Formations 08.16.2015: Making Peace

Matthew 18:15-19; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16-17

Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Kanye West is famous, among other things, for interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards. When Swift beat out Beyoncé for Best Female Video, the rapper rushed the stage to explain why Beyoncé’s should have won instead.

Although it has taken time, Swift has recently told Vanity Fair that she eventually came to a place where she is ready to move on.

“I feel like I wasn’t ready to be friends with [West] until I felt like he had some sort of respect for me,” she said, “and he wasn’t ready to be friends with me until he had some sort of respect for me—so it was the same issue, and we both reached the same place at the same time. I became friends with [rapper and record producer] Jay Z, and I think it was important, for Jay Z, for Kanye and I to get along.”

Swift doesn’t go into detail about what precisely Jay Z did to help her and West come to terms. It is instructive, however, to note that the process of reconciliation needed the involvement of a third party.

Jesus understood that such is often the case. In Matthew 18, he outlines a process by which fellow believers can be reconciled when one of them has been sinned against. If the other person won’t listen, he recommends involving two or three others. In a worst-case scenario, he even advocates involving the entire church family.

We can be grateful that our relational missteps are not likely to play out on a worldwide stage. But even relatively minor conflicts can cause great harm. They harm our souls by creating hard feelings, bitterness, or a desire to see the other person “get what’s coming to him.” But these personal injuries have a way of spreading across our network of friends and loved ones. It is fitting, therefore, that we sometimes need other people to help us past our relational logjams.

David Boroff, “Taylor Swift: Jay Z Helped Me Make Peace with Kanye West in Wake of VMAs Fiasco,” New York Daily News, 4 August 2015


• How should Christians today read and apply the instructions in today’s passages?
• Does the Bible give us a one-size-fits-all procedure for conflict resolution? Or do these passages simply provide guidelines or general principles?
• Think about conflicts you have experienced with people outside the church. Is there anything in these texts that does not apply to those conflicts as well? Explain.

Reference Shelf


The basic sense of the term reconciliation is that of the resumption of friendly relations, thus restoring a state of mutual harmony. The primary emphasis derived from the term is not simply a matter of a change of feeling or emotion, though this may be involved, but, rather, a fundamental change in the situation or relationship. Thus reconciliation is properly understood as a relational term.

There are of course different spheres of relations covered in the Bible by the term reconciliation. The most obvious dimension is the characterization of human interpersonal relations in social and political spheres. For example, in 1 Sam 29:4 Philistine suspicion concerning David’s offer of assistance against Israel is based on a decision that the offer is merely a treacherous plot by David for purposes of reconciling himself with King Saul. Or, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares that relations between individuals must be given priority over attention to the Jewish Law. Here the instance is cited of a man preparing to make an offering at the altar, yet remembering he has something against his brother. Jesus’ admonition is to go first and be reconciled with the brother before making the offering (Matt 5:23-24). The further dimension involved here is that reflected in the man’s actual willingness to make an offering to God, for the underlying rationale of the sacrificial system in which the man is participating is that, in response to one’s offering, God will restore the divine-human relation (cf. Lev 16).

Michael D. Greene, “Reconciliation,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 738.

On Recovering a Brother or Sister

Apart from v. 15, which has a parallel in Luke 17:3, this material is all from the First Evangelist’s special source. Notice that v. 18 is an almost verbatim rerun of Matt 16:19. This is as close as we get to a trouble-shooting handbook for dealing with problems in the community. It was obviously material that would soon prove useful in other Christian communities, for we find Didache 15.3 reflecting knowledge of this material soon after our Gospel was written, as does Ignatius’s Letter to the Ephesians 5.3. Notice that vv. 15-19 all make use of conditional statements, and the nature of the condition in Greek is a future more probable condition, with the exception of the condition in v. 19. Clearly we are not dealing with purely hypothetical situations here, nor are we dealing with a current crisis or rash of sinning in this Jewish Christian community.

The function of the discipline spoken of here is restorative, not punitive, but if the offending party refuses to respond to the appeals and witnesses, then they are to be treated as one would treat other out- siders, in this case pagans and tax collectors. Presumably this would mean being cordial but distant, not treating them with the warmth and hospitality expected between brothers and sisters in the faith.
Verse 15 assumes a situation where a community member sins against another community member. We are not told what the sin is, but since the word hamartia is used only here, in v. 21, and at 27:4, it would seem that a serious matter is involved. The first remedy is to go personally to the individual in question and rebuke them in regard to their sin or fault. We are not talking about verbal abuse but rather clear direct confrontation. As the phrase “between you and him alone” makes clear, this should be a private matter and encounter. We are told that if the brother “will listen,” which would seem to include hearing, accepting, repenting, and perhaps requesting forgiveness, then “you have gained your brother,” by which is meant this person is restored. Here is the tangible and practical description of what the parable about the lost sheep suggests. Notice that this procedure is primarily for the benefit of the one who has sinned, though it is also meant to ease the pain of the offended party.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 349–50.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Victor B.Dennis,Jr says

    This have been valuable resource for my preparation for teaching Sunday School for many years. It always precise some current situations and give a good explanation of the scriptures in any that we can all understand and relate too.
    Thank you!