Conflicts are part of life–that is a truth to which everyone can verify. That Christ left us with the ministry of reconciliation testifies to a competing truth: Our God is all about relationships.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:20
Christians seeking to understand how to respond when in conflict often find themselves contemplating the process outlined in Matthew.
*Make a personal contact.
*Progress to witnesses including the church, if necessary.
*Finally, if restoration of the relationship still eludes you, treat the offending brother as a heathen.
While that process is powerful, it is not the primary focus of this piece. Our focus will be how the passages surrounding the reconciliation instructions fit with it and provide us a beautiful picture of God’s design for relationships. Our triune God exhibits diversity in unity–and He wants us to do the same.
Prior to the reconciliation passage, we find Christ delivering the parable of the lost sheep. Emphasizing God’s passion for every single lost soul, Christ follows up with the process for restoring relationships. He then moves into teaching how relationships bring the heavenly economy to bear on earth with the power of unity.
Very appropriately, following those teachings are Peter’s questions on forgiveness and the parable of the unmerciful servant. Relationships are challenging, but unity is inherent to God. He wants us to value it as well. In this context, the concept of Christ’s passion for lost souls expands into the deeper purpose of unity in our relationships.
In the reconciliation process,“treat as a heathen” is not a hands-off, you live your life, I’ll live mine approach. It is a living, breathing testimony of heaven’s economy! Throughout the Old Testament, the chosen people of God bore the responsibility of being a witness for God; we still bear that responsibility. It flows into verses seldom brought into the context. While ‘wherever two or more are gathered in my name’ is typically used as a ‘success formula in prayer,’ it is more appropriately considered to be teaching on the powerful testimony of unity. Agreement on God’s will is powerfully unifying. ‘Binding and loosing on heaven/earth’ relates to bringing God’s determinations on what is to be bound and loosed to bear in our lives. It is living out the will of God on earth as it is in heaven—just as Christ taught His disciples to pray. In the context of this passage of reconciliation, living as God designed is revealed as the key to wholeness in relationship!
All that adds an entirely new dimension to relationship struggles for me, and I hope for you as well. With reconciliations as a tool for pointing others to the glory of God, the cost pales in contrast to the value. The amazing love of Christ that took Him to the Cross, while I was still actively opposed to Him, provides me with powerful purpose in every relationship. Reconciling with others is an obedience that brings eternity into view for all.
Is there anyone God would have you reconcile with today?