Problems Between Brethren

by David Padfield

Problems between brethren are nothing new. Paul and Barnabas disagreed over whether or not to take John Mark with them on their second journey. Luke said, "the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another" (Acts 15:39). Paul would later write that John Mark was "useful to me for ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11).

What should you do when a brother in Christ sins against you? Jesus said to "go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector" (Matt. 18:15-17).

A few observations about this much abused passage:

1) Jesus goes from the private, to the semi-private, to the public. If the one in error listens to his brother in private that should be the end of the matter; no one else should ever know of the "sin."

2) This passage does not deal with "church discipline." The church is not commanded to do anything in this passage. The Bible has much to say about church discipline, but not in this passage.

3) Problems between brethren need to be dealt with quickly. "Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26). If not taken care of promptly, problems between brethren will grow like a cancer.

4) Matthew 18 does not deal with public sin, but private disagreements between brethren. Some mistakenly believe all rebuke of sin must be done in private first. Such an attitude is not in harmony with apostolic examples.

When Peter stopped associating with the Gentiles, Paul publicly rebuked him in the presence of many brethren. Paul said he "rebuked him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Gal. 2:11). Peter's public hypocrisy was a blight on the name of the church and cried out for a public rebuke.

The fornicator at Corinth was publicly rebuked by Paul without the benefit of a private meeting first (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Everyone at the church in Corinth already knew of his sin, and instead of mourning, they were "puffed up." Paul, "absent in body but present in spirit," commanded the church to "deliver such a one to Satan." According to some, Paul should have gone to this man privately before writing the letter.

John warned "beloved" Gaius about Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9. Diotrephes "loved to have the pre-eminence" among brethren. John said, "if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church" (3 John 1:10). It is obvious that John had not talked with Diotrephes before he wrote to Gaius. Public sin needs to be dealt with in public.

The children of God are not immune from sin. If our sins becomes public knowledge, let us have the courage to make public correction.