While I was leading a very long mission trip, the Lord seemed to be teaching me about conflict resolution. Everyone was miffed, irritated, or spreading their hurts through passive aggression. As the mission leader, I encouraged everyone to take advantage of Matthew 18 and deal with it squarely.
One volunteer had no idea that passage of Scripture existed, so I walked her through it to the practical conclusion. Once it dawned on her what I was asking her to do, her eyes widened in fear. "You want me to...talk to her?!" Yes, I nodded. After prayer and encouragement, I walked her to the person and stood with her to provide moral support. I was confident it would go well.
I was completely wrong. Not only did the other person become overly defensive, but she attacked the person opening her heart, calling her selfish and immature. She threatened to leave and stormed out. The girl who had followed counsel began to cry. I was dumbfounded. We had followed God's direction!
This experience came to mind as I studied Moses. We typically remember positive adjectives when we think of this man. Meek. Godly. Patient. Self-sacrificing. Persistent. Strong.
But Moses was already done with the whole leading-the-Israelites-out-of-Egypt thing at the first obstacle. After asking Pharaoh to let the Israelites go worship God, Pharaoh responded with a variation of “for sure not,” followed by dramatically increasing the Israelites’ daily workload. He also made it perfectly clear that it was Moses’ fault for their beatings.
In typical Israelite fashion, their favorable view of Moses turned to hatred quickly. We thought you were going to help us, they complained, not make our lives three times worse.
Moses responded exactly the way I would have: started questioning why he was even there. “Lord, why have You brought trouble on the people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have you delivered Your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-23).
God, I literally did exactly what you asked me to do. Not only did nothing improve, it got worse. Why did you send me again? To make all the Israelites hate me?
Moses says what a lot of us think sometimes. We follow God’s counsel, what we believe He is clearly asking us to do, and nothing happens. Or sometimes, it even gets worse. Are we sure God was really leading us? Did He really send us? Did He send us for this?
The short answer: yes. God did send you here for this. I’m trying to think of a Biblical narrative where there was smooth sailing when the boat was headed the right direction. Did Joseph become ruler over Egypt without suffering the humility of a slave and prison? Did Daniel become an advisor for multiple different nations without being stolen from his home and constantly threatened by death? Did Paul write over half of the New Testament and found hundreds of churches without the stonings, whippings, confusion, and hatred? Did Jesus Christ ransom humanity withoutthe crucifixion? All of these people were following God’s counsel, and yet they experienced suffering.
God does not require our suffering, but following God in a sinful world does. The great controversy—the war waged between God and the devil—has our lives threaded throughout the battles. God guarantees us victory in Him, but victory is not synonymous with ease nor painlessness.
God tells Moses that He’s not done with Pharaoh, that He understands the Israelites are upset, and that He will still deliver them (Exodus 6). God never promised them instantaneous deliverance. He just promised deliverance.
We know the story. Pharaoh hangs on to his pride for awhile, but God brings His people out in a glorious way, bound for the Promised Land, led by the covenant-keeping God.
So what happened on that mission trip, and what of following Matthew 18? God does not promise that people will always listen. Matthew 18 isn’t a perfect recipe for happy relationships, but it is a guideline for the obedient child of God. People may respond like Pharaoh, but you still speak to them like Moses. We are not called to get results, we are only called to obey.