Are you old enough to remember what life was like before Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were created? Can you think back to a time before the Internet was a common term? If you are too young for that, you might not understand what I’m talking about, but life was different then. Now, people announce everywhere they go and every little thing they are doing. Things that never used to be considered important enough to mention to anyone now get shared with everyone.
That sheds a whole new light on Matthew 18:15-17. Decades ago, if someone had been offended by someone else, they may have been tempted to tell their close friends, and even though that was inadvisable, the matter would have still remained relatively quiet. Now, if someone is annoyed by something, it will very likely get posted to Facebook for hundreds of other people to see and share their opinions about.
The procedure given in Matthew 18:15-17 is probably intended for more serious infractions that may result in excommunication if taken to the bitter end, but I think that the principle is still valid for interpersonal grievances as well. If you are upset with someone because of something they did to offend you, and you wish to resolve the issue and preserve the relationship, announcing your frustration to the world is not likely to help your cause. It is possible that the other person has offended you without even realizing it. If that is so, the matter will be resolved quite easily once you share your hurt. If it was an intentional slight, you will at least know where you stand. We are asked to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22, Luke 17:3-4), and we are asked to love our neighbour (Luke 10:27), but we are not required to remain friends with anyone who intentionally abuses us. We can be respectful to them. We can be gracious and civilized. We can follow God’s steps for reconciliation. But if, in the end, they don’t want to do their part to contribute to a healthy relationship, you do not have to continue to associate with them. If they are family members, of course, it may not be as easy as all that, and that’s where the graciousness and civility will be essential. Nonetheless, we don’t have to go out of our way to spend time with them. At the point where they are ready to adjust their behaviour, because you have already forgiven them, you will be ready to renew the relationship.