Problem Resolution Among the Elect of God
One of the most apprehensive and painful experiences is having to confront a brother or sister in the body of Christ with issues regarding interpersonal problems or sinful attitudes or behavior. It would be good if such issues never occurred among the elect, but the reality of the human experience is that these types of problems will occur. Moreover, these issues must be dealt with according to God's law in the way taught by Jesus Christ and his apostles.
Jesus said the elect are the salt and light of the earth, which means we are the ones who preserve and show the way of righteousness. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to manifest God's way in everything we do, including the positive resolution of interpersonal conflict and sinful attitudes and behaviors. See Matt.5:13-16.
Foretelling the advent of Christ, Isaiah was inspired to write:
"The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify [make great or cause to be great] the law, and make it honorable [make great or to expand]" (Isa.42:21 KJV).
Throughout Jesus' ministry, he expounded the precepts and principles of his Father's laws. He also explained that these laws must become a part of our attitude and behavior if we are to be true followers of God and expect to enter the Family and Kingdom of God as an immortal spirit-being.
Jesus and The Law
Jesus taught that anyone who wants to follow him must believe and practice the things he taught about his Father's laws, precepts, and principles. The practice of God's law includes the practice of the laws which were set forth to govern the congregations of God:
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. [fill to the full]. For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled [come to pass]" (Matt.5:17-18 KJV)
"Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least [less than nothing] in the Kingdom of Heaven: But whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I say to you that except your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt.5:19-20 KJV).
The Scribes and Pharisees were known to be extremely legalistic; in that, they followed the letter of the law, but also added their own rules to make the law more restrictive. However, they did not follow the spirit of the law, so their righteousness was actually self-righteousness. The Father's elect must understand both the letter and the spirit of the law and apply both in our lives. This is much more righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day.
Obey the Law
The Father's elect must obey the civil laws in the nations where we live, unless these laws are in conflict with God's laws. Additionally, because the Father is sovereign over all that exists, there is no higher authority to whom we can appeal in order to resolve or adjudicate a matter within the collective body of Christ. See 1.Cor.6:1-10.
JESUS' INSTRUCTIONS ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Jesus sets forth a number of precepts and principles in Matthew 18:1-14 which are directly related to preventing and resolving interpersonal problems and sinful attitudes and behaviors within the congregations of God.
Who is the Greatest
Prior to being converted into earthly children of God the Father, Jesus' disciples were concerned about who among them would receive the greatest reward:
"The disciples came to Jesus asking, Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" (Matt.18:1 KJV). See also Mk.9:33-35.
Jesus used this occasion to explain the proper attitude we should have about heavenly rewards and how to resolve problems caused by interpersonal conflict and spiritual sin, which would arise among his followers after his death.
As a Little Child
"And Jesus called a little child to him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Truly I say to you, except you become converted and become as little children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt.18:2-4 KJV). See also Mk.10:13-15.
In order to begin the process whereby you will receive rewards in the Kingdom of Heaven, you must first be converted and become one of the Father's children, after which you must assume many childlike qualities of attitude and behavior in order to successfully live a life pleasing to the Father and enter his heavenly kingdom.
Childlike humility is the opposite of self-importance and haughtiness. Little children are teachable and eager to learn, trusting and dependent on their parents to supply their needs of care and protection, and accepting and giving of love without thought of personal gain. These are but a few of the many childlike qualities one who is a child of God should cultivate and make a part of their attitude and behavior in order to please the Father and enter into his heavenly kingdom.
Caring for Each Other
"And whoever shall receive one such little child in my name receives me. But whoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and that he were drowned in the sea" (Matt.18:5-6 Para.). See also Mk.9:36-37.
There are two very important lessons to be learned from what Jesus says in this analogy: one lesson is about being courteous and hospitable toward all of the Father's children and accepting them into loving fellowship, but the other lesson is actually an extremely serious warning not to be the cause of an offence to any of the elect.
"Then he said to the disciples, It is impossible that offences will not come: but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and he was cast into the sea, than he should offend one of these little ones" (Lk.17:1-2 KJV). See also Mk.9:42.
The English word offences in Luke is translated from the Greek word skandalon, which means a trip stick (figuratively to cause offense or displeasure). The general usage of the word skandalon in the New Testament connotes an obstacle to faith, which is a cause of failing and destruction. The use of the word skandalon should leave no doubt that Jesus is describing a person who is the cause of one of the elect failing to obtain salvation. This is the context in which Jesus explains the method for problem resolution within the church.
To be discourteous and inhospitable to one of the elect, to not give them the respect they deserve, or to be the cause of one of the elect's failure to obtain salvation brings serious consequences:
"But woe to the world because of offences. It is of necessity that offences come, but woe to the man that cause offences to come" (Matt.18:7 KJV Para.).
It is always better to live our lives in a way which avoids interpersonal problems and sinful attitudes and behaviors. However, this is not always possible; therefore, Jesus gave a serious warning to be careful not to be the cause of someone's failure to obtain salvation.
Removal of Sinfulness
"Therefore if your hand or your foot offends you, cut them off, and cast them from you: it is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if your eye offends you pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is better for you to enter in to life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire" (Matt.18:8-9 Para.). See also Mk.9:43-48.
Both verses 8 and 9 pertain to serious problems in the behavior of the elect toward each other which will lead to eternal death if they are not resolved.
