The Matthew 18 Principle Solves People Problems

Adapted from Dr. Paul A. Kienal

Matthew 18 Principle is a practical way to solve many types of people problems. The "me generation" philosophy of "I'll do it my way" sometimes spills over into the Christian Community. For example, when differences develop between individuals, some Christians take matters into their "own hands" and by-pass the Biblical procedure of solving problems.

A Christian church is made up of people. Like any other collection of earthly mortals, we have the potential for misunderstandings, disagreement and even wrong-doing. Nevertheless, it is God's will that we live and work together in harmony. Jesus said, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love another." (John 13:34-35). Due to human nature, we may at times irritate others, resulting in misunderstandings or strong disagreements.

In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus gives His formula for solving person-to-person problems:

"Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between him and you alone. If he hears thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. And if he neglect to hear thee, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican."

There are several clear principles that Jesus taught in solving people-to-people problems:

One: Keep the matter confidential.

The very pattern of sharing the problem only with those directly involved establishes the principle of confidentiality.

The bible has much to say about those who gossip or malign other with their words. "A hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor: but through knowledge the righteous shall be delivered." (Proverbs 11:9).

Two: Keep the circle small.

"...if thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone..."

The first and most often the only step needed in solving a person-to-person problem is for one of the two people involved to initiate face to face dialogue. Most problems are solved at the two people level.

Three: Be straight forward.

"...tell him his fault..." Jesus tells us to be forthright and to love honestly.

Sometimes it is difficult to be straightforward and tell someone the very heart of the matter. But restoration and improvement can only come when issues are lovingly yet clearly presented. The Scripture says, "...faithful are the wounds of a friend..." (Proverbs 27:6).

Four: Be forgiving.

"...if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother."

This implies that once the matter is resolved we should wholeheartedly forgive and restore the person whose fault has offended us. Galatians 6:1 reads, "...if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted. "

Most problems are resolved at the two people level. Forgiveness and restoration is the normal happy conclusion.

But what is the Matthew 18 principle if the individual will not "hear" you, or openly disagrees with your version of the problem? The two of you have met and talked together and you are not satisfied with the outcome of the discussion. What is the next step in the Matthew 18 principle?

Five: The two should agree to share the matter with the pastor or an elder.

At this stage the counsel of Jesus would be "...take with thee one or two more, then in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established."

Both parties should rehearse their version of the issue or issues with the leadership. Each person should come to the meeting in a spirit of prayer and humility, willing to submit to reproof and correction if needed. Those of us who bear the name of Christ should joyfully conform to the will of Christ. An open and honest discussion among people who are sensitive to godly principles will most often reach an amiable solution.

Almost all problems are solved at the two person level. A few remaining problems are solved at the three or four people level which includes a pastor, small group leader, or elder. Now let's say a problem exists and it is not solvable by the normal channels of communication and established Bible method. What is the next step in the Matthew 18 principle?

Six: The pastor should explain the problem to the board.

Depending on the complexity of the problem, it may be appropriate for the board to request all persons involved be present at the meeting.

The goal of such a high-level meeting is

1) a clear understanding of the problem; 2) solving the problem; 3) reproof and correction if necessary; and 4) forgiveness and wholehearted restoration of those who have made amends.

In summary, the Matthew 18 principle requires that individuals talk to each other about problems before they talk to pastors. If unresolved at the two people level, the matter is prayerfully and in an orderly fashion moved upward in the organizational structure.

This is the Lord's way of solving people-to-people problems. Notice how practical the Matthew 18 principle really is. A Christian church is a part of Christ's body. Everything that is done should be done in Christ's way.

The world's methods of solving problems is inappropriate. The idea of suing the church or persons in the church is a secular idea that has no place in the Lord's work. The bible is clear on this. "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to the law before the unjust, and not before the saints?" (I Corinthians 6:1).

Satan would like to destroy the normal flow of harmony and good fellowship. That is not possible if all of us follow the Matthew 18 principle of solving people problems.

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