EHR 7: Clean Fighting
11/20/2017 10:51:37 PM
November 19, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Matthew 18:15-17
Is reading the Bible important? Do you believe it is important for Christians to actually read the Bible themselves? Has reading the Bible had an impact on your own spiritual life? Have you been drawn closer to God through reading his word?
Did you know that for a long time most Christians did not and could not read the Bible for themselves? For centuries in Europe, the Bible was only available in Latin and, even if it had been available in a local language, most people couldn’t read anyway!
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. In 1517, Martin Luther nailed is 95 theological debate points to the local bulletin board which happened to be the door of the local church! This is traditionally held to mark the beginning of the Reformation.
One of the major emphases of the Reformation was that it was important for people to read the Bible for themselves. Martin Luther partnered with John Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, to publish Bibles in German for the first time! In other countries, there was a huge push to publish the Bible in the local language so people could access scripture themselves. Luther believed that by reading God’s word for themselves, people would be drawn closer to God. I think he was right. Most of us, I suspect, would agree that reading the Bible for ourselves is an important part of Christian growth.
But it wasn’t enough to just publish Bibles in the local language! Most people in those days were illiterate. So literacy became a huge emphasis for the day, throughout much of Europe and certainly everywhere the Reformation was taking hold. Many families didn’t have anybody who could read. So, for example, in England, pastors would connect families together in the church and these families would meet together to read the Bible together. They would also pray and sing and have family worship times together!
A big push in Protestant countries became literacy programs. This wasn’t just an educational emphasis. This was a Christian mission. Why? Because if people were taught to read, they could read the Bible, God’s word, for themselves. They would be drawn closer to God, become Christians if they weren’t already, and grow as Christians once they were converted. It also allowed for the publication and distribution of other theological education material, like commentaries, catechisms and guides for family worship.
The goal was not just education for education’s sake, even though education has a huge positive impact on people. The goal was spreading the good news of Jesus to as many people as possible and helping them grow in the Spirit. The goal was for people to know the gospel personally.
Today, literacy is not a big issue in the West. What is the big issue facing this generation? Our biggest issue is isolation, loneliness, depression and suicide, especially amongst younger generations. Do you think the gospel has any good news for these people? Of course it does! The gospel is about relationships. The good news is that we have a loving God who is eager to restore our relationship with him and, as a result, our relationships with one another. This is powerful stuff for a hurting generation!
The New Family of Jesus (NFJ) is all about relationships and how we have healthy relationships with one another, as well as a healthy relationship with God. The NFJ is about agape love, which is a relationship word. We live in the communication age, but all our technology is only good at conveying words and information. It is not good at building relationships. Our culture needs help learning how to have meaningful relationships! Relationships matter!
And this is where EHR comes in. EHR is not the gospel. It is a specific way of applying the gospel to our culture’s deepest wounds. It does not replace Jesus, it does not replace church, it does not replace the Bible or Bible reading. The skills in EHR can be done in a secular context by secular people. Just like literacy programs can be run by secular people in a secular way.
However, when we do EHR with Jesus and his work in us as our foundation, then these skills are
profoundly different, just as literacy with the purpose of introducing people to God’s word is profoundly different than just teaching people to read. It’s like food aid being done by a Christian organization in the name and character of Christ or a secular organization. Or, similarly, addiction recovery programs can be secular, or can be Christ-centred. Teen Ranch, a Christian addiction program, has a ridiculously high success rate, especially compared to secular attempts at the same thing. So, too, EHR when done with Jesus as the foundation is profoundly more effective than secular versions of teaching relationship skills.
In Canada, we need relationship skills like food aid in a drought stricken land. But more than just needing “relational food aid,” we need “relational food aid” based on Jesus. Yes, relationship skills will help everybody in our generation. But if we want to have a true impact, a lasting impact, an eternal impact, we need relationship skills whose foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord who is working in our hearts to change us and renew us to be like him.
