Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
"Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must need be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" (Matt. 18:7). With these words, our Lord introduces a discourse which warns against offending brethren. A deadly evil indeed is brought into the world by offences. It may be in the form of ungodliness, inconsideration, or persecution. Regardless of its nature, consequences are to be expected. But woe to that one who considers himself exonerated from the guilt of giving offense. The "woe" of the passage under consideration is a denunciation of the sinner (Christian, or otherwise) as being responsible for the evil he introduces. We are truly our brothers' keeper and must do nothing which may tend to endanger their soul's health.
After urging the necessity of exceeding carefulness against giving offence to others, the Lord proceeds to tell us how we should act when a stumbling block is placed in our way by the transgressor. The instruction is very practicable. If obeyed it would prevent an immense amount of distress.
The Fact Of The Brother's Offence
It is never good to publish one's transgression against us, nor to make a talk of it without going to the offender. Instead of telling others of offences directed toward us, we should go to the brother directly. Secret admonition directed toward the offender displays a spirit of love which endureth all things and hides a multitude of sins (I Cor. 13:4-7). "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother" (Matt. 18:15).
This is very important, for too often men quarrel and accuse one another without justly apportioning the faults. The innocent man is blamed by his guilty brother. Insult is added to injury, bitterness and hatred add fuel to the fire of human conflict, angered prejudices, nurtured suspicions and animosities are often the fruits of failure to heed the Lord's advice. There is no better way to determine guilt and eliminate differences in personal conflict than through private admonition. First establish the guilt, and then go to the offender himself.
The Aim: To Recover The Offending Brother
The words, "Thou hast gained thy brother, "demonstrates reconciliation. If the offender will acknowledge his guilt and seek forgiveness, he has been won for and to thyself!" The word "gained" is a term translated "won" in I Peter 3: 1. It is used in a very high sense. No attempt should be made to humiliate or crush the offender. Nor is the spirit of vengeance in keeping with the spirit of Christianity. These actions and others like them are devilish tendencies. Those guilty are working for Satan. On the other hand, those who work to create understanding and harmony among men are working in God's behalf. There is no greater tragedy of conflict and separation than that often found in personal struggles. What a sad spectacle it is to see people who have accepted the name of Jesus, who worship the same God and enjoy a common salvation, torn asunder by bitterness, rancor and unbrotherliness. Each child of God should feel deep shame concerning the scandalous fruits of improper attitudes toward those who sin against us.
There are those in the Church who accentuate the differences rather than seek to heal the breach; who treat with contempt every brother who differs with them; who shut the door of honorable discussion between conflicting ideas and concepts. No matter how plausible such action may seem, no matter how easy it is to justify one's obstinate stance against the brother seeking reconciliation, one is on the devil's side when he refuses the private admonition of an offended brother.
Four Steps To Reconciliation
It is important that we observe that Christ is treating the relationship of true people of God to each other. If either party does not recognize the importance of fellowship within the brotherhood of God, then the process may differ. But the method of Christ must be observed when dealing with brethren. Let us now note the successive steps.
(1) A private course or procedure is the first step. Go! Go see the offending brother alone. Do not wait for him to come to you; make the first advances yourself. Many times this is the very last thing some people will do. In pride or fear they shun the very person they should seek. They refuse to speak to him when it is their duty to be frank with him. "Tell him his fault." Put it plainly before him. Show him how he has wronged you and offended God. Do not spread the tale of wrong among brethren and set in motion a train of idle gossip, and vast mischief. Preachers are often the worst offenders in this respect. Other brethren are no less guilty.
True, some people cannot bear the sting of rebuke, public or private. They become incensed and hardened, revealing themselves in an unchristian light. A little private talk and frank discussion should bring brethren to a mutual understanding and end whatever quarrel exists. If the private, gentle, merciful treatment fails to win the heart of the offender, then the second step will be necessary.
(2) "Take with thee one or two more" (Matt. 18:16). Some do not want forgiveness, and therefore are obdurate to secret remonstrance. Public measures must not be resorted to even at this stage, but rather a fresh effort is to be made. Take two or three other interested, yet impartial friends with you. The calm, impartiality of outsiders may help settle the dispute. The gravity of their advice may convince the offending brother or sister that he or she is wrong. This process or idea is derived from the law (Deut. 19:15: Jno. 8:17). By the testimony of these witnesses every word that has passed between you may be fully certified. There will be forthcoming, if necessary, the regular legal evidence, should the matter come to other ears. If this process fails, we are to tell it, to the Church.
(3) "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church" (Matt. 18:17). The word "church" is a translation of the Greek term "ekklesia," and could not therefore refer to the Jewish synagogue. No doubt the order or procedure in the synagogue would afford an idea of what the Lord meant, but His followers were delivered from the narrowness of the rabbinical rules and definitions. He had already prepared His disciples for a future body of people distinct from the synagogue when he promised to build His church (Matt. 16:18). So there is no doubt that He contemplates a body of people possessed with powers of discipline and correction, a power which it did exercise on a local basis after coming into being on Pentecost (I Cor. 5:1-5, 11, 13; II Thes. 3:6). It is sad indeed that this function has fallen into abeyance in our generation. Yet, the apostle Paul says, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Rom. 16:17). This brings us to the final stage when all else fails to correct the wrong committed.
(4) "But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matt. 18:17). He must not be considered as a Christian brother for he has, in a sense, excommunicated himself. God does not forgive the impenitent, and he does not expect us to do so. The expressions "heathen" and "publican" simply refers to that of an unbeliever and outcast. They must be deprived of the privileges of fellowship. Love demands, however, that we not regard him as hopelessly lost, but that we seek his salvation by prayer and entreaty. We should never hate the offender, but always desire to restore him in the spirit of love (Gal. 6: 1).
No man can enjoy a greater blessing in this world than peace. He can render no greater service than in the act of something positive to bring it about. A peacemaker must be prepared to suffer, many times for the cause of peace. "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you live peaceably with all men" (Rom. 12:18). It is easier to fan the coals of conflict than it is to establish peace. May we as God's people not only labor to remove strife and conflict, but also to establish good will and peace among our brethren. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you" (Jno. 14:27).
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 4, pp. 7-9