I’ll never forget a discussion I had with the parent of a teen girl who was in a class I was teaching. She expressed to me her daughter’s problems with another girl in her class and her suggestions that her daughter simply ignore the other girl. When I brought up the idea of her daughter’s talking with the other girl about her frustrations, the eyes of this churchgoing mom lit up. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “like what the Bible says.”
Judging from her response, the concept of actually applying God’s method of conflict resolution to the situation was far from automatic. Since His ideas are so much better than our own, we really need to do more than just academically know what He thinks: We need to live like we do (Proverbs 14:12, Isaiah 55:9).
In guiding our teens to embrace and apply God’s methods of conflict resolution, we need to start by teaching the basics — both in word and in deed. If we’re not following God’s instructions in our own lives, any words we use are wasted. Without God’s guidelines, we can easily fall back on our own preferences and personality inclinations. Whether our natural (read: sinful) tendencies are to hold frustrations in and avoid interpersonal conflict altogether or to blow up in anger, relieving our own internal pressure while putting others at risk, we need to submit our own propensities to God’s inspired methods of recourse.
In order to discover how we should resolve interpersonal conflicts, we’ll look at several questions and evaluate them according to God’s Word.
Question: Whose responsibility is it?
Short Answer: Yours
Matthew 18 is often overlooked when it comes to “normal” interpersonal conflicts, on the basis that it’s been labeled as being about “church discipline.” While the context definitely assumes that both parties are part of the same local body of believers, it certainly doesn’t mention that the principles laid out there are limited to fellow members of a local church. (Part of that could very well be the far less mobile society during the first century as well as the much more limited number of local bodies of believers.)
Verse 15 clearly states that the one sinned against bears responsibility for addressing the issue: “if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault.” Other passages broaden the idea to include addressing any types of sins in a fellow believer’s life, while still others put the weight of responsibility on the one who has sinned against others. Matthew 5:23-24 indicates that as important as God considers worshiping Him, seeking restitution from others needs to come first. The main idea is this: If you know of or are involved in sin — against God alone or against another person — you need to take responsibility by approaching others involved.