The Path of Fellowship

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‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ – Eph. 4:2-3 (NIV)

God’s will is that we should walk in fellowship with our brother. Yet true fellowship does not mean there would never be misunderstandings between brothers. Indeed, you cannot successfully travel in the path of true fellowship without knowing how to restore fellowship when conflict occurs. And this path of reconciliation is what our Lord outlines in a masterly way in Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV)

“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.

First note that our Lord makes allowances for misunderstandings among brothers, that is why he says ‘If your brother sins against you’. Our Lord knows that brother will sin against brother. It is George Verwer who has said, ‘Where two or three of the Lord’s people are gathered together, sooner or later there will be a mess.’ We must not become disillusioned when our brother sins against us, or when relationship problems occur among the brethren. Relationship mess will happen but the Lord wants us to use it to build up, and not destroy, fellowship.

Isn’t it beautiful to see the simplicity of our Lord’s instructions on how to win back a brother’s fellowship? I have observed first-hand the trouble it causes when men neglect this simple wisdom and seek to handle misunderstandings with man’s complicated ‘wisdom’. For example, many, when offended, would rather go and share the matter with others, rather than going first to the brother who has sinned against them as the Lord instructs here. This instruction is simple yet it is thorough and if we want to experience true healing in our relationships we will do well to humbly follow it to the letter.

It is important that I make one more comment before looking in detail at what the Lord instructs us to do here. I want you to note that the goal of this directive is the restoration of fellowship. It is obvious that this is the Lord’s intention when he says ‘If he listens to you, you have won your brother over’. The goal is to win over your brother into fellowship so that he is not cut off from you. The goal is not to prove that you are right, but to win back your brother’s fellowship. If we do not go about these instructions of the Lord with the right attitude we will never see his purpose fulfilled. God’s desire is that even in misunderstandings brothers should seek the wellbeing of each other. There must be a continual shalom (peace) from our heart towards our brother even when he has hurt us. This is in the spirit of the Lord’s words, ‘Bless them that curse (or hurt) you’ Matt 5:44b (KJV).

If this is the attitude with which we must apply these directives then we will need help, because when someone has hurt us, the natural thing is not to seek their wellbeing but their undoing. This is why it is important that our first step in carrying out these rules for reconciliation must be prayer. We need to seek God’s help to forgive our brother even before we approach him. We need also to come to a place where we are open to the possibility of being wrong in our assumption that our brother is the guilty one (remember what we learnt last week from Balaam and his ass). It is only when we obey the Lord’s directive with this attitude that it can bear the desired fruit.

I will conclude this next week.

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