PROBLEM RESOLUTION AMONG THE ELECT OF GOD
Probably one of the most apprehensive and painful experiences is having to confront a brother or sister in the body of Christ with issues concerning interpersonal problems and sinful attitudes and behavior. It would be good if interpersonal problems and sinful attitudes and behaviors did not occur among the elect, but the reality of the human experience is that these types of problems will occur and must be dealt with in the way prescribed by the law of God as taught by Jesus Christ and his apostles.
Jesus says that the elect are the salt and light of the earth, which means that they are the ones who preserve and show the way of righteousness. Because the elect are the salt and light of the earth, it is incumbent upon them to manifest God's way in everything they do, which includes 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 a person's attitude and behavior if one is to be a true follower of God and expects to enter the Family and Kingdom of God.
Jesus and The Law
Jesus taught that anyone who wants to follow him must believe and practice the things that he taught about his Father's laws, precepts, and principles. The practice of God's law includes the practice of the laws that 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 very legalistic; they followed the letter of the law point by point and even added their own rules to make the law more restrictive. However, they did not follow the spirit of the law; therefore, their righteousness was self-righteousness. The elect of God must understand both the letter and the spirit of the law. Moreover, they must apply both the letter and spirit of the law in their lives. Adhering to both the letter and the spirit of the law is the way to be more righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day.
Obey the Law
The elect of God are bound to obey the civil laws that are not in conflict with the laws of God in lands where they live and the laws of the Family and Kingdom of God. Additionally, because the Father is sovereign over all that exists, there is no higher authority to whom one 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 that 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 their conversion into sons of God, Jesus' disciples were concerned with 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 that one should have concerning heavenly rewards and how to resolve problems caused by interpersonal conflict and spiritual sin that would arise among his followers after his death.
As a Little Child
"And Jesus called a little child to him, and sit 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 one will receive rewards in the Kingdom of Heaven, one must first be converted (become a son of the Father's new creation). After one is converted, one must assume many childlike qualities of attitude and behavior in order to successfully live a life that is pleasing to the Father and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Childlike humility is the opposite of self-importance and haughtiness. Little children are teachable and eager to learn, they are trusting and dependent on their parents to supply their needs of care and protection, and they accept and give love without thought of personal gain. These are but a few of the many childlike qualities that 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 the Kingdom of Heaven.
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 God's children and accepting them into loving fellowship. The other lesson is actually an extremely serious warning not to be the cause of an offense to any of God's children.
"Then he said to the disciples, It is impossible that offenses 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 offenses in both Matthew and Luke is translated from the Greek word 'skandalon', which means 'to cause offense' and 'stumbling block.' 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 (Rom.13:13).
To be discourteous and inhospitable to one of God's children, to not give them the respect that they deserve, or to be the cause of a child of God's failure to obtain salvation brings serious consequences:
"But woe to the world because of offenses It is of necessity that offenses come, but woe to the man that cause offenses to come" (Matt.18:7 KJV).
It is always better to live one's life in a way that avoids interpersonal problems and sinful attitudes and behaviors. However, this is not always possible; therefore, Jesus gave a serious warning to be cautious against being 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 are relevant to the behavior of the elect toward each other that involve serious problems, which will lead to eternal death if they are not resolved.
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).
Here are clear instructions which show that individuals within the church should have respect and concern for each other. The injunction not to despise (to regard in an unseemly manner or to be unconcerned about) one of the little ones (one of the elect children of God) parallels the love, care, and concern that the Father and Jesus Christ have for the elect when they go astray.
The reason that the Creator God divested himself of his immortality and became human was for the purpose of saving people from eternal death. Therefore, each in the body 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 concerning interpersonal relations and sinful attitudes and 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).
In these three verses, Jesus shows the tremendous value that the Father places on each individual that he has called to salvation and the lengths that he will go in order to bring those who go astray back into a harmonious relationship with him.
The attitude that each child of God should have concerning problem resolution within the church should be the same as God the Father's and Jesus Christ's. The reason for giving the instructions concerning problem solving within the church is to save those who stray from God's truth and ways.
Duty and Responsibility
"Brethren, if a man 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).
It is the duty and responsibility of each member in the Body of Christ to be concerned for the well-being of each other. 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 done properly, the body will be sickly and not able to perform to its full potential.
When one considers the instructions and warnings that Jesus gave concerning the attitude and behavior that 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 methods by which interpersonal conflict and spiritual problems among the elect of God are to be resolved were set forth by Jesus Christ himself. It is very important to understand that the methods Jesus set forth for problem resolution within the church are mandatory, not discretionary.
