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Dealing with Nasty Christians
One clear night recently I was out walking the dog. I looked up to find a full moon moving steadily across the sky. Of course a second's reflection revealed that it was but a wisp of cloud in front of the moon being chased by a gentle wind. Have you ever sat in your car on a parking lot and had it suddenly roll forward? You slam on the brakes, only to realize it’s the car next to you pulling out. I’ve embarrassed myself on that one. Yes, I was all alone in the car.
What’s going on here? Two rather silly instances of fallen humanity’s default mode: I put myself at the center of the universe. My senses signaled, “the moon is moving!”, “Your car is rolling!” It took only an effortless second for my head to instruct my senses. “It’s not about you, Crane! There are geophysical laws that contradict your initial impressions. Better change your mind, or you’re gonna look pretty foolish. You learned that in 2nd grade ‘member?”
You'll notice that every allusion to or quote of a Bible passage is linked to the actual English Standard Version text of Scripture. I've read lots of interesting and helpful insights on HubPages, but when all is said in done we're just exchanging opinions. Consistent Christians bring every thought captive to Christ who speaks in the Scriptures (See? There, I did it again). I don't suggest that my interpretation is the best or final one. But if I'm wrong, show me from Scripture.
Of course those who don't accept the authority of Scripture will, no doubt, disagree. But if they disagree, let them disagree with Scripture, not with yet another human opinion.
That default mode
Jesus' disciples once asked him, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God?” Default mode! The Master's answer offered them a series of scenarios, all packing the same lesson - "Yes, your brothers and sisters can be nasty. Deal with it." First, he called a nearby child to their attention. "You need to be like him, humble, teachable. In my kingdom humility is greatness."
Next scenario. The world is full of people making excuses for their bad behavior. Jesus instructed his disciples to avoid everything that might tempt them to do wrong. "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire." Now this is a rhetorical device called hyperbole where something is deliberately exaggerated to get your attention. Jesus didn't mean that his disciples should engage in self-mutilation. He did want his kingdom people to take sin seriously.
Jesus then upped the anti another notch. The great among you will seek out and care for the least and the lost. Just like a shepherd leaves most of his sheep to rescue the one who has wandered off, Jesus' disciples will value the despised and forgotten.
Finally, Jesus posed another scene. "If your brother sins against you..." He seems to expect that his followers will annoy each other from time to time. As we'll see, the great in Jesus' eyes are those who don't retaliate, but forget themselves to reach across the offense to reclaim a friend.
Jesus offered four scenarios, all requiring us to get off our personal greatness pedestals to think beyond ourselves. Kingdom living is living for others under God’s direction.
You're hurt by other Christians
A watching world loves to deride Christians for cutting each other up. We give them plenty to delight in. By so doing we deny the very gospel by which we are saved. The gospel sets sinners free from the need to assert ourselves. In Christ we are as loved right now as we can ever be. Hurts from others then become opportunities to discover the staying power of God's love and to reach out to the offender. Let's track together, then, with Jesus.
He starts by posing an all too common situation: "If your brother sins against you..." He contemplates a fellow believer, not someone outside the faith, hurting you. This is the place to start. By the way, there are those who believe that, once you come to Christ, you no longer do wrong. Jesus would not agree. Instead, the Savior envisions a circle of imperfect disciples gathered for mutual support and accountability, a church in its most rudimentary form. What these disciples have in common is a longing to overcome their sin and weaknesses. Inevitably, sooner or later, someone will do wrong and hurt another. What to do? Sweep such events under the rug, and keep trucking with our cool programs and projects? No, Jesus commands another course of action. "Stop everything, sin is serious!"
What is sin? The Bible says, "sin is lawlessness ." So sin is any behavior, attitude or commitment that either stops short of what God commands or violates what God has forbidden. You'll find a summary of God's law in the Ten Commandments.