When dealing with personal problems, it is clear that, in order to eliminate a situation which threatens your eternal life, you must first be aware that a problem exists. This can be accomplished in several ways: through personal introspection, study of God's word, prayer and fasting for guidance, or the advice or observations of another person.
In the church as a whole, when dealing with problems which concern a member who is found to be incorrigible, that member of the body must be removed in order for the rest of the body to survive and prosper.
Do Not Despise
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones: for I say to you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father that is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost" (Matt.18:10-11 KJV).
This scripture contains clear instructions showing that individuals within the church should have respect and concern for each other. The instruction not to despise (to regard in an unseemly manner or to be unconcerned about) one of the little ones (one of the elect) parallels the love, care, and concern which the Father and Jesus Christ have for the elect when they go astray.
The reason the Creator God divested himself of his immortality and became human was for the purpose of saving people from eternal death. Therefore, each of the elect should also be concerned that all who are called to salvation are saved.
In order to provide optimum conditions within the church for spiritual growth and the securing of salvation, all must seek to have a harmonious relationship with each other, even if it involves confronting a brother or sister in the faith to resolve problems regarding interpersonal relationships or sinful attitudes or behavior:
"What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine, and go into the mountains, and seek the one that has gone astray? And if he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices more for that sheep, than the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so, it is not the will of the Father that is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt.18:12-14 KJV Para.).
In these three verses, Jesus shows the tremendous value the Father places on each individual he calls to salvation and the lengths to which he will go in order to bring those who go astray back into a harmonious relationship with him.
The attitude that each of the elect should have about problem resolution within the church should be the same as God the Father and Jesus Christ's. The reason for giving instructions about problem solving within the church is to save those who stray from righteousness and to prevent others from going astray.
Duty and Responsibility
"Brethren, if one is overtaken in a fault, you that are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself lest you are tempted. Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal.6:1-2 KJV Para.).
It is the duty and responsibility of each member in the Body of Christ to be concerned for the well-being of each and every member. If all will perform their duty and responsibility in the process of problem resolution within the body, the body will be healthy and can perform as it should. If problem resolution is not performed properly, the body will be sickly and not able to perform to its full potential.
When we consider the instructions and warnings Jesus gave about the attitude and behavior the elect should have toward each other, it should be obvious that resolving any interpersonal problems and sinful attitudes and behaviors within the church should be an extremely high priority.
The Law and Process
Jesus established the law and the process by which interpersonal conflict and spiritual problems among the Father's elect are to be resolved. Following this process is mandatory, not optional. The following scriptures concisely explain this law and process:
"If your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hears you, you have gained your brother" (Matt.18:15 KJV Para.).
"But if he will not listen to you, then take one or two others with you , that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he will not listen to them, tell it to the church: but if he will not listen to the church, treat him as you would a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt.18:16-17 KJV Para.).
"Truly I say to you, Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, That if two of you agree on earth as touching anything they ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt.18:18-19 KJV Para.).
The process Christ commands the elect to follow when resolving conflict and problems among each other can be difficult and sometimes painful to perform, with each progressive step in the process becoming more difficult and painful for all who are involved. However, conflicts and problems among the elect are very serious and must be dealt with seriously.
Types of Problems
There are basically three types of problems which arise among the Father's elect. The first is purely interpersonal and involves no sin, the second is interpersonal and involves sin, and the third involves sinful attitudes and behaviors.
The scriptures tell us that God the Father is a God of order, not confusion; therefore, the elect are admonished to do everything in an orderly way (1.Cor.14:33,40). To this end, Christ gave clear instructions about how to deal with the following issues surrounding conflict and spiritual problems within the church:
- Interpersonal problems involving no sin
- Interpersonal problems involving sin
- Sinful attitudes or behaviors
- Accusation against an elder
- Separation from fellowship
Because we live in very different times and circumstances from those of the early church, it is apparent that some of the instructions given for problem solving cannot always be complied with. However, we are responsible to comply with as many of these instructions and principles as possible. If we do this, we can be assured the Father and Jesus Christ will look favorably on our effort and bless us accordingly.
INTERPERSONAL PROBLEMS INVOLVING NO SIN
It should be the goal of everyone who seeks to obtain salvation and please God the Father and Jesus Christ to live their life in a way which avoids misunderstandings, disagreements, conflicts, and other interpersonal problems (Rom.12:18). But, it is not always possible to avoid these problems. The reality of the human experience is that these things will happen even within the church.
There are basically three types of interpersonal problems which occur between individuals in the church but do not involve sin: 1) being wronged or offended by someone; 2) wronging or offending someone; or 3) having a misunderstanding or disagreement with someone. Whichever the case may be, the problem must be dealt with and resolved in order for there to be peace and harmony between the individuals and within the church as a whole.
Unresolved interpersonal problems not only have a negative impact on everyone involved but also tend to cause disunity among the congregation over time.
The following is a list of the more serious things which can happen when interpersonal problems are not resolved:
- Attitudes and behaviors may develop that are not consistent with a righteous way of life.
- Attitudes and behaviors may develop which adversely affect the whole congregation.
- The problem may escalate.
- The harboring of ill feelings toward the offending person may develop.
- Peace and harmony within the congregation may be adversely affected.