Granted, the methods that Jesus Christ commands the elect to follow when resolving conflict and problems among the elect are very difficult and sometimes painful to perform, and each progressive step in the process becomes more difficult and more 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 that arise among the people of God. 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 is not the author of confusion, but a God of order and design; therefore, the elect of God are admonished to do everything in an orderly way (1.Cor.14:33,40). To this end, Christ gave clear instructions concerning how to deal with the following issues surrounding conflict and spiritual problems within the church:
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 that 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 please God the Father and Jesus Christ and obtain salvation to live their life in a way that avoids misunderstandings, disagreements, conflicts, and other interpersonal problems (Rom.12:18). Although this should be the goal, it is not always possible to avoid these problems. The reality of the human experience is that it is inevitable that these things will happen within the church.
There are basically three types of interpersonal problems that occur between individuals in the church that do not involve sin: wronging or offending someone, being wronged or offended by someone, or 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 in the church as a whole.
Unresolved interpersonal problems usually have a negative impact on all of the people involved, because such problems tend to cause disunity among the congregation over time.
The following is a list of the more serious things that may happen when interpersonal problems are not resolved:
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 confront the other individual with the problem and try to resolve it.
IT IS ALSO YOUR PROBLEM
Although you may be the one wronged or offended, your responsibility before God is to have a correct attitude toward the other person and act in a righteous manner by attempting to solve 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 that they have wronged or offended someone, because it is done through ignorance, carelessness, or poor judgment with no malice intended. Normally, wrongs and offenses are unintentional and can easily be resolved if all parties to the wrong or offense approach the problem with a righteous attitude. Jesus says that we should always forgive those who wrong or offend us:
"And when you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive it, 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 the ways of God and must be repented of and reconciled in one's own mind. If we cannot forgive another person who has wronged or offended us, we do not have the same righteous attitude that 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.).
It is very clear that one who is striving for spiritual maturity should resolve problems as quickly as possible, so that they do not allow 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 that 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 that you have done to your brother or sister in the faith, you can 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 God will forgive the other person and reveal to them their problem. This way you gain peace of mind, avoid unnecessary conflict, and become blameless before God.
"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 any man 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 man evil for evil. Provide things that are honest in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men. 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 him; if he is thirty, give him a drink: for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, 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 that does not involve sin. The following potential results of a confrontation should be considered:
If the problem is serious and has the potential for future conflict and an adverse effect on others if it is not resolved, 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, the following things should be seriously considered:
1. Make sure that you know the facts and clearly understand them in light of the scriptures; otherwise, you may find that you will have caused a problem rather than resolved one.
2. Because what you say to the person that 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/or fast for understanding and wisdom in order to deal with the situation:
"Wherefore my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God" (Jms.1:19-20 KJV)
"A soft answer turns away wrath" (Psa.15:1)
Moreover, 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 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 fartherthe 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, there are three things that you can do. Depending upon the seriousness of the problem and the potential for future conflict if the problem is not resolved, you may decide to take one of the following steps:
1. Do and say nothing more about the problem.
2. Request another meeting with witnesses present. Note: These witnesses may also act as mediators and give counsel to resolve the situation, if it is agreeable with all involved. See also Pro.11:14, and the section of this study concerning "Interpersonal Problems Involving Sin or Sinful Attitudes or Behavior" and its subsections about witnesses and perjury.
3. Request another meeting with a mutually acceptable judge picked from among the members of the congregation to render a judgment concerning the situation.
Because there is no sin involved in this problem and you have sought a resolution to the problem in good faith, if the other person is unwilling to meet with you again to discuss the problem, the only alternative left is to go to the Father in prayer and ask him to resolve the problem for the good of all involved.
Warnings and Injunctions
There are two excellent examples in the Bible that clearly show how the elect of God should resolve their differences in a fair and equitable manner when they cannot reach an agreement between themselves.
Deuteronomy 17:8-13 Paraphrased
"If there is matter that 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" (vs.8-9).
Under Israel's first covenant with God, if a problem arose that was too difficult to resolve on a local level or just 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 judgment 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," (vs.10-11).
It is very clear that after the priest or the judge rendered a decision concerning the matter that was 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" (vs.12-13).
God warns that everyone had to do exactly as they were told concerning the judgment, but if they did not, 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 concerning 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).
In 1.Corinthians 6:1-9, the apostle Paul says:
"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?" (vs.1-3 KJV).
