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Sunday, 24th May, 1998 - Learning to Live with Disagreeable People

Scripture: Matt 18:15-20; Romans 12:14-21

Do you admire people who handle disagreeable people imaginatively? I admire the manager of an inner city high-rise block of expensive apartments I heard about this week. The tenants increasingly complained about the slow lift service. They were wealthy professional people who had paid a huge amount for apartments with harbour views, to be frustrated by a slow lift service.

Being lawyers, accountants and company directors they knew how to complain. The manager called in two elevator firms. One would replace the lift drive motors at a cost of $2.5 million. The other firm recommended an additional elevator shaft with express lifts at a cost of $7 million. The body corporate decided to sue the construction firm and their engineers for faulty planning.

The manager then spent some time on each floor outside the elevator doors talking to the disagreeable people while they waited. He said: "They complained about slow elevators. The elevator companies recommend faster lifts. But the real problem is our residents are bored waiting, up to a minute, for service. New lifts are an expensive answer to those bored minutes." His solution? He paid less than $2000 to have large mirrors attached to the walls in the lobby of each floor. Now people arrived, pressed for the lift, and immediately started looking at themselves in the mirror, straightening a tie, patting their hair, adjusting their dress, or just admiring themselves happily while waiting. There were no longer disagreeable people, only people who congratulated the manager for getting the lifts speeded up without much cost.

There are people with whom we have disagreement but who are not disagreeable people. We also need a guide for reconciliation with people with whom we have disagreement. Few people handle disagreements imaginatively. Look at the legal battles over the waterfront dispute. No imaginative approaches there. Look at the dull reaction to the complaints of the stolen generation of Aboriginal children. Where is imagination in dealing with the complaints of indigenous people? The Aboriginal community have justifiable disagreement with the rest of Australia. That cannot be ignored. A beginning to an answer is for the rest of us to say "Sorry". That is why every attender at every service in this Week of Reconciliation is asked to sign a Sorry Book. It is not much to say "Sorry" but it is a way to start reconciliation with Aborigines.

The Apostle Paul taught the young church to respond with the imagination of Jesus. He wrote: Rom 12:17-18 "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." He knew the difficulties and therefore gave the young church two qualifying statements. "If it be possible" suggests there are times when disagreeable people cannot be reconciled. So he qualifies it: "as far as it depends on you." When conflict comes you may not be able to persuade the other party. But at least you are not the instigator of trouble. You can be a peacemaker Matt 5:9 if you learn to live with disagreeable people. The Lord Jesus gives us a workable guide on how to live with a disagreeable person. If we are ever to live an effective life, we must learn how to get along with disagreeable people and people with whom we have disagreements.

Jesus taught his disciples: MATT 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 "Again , I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

This concerns living with difficult people who are Christian. Jesus then deals with non Christians. We are given five basic steps: MATTHEW 18:15-20

1. APPROACH THE PERSON CONCERNED PRIVATELY.

v15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." With the primary aim is not to attribute fault or blame but to seek reconciliation. Moses said: "Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself." Lev 19:17-18 The first step is private and face to face: no unsigned letters; no family members; no lawyers. We are to approach the person privately aiming to restore relationships. Disagreements can grow into major issues if left. If you feel hurt, go to the person alone and raise the issue. Do it privately. Those who spoke against my extension of ministry at the infamous December Presbytery of Sydney meeting, failed the Christian test at this point. The command of Jesus is clear: if you have a disagreement with a fellow Christian, you must go privately and talk with him or her.

2. BOLDLY INDICATE THE FAULT.

15"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you." Ultimately healing does not take place until the fault is discussed. Discussion, not discipline, is the aim. Even with children, faults must be discussed in a non-threatening manner to learn the reasons behind the fault and to restore right relationships. To threaten will confirm the division. All discipline, even this private kind, must be redemptive. Jesus assumes one who personally confronts another will do so with true humility v3-4. It is hard to accept a rebuke, but harder still to administer one in loving humility. Four times in two verses Jesus mentions "listening". So many people just talk at a person who has a fault, but Jesus, the "wonderful Counsellor" highlights the significance of listening by both parties. Every good counsellor knows the value of listening and this can only be done if you approach the person privately.

