When Matthew 18 is cited in Christian circles, it is most often within the context of conflict resolution. The reason, of course, is that this chapter contains the biblical mechanism for solving disputes: “If thy brother shall trespass against thee…” (Matthew 18:15). Someone has sinned against you; someone within the covenant community has treated you “wrongly.” What should you do? Whom should you tell? Should you say something to someone? Have you tried Matthew 18?

The Method of Conflict Resolution

Matthew 18:15–17 contains a three-fold method.

  1. Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother
  2. 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.
  3. And 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.

The Manner of Conflict Resolution

The success of the method of Matthew 18, in terms of resolving variance, is dependent upon our awareness of the remaining contents of Matthew 18. It’s no coincidence that this procedure finds itself between Christ’s teaching on the necessity of the spirit of humility (18:1–3) and His teaching on the necessity of the spirit of forgiveness (18:21–35).

The method of Matthew 18 is nothing without the manner. The manner required for conflict resolution is as necessary as the method. The chapter begins with the necessity for childlike humility: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). How often does the method of Matthew 18 fail because instead of childlikeness there is a contest to see who is the greatest (18:1)? The chapter ends with unlimited forgiveness:

[thou shalt forgive] “seventy times seven” (18:22). Again, how often does the method of Matthew 18 fail because we have one another by the throat (18:28), unwilling to forgive?

The next time someone asks you about disputes or disagreements, ask them, “Have you tried Mathew 18?” Remember that the method never excludes the manner. Perhaps if humbler, more forgiving hearts prevailed in more people and more often, the method would never even be necessary.