Talking to the Wrong People

By Jim King

Christians in a local church must communicate with one another. They must communicate in order to teach, to edify, to rebuke, to express needs, and just to get along. They must also communicate in order to solve problems – problems between individual brethren and problems in the group as a whole. In the area of solving problems between brethren we are most vulnerable. Feelings are often hurt, resentments are nursed and allowed to smolder, imaginations run wild (giving rise to harsh and false judgments), and relationships are unnecessarily strained. This sad situation often occurs because offended Christians are indeed talking, they are communicating, but they are talking to the wrong people. They have neglected the plain teaching of Jesus about how to right wrongs among brethren.

In Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-17, Christ lays the foundation for dealing with a brother who has sinned against you or against whom you have sinned. His remedy is direct: you go and “be reconciled to your brother”; you “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” In his characteristic fashion, Jesus cuts through the confusion we often impose on relationships and leaves us with a disturbingly clear command: the obligation for solving problems with our brethren is squarely on us. Note that Christ has no different rules for the “offended party” and the “offending party.” Whatever side of the fence you are on, sinner or sinned against, Jesus says “you go.”

But there is more. Jesus says that we are to go to our brother. When I have a complaint against a brother, I must go to him, not to a third party. To spread my complaint among other brethren not only is a direct violation of Jesus’ teaching, but promotes my use of a loose, untamed tongue. To see what God thinks of such a tongue, one need only think of the following terms: meddler, talebearer, backbiter, whisperer, gossip, busybody, sowing discord among brethren, etc., all of which Scripture condemns. Such misguided tongue “sows strife and a whisperer separates the best of friends” (Prov. 16:28); “reveals secrets” (Prov. 11:13); says things it ought not (1 Tim. 5:13); and is characteristic of people who have forgotten God (whisperer, backbiter, Rom. 1:29-30). Paul had to deal with slander in Romans 3:8, and commanded that it be put away from Christians in Ephesians 4:31. Similarly, in 1 Tim. 3:11 and Titus 2:3 he commands that certain women not be slanderers or gossips, spreading harmful statements that damage a fellow believer’s reputation. Men, of course, fall under the same condemnation. Much of this destructive and unbridled communication arises because Christians are talking with everybody else but the one with whom they should be talking – the brother or sister with whom they have a problem. Sometimes such talk is unintentional and unpremeditated. It is always harmful. The peace of local churches requires that such speech be stopped and short-circuited.

The Christian who has a complaint with a brother must be taught how to biblically handle his complaint – privately with the brother. And other Christians need to refuse to listen to become involved with, and pass on matters which don’t concern them. To be sure, sometimes Christians are innocently caught up in this cycle by simply trying to help another disciple who seeks their advice. There may be times when we can give proper counsel to someone and thus help each other. Yet such help should often consist of turning the person in the direction of the brother or sister with whom they have a complaint. And the subject matter of these “counseling sessions” should never be passed on in the form of idle talk. Let us gently, yet firmly, stop the talebearing in its tracks.

Idle talk has a way of making the rounds. Even private thoughts and conversations may be carried by “a bird of the air” or “a bird in flight” (Eccl. 10:20). Elisha the prophet was accused of knowing what the king of Syria spoke in his own bedroom (2 Kgs. 6:12).

But our problem is not with gossiping birds or prophetic knowledge. It is with a human tendency to get around, or circumvent God’s way of solving problems. Let us determine that our communication with one another will be constructive. Let it be open, true, direct, frank, gentle, and sincere. Let it be “what is good for necessary edification that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).

I recently saw this message on a denominational signboard: “If you wouldn’t write it and sign it, don’t say it.” And that, brethren, is pretty good advice.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 22, p. 691
November 21, 1991