There are only two ways to resolve interpersonal problems which do not involve sin. The first way is to forgive the other person who has wronged or offended you. The second way is to discuss the problem with the other individual with the correct attitude and a sincere desire to resolve the issue.
IT IS ALSO YOUR PROBLEM
Although you may be the one offended or wronged, your responsibility before God is to have a correct attitude toward the other person and act in a righteous manner by attempting to resolve the problem. In fact, your salvation may be in jeopardy if you do not approach the problem with the right attitude.
We should all realize how very easy it is to wrong or offend another person. Many times a person does not even realize they have wronged or offended someone, because it is done through ignorance, carelessness, or poor judgement with no malice intended. Normally, wrongs and offenses are unintentional and can easily be resolved if all parties to the wrong or offence approach the problem with a righteous attitude. Jesus says we should always forgive those who wrong us:
"And when you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your sins" (Mk.11:25-26 Para.). See also Matt.6:14-15.
To harbor a grudge or ill feelings toward a brother or sister in the faith is in opposition to God's ways and must be repented of and reconciled in your own mind. If we cannot forgive another person who has wronged us, we do not have the same righteous attitude the Father has; therefore, we cannot expect him to forgive us when we sin.
"Be you angry, and sin not: do not let the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil" (Eph.4:26-27 Para.).
Anyone striving for spiritual maturity should resolve problems as quickly as possible in order to avoid allowing a wrong attitude or bitterness to take root in their mind and spirit, which can provide an opening for evil to influence their life:
"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you" (Eph.4:31-32 Para.). See also 1.Jn.5:14-17.
When you realize you have wronged or offended another person, it is your duty and responsibility to attempt to resolve the problem in order to establish or restore harmony between yourself and the other person.
"You have heard that it was said of them of old time, you shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whoever shall say, you fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you. Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matt.5:21-24 KJV).
When you have sincerely rendered your apology and made amends for the wrong or offense you have done to your brother or sister in the faith, you can then present yourself before the Father with a clear conscious.
FORGIVE AND FORGET
Sometimes, rather than pursuing a resolution through a face-to-face confrontation, it is more prudent to forgive and forget and pray that the Father will forgive the other person and reveal their problem to them. This way you gain peace of mind, avoid unnecessary conflict, and become blameless before the Father.
"But the end of all things is at hand: be you therefore sober, and watchful with prayer. And above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love covers a multitude of sins" (1.Pet.4:7-8 KJV). See also Pro.10:12.
"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, If anyone have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, you do the same. And above all things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which you are also called in one body, and be thankful" (Col.3:12-15 Para.).
"Pay back no one evil for evil. Provide things that are honest in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as you can, live peaceably with all people. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather try to avoid being wrathful: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed them; if he is thirty, give them a drink: for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on their head. Do not allow evil to overcome you, but overcome evil with good" (Rom.12:17-21 Para.).
"Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another" (Rom.12:9-10 KJV).
"I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph.4:1-3 KJV).
Normally, wrongs and offenses are unintentional and can be easily resolved if all who are a party to the wrong or offense approach the problem with a righteous attitude. When an interpersonal problem arises, there are many things to consider before confronting a brother or sister in the faith with a problem which does not involve sin. The following potential results of a confrontation should be considered:
- Will it accomplish anything positive?
- Will it improve relations between you and the other person?
- Will it help the other person in their spiritual growth process?
- Will it help you in your own spiritual growth process?
If the problem is serious and has the potential for future conflict and an adverse effect on others, it may be prudent to attempt to resolve it through confrontation.
However, before confronting a brother or sister in the faith with the intent of resolving an interpersonal problem, you must make sure you know the facts and clearly understand them in light of God's laws, precepts, and principles; otherwise, you may end up causing a problem instead of resolving one.
Because what you say to the person you are confronting will either have a negative or positive effect upon their spiritual condition, it would be wise to carefully contemplate what you are going to say before meeting with them. Depending on the seriousness of the problem, you might also want to pray and fast for understanding and wisdom in order to deal with the situation:
"Wherefore my beloved brethren, let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God" (Jms.1:19-20 KJV Para.).
"A soft answer turns away wrath" (Pro.15:1).
A concerned and loving approach may keep anger from developing and exacerbating the problem. Remember that the reason for the confrontation is to attempt to establish or restore harmony between you and another person.
The first step in the process of resolving interpersonal problems where no sin is involved is to go to the other person privately and alone, state your case, and attempt to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution.
If the problem is resolved to your mutual satisfaction, the process of problem resolution stops at this point, because there is no need to go any farther—the problem has been resolved.
If the other person will not listen to you, does not think there is a problem, or does not want to resolve the problem, you must do the following:
- Request another meeting with witnesses present.
Note: These witnesses may also act as mediators and give counsel to resolve the situation if everyone included agrees. See also Pro.11:14 and the section in this chapter entitled "Interpersonal Problems Involving Sin or Sinful Attitudes or Behavior", along with its subsections about witnesses and perjury.
2. Request another meeting with a mutually acceptable judge picked from among the members of the congregation to render a judgement concerning the situation.
Judgements, Warnings, and Injunctions
The following are two excellent examples in the Bible which show how the Father's elect should resolve their differences in a fair and equitable manner when they cannot reach an agreement between themselves:
"If a matter is too hard for you to judge, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, concerning matters of controversy within your boundaries: then you shall go to the place that the Lord your God shall choose, and you shall come to the Priests the Levites, and to the judge, and enquire; and they shall judge the matter for you" (Deut.17:8-9 Para.).
