sunday school teachers and even some ministers have explained this away by saying it is time to move on and cut ties. I have even attempted that on more than one occasion. After reading Jesus’ words again, I find cutting ties and moving on not only unsatisfying but also biblically inaccurate. Most people refer to the treatment of others as pagans or tax collectors negatively, but what if you and I stopped and asked how Jesus actually treated pagans and tax collectors? Let’s look and see:
Jesus is quite fond of tax collectors; in fact, He invites one to be one of His disciples, Matthew (Matthew 9:9-12). Jesus also eats dinner with Zacchaeus, an embezzler (Luke 19:1-9). In fact, in each of these passages, Jesus is accused of fraternizing with sinners, and that does not stop Him.
What if when Jesus said, “treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector,” He meant that you should love them unconditionally and lavish them with grace? What if, in the kingdom of God, irreconcilable fallout was an impossibility, because nothing can separate anyone from the love of God?
To “treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector” is to care for them despite their transgressions against you. To separate, to neglect, to disconnect or avoid is not biblical. The picture of the gospel and Christ’s solution for conflict is to persevere in grace.
Jordan Britt is a 2015 graduate of Olivet Nazarene University where he majored in philosophy and religion. He resides in Indianapolis.
- How do you respond when someone sins against you? Does your response match Jesus’ instructions?
- Do you agree with the author’s interpretation of “treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector”? Why or why not?