Matthew 18:15-17: Christian Conflict and Social Media


themaskpackingheat_2Recently, I went to a fellow Christian via a Facebook PM about a matter that I felt he was wrong in. I chose a private message because I believe that Jesus Christ told us how to handle conflict in Matthew 18:15-17:

15Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  16But 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.  17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Most Christians recognize this passage as what is generally called Church Discipline. It may surprise you, but Jesus was simply reminding folks of OT procedure on the matter [see Deut 19: 15-21]. In other words, this procedure was established as a part of OT Law to help folks handle disputes.

Note that there are three steps to this process:

  1. A private exchange between two individuals.
  2. An exchange with two or three witnesses who are there to establish what was said and what wasn’t said AND to reason with the offender [note that verse 17 says, “if he shall neglect to hear THEM].
  3. A hearing before the church

Now it should be clear from even a cursory reading of tis passage that the initial exchange is to be a private matter. So imagine my surprise to find our personal exchange via PM posted to a wall of a Facebook Group. My wife experienced the same thing over another matter: a Facebook PM being pasted to a personal Facebook wall for the world to see.

The problem is, of course, that there is no way that this can be construed as fulfilling a step of Matthew 18:15-17. A Facebook post is by no means private, so we’ve left Step 1 in the dust. A wall post typically involves more than 2 or three witnesses [more on that in a moment], so it cannot be said to be a fulfillment of Step 2. Furthermore, we could not typically call Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platform the “church,” even in the local sense, and in those rare cases where, say, a Facebook group constituted an Internet Church [as opposed to a social media gathering by a geographically local church] posting a private exchange in this manner entirely skips Step 3.

It should be said that posting a private exchange between two individuals on a public social media forum actually violates the intent of Step 2, for the exchange is usually prefaced with remarks about how this other person hurt their feelings or how they’re attacking them. Rather than two or three witnesses establishing every word that is said [or isn’t], one party has sought to present the matter in a manner that seeks to bias their audience. They want their friends and family and fans to be on their side and tell them how awful this other person was to “attack them” or hurt their feelings. Rather than helping to resolve a conflict, such a tactic seeks to vindicate the one posting the private exchange. Often it is coupled with an attempt to demonize the other party.

In their zeal to comfort and rise to the defense of their friend, Christians often forget that we are to judge without partiality [Leviticus 19:15] and that their friend is essentially asking them to judge the matter based on their word alone!

Another matter to be considered is that posting a private exchange on Facebook violates 1 Corinthians 6, for when we bring our private disputes to a public Facebook wall rather than following the pattern God gave us, we are taking our disputes before both believers and unbelievers. For this cause the name of the Lord is blasphemed among the heathen. When they see us fighting rather than seeking to make peace according to the Lord;s command in Matthew 18:15-17, the unbelieving world wants no part of the Church or its Lord. And who could blame them? Paul advises us to accept wrong and let ourselves be slighted [1 Cor 6:7] rather than bringing our discord before the unsaved world.

Rather than trying to gain sympathy from friends or to demonize our opponents via social media, we are commanded to handle conflict with discretion [which we’ve already discussed] and urgency.  We are to seek to be a peacemaker and to remember to address the issue rather than attacking the person [Eph 6:12]. One way to accomplish this is by using descriptive language that relates the facts rather than evaluative language that passes judgment. For example, you should seek to say things like, “When you did this, I felt this” or “Please stop doing this for this reason.“] Don’t say things like “You made me feel this” or “Only an idiot would do that.” To be more specific, don’t call someone a liar; tell them what they said and why you think it wasn’t true. Sometimes our conflicts are based on misunderstandings.

You should also avoid passive-aggressive posts. Seriously. The Bible says that we should say what we mean [Matt 5:37]. I know it’s common in the South to say, “Well, bless her heart,” when you mean somebody oughtta do something about that so-and-so, but God wants us to use plainness of speech. Passive-aggressive posts that veil insults under innocent-sounding words are a form of gossip at best and slander at worst. As the Bible says, “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My bretrhren, these things ought not so to be” [James 3:10].

I freely admit that I don’t always respond as I ought. We need to keep in mind that Christians aren’t perfect and that everyone slips up in the same ways we slip up. Just as you’ve come after someone hot-headed with both guns blazing, you may encounter an unreasonable Christian who’s just having a bad day. Don’t let your emotions ruin your relationship. Sticking to the issues rather than engaging in insult will go a long way toward a speedy resolution. So will being willing to forgive a person for making an honest mistake and to seek forgiveness for your own.

Jesus emphasized the urgency of reconciliation in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said the following [Matt 5:23-26]:

23Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;  24Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.  25Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.  26Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.”

Here, Jesus advises us to be reconciled with our brother before the matter escalates to a formal hearing, where far more serious consequences were in store. Paul likewise emphasized the urgency or reconciliation, when he commanded the Ephesian Church, “do not let the sun go down on your anger” [Eph 4:26]. It’s easy to let misunderstandings fester into bitterness and on to full-blown conflicts. If both parties seek to resolve the matter quickly and discretely and to follow the outline Jesus gave in Matthew 18, personal conflicts don’t get the opportunity to inflate into full-scale church feuds.

Before I end this piece, a word on gossips.

Gossips love social media. I’m not condemning social media as a harpy pit. I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t go on social media. I’m saying that Christians need to be on guard against social media gossips. As the Bible warns, “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth” [Proverbs 26:20]. Following the steps outlined in Matthew 18 will prevent a gossip from getting a foothold in the conversation and make reconciliation a real possibility.

Bottom line: Christians, don’t use social media to air out your personal differences.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful.

Keep the faith,
Tony Breeden
DefGen.org

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom H says:

    Social media is also often used by ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends who are married to find each other for the purpose of arranging an affair. Maybe you could post about that, Tony. People need to understand what to do if contacted by an ex on fb and why it’s a good idea to keep distance from ex-bf’s or ex-gf’s.

    1. Tony Breeden says:

      Tom,

      I’ve often thought about writing a post on setting appropriate boundaries, especially where it concerns church ministry and social media. I may have to do that in the near future.

      Thanks for your comments,
      Tony

  2. jesusknight says:

    While I have a facebook account, I rarely ever use it. I just don’t like the lack of privacy in some conversations on it. I will say I NEVER to try to reconcile with anyone on it unless they live far away and I cannot do it personally. I talk to them in private messages on their main page that are private and not subject to others perusing our private conversations.
    I am a great believer in following Matthew for healing a relationship; and I would much rather have someone who is mad at me to just plain say so, so we can deal with it face to face.
    Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, Tony!
    Good article!

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