3. CONFRONT THE PERSON WITH WITNESSES.

Jesus says: 16 "But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." The Jewish Law was scrupulously fair. No one could accuse another of injustice or wrong without witnesses. If the person was guilty the witnesses had to take part in the initial punishment. It was the witnesses who had caught a woman in the act of adultery, who were taking her to the wall to stone her when Jesus declared that only the totally innocent should cast the first stone. It was the witnesses that took their cloaks off and laid them before Saul, when they stoned Stephen to death. In any charge, the presence of witnesses was essential to avoid the wrong person being convicted.

The Law of Moses said: "One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offence he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." Deut 19:15 Jesus expressed the same fair mindedness. If one has been disagreeable and is at fault, and will not talk, then confront the person with two or three witnesses. That protects the person being confronted and the accuser.

Frederick Perls, the great psychologist and founder of Gestalt Therapy, uses confrontation to help a disintegrated personality become whole. A person who wrongs another must face up to his actions before healing and release can occur. They must be confronted with their wrong. For many people that is a fearful and hurting process, but wholeness only comes when they are confronted with themselves and with their wrong. But Jesus knew that was necessary for complete healing. He not only said that, but practised it.

Jesus confronted the woman at the well at Sychar, with her own disreputable past, and from that confrontation, she was made whole. Jesus confronted the ill man at the Pool of Bethesda with his own resentments and frustration which became the key to his healing. Jesus confronted the man with many personalities at Gadara with his condition and he found peace and integration. Jesus speaks as a modern psychiatrist. The Uniting Church has a lot to learn here. With Jesus there is no place for secret accusations, for anonymous charges and committees who do not bring the accusers before the accused face to face. Jesus used confrontation as part of His method of resolving disputes. There must be healing before relationships are restored.

4. DECLARE THE MATTER FOR CHURCH DISCIPLINE.

17 "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church". The whole purpose of going beyond the two of you to the rest of the family of faith, is for the church to seek the restoration of relationships. The church seeks to discipline, not as punishment but as rehabilitation. The Essenes, the Jewish monks at Qumran, included their "Manual of Discipline" when they hid their library from the approaching Romans in 70AD. This manual on community life was one of the first Dead Sea Scrolls translated. It shows that the Essenes followed the same three step rule for disciplining a disagreeable brother: personal presentation, confrontation with witnesses, then discipline from the community to restore relationships. Jesus insists upon witnesses and advocates that the family of believers be consulted to help reconciliation.

John Wesley helped ordinary people to grow in their capacity and leadership skills by making them accountable to others and liable to discipline. Howard A. Snyder says: "In 1748 Wesley reduced the Bristol society from 900 to 730. From one society he expelled sixty-four persons, two for cursing, two for habitual Sabbath breaking, seventeen for drunkenness, two for selling liquor, three for quarrelling, one for wife beating, three for habitual lying, four for evil speaking, one for idleness, and twenty-nine for "lightness and carelessness". Few were expelled for strictly religious faults, and none for doctrinal differences. The largest number were excluded for not taking seriously enough their religion. In exercising discipline "the question is not," said Wesley, "concerning the heart, but the life." Discipline was both possible and necessary." p57 The insights of John Wesley are still needed in the church today.

If an erring person is at fault and personal discussion has achieved nothing, confrontation with witnesses has been of no avail, and the counsel of the church in discipline has been rejected, then Jesus tells us to accept the fact that the relationship has broken down, and the disagreeable person is now to be treated as if s/he had never professed faith at all. They are to be treated as a non-believer.

5. EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT OF REJECTION.

17 "If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." You can now respond to the disagreeable one by rejecting their claim to be treated as a brother. He is now to be treated as an unbeliever. "A pagan or a tax collector" was a phrase used for those who rejected the faith. It is poor exegesis to say that such people should be accepted. The argument and the New Testament parallels Rom 16:17; 2 Thess 3:14 show that Jesus has excommunication in mind. Rejections can also have spiritual results for eternity. Disagreeable people can judge themselves. 18 "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." But the church can find power from prayer together. Jesus finishes 19-20 "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Disagreeable people need to be surrounded with prayer for reconciliation. Prayer still works miracles by changing people!

In issues of disagreement we need a more imaginative approach. There is none better than in the guidelines laid down by the Lord Jesus. To love Him is to learn to live with disagreeable people!

REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:

THE RADICAL WESLEY Howard Snyder IVP 1975
THE EXPOSITORS BIBLE COMMENTARY F Gaebelein Zondervan 1979

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