During September, we are focusing our attention on the story of the Good Samaritan in worship which teaches us to love our neighbor. Jesus uses this parable to explain who our neighbor is. Another story found in Matthew 18:15-20 is Jesus teaching a strategy on how to love difficult neighbors. It is not a popular passage because no one likes dealing with conflict. Yet it still teaches us that Jesus values both the relationships we form and how we handle the conflicts that occur within them.
Matthew 18 says when there is a conflict, the first step is to go and talk to the person alone about the issue. It does not mean to talk about the person, or gossip about the person, just simply go directly to the person and have an honest conversation. Right here, many of us get stuck. We are non-confrontive and we hate being honest about what upsets us. We are afraid of how this person will react. We don’t want to fight with them. Yet, Jesus directs us to talk to them. We are to take a risk and go directly and privately to the person to discuss the issue. That person is worth the effort and resolution is the priority.
If that doesn’t work, we are to take a another with us and attempt to talk to them again. This allows more time and grace for someone to consider what was said to them and the part they played in the conflict. Again, it never says talk to everyone else about the issue, instead, another conversation should always be attempted. This time invite one or two other wise and kindhearted people to go with you. This allows the other person to have witnesses also and to voice their side of the issue to others. Sometimes another witness can be a mediator in a difficult conversation. Again, the priority is to keep the issue private only taking people with you that you trust and know will keep this confidence.
The final step feels so extreme, but it also is necessary. Sometimes we must distance ourselves from another because the relationship has become toxic. One person can stir up a lot of negativity and sometimes we must take a stand and stop it for the good of the community. Again, this must be done with love and kindness. While this seems cold and extreme, sometimes in life, distance is the only answer.
If you are struggling with a neighbor, understand that Jesus understood this was challenging, but it also was kingdom work. Everyone is worth our efforts to find reconciliation. Jesus will help us handle the situation with grace and mercy if we will follow His instructions. Most of the time, the first conversation will correct the conflict. Just know, regardless of the fear you feel when dealing with conflict, this person is worth all of our love and our efforts. This is yet another way to love our neighbor.