4. Restoring Broken Fellowship
have come to the conclusion that there are two groups of people in the world -
those who weigh themselves regularly and those who do not. And which group tend
to be the slimmest and lightest? You’re right - those who have the least reason
to worry about their weight, yet use their weighing machines the most.
According to John Ortberg, this is the paradox. Its true of all Christians. God’s spirit puts the desire in all of us to know the truth about ourselves. And yet at the same time we want very much not to know the truth about ourselves. Ortberg says “We both seek and resist awareness about the reality of who we are. We buy scales, mirrors, and clothes with measured waists to tell us the truth about the condition of our bodies, and then we avoid, argue with, or get rid of them when we don't like the truth they tell. The problem with a weighing machine is that it's hard to finesse. We try. Many people (particularly people of a certain gender that shall remain nameless) approach the scale with extreme caution. They take off their shoes before they get on it, and in many cases they'll only get on a scale in a room that offers the privacy of a confessional booth. They remove all articles of clothing, jewellery, hair accessories, loose tooth fillings, and heavy lipstick, and then they exhale before looking at the numbers. They'll only get on during a certain time of the day—usually in the morning, before having eaten, and after having gone to the bathroom. (And that’s just the men…)
It turns out, experts tell us, that scales aren't the most accurate tool to reveal the truth about our physical condition” any way.
is a simpler method. “Next time you get out of a shower, grab a stopwatch and
stand in front of a full-length mirror totally naked. Start the watch and stamp
the floor as hard as you can. When stuff stops moving, punch the watch and check
the time.” One colleague said he’s down to two days, three hours and six minutes.
”I don't know if you need an instrument to tell you how many pounds you've gained or a tape measure to tell you how many inches you've added, but I know this: Every one of us … needs a few people to tell us the truth about our hearts and souls. We have weak spots and blind spots that we can't navigate on our own. We need someone to remind us of the deepest aspirations and values that led to our sense of calling; we need someone to warn us when we may be getting off track. We need someone to help us question our motives and examine our consciences. We need someone to perform spiritual surgery on us when our hearts get hard and our vision gets dim. We need a few truth-tellers.
week was one of the most challenging of my life. I heard that a fellow pastor
and friend may, its alleged, may have been committing adultery. What should I
do about it? Pray? Pass it on? Or what? I realised that if I really cared for
him, he needed to know what was being said about him. So I called him, and as
sensitively as possible, I shared what I had been told and invited him to talk
it through. To reflect on the consequences, for himself, for the two families,
the children, his church and witness in the community. He thanked me for being
honest and straight with him. Apparently no one else had been.
In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, executed by the Nazi’s for his opposition to Hitler, said this:
“Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one's community back from the path of sin.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
We need truth-tellers because our capacity to live in denial is astounding. "Self-deception," writes Cornelius Plantinga, "is a mysterious process where we pull the wool over our own eyes. We deny, suppress, or minimize what we know to be true. We assert, adorn, and elevate what we know to be false.
We prettify ugly realities and sell ourselves the prettified versions. Thus a liar might transform ‘I tell a lot of lies to shore up my pride' to ‘Occasionally, I finesse the truth in order to spare other people's feelings'” We need truth-tellers who will help us grow in our acceptance of reality. But we also need them because they serve as anchors; they help hold us accountable. Bonhoeffer in Life Together, goes on to say:
“When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative because God's Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another.”
That is what we are going this morning. If you don’t want to go there I suggest you switch off now. These Sunday mornings up to Christmas we are considering what it means to live a purpose driven life. We are not only planned for God’s pleasure, we were also formed for God’s family.
Last week we considered how we can cultivate community. Today we want to learn how to restore broken relationships.
“Because life is all about learning how to love, God wants us to value relationships and make the effort to maintain them instead of discarding them whenever there is a rift, a hurt, or a conflict.” Indeed, Jesus holds you and I accountable for restoring broken relationships. 2 Corinthians 5:18 says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18).
This is the reason why a significant proportion of the New Testament is devoted to teaching us how to get along with one another. Rick Warren says, “Since Christ wants His family to be known for our love for each other, broken fellowship is a disgraceful testimony to unbelievers.” This is why Paul was so embarrassed with some of the members of the church in Corinth who were developing factions and slandering one another. He writes, “Shame on you! Surely there is at least one wise person in your fellowship who can settle a dispute between fellow Christians.” (1 Corinthians 6:5). He was stunned that no one in the church was mature enough to resolve conflict between Christians. Jesus identifies his brothers and sisters specifically not by their worship or their gifts or even their evangelism but by their peacemaking.
“Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9); blessed are those who work for peace; blessed are those who actively seek to resolve conflict; blessed are those who bring reconciliation. Peacemaking and resolving conflict is therefore one of the most important skills you can develop as a Christian. The problem is most of us have never been taught to do so biblically. Instead we instinctively do two things that are ultimately deeply destructive.
1. We try and avoid conflict
I had a wonderful father but from him I subconsciously learnt to avoid conflict. Running away from a problem or pretending it doesn’t exist or being afraid to talk about it has nothing to do with peacemaking. Its actually cowardice. Jesus was the Prince of peace yet he was never afraid of conflict - on occasions he actually provoked conflict for the good of others.
2. We try and appease conflict
like a doormat - always giving in, tolerating the intolerable. It amounts to abuse
and sadly there are a lot of people in church leadership who abuse. Jesus regularly
stood his ground and faced evil. Peacemaking and resolving conflict have nothing
to do with avoidance or appeasement. Whether you are the one who has sinned or
the one sinned against, Jesus holds you accountable to take the initiative, to
seek reconciliation and to be a peacemaker. Jesus said this on at least two occasions.
First of all in Matthew 5:23-24 he commanded us:
“if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
Here the emphasis is on being reconciled to someone who has something against you. And notice, Jesus implies that your worship will in some way be hindered until you do so. Then in Matthew 18 Jesus commands us to initiate a face to face conversation with a brother or sister who has sinned against us. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
the responsibility is on the one sinned against. If we put these two passages
together we can observe that, whether you have sinned or been sinned against,
God has given us responsibility for resolving conflict. So, here are seven biblical
steps to resolving conflict and restoring broken fellowship.
1. Talk to God first
“if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you.” (Matthew 5:23)
you pray about the conflict first instead of gossiping to a friend, you will often
discover that either God changes your heart or he changes the other person without
Our relationships would go more smoothly if we prayed for one another more regularly. In the Psalms we find David doing this even for his enemies. Its what Rick Warren calls, “ventilating vertically”. “Tell God your frustrations.” Name them. “Peter, Paul….” God is not surprised by your anger, your hurt or frustration. Better direct it in prayer to God than suffer judgment for directing it at other people. So first of all, talk to God before talking to the person.
2. Always take the initiative
“First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:24)
doesn’t matter whether you are the offender or the offended: God expects you to
make the first move. Don’t wait for the other person. Go to them first. Restoring
broken fellowship is so important.” Jesus commanded that it even takes precedent
over group worship. When a relationship is strained or broken down, plan to meet
and resolve it immediately. “Don’t procrastinate, make excuses, or promise “I’ll
get round to it someday.” Schedule in a face to face meeting as soon as possible.
Delay only deepens resentment and makes matters worse. In conflict, time heals
nothing.” It only causes hurts to fester. “Acting quickly also reduces the spiritual
damage to you.” Unresolved conflict, the Bible insists, turns anger into bitterness
and is entirely self destructive. One of Job’s friends reminds
him, “Resentment kills a fool…You who tear yourself to pieces in your anger.”
(Job 5;2, 18:4). So, talk to
God first. Then, always take the initiative.
3. Empathise with their feelings
your ears more than your mouth. Before attempting to solve any disagreement you
must first listen to people’s feelings. Paul writes, “Each of you should look not only to your
own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4). The word
‘look’ is the Greek word skopos from which we derive our words telescope and microscope.
It means simply to pay close attention. Focus on their feelings and not just the
facts. Begin with sympathy,
not solutions. Listen without interrupting. Remember that “feelings are not always
true or logical.” Indeed, resentment and bitterness can leads us to think and
act in foolish ways.
This is how David describes the effect of bitterness on his emotionally stability. “When my thoughts were bitter and my feelings were hurt, I was as stupid as an animal.” (Psalm 73:21-22). We can all act beastly when hurt. That is why we must be patient. People really don’t care what we know until they know we care. Rick Warren says, It is a sacrifice to patiently absorb the anger of others, especially if its unfounded. Remember, this is what Jesus did for you. The Bible reminds us, “For even Christ didn’t please himself. As the Scriptures say, “Those who insult you are also insulting me.” (Romans 12:3). So, first of all - talk to God first. Second, always take the initiative. Third, empathise with their feelings.