The reason that the elect of God are being trained and prepared through trials, tests, hardship, persecution, tribulation, study, and prayer is to grow in grace and knowledge, so that they will be able to fulfill an office of king and priest to rule and teach God's truth to those who have never heard or understood the way to salvation. The elect of God will be the examples, leaders, and teachers for the rest of humanity who have never had an opportunity for salvation (Matt.25:31-34; Jms.2:5).
"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" (vs.4-6 KJV).
It is a disgraceful thing for those who have been called to become priests and kings after Christ's return to be unable to resolve interpersonal problems among themselves. Therefore, Paul gave a strong reprimand concerning 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?" (vs.7-9).
"But as touching brotherly love you need not that I write to you: for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another" (1.Thes.4:9 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, with witnesses who will offer counsel, or with a judge who will render judgment concerning the situation.
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 judgment 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.
Because neither the Old or New Testaments give exact details as to how these meetings or hearings should be conducted, it seems adequate that the Robert's Rules of Order are applied to the meeting or hearing. Robert's Rules of Order are available in almost all libraries and book stores.
The Process Ends
Because there is no sin involved in this problem, if the problem is resolved either through a meeting with the witnesses/mediators, or through a hearing before a judge, the process of problem resolution stops at this point, because the problem has been resolved in accordance with the laws, principles, and precepts of God.
INTERPERSONAL PROBLEMS INVOLVING SIN, SINFUL ATTITUDES OR BEHAVIORS
There are two basic problem areas that require the three step method of problem resolution, which is outlined by Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter eighteen. These problems are interpersonal problems that involve a sinful action by one person against another in the church and sinful attitudes and behaviors that are obvious violations of God's laws, precepts, and principles.
Both of these problem areas involve sin that must be resolved because of the adverse effect that it has on each individual's salvation, the harmony between people, and the collective work of the church.
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; however, this was not the case at all. He was not instituting new precepts and principles; he was only expounding laws that were originally given to ancient Israel at the beginning of their covenant relationship with him (the Creator God). Jesus merely applied these existing precepts, principles, and laws to those who would participate in his church after his death and resurrection.
The first step in the process of resolving interpersonal problems concerning sin or a sinful attitude or behavior is the same in every situation. The first step is to go privately and alone to the other person and state your case. However, 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:
1. Make sure that you have the facts concerning the situation and you clearly understand these facts in light of the scriptures; otherwise, you may find that you will have caused a problem rather than resolving one.
2. What you say to the person that you are confronting will have either a negative or a positive effect on their spiritual condition; therefore, it would be wise to carefully contemplate what you will say before meeting with them. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, you might also want to pray and fast for understanding and wisdom in order to deal with the situation.
3. Before confronting a brother or sister in Christ, you must make sure that 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 the process has begun it must be completed. If the process is not followed through to completion, you will find yourself in a great deal of difficulty concerning your own spiritual condition.
"Wherefore my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God" (Jms.1:19-20).
"A soft answer turns away wrath (Psa.15:1)"
A concerned and loving approach may keep anger from developing and exacerbating the problem. Remember, the reason for the confrontation is to save the brother or sister in Christ from eternal death.
Before proceeding with step one, it is very important to understand that, because the problem to be resolved involves sin, there must be at least two witnesses (you and someone else) to the facts in order to comply with steps two and three, if they are necessary. If there are not at least two witnesses, this process should not be initiated. See Matt.18:16.
In cases where sin is involved and there are not the required number of witnesses necessary to complete the three step method of problem resolution, the scriptures clearly show that God will take care of the problem through methods of his own 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).
Rebuke and Forgiveness
The first step is to go to the other person privately and alone, and state your case, making sure that you carefully explain the problem that needs to be resolved:
"But if your brother sins against you, go and reprove him between you and him alone, if he hears you, you have gained your brother" (Matt.18:15 KJV).
The Living Bible Paraphrased reads,
"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."
"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 that the sin noted in these scriptures is merely some sort of personal affront or a wrong that one person has done to another that can be ignored if the offended party does not want to resolve the issue. However, this matter is far more serious. The Greek word 'hamartano' , which is translated in English as 'sin' in the above verses, has to do with breaking God's law.
There are two very important things to learn from the verses cited above: First, 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" (Para.).
The second thing to understand is that the reason for confronting the sinning individual is to bring it to their attention in hopes that they will repent. Thereby, they can save themselves from the second death in the Lake of Fire. See Rom.6:23.
If the Person Repents
If the person acknowledges their error and repents, you have fulfilled your responsibility to God and the one who needed to resolve their problem. The process of problem resolution stops at the point the person repents, because the problem has been resolved.
