This "Life Together" series could best be described as "What I Wish I'd Preached at the Very Beginning of My Previous Pastorate." That's why we're covering confession, forgiveness, radical acts of sharing and generosity, and tithing (giving 10% of your income to the church). And this week's Scripture, on speaking directly and gently, is at the top of this list.
You see, Jesus says, “Talk to the person you need to talk to first. THEN and ONLY THEN, if you need to involve someone else, you do so by bringing a second person with you who will listen, pray, and help both parties to hear each other" (paraphrased from Matthew 18:15-17).
We always need to talk with instead of talking about or through.
This applies to every type of relationship, every situation—whether in the church, the family, the workplace, the neighborhood.
Matthew 18:15 is sometimes translated as “if another member of the church sins against you…” The Greek is actually, “If your BROTHER sins against you…” It’s kinship language—the language of “family” that was adopted by the early church. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, when there is sin—when there is conflict—when there is disagreement or pain, whether it is in the biological family, the adoptive family, or the church family, Jesus gives very clear instructions: “Go and talk about the problem when the two of you are alone.”
It has to be a conversation. And the first time you have it, it needs to be private. You and the other person both need the opportunity to speak and to listen. When we have a triangle—when we add extra people in the middle without talking directly to each other—then there’s no opportunity for conversation, no back-and-forth communication. It just becomes one-sided. There’s no accountability.
It’s for this reason that I commit to you that I will not speak ABOUT you rather than TO you. And I ask that you commit the same not only to me but to all of the other members of this congregation.
Ask, "Have you brought this up directly with the other person?" when someone comes to you with a concern about someone else. The first step is always to speak directly. The second step is to go together to gently and directly address the issue.
In the church---a place where God knows us by name and calls us individually--- there can be no anonymous complaints or messages passed along “on behalf of” someone else. In our life together, we can only empower people to speak for themselves.
I'll have many more examples to share on Sunday --- and you're lucky that I know to cover this at the *beginning* of my time with you instead of *after* conflict comes up. (And we're the church. Conflict is inevitable, no matter how much we like each other, because we are sinful human beings who only by the grace of God are invited to live together in community.)
Life Together is never easy. But following Jesus' way, we will come through any conflict stronger, and drawn closer together and to God.
So let it be.