There are many ways to practice unhealthy conflict resolution.
Sometimes, we run away from the person that hurt us, cutting off the relationship before we get hurt again. Sometimes, we bury the hurt, trying to maintain peace in the relationship, fearing turmoil in our own hearts. Sometimes, we talk to others about someone that hurt us, looking for an outlet or people to take our side.
If we are honest, we have probably done each of these things at one time or another.
Jesus calls us to something different.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” – Luke 17:3b
The Greek word for rebuke is connected to the word for honor, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.
When we speak to people directly about how they have sinned against us, we honor them. We treat them as a reasonable person who will be able to listen to our side of the story. We give them the benefit of the doubt that they may not realize how their actions affected us unless we tell them.
I have been on the receiving end of some difficult conversations. And though they have stung, they have helped me grow as a person. Often, I didn’t even realize what I was doing until someone told me. The conversation gave me a chance to apologize, and to think more deeply about how my actions affect others.
I have also been on the giving end of some difficult conversations. And though the anticipation of them has made me want to throw up, these honest dialogues have helped me maintain healthy relationships and a healthy heart.
It seems that Jesus is giving wise and kind advice.
Until He says the next sentence.
There’s often a next sentence with Jesus. The sentence we like to leave out when we quote Him.
“Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” – Luke 17:4
This reminds me of marriage. Our spouse is the person we love most in the world, but also the person we tend to hurt most often. We cannot put a cap on how many times we talk about how we have been offended or forgive the other person for offending us. Our commitment to the relationship compels us to have difficult conversations over and over and over again.
When Jesus sets up this call to rebuke, repent, and forgive, Jesus uses the word that at other times signifies “fellow believers,” our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to have the same kind of commitment to our family in Christ as we have to our family at home.
We are to be so committed to healthy relationships with fellow Christians that we are willing to have difficult conversations over and over and over again. We are to honor each other enough to tell each other when our behavior does not line up with how Christ called us to live, and to forgive each other when we repent of those behaviors.
This is an extraordinarily difficult teaching.
And to be honest, I don’t know how it applies to all circumstances. I don’t know how this applies people in power who seem to be abusing their privilege. (Perhaps true repentance on their part would mean stepping down or changing behavior?) I don’t know how this applies to a relationship in which a boundary must be set for the health of one or both parties. (Perhaps forgiving people doesn’t mean we have to continue spending time with them?)
What I do know is that this discourse is set up by the importance of not hurting those who are most vulnerable. So, Jesus is not willy-nilly throwing around commands that He knows will end up hurting people.
He wants us to understand that the forgiveness we receive from Christ should become a wellspring within us, which we can liberally and generously pour out on others.
We are called to forgive in the same way we have been forgiven. Without limit.