Under Israel's covenant with the Creator God, if a problem arose which was too difficult to resolve on a local level or between individuals, it had to be brought to those whom God had placed in authority to adjudicate and decide such matters.
"And you shall accept their judgement and comply with all that they tell you, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall show you according to the law which they shall teach you, and according to the judgment which they shall tell you, you shall comply: you shall not deviate to the right hand, nor to the left, from what they tell you to do," (Deut.17:10-11 Para.).
After the priest or the judge rendered a decision concerning the matter brought to them, their decision had to be honored and carried out by the individuals for whom it was rendered.
"And anyone who is presumptuous, and will not listen to the priest that stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or to the judge, even that person shall die: and you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and not be presumptuous" (Deut.17:12-13 Para.).
The Creator warned that everyone must do exactly as they were told concerning the judgement; otherwise, they would be put to death. The obvious reason for this severe punishment for disobedience was to emphasize the serious consequence for disobeying those who represent God in problem resolution.
"For we know him who has said, vengeance belongs to me, I will recompense, says the Lord. and again, the Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb.10:30-31 KJV).
"Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Don't you know that we shall judge [manage] angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?" (1.Cor.6:1-3 KJV).
In order to have the spiritual maturity to fulfill the office of a king and a priest and to rule and teach those who have never heard or understood the Father's truth and offer of salvation, the elect are being trained and prepared through life experience which includes making righteous decisions in difficult situations like problem resolution.
"If then you have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the Church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers" 1.Cor.6:4-6 KJV).
It is a disgraceful thing for those who have been called to become kings and priests after Christ returns to be unable to resolve interpersonal problems among themselves. Therefore, Paul gave the following strong reprimand about a lack of spiritual maturity:
"Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because you go to law one with another. Why do you not rather take wrong? Why do you not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? No, you do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" (1.Cor.6:7-9 KJV).
The second step in the process of resolving interpersonal problems where no sin is involved is meeting with the person with whom you have a problem, along with witnesses who will offer counsel or a judge who will render a judgement.
The Witnesses, Mediators, or Judges
The reason for this meeting is to resolve the problem. The witnesses/ mediators are there to help mediate a solution, and if a judge is present, he is there to render a judgement. Therefore, each of these individuals should have good character, be logical, have a good understanding of the scriptures, and be able to view situations with a degree of impartiality. It would also show good faith to ask the person with whom you have the misunderstanding if he or she wants to help choose the witnesses/ mediators or judge:
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt.5:9 KJV).
The Meeting or Hearing
The meeting or hearing should be conducted much like any other formal meeting. One of the witnesses/mediators should be chosen to chair the meeting, but if there is a judge present, he should preside over the hearing.
Note: Because there are no details in the biblical record as to how these meetings or hearings should be conducted, it seems adequate to apply Robert's Rules of Order to the meeting or hearing. Robert's Rules of Order are available in almost all libraries, book stores, and on the internet.
The Process Ends
Because there is no sin involved, if the problem is resolved through either a meeting with the witnesses/mediators or a hearing before a judge, the process of problem resolution stops at this point, because the problem has been resolved in accordance with God's laws, precepts, and principles.
Refusal To Meet Again
If the person refuses to meet with you and the witnesses/mediators or judge to resolve the problem, this person is exhibiting a lack of godly love and respect for you and is failing to obey the law which Christ established to resolve interpersonal conflicts and problems within the church; both of these are sinful attitudes and behaviors.
Because you have sought a resolution to the problem according to the law Christ established, but the other person refuses to meet again, a problem involving sin now exists. Therefore, you must now follow the instruction noted in the beginning of Matthew 18:17:
"And if he will not listen to them, tell it to the church: but if he will not listen to the church, treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector" (Matt.18:17 KJV Para.).
INTERPERSONAL PROBLEMS INVOLVING SIN OR SINFUL ATTITUDES OR BEHAVIORS
There are two basic problem areas which require the three-step method of problem resolution outlined by Christ in Matthew, chapter eighteen. These problems are interpersonal problems which involve a sinful action by one person against another in the church and sinful attitudes and behaviors which are obvious violations of God's laws.
Both of these problem areas involve sin which must be resolved because of the adverse effect it has on an individual's salvation, the harmony between people, and the collective work of the church.
Sinful Action Against Another person
"If a brother sins against you, go to him privately and confront him with his fault. If he confesses it, you have won back a brother" (Matt.18:15 LBP).
"Take heed to yourselves: If a brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him, And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turns again to you, saying, I repent; you shall forgive him" (Lk.17:3-4 KJV).
"Then Peter came to him and said Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Perhaps seven times? Jesus said to him, I say not just seven times, but seventy times seven" (Matt.18: 21-22).
Many assume the sin(s) noted in these verses are merely some sort of personal affront, offense, or a wrong done to a person. However, what is being discussed is far more serious. The English words sins and sin in these verses are translated from the Greek word hamartano, which has to do with breaking God's law.