"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (Jms.5:19-20 KJV).
Although it is never pleasurable to receive correction, ideally, the person who has received the reprimand should be grateful for having the problem brought to their attention so that they could resolve it.
After you have brought the problem to the attention of the one who is in error and the problem is not resolved because the individual 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 [Greek: 'parakoe'], then take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses [Greek: 'martus'] every word may be established" (Matt.18:16 KJV).
There are two very important points to understand in verse 16 that concern this step in the process of problem resolution.
The first point is that the individual will not listen to you. The English word 'hear' 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 that he may or may not be aware of, but either refuses to acknowledge the problem exists, or refuses to resolve it.
The second point is that after the errant individual has been made aware of the problem and has refused to resolve it, he must be approached again, but this time with one or two others who are also aware of the problem.
The Greek word 'martus', which is translated as 'witness' in verse 16 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' in verse 16 clearly shows that these two or three witnesses must have first hand knowledge of the sin that has been committed. See also Acts 16:13; 7:58, Heb.10:28 where the demand for more than one witness is cited.
The 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" (Jn.8:17 KJV).
There are two primary reasons for taking along witnesses when trying to resolve interpersonal problems. The first reason is to confirm to the accused that the problem exists and to convince him that it needs to be resolved. The second reason is to establish the fact that the brother has been given a second opportunity to understand the seriousness of his sinful attitude and behavior and a second opportunity to resolve the problem.
The witnesses have a tremendous responsibility to make sure that what they say during the meeting is the truth, because they literally hold the person's life in their hands, and 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 make diligent inquisition: and, behold, 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 the 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, he had to be given the same punishment that the accused would have been given if he was convicted. God knows the heart, so any witness better be truthful, because when a witness lies, they lie to the elect and to God. In the case of Ananias and Sapphria, a lie brought about their deaths at the command of the apostle Peter (Acts 5:1-11).
It is important that you and the witness(es) do not speak of the matter publicly, but go to the individual privately and inform him of the seriousness of the problem and the fact that it needs to be resolved.
If the Person Repents
If the person acknowledges their error and repents, you and the witness(Es) have fulfilled your responsibility to God and to the one who needed to resolve their problem. The process of problem resolution stops at this point, because the problem has been resolved.
If the errant individual, will not listen to reason and resolve the problem after you and the witness(Es) have gone to him, you and the witness(Es) are obligated to proceed with the third step in the problem resolution process:
"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church: but if he neglects to hear the church, let him be to you as an heathen man and a publican" (Matt.18:17 KJV).
"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 new covenant, is just as guilty before God as those who despised his law under his first covenant with national Israel. The only difference is that, instead of a physical death that was to be administered under the first covenant, eternal death is to be administered under the new covenant.
"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 the brother to realize the seriousness of his situation and to repent of his sinthis is the court of last resort. This step involves an open hearing to find the truth concerning the situation and resolve the problem or render a judgment
Tell it to the Church
When Jesus said, "tell it to the church", he spoke prophetically of the congregation(s) of God that would exist after his death. But he referred to 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 that was given to ancient Israel, the problem must be brought before the constituted authority to judge the matter. This authority in the New Testament church belongs to the eldership or other men who have been delegated this authority within the assembly.
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 God appoint the people or the congregations to make decisions concerning his civil or spiritual law. Therefore, the system that God originally gave to Israel is the model that should be used within the congregations of God.
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 at Jerusalem and Pella for adjudication. See Acts chapter 15.
This is the final step in the process of problem resolution and it involves the one who initiated the problem resolution process, the witnesses, and the accused.
Because neither the Old or New Testaments give exact details as to how these meetings or hearings should be conducted, it seems adequate for Robert's Rules of Order to be applied to the meeting or hearing. Robert's Rules of Order are available in almost all libraries and book stores.
Matthew 18:17 indicates that the individual who originally brought the accusation, the witnesses, and the accused should present themselves to the constituted authorities of the church and present their case.
Because the accused does not acknowledge that there is a problem and has already twice refused to consider a resolution, it is highly unlikely that the accused will present himself at the hearing. Nevertheless, the hearing must proceed with or without the accused, and the constituted authorities must render a decision concerning 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, he is acquitted, if he is found guilty and repents, he is forgiven. But, if he refuses to repent, he is separated from the assembly:
"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.18:19-20 Para.).
"And if he shall neglects to hear them [disregards them], tell it to the church [assembly]: but if he neglects to hear the church [assembly], let him be to you as an heathen man and a publican" (Matt.18:17 KJV).
