If someone says that you have hurt him, then do not deny it. If you do, then Jesus thinks you’re a pig.
Dealing with sins in history
Let me start from the beginning. Throughout history, God has set up different systems for men to deal with their sins. Of course, ultimately man has always been delivered from the final penalty of sin by faith, but so long as he is in his fallen human body, he continues to sin against others on a regular basis (some more regularly than others) and he needs a system to resolve the conflicts that result from sin.
After Eden, man apparently used his conscience alone to determine right from wrong…. and this anarchy eventually led to global destruction. After the flood, God gave men the responsibility to set up governments around the world that could even inflict, if necessary, capital punishment. Humankind ruined that system by trying to make a name for itself by setting up one centralized government in Babel… so God confounded the languages and spread them out in the world. Eventually, God gave Israel the Mosaic Law with a complicated set of checks and balances to keep Israel successful until Messiah comes to offer the promised Kingdom… but when He finally came, they rejected Him, so even that system ended in failure.
Unity with brethren
So, there’s Jesus in Matthew 18. The Jews have already rejected Him and He is postponing the Kingdom that He has promised to set up. The Mosaic Law has collapsed under Israel’s own sinfulness, and so Jesus gives his disciples some practical advice about dealing with sins, which will eventually become one of the standards for the Church Age (which, by the way, will also fall apart on us some day):
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matt 18:15 ESV)
Notice three things: The situation, the instructions, and the desired result. The situation is that a brother has sinned against you. The instructions are to tell him how he offended you in private. The desired result is peace with your brother.
Now, Jesus goes on to tell us what to do if this doesn’t work, and Peter even asks how many times we should forgive them (seventy times seven), but let’s focus on what it would look like to tell a brother his fault.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself
Earlier in Matthew, at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a warning about addressing others’ faults:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matt 7:3-5)
Before you go to your brother who has sinned against you, you need to first and foremost check yourself to make sure that you fit the standard that you are holding him to. We often hear people quote, “Judge not,” but what Jesus really said is:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck… (Matt 7:1-3a)
In other words, you actually do need to judge others; Jesus tells us that we need to confront brothers that sin against us, which means that we do need to make a judgment. But first and foremost, you must realize that you yourself will be judged to that standard. Once we have cleared the log from our eyes, we can seek peace.
Pearls before pigs
We have just looked at Matt 7:1-5, so let’s now look at Jesus’ words in the very next verse:
Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Matt 7:6 ESV)
What are “pearls” and that which “is holy?” In the context, we see that it is the pursuit of reconciliation. What are pigs? They are those that reject the opportunity for reconciliation and instead attack the person they have offended.
In Matt 18, we are commanded to forgive “seventy times seven,” and that even applies to pigs. But forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.
There is indeed a system of church discipline that exists to ensure unity, but sometimes the church fails. In the Mosaic Law, there were all sorts of rules about what not to do, then rules for what to do when someone fails to follow the rule, then what to do when someone fails to follow the rule about what to do when someone breaks the rule, and so on and so forth. “Don’t cast your pearls before swine” is that kind of rule – a failsafe when everything else is falling apart.
Peace when you’re hurt by pigs
Matthew 7:6 has given me real peace. Church politics has caused me much pain, and, to be honest, I have responded to church politicians in sinful ways before, leaving us in need of reconciliation. So, having inspected myself, I came to them for to resolve the issues, confessing my known sins against them and even asking if there was anything I was unaware of and apologizing for anything they brought up as well.
But, when any offense against me came up in the conversation, they had zero remorse, but only beat me down further. They were being, to use Jesus terminology, pigs.
I would love for us to be able to be reconciled, but the fact is that pride and politics are at the front of their minds, not Christ. I honestly think it’s possible that their offenses, whether they realize it or not, exceeds Peter’s 490 limit, but Christ’s point is that we don’t stop forgiving. Ever. So, I took some time to think of as many times that they hurt me and the results of their offenses and forgave them of each event individually. And, a couple that I hadn’t thought of at the time has crossed my mind since then and I have forgiven them of those offenses as well. You would be blown away if you knew how settling that is!
Many people have left churches over the pain that church politics can cause, and perhaps rightly so. But often they remain bitter for years after they leave. Before you leave a church over politics, check yourself to see if you need fixed. Once you have cleaned up your own act, try to reconcile (hopefully it works!). If they turn and tear you to pieces, then you will have more peace when you leave, because you’ll know that you’re protecting pearls.