Some Christians think peacemaking means avoiding conflict—but doing that only leads to further division, strife and disorder. When was the last time you avoided a necessary confrontation with someone? Did you end up being passive-aggressive toward that person and withholding kindness? Did your e-mails or Facebook posts about them contain an edge?
There’s nothing Spirit-led about avoiding conflict, per se. In fact, Jesus commands us to do the opposite. He even gives us specific instructions on how to go about it. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15, ESV). Jesus’ instruction here is packed with wisdom. Confronting a person in private preserves one’s dignity in the face of their sin. It also allows truth to shine its light on sin.
Yet, confronting someone this way isn’t a one-time solution. Why? First, it may not work, as Jesus points out. “But if he does not listen . . .” (18:16). Also, this isn’t just a cut-and-dried command, where afterward we can walk away and say, “Well, I did what Jesus said. That’s that. I won’t have to deal with this guy anymore.” According to Jesus, we have more to do—because love goes the extra mile: “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (18:16).
It doesn’t even end there. Love keeps going the extra mile, on and on: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (18:17). This last phrase sounds like a final rejection but that isn’t accurate. Our actions are meant to reflect back the sinner’s behavior so that he might repent and enjoy fellowship again.
This sequence of actions shows us something else. It teaches us the lengths to which God extends His grace—and the cost to us as agents of that grace. God’s heart is always to bring the lost sheep back into the fold. How far does this grace extend? As Jesus told Peter, we’re to forgive our sinning brother “seventy times seven”—meaning as many times as it takes. Once again, this requires a lay-down-your-life-on-the-cross kind of love. It’s a love that says, “I’m still here for you. I’m not going anywhere.” This love requires a Spirit-filled walk because our flesh simply isn’t capable of it.