Guest Post by Dr. Dan Borg
Years ago, before the days of home computers, my then elementary school-aged daughter had an electric typewriter. Eventually the ribbon wore out. I purchased a new ribbon and installed it in the typewriter. To test the new ribbon I typed a sentence I remembered from my junior high typing class: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” The new ribbon worked. I left the paper in the typewriter and walked away. Later that day I walked past the typewriter and saw that my test page was still in it. I went to remove it and saw my daughter had added to what I had typed. The paper now read:
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
The dog barked and was very angry with the fox.
The fox said he was sorry and would never do that again.
The dog forgave him and they lived happily ever after.
I thought about what she had added. Lucky fox! Lucky dog! There was apology, forgiveness, and a happily-ever-after ending. Life is full of jumping foxes and barking dogs. Their human equivalents are found in homes, schools, the workplace, and churches. We have conflict, annoy each other, get angry, and sometimes bark. But we don’t always apologize, forgive, and live happily ever after.
Jesus said, “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. (Matthew 18:15-17, NIV).
The Four Steps to Peacemaking…according to Jesus.
He laid out a four-step peacemaking process when someone offends you. Step one; go to them one-to-one and point out their fault. Step two; take one or two others along and confront the one who offended you. If that doesn’t work, step 3; tell it to the church. But if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
That’s a great pathway to peace. However, those steps can be misused. They can be treated as a self-righteous checklist to see how quickly you can get to step 4. It sometimes goes like this: “I talked to him; step 1. Then I took my best friend with me and talked to him; step 2. It didn’t go well so I complained to church leaders about him; step 3. I followed steps one, two, and three, so now I’m taking step four. Now I get to treat him like a pagan. Now I can be mean spirited and nasty. I’m right. He’s wrong. He offended me and I’m going to make him pay.” Sometimes it unfolds that way. Sometimes in the heat of conflict people get so caught up in the four steps they forget the main intent.
If this peacemaking process is going to work, you need to keep in mind the main intent, not just the four steps. So let’s take a closer look at a few key words in step one.
“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” (Matthew 18:15). One of those key words is “if.” “If your brother sins against you…” Sometimes people get offended over the smallest of things. Sometimes the offense doesn’t really pass the “if” test. Then Jesus said “go and tell.” But how you go and tell is vital. If you go for the purpose of just checking off step one so you can get to steps two, three, and four, you’ve missed the point. Jesus said, “Tell him his fault… If he listens…” You need to “tell” in such a way that your brother can “listen.” If telling your brother his fault is done with hostility he will have a hard time hearing what you’re saying. Instead of listening to you, he will prepare his comeback against you. You need to “tell” in such a way that your brother can “listen.” Then, “if” he has truly offended you and you “go and tell him his fault” in a way that he can actually “listen,” you have “gained your brother.” And that’s the purpose, gaining back a brother, not racing through four steps so you can treat him like a pagan.
Then you can be like the jumping fox and barking dog. Then there can be apology, forgiveness, and a happily-ever-after ending.