You're standing in cold water up to your waist. Your arms are wrapped tightly against your chest as you resist the plunge into the cold.
Diving in takes boldness.
To me, that image evokes something of being in the ‘place’ where we know what the right thing is – but we don’t want to do it. The 'doing' takes bold love.
Is making contact with someone who has lied about you, betrayed you, injured you, or otherwise treated you badly, something you want to do?
Is it the right thing to do?
Let me explain.
I’m often surprised how few followers of Jesus seem to be aware of these words of Jesus, and how few put them into practice.
In teaching his followers, Jesus deals with situations in which someone ‘sins’ against you (Matthew 18:15-22). In those circumstances, what are you to do?
Here’s how Jesus begins (18:15):
If your brother [or sister] 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 [or sister] over.
Most commentators recognize Jesus’ instruction as flowing from Leviticus (19:17-18):
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
What does Jesus say?
Jesus embeds at least four components in Matthew 18:15.
1. There has been a ‘sin’ against you.
A sin is neither a dislike of someone’s personality, nor an offence that you may have imagined. It is an act or omission significant enough to damage or break a relationship.
2. The offended person takes the initiative.
“Go and show him his fault” are words of command, not suggestion. As the offended person, you need to “go and show.”
The word “show” translates the Greek word elegchō. It conveys the act of presenting evidence; making your case. It involves a clear, honest explanation of what was said or done to you, and how it impacted you.
3. Just the two of you.
This initial meeting is “just between the two of you” – no one else. Don’t tell others under the guise of having them “pray for the situation.” There is no one else present or informed for moral support; no one else to impress.
4. Keep the goal in mind.
The aim is to win the other person, not to win your point!
This goal will direct and temper your attitude and language. If you’re explaining clearly with the intention of rebuilding a damaged relationship, you’re not going to be accusing and condemning.
The four practices we explored in the previous post will move you toward gaining and maintaining a loving attitude.
1. Be prepared to listen.
There may be an alternate and valid interpretation of events that puts the alleged ‘sin’ in a different light. This one-on-one conversation provides an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings, as well as wrongdoings.
2. Is it wise and safe?
It may not be wise or safe to approach the offender alone. One example of such a situation is where abuse has taken place. Hopefully, this is rare, but it is a consideration.
3. It may not work.
It is an act of obedience and love to try, but the meeting may not remedy the situation.
An offender may excuse or deny the ‘sin’, or otherwise refuse to acknowledge it. In that case, Jesus informs us that the issue isn’t over – it is to be pursued in community. We’ll leave that for another time.
4. The context.
The context of Matthew 18 is the community called ‘church’. Within that community family-language is used – ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ – in referring to one another.
In many ways, the dynamics of this community are (or should be) unique. Reconciliation is not a mere theory – it is to be lived and experienced.
Despite the uniqueness of this community, I’m going to propose that Jesus’ words can extend beyond its boundaries.
Beyond our 'circle'
Earlier, I quoted Leviticus 19:17-18. This is the basis not only for Jesus’ instructions within church communities (Matthew 18), but also for our attitude to every other person as well.
In stating the second great commandment, Jesus says (Matthew 22:36-40):
And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Paul adds his affirmation, writing (Romans 13:8):
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
So, I’m advocating that followers of Jesus practice a bold love that confronts an offender – even beyond the community of ‘church’.
Even in the pain, the insult, and the brokenness, it is bold love that takes the initiative to do what needs to be done. It goes and it shows the ‘other’ fully but gently (probably in tears) with transparent and humble truth-speech. This is the love that cares enough to take the initiative to gain wholeness and life with the ‘other’.
Is there someone in your life that has “sinned against you”?
Listen again to these words of Jesus:
If your brother [or sister] sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother [or sister].
Bold love knows it must plunge into the cold for the sake of the ‘other’.
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