Matthew, chapter 18, deals with correcting sin. “If your brother and sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (18:15)
When wronged, it can take a lot of discipline to keep one’s mouth shut and avoid discussing the case with others, especially when self-justification and injustice prick one’s pride. A wounded or embarrassed ego seeks security in numbers, gathering opinions to justify one’s position. Here is where prayer can be helpful. In fact, I believe prayer is the key to resolving disputes quickly and efficiently. Prayer between one listening heart and God can replace anger, fear, reaction - and any other mortal influence that would interfere with healing - with humility, moral courage, wisdom and unselfed love. This opens the way to healing.
Matthew wrote, “At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” (18:1) I read that as Bible language for “Who will ultimately be seen as right?”
Jesus called a little child to him. And he said to the disciples: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:2-5)
To me, to take “the lowly position of this child” involves prayer to know oneself as God’s child, as strong and pure and innocent and good, the way God makes us. And to “welcome one such child” extends the prayer to include the person in our path, the one we may have a problem with. Until we see ourselves and others as God's children we will never be right. When prayer reveals both parties as the image and likeness of God, they are seen to be on the same team. This better perspective smooths the path for conversation and other human footsteps that lead to righting wrongs directly, privately, quickly, lovingly, with forgiveness and without a big fuss.
The Matthew 18 code offers two more possible steps if persistence and insistence are needed for correcting wrongs. In all, the steps are quite insightful and complete. They require prayer to follow. Often one need only properly apply the first step to the case, through prayer, to resolve the dispute. The trick is to not have one’s eye on step two and step three “in case” step one fails! Why would we want to sabotage our own progress by skipping the prayer essential in the first step, or by assuming that such prayer won’t accomplish the desired result?
The next post will address Jesus' instructions on what to do if the case seems entrenched and requires persistence in prayer. Stay tuned! And if you have had an experience of resolving a conflict through following step one of the Matthew code, would you share it with us in the comments below?
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