Jesus did not mince words when it involved broken relationships. The Sermon on the Mount, where He addressed the topic, was probably delivered in Galilee, seventy miles from Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus was saying that if someone were offering a gift at the altar of that temple, but realized that his brother has something against him, he should leave his gift, travel the seventy miles back to Galilee, fix the relationship, and then travel the seventy miles back to the temple to offer his gift (Matthew 5:23-26). In other words, Jesus urges us to radically drop everything and sacrifice whatever is necessary to repair a damaged relationship. That should give us an idea of how important good relationships are to Him!
Jesus follows that teaching with the command to “settle matters quickly” (Matthew 5:25). If we don’t, matters will get worse. Our adversary might turn us over to the judge who will turn us over to an officer who has the power to throw us in prison. The point Jesus is making is if we fail to settle our disputes at once, they will escalate and we will have to pay a most severe penalty—we will become progressively less free. Is it easier to quench a fire as soon as you smell smoke or an hour afterwards, when the fire is raging and half the house is already destroyed?
So, Jesus is asking three things of us whenever we have a broken relationship. First, we are to value that relationship highly; second, when it is broken, we are to do whatever we can to fix it; and third, we are to fix it quickly, or it will escalate. Nothing could be more valuable for parents and leaders in our school communities. The health and protection of the entire community is at stake.
However, the book of Hebrews cites a third principle to keep in mind with respect to troubled relationships. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15). A single person with a bitter root judgment against another and who will not confront the offending person can defile many and absolutely destroy a Christian community.
We have all experienced before how one person with an unresolved issue, instead of confronting the person responsible for creating the problem, chose instead to vent frustrations to others who were not involved in the case. When this happens, the writer of Hebrews says, “many” people can become defiled. They will take sides on the issue themselves creating more strife and division and setting even more people against one another to such an extent that it takes leaders weeks to resolve all the problems and hurt feelings.
Our fights and quarrels, James reminds us, come from the evil desires battling within us. We all struggle with our sin nature, different degrees of brokenness, different measures of pride, different family histories and religious traditions, and different degrees of education, experience and maturity. Any of these conditions can bring us into conflict with others.
Thankfully, we have clear guidelines on what to do when we have an issue with someone. First, we are to go to the person directly and express our concerns (see Matthew 18). If it is a teacher, we should go to the teacher, one on one. If it is a parent, we should call up the parent and ask to meet so that the issue can be worked out. If an administrator said or did something that was offensive, or implemented a new policy with which we disagree, we should schedule a meeting quickly to talk it out and gain understanding, while also making up our minds that even if we disagree with a decision and express that disagreement in the right ways to the right people involved, we will still support it once it has been made, trusting that the Lord will work it out either way.
We don’t go around the person who offended us, we don’t spread our issue to others not involved, we don’t make excuses for why we do not confront the person, and we don’t grumble and complain to others on Facebook out of our own frustration. These kinds of actions defile others and harm the community. When an issue arises, we drop everything to repair the relationship, we try to settle matters quickly so the issue does not escalate, and, remembering to always “speak the truth in love,” we go directly to the person who has offended us and work out the problem face to face. This is how mature Christians resolve their differences and preserve their unity and their mission.