In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gives us specific steps to help us forgive and seek forgiveness. Before doing anything, the most important thing to do is to pray for the other person. Often I find in prayer that my heart changes, which makes it easier for me to follow through on Jesus’ suggested process for working through differences.
- Go to the person directly and try to talk out your differences. Most of the time, when we listen carefully to one another, our misunderstandings fade away and we’re able to release the hurt we were feeling. When we skip this step, it often results in even deeper pain because we can lash out without ever trying to listen and hear the heart of the other. This is really important for restoring relationships!
- If a one-on-one conversation doesn’t resolve the hurt, invite a trusted friend to listen with loving intention for you and the person who has hurt you. Sometimes we get so stuck in our thinking we cannot empathize with the other person. Having a friend trusted by both can help us hear and see differently. This is not about ganging up on anyone, but about looking together for a way through.
- If a conversation with a mutually trusted friend doesn’t work, Jesus suggests bringing the issue to the church. I don’t think he means that we’re to put one another on trial publicly before the church. That is simply not God’s way. The way I understand this, Jesus is acknowledging that some of our conflicts have spiritual roots. The issue that sets us off may be connected to something that happened in our past and we are reacting out of past trauma rather than simply dealing with what is in front of us. Asking for God’s guidance in deep prayer with and for one another can help us to love more fully as Jesus showed his love to us.
- If that still doesn’t work, Jesus suggests treating the other as “a Gentile or tax-collector.” Remember how Jesus treated Gentiles, outsiders in his day, and tax-collectors. He ate with them. He loved them. He healed them. He kept inviting them into a deeper and fuller life found through forgiveness. There are times when we may need to temporarily release one another so that we can heal and become stronger from the inside and so we ourselves can be released from the anger and contempt that sometimes rise up as part of an ongoing conflict. That doesn’t release us from love, however, or from praying for one another.
- The last thing Jesus notices in this passage is that “when two or three are gathered together in my name, I’m there with them.” Read in context, this verse isn’t about knowing Christ’s presence in small groups, although that too is true. When two or three are gathered together, there is a need for forgiveness. Our human nature means we will hurt one another, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes on purpose. When we gather in Christ’s name, it is to seek forgiveness not only from him, but also from one another. In this way, we become an example of love, forgiveness and reconciliation that shows the world a new way to live.
Pray about your own life. From whom do you need to seek forgiveness? Whom do you need to forgive? Ask God to show you how you can begin.