During the Reformation, to know the word of God required a huge emphasis on literacy. Today, to know the love of God requires a huge emphasis on relationship skills.
One area in particular in which we really need help with relationship skills is conflict. That is the EHR skill we are going to talk about today: clean fighting. Most of us learned bad fighting habits in our families growing up. Even if we have tried to overcome some of those bad habits, we have likely exchanged them for other bad habits! Clean fighting is a very introductory approach to conflict and fighting. But even as an introduction, it is challenging! This just goes to show how much help we need.
Clean fighting is primarily about not fighting dirty. Fighting dirty includes things like sarcasm, the silent treatment, sabotaging the relationship through passive aggressive behaviour, controlling, blame shifting, violence and contempt. These are the kinds of habits many of us grew up with and sometimes we even think we are “keeping the peace” when we fall into them, like the silent treatment.
Scripture, on the other hand, has a lot to say about conflict. Last week, for example, we looked at Ephesians 4 and Matthew 7, using CS Lewis’ example of a fleet of ships trying not to bump into one another and keeping their own vessels in “ship shape.” We talked about “climbing the ladder of integrity” to see what is going on inside us when we find ourselves bumping into somebody else.
Today, we are looking at a famous but often poorly applied passage in Matthew 18. But first, a bit of context: Leading up to our passage, Matthew includes 3 stories of self-denial. Matthew tells us about Jesus paying the temple tax even though he should have been exempt from it. He did this for the sake of relationships, so as not to be a scandalous offense to others. Then there is the discussion about “who is the greatest?” Jesus says the greatest is like a child, humble and obedient. Third, Jesus warns that is your arm or eye causes you to stumble, causes a relationship rift between you and God, then cut it off or gouge it out! Why? Because your relationship with God is more important than living without an arm or eye. All three of these are examples of denying oneself for the sake of relationships.
Right before our passage, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, how the shepherd will leave behind 99 sheep for the sake of finding 1 lost sheep and returning the sheep to safety. Our passage is a practical application of what it looks like to go after a lone lost sheep!
Please read with me Matthew 18:15-17.
What it Says
As I mentioned, this passage is how we apply the parable of the lost sheep! I had never made that connection before! It opens with the scenario that a brother has sinned against you, or (as some ancient manuscripts have it) a brother who has sinned period. Our text is followed by a related teaching and parable on forgiveness. Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother who has sinned against him? The standard of the day was likely 3 times. Peter, being generous, suggests 7 times! Jesus says 77 times!
Notice that Jesus says “a brother” has sinned against you. The brother is a member of the Christian community. This is not the lesson about when a non-believer sins against you! Similarly, Paul says that those in the church should not judge the world outside the church. That’s God’s job. Our concern is those within the fellowship of believers, not outside. (1 Cor 5:12)
When a brother sins against us, Jesus says we are to go to him! Wow! In the New Family of Jesus, I am
my brother’s keeper! I have a responsibility to my fellow Christian who has sinned. I have a responsibility to go to them to restore them, to show them their sin so that they can be won over.
Paul reiterates this in Gal 6:1, which says that when a brother is caught in sin, those who have received the Spirit are to restore him gently, being careful not to become ensnared in sin themselves through the process. Actually, this idea has much older roots as well. In Leviticus 19:17-18, which Jesus quotes in part as the most important law in the OT, the Israelites are taught that they have a responsibility to one another that includes correcting and reproving a brother who is sinning. Otherwise, they may bring condemnation on themselves! Our responsibility to brothers and sisters in the faith is important! Relationships matter!
The situation Jesus is talking about is one in which a brother has “sinned” against you. This is not a question of “offended” you, but actually sinned against you. This means a clear violation of Jesus’ commands.
What are we responsible to do? We are to go to our brother! We are not to wait for them to see the light and come to us. The initiative is ours to go to them! This is just like last week’s passage in Eph 4:3. We are to make every effort to go to them to keep the bond of peace.