There are three important things to learn from the verses cited above. The first thing is that, when you become aware that a brother or sister in the faith is sinning, you are responsible before God to go to the offender in private and confront that person with their sin. There is no option to go or not to go; you are commanded to go. The only exception to this instruction is given in 1.John 5:16-17:
"If anyone sees a brother commit a sin that will not bring the death penalty, that one shall ask, and the father shall give one life that does not commit a sin worthy of death. There is a sin worthy of death. I'm not saying to pray for that one. All unrighteousness is sin: but there are sins that are not worthy of death" (1.Jn.5:16-17 Para.).
The second thing to understand is that the reason for confronting the sinning individual is to bring it to their attention in the hope that they will repent. Thereby, they can save themselves from the second death in the Lake of Fire. See Rom.6:23.
The third thing to understand is that you must always forgive a person who repents of their error.
Obvious Violations of God's Laws, Precepts, and Principles
The biblical record lists many attitudes and behaviors which are in direct opposition to God's laws, precepts, and principles, such as adultery, sexual perversion, fornication, incest, idolatry, witchcraft, fighting, jealousy, wrath, strife, division, heresy, murder, drunkenness, theft and more. If these attitudes and behaviors are not acknowledged and repented of they will cause a person to lose their salvation. See Ex.20:1-17; Gal.5:16-26.
THE THREE-STEP METHOD
Some might think that, when Jesus gave the three-step method for problem resolution within the church, he was presenting a new way to resolve conflict, but this was not the case at all. He was not instituting new precepts and principles; he was only expounding laws originally given to ancient Israel at the beginning of their covenant relationship with him (the Creator God). Jesus merely applied these existing laws, precepts, and principles, to those who would participate in his Father's earthly family after his death and resurrection.
Three Things to Consider
There are at least three things that you should seriously consider doing before going to a brother or sister in the church with the intent of resolving a problem involving sin which has the potential to cause a person to lose their salvation:
- Make sure you know the facts and clearly understand them in light of God's laws; otherwise, you may end up causing a problem instead of resolving one.
- Because what you say to the person you are confronting will either have a negative or positive effect upon their spiritual condition, it would be wise to carefully contemplate what you are going to say before meeting with them. Depending upon the seriousness of the problem, you might also want to pray and fast for understanding and wisdom in order to deal with the situation.
A concerned and loving approach may keep anger from developing and exacerbating the situation. Remember, the reason for the confrontation is to save the brother or sister in Christ from eternal death:
"Wherefore my beloved brethren, let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God" (Jms.1:19-20 KJV Para.).
"A soft answer turns away wrath" (Psa.15:1).
3. Before confronting a brother or sister in Christ who is sinning, you must make sure you are committed to the process of problem resolution at that point in time; otherwise, it is prudent to wait until you are committed. Because, once you begin this process you must follow it through to completion.
The first step is to go to the other person privately and state your case, making sure you carefully explain the problem which needs to be resolved.
If the person acknowledges their error and repents, you have fulfilled your duty and responsibility as a member of the Father's earthly family. The process of problem resolution stops at this point, because the problem has been resolved.
"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert them; let them know, that the one which converts the sinner from the error of their way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (Jms.5:19-20 KJV Para.).
Although it is never pleasurable to receive correction, the person who has received the reprimand should be grateful for having the problem brought to their attention so it can be resolved.
At Least Two Witnesses
Because violations of God's law which are capital crimes are punishable by death in the Lake of Fire, there must be at least two witnesses to substantiate the accusation of sin against a brother or sister in the church. See Deut.17:6-7; 19:15 Num.35:30; Jn.8:17.
If you are the only witness to the sin and have discussed it with the sinner, you have fulfilled your duty as a member of the Father' family.
Because you are the only witness, if there is no repentance forthcoming, you cannot proceed to the next step in the process of problem resolution. However, because you have sought a resolution in good faith, you should request the Father to deal with the sinner in the hope that he or she will repent.
In cases where sin is involved and there are not the required number of witnesses to complete the three-step process of problem resolution, the scriptures show that God will deal with the sinner through methods of his choosing.
"For we know him who has said, vengeance belongs to me, I will recompense, says the Lord, and again, the Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb.10:30-31 KJV).
If you have brought the problem to the attention of the person who is in error, and he or she will not listen to reason and refuses to resolve the problem, you are obligated to proceed with the second step in the problem resolution process:
"But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" (Matt.18:16 KJV).
There are two important points to understand from verse 16 regarding this step in the process of problem resolution.
- The individual will not listen to you. The English word hear in verse16 is translated from the Greek word parakoe, which means to disregard. In this case, an individual has been given an opportunity to resolve a problem of which he or she may or may not be aware of, but either refuses to acknowledge the problem exists or refuses to resolve it.
- After the errant individual has been made aware of the problem and has still refused to resolve it, he or she must be approached again, but with one or two others who are also aware of the problem.
The English word witness in verse 16 is translated from the Greek word martus, which means being a witness to facts. This word also occurs in Mark 14:63 where the high priest finds no need of any more witnesses after Jesus' confession. The usage of the word martus shows that the witnesses must have first-hand knowledge of the sin.
Witnesses Under the First Covenant
Because of the seriousness of the second and third steps in the process of problem resolution, it is extremely important to clearly understand the need for the witnesses from the perspective of the first covenant with national Israel:
"At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. so you shall put the evil away from among you" (Deut.17: 6-7 KJV).
"Whoever kills any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die" (Num.35:30 KJV).