4. Confess your part in any conflict
and be reconciled to your brother.” (Matthew 5:24)
If we are really serious about reconciliation then we will begin with ourselves and our faults and not with the other persons. This is the way, said Jesus, to seeing things clearly. “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
all have blind spots, and therefore we may need to ask a third party to help us
evaluate our own actions before meeting with someone with whom we have a conflict.
“Ask God to show you how much of the problem is your fault. Ask, “Am I the problem?
Am I being unrealistic, insensitive, or too sensitive?” “Confession is a powerful
tool for reconciliation.” When we begin by humbly admitting our sin and not being
defensive, it can diffuse the other person’s anger. Don’t make excuses or shift
the blame; just honestly own up to any part you have played in the conflict. Accept
responsibility for your mistakes and ask for forgiveness. Lets recap: 1. Talk
to God first.
2. Always take the initiative. 3. Empathise with their feelings. 4. Confess your part in any conflict.
5. Attack the sin, not the person
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. (Matthew 18:15)
Jesus specifically tells us to go to the person who has sinned against us, privately.
This is so that reconciliation can occur without others needing to be contaminated
by the sin. Sadly, what so often happens that people do the very opposite. And
I know I have done this in the past myself. When someone feels sinned against
they will go to others and moan, gripe, complain and gossip. But as we saw last
week, the Bible is emphatic: “Gossip is spread by wicked people; they stir up
trouble and break up friendships.” (Proverbs 16:28).
Gossip always causes hurt and divisions and it destroys churches. Rick Warren insists
“God is very clear that we are to confront those who cause division among Christians. They may get mad and leave your group or church if you confront them about their divisive actions, but the fellowship of the church is more important than any individual.”
That is why, “In resolving conflict, how you say it is as important as what you say. If you say it offensively it will be received defensively… Nagging never works. You are never persuasive when you’re abrasive.” Proverbs 16:21 reminds us that the more pleasant our words the more persuasive we are. So address the issue but avoid language that is condemning, belittling, comparing, labeling, insulting, condescending or sarcastic. Paul reminds us, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29).
to God first. Always take the initiative. Empathise with their feelings. Confess
your part in any conflict. Attack the sin, not the person.
6. Cooperate as much as possible
Paul writes, “Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody.” Romans 12:18)
always has a price tag. Sometimes it costs our pride; it often costs our self-centeredness.
For the sake of fellowship, do you best to compromise, adjust to others, and show
preference to what they need.” The Message translates the 7th Beatitude:
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or
fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place is in God’s
family.” (Matthew 5:9). So cooperate as much as possible. Finally,
7. Emphasize reconciliation, not just resolution
“If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
The objective is not to win so that the other person loses. Jesus says the point is to win your brother or sister over. Aim for a win: win solution. “Reconciliation focuses on the relationship, while resolution focuses on the problem… When we focus on reconciliation, the problem loses significance and often becomes irrelevant. God expects unity, not uniformity, and we can walk arm-in-arm without seeing eye-to-eye on every issue. Reconciliation means you bury the hatchet, not necessarily the issue.
we shall see in a fortnight when we look in more depth at the Matthew 18 passage,
when Christians cannot agree they will need help from others to reach a resolution.
Cultivating community, as we
saw last week requires honesty, it requires humility and it requires holiness.
Restoring broken fellowship requires courage and it requires truth telling. John
Wesley encouraged his followers to meet in small groups in order to hold each
other accountable for their deepest values and most important decisions. Wesley
had a beautiful phrase for this: He called it “watching over one another in love.”
Before someone entered into this community, they would be asked a series of questions
to see if they were serious about living in mutual accountability. If you are
in a small group or have someone you are willing to be mutually accountable to
you might consider these same questions also. Here they are:
Ortberg asks, “Can you imagine people in your family or in your circle of friends
answering "yes" to such questions?
In Wesley's day they did. By the thousands. Simply because they knew that they could never grow into the people” God intended them to become without help. The seven steps we have examined this morning are not easy. It takes a great deal of energy to restore a broken relationship. But its possible one step at a time. That is why Peter urges us: “Turn away from evil and do good. Work hard at living in peace with others.” (1 Peter 3:11). Rick Warren concludes: “But when you work for peace, you are doing what God would do. That’s why God calls peacemakers his children.”