Matthew 18 and Family Harmony
As I have said before and will say again: Matthew 18 is not about so-called “church discipline.” Matthew 18 is about reconciliation and keeping the peace in ALL relationships. These are principles set forth by Christ that make us successful in our Christian endeavor for peace and harmony at work, home, and church. The only instruction regarding the church performing THE actual discipline on a believer is when an elder sins. The church is to rebuke him before all so that the other elders will fear. Other than that, there is self-discipline, and the Lord’s discipline which takes place within the church; and when a congregation breaks fellowship with a professing believer that is committing blatant public sin and is obstinate about it—outside of the church where Satan is used to destroy the flesh so the soul can be saved on the day of redemption.
This letter is posted with permission because I think it can be helpful to others. It is a letter to a son by a (step) father who is using the wisdom of Matthew 18 to resolve family conflict. Other spiritual issues that often occur in mixed families are addressed as well. This is from an actual real-life situation, and I suspect, not all that unfamiliar to many.
Though you profess to be a Christian, you continue to display an utter indifference to godly counsel. This is at the root of many problems in your life right now, and affects the lives of others as well. The Scriptures not only distinguish believers and unbelievers by what they profess/believe, but also by what they do. James challenges Christians to show their faith by what they do, and I would like to follow James’ example and challenge you in the same way.
Not only do you show an indifference to the finer details of biblical counsel, you become agitated when confronted, and make the imperfections of the messenger the issue—complete with a long list of how your fragile sensitivities have been violated. Your problem is with God. He tells you many things that you do not want to hear or follow. We all struggle with this at times, but you continually throw the gauntlet down at God’s feet as a lifestyle.
The latest episode is no exception, and we must now address it accordingly. You sat at more than one family devotion here where Matthew 18 was taught. You know the procedure and God’s wisdom behind it. Yet, when you had a problem with your mother and me, you did not come to us “alone,” you went to your brother who was in no wise involved. The Bible calls this, “gossip.” Furthermore, you later went to your mother without me present when you clearly had ought with both of us. This propagated further sin, as your mother entertained the conversation without me present. Again, your problem was with both of us.
Your assumption is that God winks at such things. I assure you that he doesn’t, and the results of not doing things God’s way continues to wreak havoc in your own life coupled with a refusal to recognize how it affects others. In regard to others, you are astonished that they protest this reality; apparently, because you are worth the trouble in your own eyes. Though the mother of your child has issues to say the least, this is even the case in regard to her at times, and I implore you to consider that in her case—God has a purpose for her being involved in your life. We all need to remember this. She is NOT the enemy! I say this to my own indictment: she is a ministry. Where has the gospel been shown to her in all of this?
Moreover, after doing everything in this latest situation your way, and not God’s way, what you did do at the end was also anti-biblical. Unbelievable. If I didn’t know better, I would say that you actually make an effort to do things the wrong way. But I do not think this is the case; I believe you unwittingly think that you know better than God. Though you would say that is ridiculous, your life states a contrary claim.
So what did you do wrong when you finally got done with your wrong procedure? Four things, lest it only be one more. First, you failed to remove the log from your own eye before you removed the splinter from your mother’s eye. The events surrounding this situation alone, starting back at the hospital when your son was born, supply ample data alone without mentioning the rest of your life.
Secondly, disregarding all of the time and money that your mother has invested in your son, and for that matter, you as well, you harshly disregarded all of it and judged her on one event. The Apostle Paul angrily addresses this kind of judgment towards others in the second chapter of Romans.
Thirdly, you have always expected a full investment of emotional capital into your son regardless of the uncertain future that you have created in this situation that would prevent such investment from ending in heartbreak. I have watched from afar as your mother has poured her heart into this child, while your indifference to the possible discontinuance of that and her subsequent heartbreak looms on the horizon like an ugly beast.
Fourthly, because you know more about raising children than God, your son throws temper tantrums and screams/cries/yells at will, and at the behest of every environmental change that he is able to detect. Regarding your son’s mother, it’s not all her fault—own your part. In this case, your mother and I driving away to make an appointment prompted such response, and you used that to accuse your mother and I of heartlessly driving away from your son after supposedly refusing to say goodbye to him while he cried in the street. In light of what your mother has done for that child, I find this accusation disgusting, deplorable, and evil. Let there be no doubt in your mind—I will not tolerate your heartless/ evil manipulation in our household.
The Scriptures make it clear; we will all have a propensity to not honor our parents. Even at my age, I confess that I struggle with this in my relationship with my own mother. Though I love her, I often make other things a higher priority that shouldn’t be. With the exception of your younger brother of late, you and your older brother do not recognize this biblical warning in the least. Your older brother I understand, his honestly in regard to rejecting God’s counsel is worrisome, but more honorable than your profession of Christ and subsequent disregard for His lordship in your life—further rejecting His name of “Savior AND LORD.”
Your mother has endured this dishonor in many ways, and for many years for fear that she would lose the closeness she so longs for with her sons. She loves you so much, that your dishonor is a small price to pay for the privilege of relating to you which you hold over her head as a ransom for getting your own way with her. She is not stupid, she knows this is the case, but again, sees it as a small price. But the price is much larger than she realizes. People who love to the degree that your mother does— have difficulty assessing such cost. Let me be brutally honest; I do not have her gift of love to that degree, and as her lover and protector, the cost to her is easy for me to assess.
Your mother has laid her very life on the alter for you boys, and it is high time that all of us contribute to a blessed, peaceful, happy, environment for her in these latter years that should be a retirement from the 20+ year (brutal) war she has fought to hold this family together.
But no, in your book, all bets are off because she was less than perfect in her utter emptying of herself for you. How dare her not serve your “needs” perfectly! While right now I am fairly disgusted with you, I see your gargantuan selfism as an opportunity for God to be abundantly glorified. I see a hope for a time when you and I are closer than true brothers in the unity of Christ. But unless you awaken to reality, this will not be possible, and I refuse to let your mother continue to pay the price.
Lastly, this is where we are at. You have been confronted, and we are not obligated to grant forgiveness if it hasn’t been requested along with a commitment to change. You are unreconciled to your family. This by no means states that you will be ostracized, for our intentions towards you have always been, and always will be love, but it does mean that this unresolved issue may come up in every conversation that we have with you in the future if we do not choose to cover your offence with love.
Nevertheless, let me clarify what is expected beyond a case where you fail to see the need to ask our forgiveness resulting in reconciliation. As an emancipated “adult,” you will honor our commitment (though at times lame) to do things God’s way in this household, and you will not hinder those efforts via your disregard for God’s ways of doing things. You will not display your unwillingness to honor your mother in this household or by other means of communication outside of this household. If you will not at least respect the direction that this family has chosen, recognizing in the very least that we have a right to do so, separation may indeed be necessary.
Life is a gift from God. Christians are called to peace. Though we have allowed your poor choices to constitute emergencies on our part, even emergencies that were predicted, your disregard for us choosing to accept that with little confrontation, and your expectation for more of the same, with no remembrance of the former or thankfulness thereof, will no longer take place.
Make an appointment for purposes of reconciliation, or duly note the last two paragraphs. Your response or non-response will be applicable. I have received word that you are “sorry” for what happened, and I don’t doubt that, but the past 20 years are fraught with “I’m sorry” with little result or change of behavior. Why is that? Again, go figure, God has the answer: mere “I’m sorry” without repentance is what the bible calls “worldly sorrow.” Repentance shown forth by a determination to change for the sake of the gospel is what pleases God and yields results. This requires a renovation of how we think, as well as what we do.