"One witness shall not rise up against a man for any lawlessness, or for any sin, in any sin which he sins. At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, a thing shall be established" (Deut.19:15 KJV).
"It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true"
There are two primary reasons for taking along witnesses when trying to resolve interpersonal problems involving sin. The first reason is to confirm to the accused that the problem exists and to convince him or her that it needs to be resolved and repented of. The second reason is to establish the fact that the brother or sister has been given a second opportunity to understand the seriousness of their sinful attitude or behavior and a second opportunity to repent and resolve the problem.
The witnesses have a tremendous responsibility to make sure what they say during the meeting is the truth, because they hold the person's life in their hands. Moreover, they must follow through with the third step in the problem resolution process if the sinning individual will not hear them.
"If a false witness rise up against any man to testify falsely against him; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests, and the judges, which shall be in those days. And the judges shall diligently investigate: and, if the witness is a false witness, and has testified falsely against his brother; Then you shall do to him, as he had thought to have done to his brother: so shall you put evil away from among you. And those who remain, shall hear, and fear, and shall from that time commit no more evil among you" (Deut.19:16-20 Para.).
Under Israel's first covenant with God, when a false witness was discovered, they were to be given the same punishment the accused would have received if found guilty of the accusation. God knows the heart; if a witness lies, they lie to the elect and to the Father and Christ. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, their lie brought about their deaths at the command of the apostle Peter (Acts 5:1-11).
It is important that you and the witnesses do not speak of the matter publicly, but go to the individual privately and inform him or her of the seriousness of the problem and that it needs to be resolved.
If the Person Repents
If the person acknowledges their error and repents, you and the witnesses have fulfilled your duty and responsibility. The process of problem resolution stops at this point, because the problem has been resolved.
If the errant individual will not listen to reason, repent, and resolve the problem after you and the witnesses have gone to him or her, you and the witnesses are obligated to proceed with the third step in the problem resolution process:
"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" (Matt.18:17 NIV).
"He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite to the spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:28-29 KJV).
A person who blatantly sins under the agreement the Father has made with his earthly children is just as guilty as those who despised his law under his first covenant with national Israel. The only difference is that, instead of a physical death to be administered under the first covenant, a death from which there is no return is to be administered under the agreement between the Father and the elect:
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom.6:23 KJV).
The third step is the final and last attempt to get a brother or sister to realize the seriousness of their situation and repent of their sin—this is the court of last resort. This step involves an open hearing to find the truth about the situation and resolve the problem or render a judgement.
Tell It to the Church
When Jesus said, "tell it to the church" he spoke prophetically of the congregation(s) of the Father's elect which would exist after his death, but in the context of the system of problem resolution as it existed under God's first covenant with Israel.
Some assume that "the church" refers to the whole assembled congregation and that the congregation as a whole should adjudicate the case. However, if the problem solving process is to remain consistent with the law given to ancient Israel, the problem must be brought before the constituted authority to judge the matter. This authority within a congregation belongs to the eldership or other men who have been delegated this authority within the congregation.
The example of the adjudication process in Israel is one of judges and priests adjudicating matters of the law: the judges dealt with the civil law and the priest dealt with the spiritual law. At no time in the history of Israel did the Creator God appoint the people or the congregations to make decisions about his civil or spiritual law. Therefore, the system the Creator originally gave to Israel is the model which should be practiced within congregations of the elect.
In national Israel's infancy, Moses administered the civil law and Aaron administered the spiritual law. Later, the judges and the priesthood administered both the civil and the spiritual law. During Christ's time, the Sanhedrin administered the law, and after the establishment of the early church, elders within the congregations administered the law. But, issues that could not be judged on the local level were taken to the council of elders in Jerusalem, and later in Pella, for adjudication. See Acts, chapter 15.
This is the final step in the process of problem resolution. Matthew 18:17 requires the individual who originally brought the accusation, the witnesses, and the accused to present themselves to the constituted authorities of the church and present their case.
Because there are no details in the biblical record as to how these meetings or hearings should be conducted, it seems adequate to apply the Robert's Rules of Order to the meeting or hearing. Robert's Rules of Order are available in almost all libraries, book stores, and on the internet.
Because the accused does not acknowledge there is a problem and has twice refused to consider a resolution, it is highly unlikely the accused will appear at the hearing. Nevertheless, the hearing must proceed with or without the accused, and the constituted authorities must render a decision about the matter.
The decision of the constituted authority within the church is binding upon the accused and the congregation. If the accused is found guiltless, the accused is acquitted, if the accused is found guilty and repents, he or she is forgiven. But, if he or she is found guilty and refuses to repent, that individual is to be separated from the congregation:
"Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt.18:18-20 Para.).
"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" (Matt.18:17 NIV).
If the accused is found guilty before the constituted authorities of the congregation and refuses to repent and resolve the problem, the entire congregation must be notified that this individual has been separated from fellowship until the problem is resolved and the fruit of repentance is evident (Matt.3:8).
ACCUSATIONS AGAINST AN ELDER
Because an elder occupies a position of authority within the congregation, some feel there is no recourse against an elder with whom they have an interpersonal problem or an elder who exhibits a sinful attitude or behavior or misuses his office. The elder is still a part of the Body of Christ and is not above the law which regulates the behavior of the elect.
