Jesus said something in Matthew 18 that is normally reserved for conversations about conflict resolution or, more specifically, dealing with sin. I contend that what Jesus said is not just a prescription for conflict resolution and reconciliation but is also the antidote for one sin in particular – gossip.
Here is what Jesus said,
This is the power of the small circle. The goal here is to keep the circle of those who are in the know as small as possible, not as large as possible. Gossip attempts to broaden the circle of information (usually false information but not always) to as many people as possible. It is a boundary violation that carelessly puts other people unnecessarily at risk. The damage cannot usually be fully undone because you have no idea how wide the circle goes and how to manage or reign it back in should one find out they were mistaken.
The small circle is limiting the flow of information to only those who truly need to know. The first step Jesus explains keeps the circle on a two person level. You know and they know. That is, at that moment, all who need to know. If resolution and reconciliation are turned down, the circle gets larger but still in a managed way and only to people who you can trust to not allow the circle to be increased by them blabbing about it to others. The “one or two others” should be spiritually mature, dependable and responsible people who know how to keep things private.
The circle is always kept as small as possible. This is hard to do because our human nature likes to be in the know and likes to let other people know we are in the know. This is a fleshly desire that must be resisted at all costs. We cannot couch the disclosure of someone else’s problem or sin in the guise of a prayer request, a secret, or anything else. This is difficult to do but it is essential to keep the collateral damage as small as possible. It is not just doctors who are charged with “do no harm” Christians should abide by that as well.
Last, we have an opportunity to train people on this. When someone comes to us who has been let in the circle who shouldn’t have been we stop the communication in its tracks. Someone comes up to you and begins to tell you something about someone, your first reaction should be, “Stop. Have you told them about this?” If not, they need to go and do so and not tell anyone else along the way. If they have they still don’t need to tell you about it. Do you know how many problems this would prevent in congregational/communal life in the church? Do you know how much damage would be avoided if we went directly to people and kept the circle as small as possible? We don’t all have a right to know everything. That is harder and harder to believe in a world where technology tries to offer us everything but it is true. You are not entitled to know everything. You will be better off for that!
Last, these things take prayer. You will notice the heading the NASB gives on this and includes “Prayer” even though that word doesn’t directly appear in their translation. It does in the HCSB in verse 19, “Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven.” These things take prayer and prayer makes us slow down and exhibit patience toward our brothers and sisters.