God's law is spiritual, meaning that it is not a cold set of regs, but rather the expression of the heart of God. So you look beyond the immediate words to the character of God. If He forbids adultery, he must long to see purity. if He prohibits theft it’s because He wants you to earn an honest living and be able to give to the poor abundantly and joyfully, not by coercion (governmental or otherwise). Of this you can be sure. Any time you break God's law, you'll hurt someone. That's why Jesus says,"if anyone sins against you. "
The reason it’s important to define according to Scripture the alleged offense is that we’re apt to confuse disobedience with immaturity and giving offense with taking offense. How will you know the difference?
Follow Jesus' instructions
Jesus prescribed a four step plan. It starts with,“Go tell him his fault between you and him alone.” (vs.15) Genius! Must be, because so few people do this. We'd rather gin up a head of steam over the hurt and tell others so we'll feel vindicated. Default mode!
Let's say someone has spoken ill of you. Instead of, “I’m really ticked that you said that about me...”; try this. “Help me with something that feels like gossip. I heard you said this about me. Help me understand what you’re thinking.” I’m persuaded that a sensitive and timely one-on-one is all that’s needed in 99% of sin situations we encounter.
But of course, there will be instances in which the offender doubles down, gets defensive and lashes out. Jesus says, “Take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (vs.16).
The idea here is not to gang up on an unsuspecting brother, but give him the benefit of the doubt. Note the reason Jesus states, “that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” The witnesses are there to observe how you approach the erring brother.
Your approach is not, “You won’t listen to me, let’s see how you do when I bring a few others along.” But rather, “I know we already talked about this, but I’m still troubled. My respect for both you and the Lord won’t let me sweep this under the rug. So how about we sit down again and this time we’ll invite a couple of others to come along. Do you have anyone to suggest?”
Tell it to the church?
Suppose there is still resistance. Now the issue is known by you and the one or two invited to the second encounter. Jesus' third step is, “Tell it to the church” (vs.17). This is early in the organizational history of the church. He no doubt has in mind the circle of believers in which both the offended and the offender are members. The word "church" means "called or gathered out."
Assuming goodwill and mutual submission among the offended and the one or two that joined him for the second encounter, one would expect that they agree on the timing and manner of the next step. See, the hurt is no longer owned by the original offended party but by all three. This is what it means to bear one another's burdens.
Jesus is clear in His instruction, but there is an amazing amount of freedom given on how to proceed. I don't think He meant that it's OK now to broadcast the offense to any and everyone. Rather, He expects that the matter will be raised with the leadership of the group. The implication is that if the leadership wants to drop the matter, it's dropped. On the other hand, if mature leaders deem the matter offensive, all parties now submit to their judgment. The leaders, whom the Bible calls shepherds, now address the offender. All this is taking place within the context of a mutual commitment to encourage godly living. That's the core commitment a person makes when he joins a church. Anyone can attend worship and participate in fellowship. Only the members have agreed to welcome close accountability from their shepherds.
But suppose the offender still resists the efforts even of the shepherds. Jesus' final step is “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (vs.17). In I Corinthians 5, Paul referred to the same step as delivering the offender over to Satan. There's a lot of misunderstanding of these statements. Neither Jesus nor Paul meant "consign the person to hell." No human being may presume to do that. Rather, what's meant is "regard the individual as an unbeliever."
The Scriptures teach that a person's faith is demonstrated by his behavior, most particularly by how he treats others. So when the person who has once professed faith resists all efforts to show him his sin, it's reasonable to conclude that his faith is not the real thing. It's the awesome and humbling responsibility of church leaders to make this call. When done in the manner and spirit commended by the Lord of the church, their actions are endorsed in heaven. That's excommunication. After loving due process the resistant offender is regarded as outside the communion of believers.
Your attitude toward church discipline
Which statement best describes you attitude toward church discipline?
What I've been describing above is church discipline. I wouldn't be surprised if most reading this have little or no experience with the concept. Many churches don't practice this sort of thing nor would the people welcome it. And the world sneers at our hypocrisy.
Indeed, there have been some horrendous abuses of church discipline. Church leaders have often proven to be unworthy of the responsibility their Lord entrusts to them. There have been miscarriages of justice. Still, Jesus words ring true and valid.
Let's say you know and love Jesus. Even if you disagree with some of my points, can you deny that Jesus addresses what you should do when a brother sins against you? Have you attempted any of it?