"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt. 18:15–17).
God gives very specific instructions for how to confront a friend. Let’s break it down.
When to confront a friend.
Did you notice when this passage instructs us to confront a friend? "If your brother sins against you" (v. 15).
If it’s just your preference or your feelings that are on the line, it’s probably best to let it slide.
If your friend is gossiping about you, that’s a sin (Rom. 1:29).
If she has taken something that belongs to you, that’s a sin (Luke 18:20).
If she often loses her temper with you, that’s a sin (James 1:20).
If she just doesn’t want to hang out as often as you’d like, that’s not a sin.
If she has a new friend she’s spending a lot of time with, that’s not a sin.
If she put something on her Facebook wall that might or might not have been directed at you, that is not a sin.
To be clear, sin violates the standards of God. If it matters to God, it matters. If it’s just your preference or your feelings that are on the line . . . it is probably best to let it slide.
Proverbs 19:11 says, "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
In other words, it is wise to simply let some things go.
With this in mind, if your friend’s sin still warrants a confrontation, this is how God wants us to go about it.
Step 1: Have the talk.
"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother" (v. 15).
How do you confront a friend? You go to her and talk to her.
Sounds simple enough, but usually we complicate it.
Notice it doesn’t say "send her a text." (And I don’t think that’s because texting hadn’t yet been invented yet!) It doesn’t say "talk to someone else asking for advice before you talk to your friend." It doesn’t say "act really weird around her and hope that she will get the hint and come and talk to you."
If there is a problem, go to your friend one on one. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 dollars. Do not skip this step. The only way to have godly conflict is to start with a one-on-one conversation.
Step 2: Get a mediator.
"But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses" (v. 16).
So you talked to your friend and it didn’t go well. What next?
You take one or two other friends and all gang up on her, right?
Yes, the Bible does say to try the talk again with two or three others (it’s talking about other members of the Church here), but this is not about ganging up on the friend who has sinned.
Look again. What is the purpose of those additional friends? To collect evidence.
They are there to listen. They are there to hear both sides. They should also be willing and able to pray.
They aren’t there to act as your backup. They aren’t there to bully. They aren’t there to intimidate.
This step is called mediation. Mediation is intervention that leads to reconciliation. Choose mediators who love God, know His Word, and love both you and your friend.
Step 3: Get your church involved.
The Bible doesn’t say that now is a good time to jump ship. It doesn’t say to ditch the friend because you’ve tried and she just hasn’t listened. The Bible urges us to keep trying with more and more assistance from others who want to see godly reconciliation happen.
"If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church” (v. 17).
Psalm 133:1 says, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!"
It’s good for Christians, it’s good for the church, and it’s good for the lost world for Christians to get along. If mediation doesn’t work, ask your pastor or youth pastor to get involved.
Step 4: Love extravagantly.
"And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (v. 17).
That sounds like some pretty nasty name-calling, right? Surely Jesus is giving us permission to write our friend off at this point. Not exactly.
When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18).
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclined with Jesus and his disciples (Matt. 9:10).
What did Jesus do to Gentiles and tax collectors? He befriended them. He offered them grace they didn’t deserve. He loved them extravagantly even though they couldn’t reciprocate. He continued to teach them the truth.
If you’ve confronted your friend God’s way and she still doesn’t respond, you don’t get to jump ship. Instead you get to continue to offer love, prayers, and hopes of reconciliation.
Willing to fight God’s way.
If you’re like me, God’s plan doesn’t exactly match up with how I handle conflicts in my life. Instead, I tend to vent, gossip, and brush friends off. But I’m asking God to teach me how to handle conflict His way in the future.
Love this post? Share it! Here’s a tweet you can totally steal from us:
God’s guide for fighting fair today on @lywbblog. (Be sure to include a link to today’s post).