By Steve Wyatt
“One of us is wrong . . .”
An offense has happened. Right out of the gate, battle lines get drawn. I’m on one side because I believe that the one who is wrong is you. And you’re on the other side, equally convinced that the one who is wrong is me.
Experts (and most commoners too) call this conflict.
From here, it’s not long before things start amping up. Because if the aforementioned conflict is not resolved, both of us will soon start sharing with others a biased account of our squabble.
Two sides are now forming—suspicion and mistrust ensue, with each team seeking evidence to confirm what they’ve already chosen to believe. Exaggeration is the new distortion, as we speak words we will wish we had never said—and also hear words that never were said.
From here, it just gets ugly. Not to mention irreversible. Personal integrities get challenged. The word liar shoots out. Even those who try to resolve and/or referee will take a few lumps as well.
Even If I’m Right, I’m Wrong
Here’s what happens in conflict between two Christians: Either one or both of the combatants quickly drape this conflict in the religious cloak of right vs. wrong. It’s not even close—you are obviously wrong, and I am unequivocally right!
So I decide that the rightness of my position justifies the wrongness of my action (or inaction, depending on what I choose to do or not do about our initial scuffle). Here’s a checklist of what we typically do:
• I conclude that you are wrong, which I clearly feel authorized to do.
• I find an applicable Bible round of ammo, rip it out of context, and slide it into its chamber.
• Then I report your evil wrongness to others. Because if I don’t, others could potentially be “led astray.” So I alert 572 of my closest friends via Facebook.
But once those tasks are done? So am I. My checklist is complete. I’ve done what I feel compelled to do, therefore I’m through. The end. I win!
Or do I?
Not according to the wisest person who ever lived. In fact, Jesus would say that not only am I not finished—I got this deal started entirely wrong. Which means, even if I am right, I am also wrong.
When You’re Wrong
Hang with me: Let’s assume, in our mythical skirmish, that you were the one who was wrong. (I mean, where else could we start? This is my story, so it’s true!)
If you caused this conflict, do you know what Jesus said is the very first thing you’ve got to do?
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23, 24).
If you are wrong, stop whatever you’re doing (even if it’s worship) and go admit the wrong. Don’t dismiss it.
Don’t obfuscate the story. (I just love that word. In other words, like I just did, don’t intentionally make things more difficult to understand.) Also, don’t dodge, defend, or dissect. Instead, come clean and admit the role you played in the conflict.
Restore the wrong; don’t merely regret it. When you know that there is a relational tear in your life and you did it, “leave your gift there” and go make things right.
He didn’t say, “Let things cool a while.” Or, “Give it some time, and she’ll get over it.” Jesus said, “Go! Be reconciled!”
I know what you’re thinking: It won’t matter! He won’t listen or forgive me. That’s not for you to decide. Jesus didn’t say, “Calculate the probabilities and then go with the better odds.” He said, “Go.” Trust God for the outcome.
If you did wrong, you must now do right. You’ve got to swallow the humble pill, lower your defenses, and seek understanding, not just victory.
And even if the one you hurt chooses not to listen—it’s up to you to fix this wrong; don’t just ignore it. “Yeah, but I prayed about this—and God has already forgiven me!” Sorry, but that’s not good enough. Till you make it right with the one you’ve wronged, this deal isn’t done.
When You’re Right
But just so we keep the score square, let’s now assume that you are right and I am wrong. What’s the story then?
Well, before I unpack this, you need to know that this command is (in my humble opinion) the single most abused, neglected, and violated command Jesus ever gave. Which is ironic, because it is abused, neglected, and violated by the same people who claim to love Jesus most of all.
Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15).
Say what? How come when I’m wrong, I have to go? But when you’re wrong, I’m still the one who has to go? That’s not fair!
Take it up with Jesus, because this is his strategy for conflict resolution. Don’t let it fester. Don’t let it brew. Go. Don’t share your “burden” with your small group or Tweet about it—go.
One note: Avoiding confrontation is not love. It’s either apathy because I don’t care enough to do what Jesus says or it’s fear because I’m more afraid of facing you than obeying Jesus.
Three Steps to Follow
So let’s review: In Matthew 5, you were wrong, so you were told to go to me to ask forgiveness. But in Matthew 18, you were right, but you still need to go. Except this time, you go to offer forgiveness.
Jesus mentioned three steps in this process—three simple and inviolable steps.
Step #1: If there’s an offense that someone has done against you resulting in conflict, go to him. Not his small group. Or yours. Go directly to the person you’re struggling with. Go in private, “just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). Don’t write a letter or send a text. Don’t leave a voice mail. This bubbling conflict is personal, so go personally to the one who hurt you.
Step #2: If that doesn’t work, go get help. If he “will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’” (Matthew 18:16). In other words, keep it safe. Bring in a third or fourth party—a respected Christian friend who can bridge the broken trust and guide you back toward healing.
Sure it’s hard! That’s why the apostle Paul said, “Make every effort to keep the unity” (Ephesians 4:3). Because it is an effort. But the effort is worth it—not for the purpose of conflict resolution, but because whenever I follow Jesus’ formula, my own sinfulness gets rooted out and Christ gets formed in me instead.
Step #3: If Step #2 doesn’t work? Go to the church. In the church I serve, that involves seeking the participation of our elders—our God-given leaders who are charged with caring for, watching over, and protecting our flock.
After almost 40 years doing ministry, I’ve witnessed this three-step plan followed to completion only once. Even though, tragically, I’ve seen hundreds of believers go away instead. But when this plan is followed? Unity is protected and the credibility of the church’s witness is maintained.
Who Goes First?
Which leaves just one question: In this conflict between you and me, at least one of us is wrong. So who goes to whom?
Or I do.
We both must.
It really doesn’t matter who goes first—either the hurt-er
or the hurt-ee. Because if what you and I genuinely desire is restoration and healing and unity, then nobody is going to care about who goes when.
Steve Wyatt is a minister and freelance writer in Anthem, Arizona.
5 Things That Stir Up Conflict
• Being critical of others—or yourself.
• Speaking more than you listen.
• Retaliating—actively or passively.
• Keeping a record of past mistakes.
Which ones are most difficult for you to avoid?