I've noticed something among fellow Christians here on FaceBook as well as in real life that is troubling to me and it bears addressing.
I've seen people making vague (and sometimes clear and direct) accusations of their brothers and sisters in the Church in general ways but NEVER seem to address them personally with the people that they are criticizing.
Often this is just a tactic to take focus off the accuser's own sinful behavior but that’s an entirely different topic to be addressed at a later time. Still, I think it is worthy to note that if we see someone accusing another of something in public there is a really good chance that the accuser himself is hiding something in his own life and is just using the accusation to keep his own sin hidden.
I would also point out that everything the Bible teaches us to do was written by the Creator of all people and is, therefore, applicable to ALL people…. even non-Christians.
Jesus addressed this problem and told us SPECIFICALLY how to handle what others do to harm us.
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)
It’s important to note that this verse addresses sins against us personally, NOT sins that we witness being done to others or (this is VERY important) sins that someone else tells us happened to them. This is about what is done to you. That’s it.
The proper response to this is to go talk to the person who did it to you.
God’s desire is that we all walk away from these encounters as one in Christ – no division (which is from the devil.)
My suggestion is that should you ever have to do this you do it in such a way as to not encourage the other person to get defensive. The truth is that if I hurt you (on purpose or by accident) I have racked up a debt with Jesus as well as with you. You loving me and Jesus enough to obey the Lord and talk to me about it just might help me habitually behave better in the future.
I strongly suggest we all practice this.
It is very important to bear in mind that whatever offended you might have just been an innocent misunderstanding. Sometimes we are offended but we’re just wrong about what was said or done or we perceived it incorrectly. Doing the right thing and going to the person who did it could very well clear that up.
Jesus is VERY aware that not everyone will listen to someone who comes to them to point out how they have sinned against a brother or sister. Therefore, He has put a system into place to deal with that.
“But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY WORD MAY BE ESTABLISHED.'” (Matthew 18:16)
I have noticed that when two or more come talk with him, the number one reaction seems to be that the offender accuses them of having gossiped about him with one another. I would point out that if Jesus tells us to do something that presupposes that offended people will find one another and chat about it….chatting about it will NOT be gossip.
So, we are to gather and approach the person and tell them what he has done to us and how it has affected us.
Again, we should try to do this in such a way as to not encourage the other person to get defensive. Of course, the other person is free to get defensive (or to even fake being offended) but the goal here is to be able to look Jesus in the face later and know that you did your best to help the brother that offended you.
“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17)
The next step is a dramatic one but sometimes has to be done. I don’t think, in real life, it actually comes to this very often because most of the time the first step seems to settle differences.
How this looks mechanically can vary from fellowship to fellowship. Jesus doesn’t give any strict guidelines about how it is to be done…just that we are to do this.
I was involved in such a meeting once in a congregation in another city and when I said what was on my mind the person who was hurting others actually manifested a spirit of anger….one of the very things we had to tell the church that day. It was a disappointing day in that nothing changed that we could observe. The people were spiritually unaware. The other leaders were poised to become self-defensive and, as often happens in spiritually abusive systems, those who see and communicate the problem BECOME the problem in the eyes of the majority.
After the meeting, we who had come to the offender together and then in front of the entire church in a business meeting withdrew from that fellowship like Jesus says to do in Matthew 18:17. We went out to enjoy a wonderful lunch together and all three families went on to enjoy incredible spiritual growth and service to the Lord in other fellowships and places.
My point here is that obeying Jesus DOES bless us….even if we do what He says and do not see the results we would have liked to have seen.
To get back to the reason I was prompted to write this piece today….what I have observed in person and on FaceBook when a real or perceived offense has taken place has often been, not surprisingly, the complete opposite of what Jesus tells us to do. Our enemy hates Jesus and His people and will never tempt us to do something spiritually healthy.
Instead of coming together with those who have hurt our feelings or disagree with things we do or say we are tempted to just go somewhere else. Then we take little shots at them in public to justify why we are doing the opposite of what Jesus says to do. It’s not conduct becoming of a child of God and when we do this it hurts us, the people who offended us and, worst of all, it hurts the advancement of God’s Kingdom in us and through us.
My encouragement today is that we all purpose in our hearts to obey the Lord in these things, rather than taking the easy route of gathering up all our toys and going to play somewhere else.
I leave you with this loving passage from the Apostle Paul containing fourteen things we can to promote our own spiritual growth, harmony in the Church and advancement of God’s Kingdom:
“Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11-18)
Living like this meshes perfectly with our identities in Christ. Additionally, I am convinced that when we live this way it becomes VERY hard for us to be offended in the first place.
The Lord bless you and your brothers and sisters in Christ.