This is where basing all of this on Jesus is so important. Jesus didn’t wait for us to come to him. He came to us (that first Christmas!) when we had sinned against him! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us! So what are we to do, especially if we are supposed to be growing in likeness to Jesus? We are to go to the one who has sinned against us!
What are we to do when we go to them? What are we to show them? That we are right and they are wrong? No! We are to show them their sin so that we can win them over. The word for “show” means to hash it out with them, to correct them, to expose the sin. This is in the hope that they will see their sin for what it is! This means not being too harsh, nor taking their sin too lightly.
We are to go to them alone so as not to spread gossip. We are to do this privately for their honour and reputation, not to put them on the spot or shame them. We are to have their well-being in mind, not just our goal of showing them what they did was wrong!
And what is the goal of our visit? Our confrontation? The goal is not to win, but to win him over! We are not confronting our brother to put him in his place. We are not there to get revenge. We are not there to shame him or put him in his place. These are our typical motives for confrontation! Instead, we are to win him over.
Win is a missionary word. The unrepentant Christian is the lost sheep from the previous parable! They are lost and need rescuing and it is our responsibility to go on that rescue mission.
Now, let me tell you, that is not my usual attitude in conflict! That is rarely my goal in an argument! And I doubt it’s yours either. Rarely have I witnessed a confrontation or conflict in which the confronting party was this “other-centred.” This is pretty radical stuff! But Jesus usually had radical stuff to say about sin and relationships. This is a practical explanation or example of what it means to speak the truth in love.
The goal in Christian confrontation is that the brother repents. That is, that they turn their trajectory back to God and are restored to a right relationship with him! This is contrary to our own goals most of the time. Usually we want to be vindicated, proven right, or even just to get an apology!
This is where it may not matter if the brother has sinned “Against you” or just “sinned.” The goal is repentance. The sheep that has wandered away needs rescuing. That rescue looks like repentance and reconciliation with God!
So what happens if it doesn’t work? What happens if we cannot convince them of their sin? What if they brush us off, disagree or dismiss us? Well, we’re not done then. We go and find 1 or 2 others. What do we do with them? We take them with us. Why? So we have “back up”? So we can intimidate the brother? No! The goal is that they will also try to win him over. Notice it says, “if he will not listen to them.” They are trying to win him over. You are there, but they are the ones doing the talking! The extra people are there to persuade, not to punish the wayward brother.
It’s important to point out, too, that you have to explain the situation to the 1 or 2 others and it is implied that they agree with your assessment that the brother has sinned. Sometimes, when we go to other people, we are the ones who need correction! Maybe we were wrong about the brother. So it is implied that these 1 or 2 others agree, that they see the sin and their goal is the restoration of the brother.
What is they are unable to convince him? Then you escalate things to the whole community, the whole
fellowship. Again, there must be consensus within the fellowship that this brother has sinned. The whole congregation, the whole fellowship then tries to win him over! They are not there to exercise “church discipline” but rather “church outreach” to the brother. Their goal is the same- to win him over again.
And what if, even in the face of the whole fellowship, the wayward brother still refuses to repent? Then, and only then, you are given permission to give up on reconciliation. As a last resort, you can treat him as a Gentile or tax collector. That is, you are allowed to shun him, put him in relationship quarantine, to ostracize him.
Take note, though, that the “you” here is singular. It’s not the whole church who shuns him, just you! This is especially relevant if he sinned against you. This is your personal allowance not to continue to fellowship with this person.
What It Means
So what does all this mean? First, who is my brother? In the NFJ, all Christians are your brother! Remember, this is not Jesus’ command on how to relate to non-believers. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says we are to turn the other cheek when an outsider strikes us, very much a sin against us! (I would suggest, as well, that if a person in the NFJ strikes your cheek you should turn the other cheek in the moment and then, when you’ve cooled off, approach him to win him over!)
