Happy New Year! Well, that's right, 2013 has arrived. And now, the big question is how are you going to make it happy?
It is no secret that many attempt to make the new year happy by taking up a New Year's resolution. A resolution, of course, is a firm decision to do or not do something. A resolution takes effort and determination with the desired outcome of promoting some type of well-being or health in one's life.
Here is an observation: half of these resolutions have to do with physical well-being and take up five of the top six spots. The second most popular area is "financial health," coming in at three and seven. Now let me say this very clearly, each of these is an excellent choice, but it kind of surprised me that there was only one that had to do with relationships — No. 9. Spend more time with family. So in this space here, I want to encourage relational health in 2013.
I became a student pastor at the age of 23. I remember at the start of that job how great it was to earn a living helping people and working with teenagers. However, it was not long into my time that I began to realize that working with people was not always easy. For example, I had a leader on the board that was riding me all the time and second-guessing my decisions. On top of that, I had two defiant teens who were driving me bananas with their attitudes and obstinacy. And then it all came to a head when the senior pastor lied to me about a critical matter. Negative people stuff can really bring a guy down.
Now you may know exactly what I am talking about. It may be that you are estranged from a significant other over a conflict. Or perhaps at your work place you are attacked with one offense after another. Maybe hurtful things are said at home. How do you handle it?
When facing conflict, some run, some pretend and some strike back. These are all natural inclinations. But in Matthew 18:15, Jesus presents a better way. "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over." The "Jesus way" of dealing with offenses focuses on steps that can restore a relationship.
No doubt about it, Jesus was speaking to the community of Christ followers here in this passage, "if your brother or sister sins against you." But the principles shared can be used widely in many different contexts.
"Go and point out their fault." The "go" is an imperative, so it is not descriptive but normative. For Christ followers, Jesus is not suggesting something but commanding, "If you are offended, you are to take the first step." This may not sit well with most. The thought could be, "Hey, they have offended me and so they need to come to me first."
Why does Jesus have the offended go to the offender first? It could be that Jesus wants to bring about self-control of the negative feelings. Perhaps Jesus is developing patience, long-suffering and mercy in his people through this process. In addition, it may be possible that the offender does not even realize the offense that has been leveled.
"Just between the two of you." Jesus' instruction is for a face-to-face coming together to work it out. Not through email. Not a dialogue on Facebook, but a private interaction.
Tone is not described here, but to understand the heart of Jesus, consider what John 13:34-35 says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." This "pointing it out" must be done gently and in love.
"If they listen to you, you have won them over." If they listen, that is, if they receive what you have to say with a level of agreement, you have "won" (a financial term that means to gain, as if to make a profit). The gain that is netted is resolution and restoration. Relational healing is now in play.
Dealing with offenses in this way is one of the hardest things to do but the best. There is nothing sweeter than working through an issue and getting past it.
Imagine what would happen if you took the words of Jesus to heart and began to deal with conflict and offenses in this way. It would change your life, and you would have a huge impact on those around you. It may bring about healed marriage, reconciled relationships with friends and family and deep satisfaction in your soul. And, of course, you would be on the road to relational health in 2013.
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church. Genesis meets at 9:30 a.m. at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey and 11 a.m. at Boyne City Elementary. Visit www.genesiswired.com for more information, or comment on Twitter @NormByers.