If anyone in the congregation has an interpersonal problem with an elder that does not involve sin, the same rules apply which would apply to anyone in the congregation in regard to this type of problem resolution. However, if the problem involves sin and the elder is not conducting his life according to the faith, he must be confronted according to the rules which govern confronting and disciplining an elder.
Making an accusation against an elder is extremely serious, because of his position of authority and responsibility within the congregation. Therefore, considerable thought and prayer should be made before making an accusation against an elder.
"Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses" (1.Tim.5:19 KJV).
Elders are given special protection against false accusations, because they are in a high profile position which is easily subjected to criticism; therefore, any accusations against an elder must be absolutely verified by two or three witnesses and brought to the other elders for investigation and adjudication.
"Them [the elders] that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear" (1.Tim.5:20 KJV).
Those who are not of the eldership and who repent of a sin when it is brought to their attention are forgiven and are not to be rebuked publicly; however, the sinning elder must be rebuked publicly, even if he repents. This is done because the elders are charged with the care of the church before God; therefore, they have a greater condemnation for sin. The public rebuke of an elder demonstrates to everyone that no one in the church is exempt from obedience to God's laws and everyone must respect and obey them.
"I charge you before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that you observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality" (1.Tim.5:21 KJV).
There is always a tendency to cover up for friends, but the elders are specifically prohibited from this type of behavior. God knew that it would be difficult to be objective when there are problems involving close friendships; therefore, he inspired Paul to make his position clear about an elder who goes astray. When there is a problem involving an elder, personal friendships must be set aside and must not interfere with the problem resolution process. Any situation concerning an elder must be dealt with in a righteous manner without partiality.
There are two valuable examples regarding how the apostle Paul dealt with problems regarding the behavior of elders:
"Who then is Paul, or who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos has watered; but it is God who gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants or he that waters anything great, because it is God that gives the increase. For we are all laborers together with God: you are God's husbandry, you are God's building" (1.Cor.3: 5-9 Para.).
The context of this scripture is Paul's rebuke to the elders and the rest of the congregation at Corinth for allowing divisions and cliques to exist in their congregation. He also reprimands them for focusing on different personalities in the ministry instead of focusing on God the Father and Jesus Christ.
"But when Peter came to Antioch, I confronted him face-to-face, because he was to be blamed. For before some came from James he ate with the Gentiles. But when they came, he drew back and separated himself, being afraid of those of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also separated with him, even Barnabas was lead away with their separation. But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly with the truth of the gospel. I said to Peter before them all, if you being a Jew live as a Gentile, and not as the Jews, why do you compel the Gentiles to behave as a Jew?" (Gal.2:11-14 Para).
Paul speaks of confronting Peter about his behavior toward the Gentile converts when he was around the Jews. Peter was obviously wrong in his attitude and behavior and was setting a wrong example to the church and to the Jews. Therefore, Paul rebuked Peter for his error.
The scriptures state that when an elder sins, he must be rebuked. And if no repentance or resolution to his problem is forthcoming, he must be separated from fellowship, just as anyone else who would blatantly disobey God's laws, precepts, and principles.
SEPARATION FROM FELLOWSHIP
All sin is repugnant to God the Father and Jesus Christ who are righteous. The Father wants to see his children grow in spiritual maturity and live righteous lives before him so that they can enter his heavenly Family and Kingdom. If left unchecked, the tolerance of sin within a congregation places the elect in jeopardy of losing their salvation; therefore, sin must not be tolerated within a congregation.
Separation from fellowship is an act of last resort and must be done in an attitude of love and concern for the following positive reasons:
- To help those living in sin, teaching heretical doctrines, or promoting strife and division within the congregation to realize the seriousness of their attitude and behavior
- To remove those who continue to adversely affect the peace, harmony, and work of those striving to live righteous lives
Through separation from fellowship, the sinning individual may awaken to the fact that they are in danger of losing their salvation and be moved in heart and mind to repent and recommit their life to the Father and his ways. Thereby, they can be restored to fellowship with the brethren and save themselves from eternal death.
Separate the Sinful
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom.16:17-18 KJV).
"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how you ought to follow us: For we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you" (2.Thes.3:6-7 KJV).
Avoid the Heretic
"Stay away from foolish questions, genealogies, arguments, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and vain. After the first and second warning, avoid a heretical person, knowing that such a person has been perverted, and sins, being self-condemned" (Tit.3:9-11 Para.). See also Tit.1:10-11.
Although Paul does not specifically instruct Titus to put the heretic out of the congregation, it is quite clear that one should not fellowship with this type of person. Avoiding an individual is essentially the same as separating them from the congregation.
The Authority To Separate
Jesus Christ has given the authority and responsibility to the eldership and the congregations to separate themselves from people who are disobedient to the truth. Why and how this is done is stated in God's law and is easily understood by anyone who is led by the Father's holy spirit.
Separation from the congregation does not mean a person has lost their salvation; God the Father has reserved for himself the authority to remove his holy spirit from a person. This is not within the authority of the elect or the eldership. However, separation from fellowship does mean there are some serious issues which must be reconciled in the individual's life in order for them to obtain salvation.
THE CORINTHIAN EXPERIENCE
The congregation at Corinth seems to have been a group of Christians with many problems. Both of Paul's letters to them contain strong correction. His first letter was almost totally devoted to correction for sinful behavior.
