Okay, so you’ve just met and everything is going great. Suddenly, from out of nowhere one of you gets angry with the other. Feelings are hurt, words are said, feet are stomped, curses slung, and then all is silent—deathly silent. What do you do now?
Start with God
The most important relationship any of us has is our relationship with God. When we are out of fellowship with one another, we are out of fellowship with God. We are not allowed to be out of fellowship with God because the greatest commandment tells us to love God with every fiber of our being. Then, the next greatest commandment tells us to love one another (1 Jn. 4:11; Lev. 19:18). So, in order to love our neighbor, we must love God first. Indeed, we cannot love our neighbor unless we first love God.
Move to Your Friend
In getting into it with our friend, however, we said and thought some things that were sinful. Our first step is to confess those sins to God (1 Jn. 1:9). Then, we need to go to our friend and make things right with him. “If you bring your gift to God and remember that your brother has something against you, go to him and make things right, then bring your gift to God” (Mt 5:23, 24). In going to your friend, don’t point out his sin or the things he said that were wrong. Don’t defend your comments or give any excuses for the things you said or did. Simply confess your sin, accepting full responsibility for your sin. Don’t even mention the other person or the reasons for why you did or said what you said. Just as confessing sin to God is all about you, so too is confessing sin to your brother or sister. When you realize that you have sinned against your brother, or that he has sinned against you, you should keep short accounts and try to make things right as quickly as you can. Don’t give Satan a foothold and don’t let bitterness blossom and make everything even worse (Eph. 4:26-27; Heb. 12:15).
Your Friend needs Help
Suppose your friend is really a piece of work. Of course you sinned, but it takes two to have a fight. You can clearly see the sinfulness of your brother and you feel obligated to “fix” them. First, the Bible does say, “If your brother sins against you, go to him and work things out…(Mt. 18:15). However, it also says, “If your brother is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him…(Gal. 6:1). If you have just “had it out” with your friend, you are not spiritual and therefore not qualified to restore your friend. If you confessed your sin and she forgave you, you may or may not be in a position to correct her, but most likely not—at least not right now. If this is the case you need to let love cover a multitude of sins and just walk away (1 Pet. 4:8).
Suppose on the other hand, that you have not had a fight with your friend. You’ve simply observed a sinful and unconfessed pattern in her life. First, check yourself to see if you share in her sin, or if you have any unconfessed sin in your life. The Bible calls this removing the log from your eye before you try to take the speck out of your friend’s (Mt. 7:1-5). Once the log is removed, if there was one, you are then free to gently restore your friend to fellowship with God (Gal. 6:1).
When Your Friend Comes to You
We began our discussion by talking about a fight between you and your friend. Now suppose that God has not convicted you of your sinful part in the story, because, of course, you didn’t sin, but your friend has sinned against you and you are working on letting love cover a multitude of sins. Your brother shows up on your door step for one of two reasons: First, he has a complaint against you. Remember, it takes two to have a fight. If you had a fight it is very rare for both parties to be free from sin and blame. So if he comes to you about your sin, listen humbly and quietly, examine your heart carefully and confess any sin he might be right about. If you do not think he is right in his observations, do not argue with him; simply thank him for his opinion and help and tell him you will continue to consider his comments.
Second your brother may come with his hat in his hand confessing his sin and asking you to forgive him. What do you do? Forgive him (Lk. 17:3). But what if he has sinned in this same way every day for the past month? Forgive him (Lk. 17:3). Is that all? Yes and no, but it does begin there. If you don’t forgive your brother, for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11), why should God forgive you (Mt. 18:35)? Another motivating factor in this is that you are related to your friend. You are one with him in Christ; members of Christ’s body, co-heirs of the promises of God (Eph. 3:6; 4:25). You need to forgive him because he is one with you. In a strange way, because you are one in Christ, members of Christ’s body, you are the same person.
What forgiveness means: First, it means that I don’t hold this wrong against you. Second, I will not remember this event again (Heb. 10:16-18). Third, I will not talk to others about this incident. Fourth, I will let this event go and not cling to it or become bitter about it (Eph. 4:31). Finally, I will aggressively love you from here on out (Eph. 4:32).
Refuses Confession and Repentance
You’ve removed the log, confessed your sins, and have been careful to be loving, gracious and kind, but your friend won’t admit his error or confess his sin. Now what do you do? You can let it go, according to 1 Peter 4:8, or Matthew 18 tells us to take two witnesses with us and let them adjudicate the situation. It could be that you were wrong. It could be that you’ve missed the problem and you still have a log in your eye that has been obstructing your vision. Or perhaps it is a simple difference of opinion. You might think walking on the couch is sinful, but in his family it is a great thing to do. The witnesses can help with sorting it all out.
But suppose the witnesses agree with you that your friend has actually sinned and needs to repent, but she still refuses to do so. Again, you can either let it go or Jesus continues saying that you should take it to the whole church (Mt. 18:17). The church should have a mechanism to handle these kinds of situations. If after the church deliberates on the matter, and finds that the person is being rebellious and seditious, still refusing to repent, then the church is to cast the person out of the church and to proclaim her to be a non-Christian (Mt. 18:17).
The reason for excommunicating someone is to purify her soul, not to punish her. The goal is repentance, not destruction or chastisement. Consequently, if the process is filled with love and concern for the person, often times she will come to the end of herself and will want to be restored to fellowship. When this happens the restoration should be in front of the whole church in the same way that the excommunication was in front of the whole church. It should be accompanied by shouting, clapping, whooping, and a significant party. Paul says to reaffirm your love for her (2 Cor. 2:8). It should be reminiscent of the party thrown by the prodigal son’s father on his return (Lk. 15:22, 23).