Conflict often leads to cut-off relationships, especially in families where triangled communication is the norm. This three-sided communication frequently takes the form of venting to a third party. In those conversations we often gather support for our own viewpoint. As a result we may feel justified in cutting off the relationship, rather than seeking reconciliation.
A three step solution for reconciling troubled relationships is found in Matthew 18.* Although this scripture may appear specific to sins within the church, its wisdom can be useful for solving conflicts among family members.
The first step in the Matthew 18 principle is to take one’s grievance directly and privately to the offending person. The offender is given an opportunity to apologize and/or to share their viewpoint, which may provide deeper understanding of the situation. The goal is restoring the relationship, both with one another and before God.
If going directly to the person does not resolve the conflict, we are to take another person along with us.* This second person should be as unbiased as possible. These two should give the offender an opportunity to right the wrong. It may be that we have some responsibility in the problem and mutual forgiveness is in order. Again, restoring the relationship is the aim.
When wrongdoing continues to be unrepented, the third step is to take it to the church.* Within a family, this group could be friends or family members, but whose motivation would be reconciliation. If at this point, there is still no contrition, the sinner is to be treated like a pagan or tax collector – we are to love our enemies and pray for them. We may distance ourselves physically and emotionally from the offender, but our hearts still seek God’s mercy and grace. We all need forgiveness and we are called to forgive, even when we have been wronged.
This Biblical principle provides a Christ-like solution for families where cut-off is all too common and communication is often in triangles rather than in straight lines. Communication habits are not easy to change, but by using this principle, progress can be made. Family relationships are well worth the effort of practicing the Matthew 18 principle.
*Matthew 18:15-17 “If your brother 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 over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony 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, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”