No other congregation was corrected on as many points as the one at Corinth, which should be evidence of the spiritual character and maturity of these people. This is not to say that they were not of the Father's elect; they absolutely were. However, they had major problems in understanding how to conduct themselves; they were truly babes in the faith.
It is apparent that many of those at Corinth thought they were spiritual giants; however, Paul puts their false image of themselves to rest early in his letter:
"And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal, even as to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto you were not able to hear it, neither yet are you able" (1.Cor.3:1-2 KJV).
Paul apparently thought he was being gentle with his reprimand and he probably was. However, it does make one wonder what he would have said if he had thought they could have taken mature adult spiritual correction. The first chapter of the Book of Corinthians shows the majority in the Church at Corinth to be sectarian, carnal, immoral, unloving, poorly versed in the scriptures and undisciplined in worship.
Paul reprimands them for envy, strife, division of opinions, arguing, jealousy, immorality, incest, lawsuits, drunkenness, conceit, lack of Christian love, carnal mindedness, desecration of their bodies (the Father's temple on earth), intellectual vanity, misuse of spiritual gifts, and disorderly and shameful conduct in and outside of church meetings. This is by no means a complete list of the things Paul tells those at Corinth to correct. Paul's overall message to them was a call to repentance.
Paul's reprimand to those at Corinth for allowing blatant sin in their congregation shows the danger of such a collective attitude and the swiftness with which those who practice sin should be dealt with and removed from the congregations of God.
"Everyone is talking about the fornication that is practiced among you, not even the heathen do this. You have a man among you that is fornicating with his father's wife. And you are proud of this. Why aren't you mourning in shame, and making sure that this person is put out of your midst?" (1.Cor.5:1-2 LBP Para.).
Here is a situation that is obviously sin, which was not being handled properly by those of the Corinthian congregation.
"For truly I am absent in the body, but I am present in the spirit. I have already judged the one who did this thing, as if I were present: In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, I am with you in my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver that man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1.Cor.5:3-5 Para.).
Although Paul was not physically present in Corinth, he was in authority over it. Therefore, he commanded them to do the right thing and separate this man from their fellowship and give him into the hand of Satan for punishment. Paul sentenced this man to this kind of punishment so that he might come to understand the seriousness of what he had done, repent of this evil deed, and be saved. This punishment was also intended to be an object lesson to the other members of the congregation. It would teach them that sinful behavior should not be tolerated among them and that they must live a righteous life in order to obtain salvation:
"Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven permeates the whole lump of dough? Therefore, purge out the old leaven (sin) so that you may be a new lump, even so as you are unleavened. For Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us" (1.Cor. 5:6-7 Para.).
In no way should sin be tolerated among the Father's elect, because there is a good chance that others will eventually fall prey to sin if it is. Jesus did not die for the forgiveness of our sins so we could continue to sin; he sacrificed himself so we could become righteous and remain righteous.
Again, Paul reprimands those at Corinth for tolerating sin in their midst instead of putting the sinful individuals out of the congregation. Furthermore, he commands them to separate a wicked individual from fellowship:
"I wrote to you in a letter not to fellowship with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then you would have to leave this world. But I have written to you not to fellowship with those of the brotherhood who are named as a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one do not even have a meal. Is it my Job to judge outsiders? Do you not judge those within the church? But those who are without, God judges. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1.Cor.5:9-13 KJV Para.).
A Third Reprimand
"This is the third time that I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. I told you before, and tell you again as I did the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all others, that, if I come again, I will not spare" (2.Cor.13:1-2 KJV Para.).
"Therefore, I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord has given me to edification, and not to destruction" (2.Cor.13:10 KJV).
Few realize the power the early apostles had at their disposal and the discretion with which they could use this power for the good of the Father's elect. Paul had already reprimanded those at Corinth twice before and he warned them that, if he had to come to them in person, he would come in power and authority to punish the disobedient.
It is the responsibility of all the elect, whether they are an elder or a congregational member, to monitor their own behavior and be alert for those who endanger their own salvation and that of others through sinful attitudes and behaviors. When such a person is noted, it is the responsibility of the one who has noted the problem to take the appropriate action in order to resolve the problem for the good of all.
Those who persist in violating God's laws, precepts, and principles through heretical teachings or sinful attitudes and behaviors must be shown the error of their ways. If these individuals will not listen to reason and repent of their evil ways, they must be separated from the congregation for the good of everyone concerned:
"And if anyone does not obey the words of this letter, note that person, and have no company with them, so that they may be ashamed. Yet do not count them as an enemy, but admonish them as as a member of the family" (2.Thes. 3:14-15 Para.).
The apostle Paul says the reason for separating a person from fellowship is to cause them to be ashamed and repent of their sinfulness. A person who is put out of the congregation is not to be viewed as an enemy, but as one whom the Father has chosen to be one of his elect children and who needs to be severely disciplined in an attempt to save them from eternal death.
Every effort should be made by all concerned to help restore such an individual to right-standing with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the brethren in the congregation.
When a separated person has repented of their sins, the eldership and congregation should rejoice in this repentance and receive such an individual in an attitude of forgiveness and acceptance, based on godly love for the individual.
Jesus said, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents" (Lk.15:10 KJV).
By B. L. Cocherell b8w11