Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
1 Peter 3:8-9
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:
Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
One might hope that within a church there would be no problems between members, but we know both from Scripture and experience that this is unfortunately not the case. Paul found at the church at Corinth, for example, that there was envy, strife, and division among the members (1 Corinthians 3:3). This was not how our Lord would have things, as David wrote in Psalm 133:1, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" The relationship between brethren is treated in great detail in the New Testament, as we have seen with many of the other relationships that exist in the life of the normal Christian. This will be our subject for this lesson as we look at the normal Christian and their relationship to the brethren.
The best way for a church to dwell together in unity is to prevent problems before they ever arise. It is interesting to note that the more carnal a church is, like Corinth, the more problems there are. A church like the one in Jerusalem had great unity and peace, but it was also a very spiritual church producing men like Stephen and Philip. Perhaps the best way to prevent problems in the church is for the members to be holy. This seems to be the idea that Paul was trying to bring across in Ephesians 4:17-32. In other words, if you want to have a good relationship with the brethren, don't behave like the world does, but rather behave as Christ would. Let us consider this now in more detail by studying the words the Bible uses to describe the normal relationship between brethren:
Perhaps the most important word used to describe the relationship between brethren and the mark of a true Christian is love (John 13:35, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 3:14). Remember that love is seeking the best for the object loved. Paul writes, "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another" (Romans 12:10).
Another word used to describe the relationship between brethren is kindness (Colossians 3:12, 2 Peter 1:7). Paul writes in Ephesians 4:32, "And be ye kind one to another". Kindness is doing good to others, being friendly, and speaking well to them. James said, "Speak not evil one of another, brethren" (James 4:11). The barbarous people on the island of Melita showed kindness to Paul by building a fire for them and receiving them in from the cold and rain (Acts 28:2).
Peter says we are to have "compassion one of another" (1 Peter 3:8) and Paul uses the word "tenderhearted" (Ephesians 4:32) to describe this relationship. Both of these words mean basically the same thing. We are to have sympathy and pity for one another. We should feel sorrow for a brother that is suffering or in trouble, accompanied by the urge to help them. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep (Romans 12:15). The good Samaritan is a great example of this kind of compassion (Luke 10:30-35).
The pride in our sin nature causes a tendency for us to respond to people the wrong way. However, God says in Philippians 2:3, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves". If, in every communication with the brethren, we esteem them as being better that ourselves, we shall not be tempted to respond in the wrong way. Humility is the way to have victory over pride! We often think of Paul as being the greatest Christian, but his estimation was one of humility - "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle" (1 Corinthians 15:9).
It seems incredible that a Christian, one who has had all of their sins forgiven by God, would not be willing to forgive others. Such Christians are like the wicked servant in Matthew 18:23-35. Paul commanded that brethren should forgive one another even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). The disciples had difficulty with Christ's exhortation on forgiveness (Luke 17:5), but Jesus explained that it is our duty to forgive (Luke 17:7-10). Forgiveness is not something we are to do if we feel like it; we are simply just supposed to do it! Forgive, forgive, forgive!
The average Christian wears his feelings on his sleeves ready to retaliate with the slightest provocation, but the normal Christian is to be forbearing (Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:13). Forbearance is self-control or patient restraint. Peter says our reactions should be "Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing" (1 Peter 3:9). Paul says, "Recompense to no man evil for evil" (Romans 12:17) and "avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19). Our great example is Christ, "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again" (1 Peter 2:23).
James urged brethren to "pray one for another" (James 5:16). We could prevent a lot of problems if we would simply pray for each other. Mutual prayer has more than just the answer from God as a result: it tends towards unity! It moves the focus from our selves to others. It removes pride as we recognize our sinfulness and dependence upon God.
James also says, "Confess your faults one to another" (James 5:16). What is the usual reaction when you confess your sins to a brother or sister in Christ?
When we feel ourselves getting cold spiritually or we recognize a weakness in our walk, we ought to ask some brethren to pray for us. Perhaps there might be one with a similar experience who could offer some advice, or perhaps another might be going through the same difficulty.
We can further prevent problems in our church by rescuing those in trouble. Galatians 6:1 says, Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted (see also James 5:19-20). We that are spiritual have a duty to our brethren that fall away to rescue them, and this must we do with a humble spirit, recognizing that we are just as capable and susceptible to such sin.
Jesus said, "It is impossible but that offences will come" so let us consider what the Scripture says about dealing with them.
In Matthew 18:15-17, we are given some very plain steps to follow for resolving problems with another member of the church. Since Jesus is the one who gave these steps, we ought to follow them exactly as He has said.
First, Jesus says we are to go to the other member alone and discuss the problem. Notice that we are not to tell all of our friends about the trouble, but the matter is to be private "between thee and him alone" (see also Proverbs 25:9). This is so important, especially since it is not the way most Christians resolve their difficulties. Also notice that we have an obligation to tell the other member that there is a problem. We are not to sit back and become bitter about it, we are to seek resolution!
If our effort alone does not settle the fault, the next thing we are to do is to take one or two other members with us to attempt resolution again. This ought to be done soon (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
The final attempt to resolve the problem is to bring the offense before the church publicly.
The last step when all three attempts for resolution have failed is to withdraw all fellowship from the offending member. Jesus said that this member is to be treated as "an heathen man and a publican". Now the offense extends beyond a fault between two brethren but is between the whole church and the member.
In contrast to the steps we are to follow, Paul gave us one step we are specifically not to do: take a brother to court. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Paul says that we are to take problems and civil matters before the church to be judged by the righteous and not to a court of law to be judged by the lost world. In fact, Paul was shocked and disgusted that the Corinthians were taking such matters to the government.
Another step we are not to take is to the altar when we know another brother has a problem with us (Matthew 5:23-24). It is interesting to note that the responsibility lies with the guilty brother. If they know that they have offended another brother or if another brother has some just complaint against them, they are to seek resolution. Reconciliation is a prerequisite to worshipping God! How often has the spirit of God been grieved because of strife and discord between the brethren (Ephesians 4:30)? See also Isaiah 1:10-17.