For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Coffeehouse Conversations - When someone sins against us

Coffeehouses are great places for conversation. They help us build relationships and deal with problems that we are facing in life. Stephen is a fairly new believer who has coffee occasionally with Andrew, an elder in the church he attends. We pick up the conversation as Andrew asks about a passage in the Bible he is trying to put into practice in his life.

Stephen: I am a little confused about a passage that I read this week. Could we talk about it? I want to make sure I understand it.

Andrew: I can try. Which one is it?

Stephen: It is the passage in Matthew 18. Jesus said that when a brother sins against me I am supposed to go and tell him his fault. Just between the two of us (Matthew 18:15).

Andrew: It seems pretty clear. It's hard to do. I think usually people talk to a lot of other people and never get around to talking to the person who did wrong.

Stephen: Yeah, that's true. But if I understand what Jesus is saying, we are supposed to go and tell the other person and not involve other people.

Andrew: Right. It's easy to see how talking to a bunch of other people could damage a relationship.

Stephen: I can also see how important it is to speak to people who sin. We want people to live holy lives, so when we see someone sinning or when someone sins against us it is important to show them what they did wrong. These confrontations are important. So that is what I am going to start doing. When someone sins against me, I am going to point it out to them.

Andrew: Whoa, slow down a minute. There is a little more to it than that.

Stephen: What do you mean? It seems plain to me.

Andrew: Sure, but there are some other passages that you need to take into look into as well. For example, Proverbs 19:11 says, "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense." There are times we simply allow the offense to pass by without saying anything. 1 Peter 4:8 tells us we are to keep loving one another earnestly because "love covers a multitude of sins." So we are not to simply go around pointing out overtime someone sins against us. Sometimes we need to overlook things and simply put up with one another.

Stephen: So we just bite our tongues and don't say anything?

Andrew: We are called to love one another, not to criticise one another. Constantly pointing out other people's faults and wrongs does not help grow relationships or holiness. Love does. Psalm 103:8-10 tells us that God does not always treat us the way our sins deserve. He is merciful and we are to be merciful to others.

Stephen: So when do I overlook something and when do I confront someone with their sin?

Andrew: Good question. Because we don't want to pretend everything is okay when it isn't. I think that there several questions that you have ask yourself. Is the offense damaging your relationship with the other person? Is it hurting other people? Is it hurting the person themselves? Is it significantly dishonouring to God? If the answer is yes, then your probably need to talk to them.

I've had a tendency to get mad really easily. Yet when I really looked at things, I saw that many of the things that were making me angry weren't worth the energy. I learned to overlook little things. Getting mad wasn't improving my relationships. If I overlooked it, by the end of the day I wasn't even upset. In fact, I didn't even really remember it. Sure, if it was a major issue I would need to talk to the person. Sometimes there would be a pattern of sin that slowly eroding our relationship. I would need to deal with that.

Stephen: So if it was big enough that you were angry about it then you went to him to show him what he did.

Andrew: Um, no. Confronting someone when I was angry almost never worked at making a relationship better. I would often say things I would regret. I might feel better, but the relationship would be worse! Overlooking an offense means that you truly let it go. It doesn't bother the relationship. But if it does affect the relationship, then you do need to deal with it. If you cannot let it go, then you need to figure out how to talk to them about it.

Stephen Okay. But how?

Andrew: Well, I cannot speak of all situations, but generally it is important to go to them. These types of conversations are best face-to-face if possible. Making the effort to be with them expresses value in the relationship and conversation. Avoid SMS or email. That's rarely effective.

Stephen: Yeah, there is nothing like opening a text accusing you of all sorts of things.

Andrew: Right. It is so much better to be face-to-face! At the same time, it is important to think about what you are going to say. I always start with a lot of prayer about the situation. I ask the Lord to show me any way that I have contributed to the situation. It's getting the log out of my own eye (Matthew 7:4-5).  I think of a way to gently word things. I want to be clear, but I also want to be gentle. That's why I could not have the conversation if I was boiling with anger. I think about how I would want to be treated if I were them. The goal is a good relationship not winning an argument. For that reason, I am willing to listen. I want to respect them as a person, not simply try to prove them wrong.

Stephen: How do people usually respond?

Andrew: There is no normal. Some people with immediate repentance. Confronted with their behaviour they repent and seek forgiveness. Sometimes people don't even remember the situation. Many people begin with defensiveness but then as the Holy Spirit works, they admit their wrong. Others don't see that what they did was wrong. And a number of times I completely misunderstood the situation. That's why it is important to listen.

I've found that the overwhelming majority of times the end result is positive. People want to have good relationships with others and when they have done something that  damages a relationship, they usually want to make it right. Sometimes it doesn't happen right away. Many times I've gotten a phone call a couple of days later and the person says, "Thank you. What I did was wrong..."

Stephen: Okay. I think I understand. Jesus is talking about those things that are damaging to the relationship. We overlook the little stuff, but deal with the things that really affect the relationship.

Andrew: Right. I would add two small points. If it is a little thing, we should not be talking to others about it. We need to be careful about how we speak to people about others. If we are constant talking about people's faults, we are not walking in love.

Stephen: Ouch. I must admit that I often talk about things other people did that bothered me.

Andrew: It's common. But we are called to honour one another. And talking about the little things that other people do wrong isn't honouring them.

Stephen: True. Well, thanks for getting together and having a cup of coffee. As always, I learned a lot!

Andrew: Anytime! I always enjoy it!

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