The brother you confront you are to confront gently in love with the goal of restoration of the relationship. Relationships matter in the NFJ! When we are baptised into the NFJ, our brother’s life is our business! This is because it matters to the church’s witness, to Jesus’ glory as well as to the individual’s salvation! It is not ok to stand on the side lines and watch a fellow believer continue on in sin, making a train wreck of their Christian walk.
This passage shows us that we are to treat our brother seriously as a person, and also very carefully! We are to keep in private. We are to be sensitive. We are to be other-centred, even in conflict. (How often are we other-centred in our arguments and fights?)
Our goal, on all 3 levels of confrontation, alone, with 1 or 2 others, or with the church, is always to be the restoration of the fallen brother. Our purpose is always reconciliation and repentance. That is, our goal is always that they come back to a right relationship with God and with one another.
To be honest, this is rarely the case in Christian circles! Some confrontation is more sinful than the sin it confronts! Too often our confrontation is shameful. It is angry, self-centred and aimed at tearing the other person down, or proving ourselves right, rather than restoring the other person to a right relationship with God and with us.
How radically different would it be if the NFJ was known for conflict centred on reconciliation and restoration? What a reputation we would have! And it would have a radical effect on the world around us.
In step 1, our attitude should be that the other person is unaware of their sin, or at least the sinful aspect of their action. We must assume it was unintentional. Then, our goal will be to show them in the hopes of drawing them to repentance. Remember the lost sheep parable! Here it is applied. This is how we go after the lone sheep.
In order to go after the lost sheep well, though, we need to do some preparation work ourselves. Before confrontation comes forgiveness! Too often we go into confrontation having not forgiven the other person. This means we go in “hot” and angry, trying to prove we are right and they are wrong, trying to wrestle an apology out of them, or retribution of some kind.
But Jesus says we are to forgive those who trespass against us. He doesn’t say we are to forgive those who have apologized to us, who are repentant towards us, who have admitted their wrongdoing to us!
To be honest, this is a big struggle for me. Not just in application, but in theory too. I wrestle with how forgiveness and repentance are related. Are we to forgive people who aren’t sorry? Does God forgive us if we don’t repent? This I wrestle with. But, I think the testimony of Scripture is that we are to forgive all wrongs against us, even those not repented of! Forgiveness is on us alone. Forgiveness is unilateral. Reconciliation, in contrast, is bi-lateral. Reconciliation involves both parties and therefore requires repentance. That is what this text is about.
But there are numerous other texts about forgiving on our own. For instance, the Lord’s Prayer, forgive us as we forgive! And the passage following ours, Peter asks how many times must he forgive? Peter just says his brother has sinned against him, not that the brother has apologized! This is challenging stuff!
So how do we forgive first? How do we get over our own hurt and offense in order to approach the brother well? I suggest we do a “Ladder of Integrity” first to identify which parts of this conflict are ours, which parts are our own particular hurts or “emotional buttons.” When we do a ladder of integrity exercise first, it helps us identify our feelings, and what, specifically, the sin is we are confronting!
This is difficult stuff! Forgiveness is hard alone. Reconciliation is even harder sometimes! Here Jesus gives us guidelines on when it is ok not to be reconciled to someone. We are allowed to let the relationship go, to shun the other person, when we have tried this hard to reconcile 3 times, bringing it to 1 or 2 others and then the whole congregation. If the brother still won’t repent and be won over, the, and only then, we can let go of the relationship.
How often to Christians follow these guidelines? How often do we go through this trouble before we leave a church over inter-personal conflict? Or before we ostracize somebody at church? Or give them the cold shoulder?
Jesus is clear we are to forgive regardless of getting an apology or not. He is also clear we are to work hard at restoring the relationship, even when we are the victims! Forgiving the person first, as hard as it is, is a huge step in being able to approach them well.
