By Richie Thetford
One might ask “Why isn’t the church of Christ grow- ing in number like it once was?” That is a valid question and one that deserves an honest answer. Many elders, preachers, and members might offer various reasons as to why the church is not growing in number like it once was. But I believe the answer lies within our midst, our own “beloved” brethren! Over the past five years of preaching I have seen and experienced the hatred that some brethren have toward one another. The word “hypocrite” is etched on their forehead as they attend service after service “in the name of the Lord” (Matt 7:21-23). There is no way the Lord’s church can and will grow as long as the brethren won’t get along. Notice I said won’t, not can’t. All Christians can and will get along with one another if they really want to. The problem is, many do not want to. Many are guilty of wanting to condemn their brethren rather than trying to restore them.
“Go And Sin No More”
Jesus gives us an example of this in the account of the woman who was caught in adultery in John 8:2-11. These scribes and Pharisees wanted to see her stoned to death as the old law stipulated should happen. But Je- sus, wanting them to understand the importance of forgiveness, asked for the one without sin to throw the first stone. Fortunately, they all did a self-examination and concluded that “we all have sin” and therefore no one felt he was above sin to be able to punish her with death. Jesus told the woman that he would not condemn her but rather offered her forgiveness, telling her to go and “sin no more.” This woman was given “another chance,” a renewed life, because Christ, in his example, showed that Christianity is a religion of forgiveness, not condemnation.
Jesus pointed out to Peter the importance of forgiving as often as one asks (Matt 18:21-22). Forgiveness is “to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; pardon. To overlook an offense; to cancel.” Many brethren say they forgive when in reality they don’t. When brethren resent one another, they are not really ready to forgive one another. As each new occurrence happens these brethren, though they say they have forgiven in the past, will continue to bring up previous occurrences and place them before the supposedly forgiven party. What if God did that to each one of us? We fully expect God to forgive us of our sins when we ask him to, yet often we will not truly forgive our own brother in Christ. When this happens, we are guilty of murder.
Are We Guilty of Murder?
When we do not have a genuine loving and forgiving attitude as evidenced by the fact that we are not truly leaning toward the restoration of our brethren, then we are guilty of murder. Notice the words of God as John writes in 1 John 3:4-15:
Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother.
And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
If we do not exhibit a sincere love and concern for our brethren, then we are guilty of murder. If we believe that our brother is in sin and we do not have an attitude of wanting to restore him but would rather “avoid him” and condemn him, then we do not have love and are guilty of murder!
I encourage you to listen to the word of God in this matter (Heb 4:1-16). When one does not love his brother then we know he is not of God. Jesus said: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words uses the same Greek word in John 8:44 as in 1 John 3:15. Notice what is said: murderer: “anthropoktonos” “manslaying,” “a manslayer, murderer” (anthropos, “a man,” kteino, “to slay”), is used of Satan (John 8:44), of one who hates his brother, and who, being a “murderer,” has not eternal life (1 John 3:15, twice). When one does not have the love of the brethren to the point that they are striving for reconciliation with each other and God, then they have an attitude as Esau had toward Jacob (Gen 27:41). In addition, when we stand to condemn rather than try to build up and restore, then we are guilty of murder — taking the very life of our neighbor (Lev 19:16-18). Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,’ and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt 5:21-22).
“Have Love For One Another”
Churches of the Lord have been torn asunder because some do not exercise a loving attitude for one another. Some Christians seem to stay busy talebearing and causing strife within the local church. Solomon wrote:
Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body. Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself; When he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart; Though his hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly (Prov 26:20-26).
These things should not be taking place in the church of our Lord. A handshake and words of love should be sincere among the brethren!
I would like to urge each and everyone of us to under- stand how eternally important it is that we exercise genuine love for one another and seek each others betterment while we live here on this earth. Jesus commanded that we love (John 15:17) and also taught us an example of forgiveness with the woman caught in adultery. May we learn from it and exercise a willing attitude to want to forgive as God has forgiven us, striving for unity always. Remember, one can know who a disciple of Christ is by his love. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). When we exercise sincere love toward one another, then all saints will certainly be “our beloved brethren!”