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When the conflict is the other person’s fault, it is MY responsibility to make things right.

So, early in our marriage, my wife and I are in the middle of a five-year fight when he shows up.  The lines have been clearly drawn and even though I am certain that we both have valid points.  We cannot get through the impasse.  We are firmly entrenched behind the barricades that we have both erected and there is no sign that this battle is going to resolve itself– until– he shows up.

Terri and I both have a friend and mentor named Richard who has been investing in our lives for years and he is in town for a leadership meeting. He is spending the night with us and in typical Nelson fashion, he enters our home guns a blazing with such fun and friendship that has made him a trusted advisor over the years.  Early in our welcome banter he asks an innocent question that will change the course of our evening and will finally break through the heart of our conflict.  The simple question he asked was, “Terri, so what does Tim need to do to be a better husband.”  To my surprise she looks at me and says, “Can I tell him?”.  And so began the thawing of the cold war we had been waging.

In this article, we are engaging with the how to resolve a conflict when the other person is at fault.  In a previous post we talked about how to resolve a conflict when you are at fault.  Jesus is interacting with the disciples about forgiveness and engages them with today’s topic.  It is fascinating to me that no matter who is at fault it is MY responsibility to try to make things right again. 

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  16 “But If he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed 17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Let’s make some observations:

  • The other person is at fault. vs 15
  • We are to take initiative when it is the other guys fault. vs 15
  • We are to show him his fault in private. vs 15
  • The goal is reconciliation. Jesus describes this as winning your brother. vs 15
  • But if he/she will not listen take one or two others to try to resolve this issue. vs 16
  • If the offending party will not listen to the smaller party, they are to be taken to a larger party.  Namely for believers- the local church body. vs 17
  • If they will not listen to the larger body, they are to be disciplined as an outsider. vs 17

I love this very practical approach.  Someone offends me.  I attempt to resolve the conflict and if I am unsuccessful, I have paths to go to attempt to bring satisfaction and resolution.  This really is the essence of our court system, a system of helping people bring some resolution to their disagreements. 

I think that is what most of the uproar is we have been talking about in previous articles about race relations in America. When the offended party feels like the system does not adequately bring justice, it is infuriating.  We are seeing that being worked out in the public square these days, and until there is equal justice under the law there will never be peace.

But we see that in personal relationships as well.  If a person does not feel that they are being fairly treated in a marriage or a relationship our sense of justice cries out to be satisfied.  Especially in a democratic society like America where individual rights are preeminent over the rights of the state.  In the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have been conditioned to demand fairness and equity. 

Our constitution declares it- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It is interesting to me that these ideas are sacred not because they are in our most revered national document but because the idea sources from the words of Jesus centuries before.  We all have a right to pursue a resolution that brings peace in our relationships.  Jesus wants us to be at peace and if we can’t get to peace, we need to seek a mediated path of reconciliation.  He does warn us to try to resolve our differences at an individual level before engaging outsiders.  Consider this passage.

Matthew 5:25 “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

If we decide to use the litigation route there is a chance that things will not work out like we had hoped.

So now for the rest of the story.  Terri, Richard and I sit down on our couch and begin to work through what she is concerned about, what I am concerned about and looking for a creative, synergistic solution that we can both live with.  After 3 hours of negotiation at the deft hand of our mediator we work out a plan that we can both live with.  Best 3 hours of our young marriage!  We learned from a Master how to work through issues that seem insurmountable.  We are forever grateful.  We have used the skills we learned that night many, many times over the next 25 plus years of our relationship.

Ephesians 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

I wish our country could sit down with Richard and work through our problems.  Maybe we could make some progress.

Remember, when the conflict is the other person’s fault, it is still YOUR responsibility to make things right.

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