How To Respond To Conflict and Sin In The Church

Text: Galatians 5:25-6:10

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to do in the Christian faith is to know how to deal with one another during conflict or sin. 

Tragically, if we were to be graded on this as Christians, I am afraid to say that the church would get an F. Now, don't get me wrong, the world messes this up quite badly.  However, we Christians mess this up a lot as well.  

And so, let's take a fresh look at this subject. 

First, if someone sins against you or offends you, it is important to pause and see if you have actually been sinned against. In other words, just because your feelings are hurt or if you are offended, it doesn't automatically mean that you have been sinned against. Sometimes, the truth hurts. For the sake of discussion, though, let's consider that you are indeed sinned against by another Christian in the church. What should you do? Well, if you can chaulk that sin up to Christ's cross, knowing that love covers a multitude of sins, then God be praised. In other words, there are many times when you and I are sinned against that we can simply put the best construction on that fellow Christian and continue to love them in the name of Jesus. However, let's just say that the sin against you has really dug deep and wounded you greatly. What then?  

Jesus is fairly straightforward in explaining this in Matthew 18 – if a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell them, work it out between the two of you. In other words, if another person deeply wounds you, and you then decide 'not' to go and work it out with them but instead go tell a bunch of other people, well… you are just as guilty as they are. Think of it this way: when a sin happens between two people, it is a private sin. But if you go and tell a bunch of other people about the sin, you are taking something private and then making it public without giving the other person an opportunity to privately apologize for it. By making it public without going to the other person first, you are breaking the 8th Commandment of bearing false witness.

Let's say, though, that you don't tell a bunch of people, but let's just say instead of going to talk to the other person, you decide to play the victim. Now, please hear me clearly: you may very well be a victim, but if you play the martyr card by hanging your head low or walking around with a chip on your shoulder - trying to draw attention to yourself or trying to shame the other person - that is not following the Word of Jesus but acting like a child. That is creating drama and dissension, not seeking forgiveness and restoration. 

Now, let's just say that you do talk to the person, and they won't listen – they remain hardened and unrepentant Then what? Well, if they do not listen, Jesus says to meet again but then to take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest. And then, if restoration is achieved - God be praised. However, if restoration is not achieved – if the person still doesn't listen - then you and the witnesses are to tell the church, and the church will then admonish unto restoration, or the person will be treated like a heathen (contact with the church will be severed).

What we have covered so far is private sin between two Christians, but what about if a sin happens publicly? I can remember many years ago when I was a very, very young pastor, I was in a voters' meeting, and things got ugly. A member publicly attacked the senior pastor. He yelled, smashed his chair down, walked out of the fellowship hall, and slammed the fellowship hall doors. Later that week, the senior pastor met up with the man, and they worked things out. Apologies were given and received. Forgiveness was applied. However, nothing was stated publicly. And so, everyone was holding their breath at the next voters' meeting. The public sin was not publicly shown as reconciled.  

Or, I can remember another instance: a Pastor became unhinged at a conference and attacked a bunch of other pastors with ruthless intent. After the conference session, nobody wanted to confront the pastor because, well… that is just how he is. And so, this angry pastor alienated himself from others even more that day – isolating himself in his anger. And so, the point is this: we fail miserably when public sin is not reconciled publicly. 

Dear friends, we Christians often don't deal with private sins privately but drag them into the public sphere. And with public sins, we often don't deal with them publicly but sweep them under the rug or manage them behind the scenes.  

So, why mention this today, besides the fact that we fail on this often?  

In the Epistle reading of Galatians, the Apostle Paul addresses sin in the congregation again. However, unlike Jesus in Matthew 18, the sin that Paul is referencing is when another Christian is trapped in a sin. In other words, Paul is talking about another believer who may not necessarily sin against you but instead is overtaken by sin. In other words, Paul is talking about another Christian in the church whose passions get the better of them. He is talking about another Christian who is surprised by a sudden temptation or is quickly pulled into deception and error before they are even aware of it. In this case, Paul stresses that you and I should not turn a blind eye, shake our heads with shame, or act as if we are morally superior but instead humbly and kindly bring our fallen brother or sister back to wholeness.  

An old Missouri Synod Pastor once said this about our reading from Galatians,  

"There is nothing more disgusting and repulsive than the patronizing airs assumed by people that consider themselves pillars in the Christian Church, when dealing with a fallen brother. The reproof must be so administered, with such kindly seriousness, that the brother at once feels that the only interest we have in the matter is to save his soul."

In other words, if you consider yourself a mature Christian, you will not use another person's failures to make yourself feel better.  Furthermore, if you are spiritual, you will not use the failures of other Christians to snub your nose at their failure and then gossip about them. Instead, Christians who walk by the Spirit gently and humbly help others ensnared in sin, knowing that the next time, it might be them ensnared in the same sin. Yes, Christians who walk by the Spirit live for the redemption of their fellow Christians, not their condemnation.  

Perhaps this cannot be stressed enough: Christians who overestimate themselves and self-exalt their talents are most likely to be overtaken by sin. Indeed, Christians who believe the idea that they are holier than other other people, live in a delusion. Having the opinion that you and I are something special only confirms our foolishness. Believing that we are better than the rest , only reinforces a foolish illusion of our own self-importance. However, when a Christian realizes that the sins of their brothers and sisters are a danger to them as well, they then can treat their fallen brothers and sisters with gentleness and kindness while seeking to restore them in Christ.  

Baptized Saints, I do realize that this sermon is difficult to hear. The reason why it is difficult to hear is that when we bump into each other as Christians or when Christians are unexpectedly caught up in sin, it is not a small matter. During these difficult situations, if we Christians do not handle ourselves with humility, gentleness, integrity, love, and forgiveness, people may find themselves estranged from the church with fractured faith just as the devil desires. Keep in mind that in the church, our primary battle is not with other Christians but with the Devil and his demons. The battle is with sin that is in all of us, according to our old Adam.  

And so, perhaps we could summarize all of this by saying: here at St. Paul's Lutheran, we are in this together under the grace of God. Each of us, as Christians, endure the same hard world, with the same foul Devil, with the same stubborn old Adam. Equally, we have been forgiven, redeemed, and claimed by God through Christ. And so, we walk in Jesus always being for each other – no matter the sin and no matter the conflict.  Since we are in this together, we seek restoration and forgiveness with every opportunity.  Indeed, because of Jesus, we share each other's burdens; we are quick to confess and quick to forgive. Baptized Saints, because there is more grace in Jesus than there is sin in us, we will not grow weary in doing good and extending grace and forgiveness to each other. 

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, dear Baptized Saints. Amen.  

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