I’d like to think that I am a pretty loyal and dedicated friend. I may not be as close to some friends as I once was, which happens as people grow up and move away, but when I do reunite with those I was once close to, it is like we never left one another. I like that about me, and I hope other people like it too. It makes for far less awkward moments. One part of being a loyal and dedicated friend is that I will stand up for my friends and plead their case. In some ways this can be a good thing, say if my cohort is defenseless and needs someone to speak on her behalf, but most times this just gets me in trouble.
How might you ask? I’m so glad you did. I have noticed over the years that when people see that you will plead their case, they are more vocal about things they don’t like with you. Bring on the personal example… When I lived in Chicago, I taught at this small, and amazing, private school. The school only had one class per grade level which gave students, teachers, and families a close knit relationship. For the staff, it was encouraged to eat lunch in the teachers’ lounge in order to bond with your fellow co-workers. My classroom was right next to the teacher’s lounge, so it was easy for me to pop my head in during lunch and any other free time I had. It was the meeting spot for all of the staff at the school, which was only like 30 people. Again, it was a small school. Diverse personalities would blend together and opinions about how leadership was handling certain situations or upcoming changes would come out. Grant it, it was not every lunch, but we all know those people who when given the chance will complain to anyone who will listen. For some reason, I would become that person. I would have the concerns and complaints of my co-workers, who were like my family in the city, running through my head, stirring up emotions concerning topics that I didn’t have an opinion about until my lunchtime discussion group. It was all well and good until we came to our staff meeting. Our principal would want to discuss upcoming decisions concerning the future of our school and ask for our input. I would boldly proclaim what some of my complaining co-workers had just said in the teacher’s lounge, yet NO ONE else would back me up. What? I would feel like a great General leading the troops into battle only to look back and see no one was following me. Yeah. I was a sitting duck. Then, to make matters worse, when the survey would go out to the whole staff about how the meeting went, I found out from my principal that my fellow staff-mates said I was pushy and overbearing – even too opinionated. Too opinionated?! I was sharing the opinions stated by others in the teacher’s lounge. I was passively berated with insults concerning my character by speaking the words of others, as my principal read every mean thing my peers said in confidence on the anonymous survey. She read off 14 of the 30 staff member’s comments, yet no one approached me face to face. I pleaded the case of others, and instead of being thanked and applauded, I felt betrayed and hurt. Apparently, some people want to voice their complaints about someone or something but have no desire to stand up for themselves. I wasn’t thrown under the bus. I was left out to rot.
Other times I have been on the flip side of this example. I’ve gone to coffee with someone I look up to, someone that I admire and have utmost respect for. The conversation is going great, until it takes a turn. I’ve said or done something that offended someone, and this person I admire is bringing someone else’s grievances to my attention. I know I can come across as brash, but I honestly don’t mean to. I am quite aware of my shortcomings and areas in my life that I need to work on. This is not to say that if someone doesn’t like something about me, I need to change it, but I am aware of the sinful areas in my life the Lord has shown me and with Him we are working on it. One of these things is how my tone can come across as rude, especially if you don’t know me. I have struggled with realizing my tone since I was 16; I’m aware it is an area of improvement for me, which HAS gotten better. Well, here’s the thing: the relationship between the person I admire and me was not injured; it was the relationship between me and this unnamed, third person who is not having coffee with us. At that moment, I feel defenseless. How can I explain my actions? How can I explain how God is working on me in this area and I apologize for being offensive? How can I restore this broken relationship with this someone unless I meet with him or her face to face? While drinking that cup of joe the third person lobbed a grenade and ran away instead of sitting at a table to create a treaty. Yes, the battle is over either way, but the first creates relational casualties while the latter restores relationship.
Crazy thing is, maybe not crazy but awesome, is Jesus speaks to this in the Bible. Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17:
“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 tax collector.” (emphasis added)
To be honest, this passage of scripture encourages me and frustrates me all at the same time. It is encouraging that Jesus knows that believers are going to sin against one another. It’s going to happen. We are sinners who are saved by grace and try as we might, there will be times when someone will be offended by something we said or did. But Jesus is all about the relationship. He wants to squash the issue before things get out of control. That’s why He says “just between the two of you”. No one else needs to get involved unless it can’t get solved between the two of you. Relationship restored. However, if the relationship cannot be restored between the two of you, then and only then, do you have outside people come along. Not fight your battles for you. Not go talk to Tiffany and let her know that she hurt my feelings, if the person who hurt you is named Tiffany. Just saying. No, Jesus tells us to bring another person to support the grievance of the sin with you and confront the sinner, not send on your behalf. If steps one and two don’t work, then and only then do you go to church leadership and ask for their support in handling the sin issue. Not personality issue. Not style or dress issue. Sin issue.
Here’s the frustrating side of this Scripture. Reading it, I know what Jesus tells us to do (Notice I said us, since I’m guilty of doing this too), but we like to skip step one and immediately get someone else involved. “Can you just talk to her for me?” “I don’t want to offend her, so I’m going to talk to everyone except the person that hurt me.” “It’s not that big of a deal to handle it Biblically, but it is enough of a deal that I’m going to get my respectable friend to handle it for me.” Clearly, we don’t say these things out loud, but as the old saying goes: actions speak louder than words.
Jesus tells us to handle conflict a certain way because He knows what will restore the relationship the best and fastest. Skipping steps hurts the relationship more than just being honest and speaking for ourselves from our own hearts to the ones who have hurt us. Yes, it is not easy nor comfortable to make yourself vulnerable to someone who hurt you, but if you really value the relationship, you are willing to make that sacrifice. If you aren’t willing to approach the person, the truth of the matter is you don’t value the relationship with a fellow believer in Christ as much as Jesus does. When we remember that it is a sin issue or concern, not just a personal preference, our thought moves from us receiving justification of our hurt to genuinely caring about the heart condition of our brother or sister in Christ. The motive changes. We are showing love to our neighbor, which is the second greatest command behind loving the the Lord your God (Matthew 22: 37-40). If you are that person who will plead the case of others (if you could see me, I’m frantically raising my hand for this one), when someone wants you to fight their battles, ask if he or she has done step one and gone to the person who has sinned. If not, send the complainer away to discuss the issue just between the two of them. Hard as it may be, don’t allow your friend/co-worker to skip steps and bring in outside voices too early. It only causes embarrassment and hurt, destroying the fraction of a relationship that may be there.
Satan wants to divide the Church. He loves to see us fighting with one another instead of uniting for the sake of the Gospel. Yes, we will sin against one another, but thankfully Jesus gave us step by step instructions as to how we should handle it. Jesus is perfect. His ways are perfect, even the step by step ways. Don’t skip steps. Don’t just vent in the staff lounge hoping someone will fight your battles. Be brave. Be loving. Speak for yourself.