Handling Sin And Wrongdoing With Each Other
November 1, 2010
This is a subject that covers much of what God talks about in His Word as well as what the believers deal with every day in their lives. Conflicts among believers are not a new difficulty. Take a moment and think about your life. Have you ever had disagreements with family, friends, and other people in the church or community? Have you been offended or have you offended someone by what has been said or done? Sometimes these things are done by accident. Sometimes they are done without knowing. Other times people purposely do what they know is wrong or with the desire to hurt someone else. The Bible is full of such problems in both the Old and New Testaments. As long as we live with other people there will be conflicts. Even as Christians, we find ourselves sinning against God and each other. The conflict between people does not need to drive them apart. It does not need to make them enemies. As a matter of fact, God's Word shows us that we can grow closer to God and each other through these experiences. One of the joys of being a Christian is the fact that we can handle conflicts in a way that honors God and makes us stronger in our faith.
As humans we are tempted to handle such problems in an ungodly way. Our old sin nature takes us away from God's rules and pushes us towards reacting in a way that would satisfy ourselves instead of our God. We react to being offended by gossip, going to others to get their support, or just trying to bury our hurts. Other ungodly reactions include being angry, offended, sad, moody, as well as many others.
We must remember that all sin is first against God. Yes, if someone hurts us the sin is against us, but it is first against God. God's Word tells us about Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken down to Egypt. Once he got there, he became a slave to a man named Potiphar.
Genesis 39:2 tells us: "And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master."
An interesting side note is that Joseph was in God's will and even though he was in a position that most of us would consider as bad, God blessed him in that position.
It is at this time in Joseph's life that he is tempted to sin. Potiphar's wife waited until everyone was out of the house and then she asked Joseph to lay with her but Joseph refused to do so.
Genesis 39:9 tells us that Joseph responded to Potiphar's wife by saying: "There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he [Potiphar] kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God."
This is Joseph talking to Potiphar's wife when he is tempted by her to sin with her. Notice how he responds. He says very plainly that this sin would be against God. Joseph is not denying that the sin would be against himself, Potiphar and Potiphar's wife but he shows us the real victim of this sin. How many times do we think about this? Yes I can sin against myself and others but the real person I am offending is God. It is His rules I am breaking. It is His commandments I am setting aside. It is God that we take lightly when we choose to sin. This is an important principle to keep in mind. It does not matter if we are the person doing the sinning, or the one being sinned against. Sin can break man's rules; however, it always breaks God's rules.
Understanding that it is God we must honor when conflicts happen, let's look at how He wants us to handle these conflicts.
Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus clearly explains what should be done. He says; "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 hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
God gives us very clear instructions when it comes to conflicts between believers. Our first duty is to speak to that person specifically. There are no other options given. We can look all we want, but nowhere in God's Word does He give us the option of dealing with this in another way. It is always, first, go to the person involved. Satan will tempt us to handle things in a different way, and we often have excuses for doing this, however, none of our excuses can change what God has said concerning this.
God is so clear on this matter; He does not even want us to worship Him if there is an unsolved conflict with another brother.
Matthew 5:23-24 says: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
These are very strong words. God does not even want our worship if we have unfinished business with another person. Think about this for a moment. The God of all eternity, the God of the universe, the God who created man for one reason - to worship Him - tells us he does NOT want our offering until we have done our best to be right with our fellow man. Jesus tells us to stop worshiping Him and make things right with our brother.
→ How should that change our dealing with each other?
→ How should that change our worship to God?
Look closely at that passage again.
"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
Jesus is speaking to a person who is already doing right. How do we know this? Because the man is bringing his gift to God's alter.
Another interesting thing that should be pointed out about the Mathew 5 text is the fact that Jesus says that it is the other person who has the problem. For the sake of reminding ourselves, let's read it again:
"and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee."
Have you ever had a conflict with someone and felt or maybe even told them they are in the wrong and need to come to you first? This may be a natural reaction but it is not a Godly reaction.
As pointed out before, in Jesus' illustration, the person bringing the offering is not at fault. However, in spite of the way it happened, Jesus tells the person at the altar to stop his worship and go to the other person. The first word in verse 24 is an action word, which means it requires the reader to do something. In order to make things right with our brother we need to act. We need to act immediately. We also need to act personally. For a person to do this, he must humble himself before God and man. Only a proud person would refuse to put his feelings second and go to another person like Jesus instructs.
Solomon tells us in Proverbs 13:10:
"Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom."
What a powerful verse! God gives only one reason that men cannot get along and that is Pride.