If the accused is found guilty before the constituted authorities of the Church and he refuses to resolve the problem, the entire church must be notified that the person has been separated from fellowship until the problem is resolved and the fruit of repentance is shown by the repentant individual (Matt.3:8).
ACCUSATIONS AGAINST AN ELDER
Because an elder occupies a position of authority within the congregation, some feel that there is no recourse against an elder with whom they have an interpersonal problem, and who exhibits a sinful attitude or behavior, conducts himself in an unseemly manner, or misuses his office. However, this is absolutely not the case. The elder is still a part of the Body of Christ and is not above the law that 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 that would apply to anyone in the congregation concerning 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 that govern confronting and disciplining an elder.
Making an accusation against an elder is very 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.
1.Timothy 5:19-21 KJV
"Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses" (v19).
Jesus Christ gives the elders special protection against false accusations, because they are in a high profile position that 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" (v20).
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 the law of God and everyone must respect and obey these laws.
"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" (v21).
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 very difficult to be objective when there are problems involving close friendships; therefore, he inspired Paul to make his position very clear concerning 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 very valuable examples concerning how the apostle Paul dealt with the eldership concerning problems surrounding elders' behavior.
"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, and 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" (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?"
Paul speaks of confronting Peter about his behavior concerning 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 the Jews. Therefore, Paul rebuked Peter for his error.
The scriptures very clearly 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 the laws and ways of God.
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 into 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 the congregation of God, places his earthly children in jeopardy of losing their salvation; therefore, sin must not be tolerated within the congregations.
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:
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 God 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 offenses 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, and genealogies, and arguments, and quarrels of the law, for they are unprofitable and vain. After the first and second warning, avoid a man of heresy, 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 a heretic out of the congregation, it is quite clear that one should not fellowship with this type of person. And if a person is excluded from fellowship, he has essentially been separated 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 clearly stated in the law of God and is easily understood by anyone who is led by the spirit of God.
Separation from the congregation does not mean that a person has lost their salvation; God the Father has reserved for himself the authority to remove the holy spirit from a person. This is not within the authority of the elect or the eldership. However, separation from fellowship, does mean that there are some serious issues that must be reconciled in the individual's life in order for them to obtain salvation.
THE CORINTHIAN EXPERIENCE
The congregation of God 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 very strong correction for their 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 elect of God; 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 that 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. First 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 envying, strife, division of opinions, arguing, jealousy, immorality, incest, lawsuits, drunkenness, conceit, lack of Christian love, carnal mindedness, desecration of their bodies (the temple of God), intellectual vanity, misuse of spiritual gifts, and disorderly and shameful conduct in and out of church meetings. This is by no means a complete list of the things that Paul tells those at Corinth to correct. Paul's overall message to those at Corinth was a call to repentance.
Paul's reprimand to those at Corinth for allowing blatant sin in their congregation clearly 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.
1.Corinthians 5:1-7,9-13 Paraphrased
"Everyone is talking about the fornication that is practiced s 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?" (vs.1-2).
Here is a situation that is obviously sin, which was not being handled properly by those of the Corinthian congregation.
"For as 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 with 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" (vs.3-5).
Although Paul was not physically present in Corinth, he was in authority over it. Therefore, he commands 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" (vs.6-7).
In no way should sin be tolerated among the elect of God, 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 that we could continue to sin. He sacrificed himself so that 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 that are within the church? But those who are without, God judges. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (vs.9-13).
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 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 that the early apostles had at their disposal and the discretion with which they could use this power for the good of the elect of God. 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.
Hymeneus and Alexander
"This charge I commit to you, my son Timothy, according to the prophecies going before as to you, that you might war a good warfare by them, having faith and good conscience, which some having thrust away made shipwreck concerning the faith; of whom are Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan, that they may be taught not to blaspheme" (1.Tim.1:18-20 KJV). See also 2.Tim.2:17-18).
Although it is not pleasant to contemplate, some will not continue in sound doctrine and will go their own way (2.Tim.4:3). When people do this, they become spiritually shipwrecked and normally seek to subvert and destroy others in the congregation by speaking about things that are blasphemous. Here, Paul speaks of two such individuals whom he put out of the church and gave over to Satan to punish in hopes that they will learn to obey God and repent of their evil ways.
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 any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2.Thes. 3:14-15 KJV).
The apostle Paul clearly shows that 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 God as chosen to be one of his elect children 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 and 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 love towards the individual and love towards God.
Jesus says, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents" (Lk.15:10 KJV).
By B.L Cocherell, file b8w5