When we go through the hard work of forgiving our brother first, it changes the motives of approaching them. It changes and purifies our goals when we confront them. Having already forgiven, having already given up our right to retribution, we can sincerely seek their restoration and reconciliation. If we haven’t forgiven them first, we are more likely to approach them hoping to get an apology, hoping to be vindicated and proven right. This mixes self-centred motives in with other-centres motives.
When we read Matthew as a whole, we see a number of dynamics at play in conflict. First, in the Sermon on the Mount, the one who has done the offense to another, the offender, goes to the offended. Jesus says we must go be reconciled before trying to worship God. Second, in the Lord’s Prayer, the victim, the offended one, forgives the offender unilaterally. Finally, in our passage, the offended one (or an advocate) goes to the offender and seeks reconciliation.
Having this first conversation can be really hard! So how do we do it well? This is where our “Clean Fighting” skill comes in. First, we have to avoid our bad fighting habits, like sarcasm or contempt, passive aggressive approaches, violent approaches, yelling, shaming or trying to win at the expense of the other. These techniques are all self-centred behaviours.
Instead, being other-centred, we must first search and clear our own heart. I suggest using the “Explore the Iceberg” skill and the “Climb the Ladder of Integrity” skills we have already learned. More than any other, our skill today builds on the other skills. So we need to be practicing those skills to lay a foundation for this skill.
Another helpful tool, if you are struggling to figure out how to confront the other person, is ask another person, not involved, to do “Incarnational Listening” for you as you explore this difficult topic. This person would then be a good person to include if your first attempt at confrontation fails to win your brother over.
As you can see, clean fighting can take a lot of preparation! But that’s because we need to do it differently than our sinful nature naturally wants to do it. And that takes work!
If the brother is familiar with EHR, you can specifically request a “Clean Fight.” But even if they are not familiar with the language, you do need to request a time to talk about something difficult. It’s not ok to just spring it on somebody when they cannot give you their undivided attention!
When you do confront the other person, use “I” statements. This requires practice as to how you can express yourself in I statements! Be respectful. Say things like, “I notice…” “The value I hold which is being violated is…” These come clear when you do a Ladder of Integrity! Continue, “When you… I feel…” Remember to use actual feelings. Finally, make a request for change, “Respectfully, I request that you please …”
We cannot control how the other person will respond. In a best case scenario, if they are familiar with EHR, they will listen attentively, using incarnational listening skills. They will agree to your request, or part of it, or offer an alternative solution. Together, you will write down the solution you agree upon and give a date to check in on how it’s working out. This is related to our expectations skill! Agreeing upon the expectation is
Honestly, this is really hard work! We are not used to it either, which means it’s new and hard. It requires a heart change in us to approach conflict this way! And our goal is a heart change in the other person. This is why it is so important for this to be founded on Jesus and what he has done for us and in us.
This description, this skill, is really about learning to take baby steps in having healthy confrontation. I suggest working on small sins first, before moving to big ones! We all need practice! Learn how to clean your own heart before approaching the other person. I think that is a subtle but important key. Our goal must always be the other person’s restoration and reconciliation! With bigger issues, you can get help. The 1 or 2 people could include a counsellor who has training in conflict management!
Relationships matter in the NFJ. This is what God is all about- a loving God who is seeking to reconcile us, his wayward creatures, to himself! Doing conflict well, fighting clean, is agape love in practice. This is the lost sheep parable applied! And our culture needs this so badly. We are starving relationally. We are in a relationship drought. We are like Medieval Europeans, illiterate, but needing to read the Bible for ourselves to connect with God. They learned to read so they could experience God’s word and draw closer to God. We need relationships skills so we can experience God’s love and draw closer to God and one another.
Who knows, maybe 500 years from now they will look back at 2017 as the year a new Reformation began? Maybe they will be thanking God then for our courage and hard work now that shaped the church for centuries, teaching a new generation how to relate to one another and to God. Amen.
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