When two people are at odds with each other, the Bible always has the answer. If God has the answers (and He does!) there should never be a problem between two people that cannot be worked out.
The idea of "contention" is not just having a problem with someone else. It means a problem that one or both sides refuse to settle. It is not always a sin to disagree. There are several cases in the Bible where believers disagreed with each other without one side or the other being wrong or in sin. There are times when it is ok to see things differently than someone else. The question is; how do we handle that in a way that makes God happy?
A good example is Abraham and Lot. In Genesis 13:1-9 we read;
"And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south. 2And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. 3And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; 4Unto the place of the altar, which he had make there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD.
And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. 6And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. 7And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and the herdsmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.
And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we be brethren. 9Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left."
The problem in Genesis 13 was that Abraham and his nephew Lot were blessed by God. They were farmers and herdsman. They had so many cattle that the land could not grow enough food and the wells could not give enough water to support both of them. Because of this the men that worked for Abraham and Lot were fighting with each other for the grazing land and water. Please look at what Abraham did.
First, he spoke to Lot personally. It does not seem that Abraham and Lot had a problem with each other. It was the men working for them that had the problem. Abraham knew that he was responsible for going directly to the other person in charge, and that was Lot.
Second, Abraham looked at the problem in the right way. It is important to see what he did as well and what he did not do. He did not look out for his own interest first. He did not put his earthly goods above his relationship with his nephew. Sometimes when we speak with someone else we do so in a selfish way, to protect our pride, our feelings, or our property. If we truly want to have a good relationship with others we have to be willing to be unselfish. Abraham also did not try to blame Lot for the problem. When we speak with others, we sometimes do so to prove we are right and they are wrong. Abraham had one concern; solve the problem with his nephew so that they could both serve God. He wasted no time on who started the problem or who was to blame. Abraham, as the older leader and as the head of the family would have had every right to tell Lot to leave or submit to Abraham and his herdsman. That was well within his rights at that time.
Third, Abraham was wise in his solution. He understood that the land could only support so many cattle and people. As much as he loved Lot, he knew that unless they separated, the land would fail and they would both lose cattle and maybe their own lives. In the area at that time, there was the very real possibility of starving or dying of thirst if the wells ran out of water. Some might say; "yes, but they separated; Abraham just wanted to get rid of Lot." The Bible gives us NO indication of this. Abraham goes so far as to give Lot the first choice for the best of the land.
Lastly, we should see that God provides us an example of how two powerful wealthy men settled their difficulty in a way that honored God. During this time in history, it was standard practice to kill each other in a situation like this. In this part of the world at this time, no one would have objected.
With this example in mind, let us look at a few Biblical principles God gives us in His Word for dealing with each other.
First; it is our responsibility to reach out and get along as best we can.
Romans 12:18 reads;
"If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
It is our job to get along. We do not wait for others. We do not avoid others. We do not gossip about others. God also knows that it is not always possible. We are responsible to follow God's commandment, but we cannot always control the outcome.
Notice it says; "if it be possible" and "as much as lieth in you." This is not an excuse for us to break God's rule. God knows that man has a free will and can chose not to do what is right. He can choose not to respond to the truth of His Word. If the other person refuses to respond in a Godly way, than the fault lies with them, but we must do our part.
Second; we are to reach out in the correct manner. God's Word says in Ephesians 4:15:
"But speaking the truth in love may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ."
We can say the right words but with the wrong attitude or spirit. How we do something is just as important as what we do. When we are working with a brother (in Christ or in the flesh) we need to do so in the Spirit of God, not in our flesh. It is a good idea to take some time to talk with God before we talk with man. Ask God to give you the right spirit and words to say so that the problem can be worked out in a way that glorifies Him and strengthens your relationship with your fellow man.
Third; believe what the other person says. I Corinthians 13:7 talks about love and what it does and does not do. Verse 7 says that charity or love;
"beareth all things, believeth all things."
By nature we can be very distrusting. The hurts of life and the disappointments that people bring into our lives can cause us not to trust. God says that if we love someone we need to accept what they say until their words contradict their words or until their actions contradict their words. If they are not telling the truth or trying to deceive you then that is a sin that God can take care of.
In Ephesians 4:32 we read; "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
Luke 17:4 ; "And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him."
Just as Christ forgives our sins, we should also forgive others. Many times this can be the most difficult part of being a Christian.
Is this possible in the flesh? No, as sinners by birth and by choice we do not have the power to love and forgive the way God loves and forgives us. The beautiful part of this is that by trusting in God and taking on the mind of Christ, we can be what we need to be through the power of God.
Philippians 4:13; "I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me."
God never gives us something to do without also giving us the power to do it!
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