— 29 —
How should disputes and offenses be dealt with
between believers in the church fellowship?

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus established a procedure to be followed in the event that a brother would commit a sin or offense against another Christian. Many Christian scholars believe that this is one of the most neglected teachings of the entire Bible. It's been said that if all believers would simply obey scripture, to go and confront their offenders in the manner Jesus gave, it would solve over half of all problems which exist in the church.

It is important to confront those brethren who have trespassed against us for the following five reasons:

(1) To resolve misunderstandings. Most offenses in the church result from misunderstandings and many could be quickly resolved if offended parties would just go to the source and find out the facts. Unfortunately, some offended people will just absorb the offense silently, while growing bitter and resentful. It is important to God, and a matter of obedience to His Word, that such issues are confronted.

(2) To maintain peace in the body of Christ (Eph. 4:1-3). Whenever there is friction and turmoil between believers it affects the whole body. It hinders people from entering into worship and receiving from God's Word. It creates an uninviting atmosphere for visitors in the church, it may hinder people from coming to Christ, and can even grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30-32).

(3) So Satan cannot gain advantage over us (2 Cor. 2:10-11). For our own spiritual well-being, we must be quick to resolve our differences with brethren and forgive. Satan can hinder our spiritual life, and even deceive us into apostasy, through harbored bitterness or unforgiveness (Matt. 18:35).

(4) So that the offender is held accountable — to not repeat his actions to harm the faith of others (Matt. 18:6). Persons who bring offense against you are likely to repeat similar acts against others. Confronting their offensive behavior may cause them to restrain their actions from causing further offenses.

(5) To restore a fallen brother (Gal. 6:1). Christians must make every attempt to restore brethren who fall into sin. Especially when the transgression has been committed against us, our love for our brother's spiritual well-being demands that we confront the brother so that he might be reconciled to God.

How to deal with the trespasser: The following scripture is how Jesus taught for Christians to confront those brethren who have wronged them.

Matthew 18:15 "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
18:16 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.
18:17 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."

First, Go to your brother privately (Matt. 18:15). If a fellow Christian has sinned or brought an offense against you, Jesus said for you to first go to the offending party, confront him with the offense, and keep the matter private between yourselves. Remember, the objective is to not merely to seek justice for a violation against us, but to seek "reconciliation" with our brother, and his restoration to a right relationship with God.

Why is the matter to be first kept private between you two? Because our love for our brother requires it. If we are sincerely committed to love for our brethren as Jesus commands (John 13:34), then even if a brother has sinned against us or has done us wrong, we will not want to maliciously injure that brother's credibility within the body — that might hinder his restoration. If this person's transgression against you is circulated within the body, but later he repents, many in the body will have already judged this brother and the accusations will have damaged their opinion of him. By spreading our accusation against an offending party, it builds a consensus against them and makes it difficult, if not nearly impossible, to restore that person to the body should they repent and desire to make things right.

Also, many alleged trespasses between brethren are a result of "misunderstandings." We need to first investigate the facts and find out for sure whether a trespass has really occurred. This is another reason why you are to first go privately to the brother or sister in question — to confront them with the alleged offense and hear their side of the story. If we disclose the offense to friends in the body, we may later discover that the matter was only a misunderstanding. But by then, their reputation will have been damaged by our allegations.

Many people foolishly allow themselves to become offended by misinterpreting other's intentions, or listening to rumors and secondhand information which always contain distortions or exaggerations. Many offenses could be immediately resolved by confronting the offending party and hearing their explanation. You'd be surprised how many people are so immature that they don't even bother to investigate the facts or hear the other side of the story. Don't ever forget, "There are always two sides to a story," and never assume you know the truth of a matter until you've heard both sides.

I can guarantee that there would be far fewer misunderstandings in the body of Christ if people would be firmly devoted to love for their brethren. Love for the brethren gives us a desire to believe the best in our brother, giving him the "benefit of the doubt," instead of jumping to conclusions and always expecting the worst. The Bible says "If you love someone... you will always believe in him, always expect the best of him" (1 Cor. 13:7 TLB).

If the trespass is proven valid, and he or she repent's for their misdeed, you are to express your forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4). Let the matter be forever ended, and carry no resentment toward them. Remember, if they repent, but you continue to harbor bitterness, you too become a perpetrator of sin (Matt. 6:14-15, Acts 8:23, Eph. 4:31-32).

Second, take another brother (Matt. 18:16). If your private attempt fails to resolve the issue, you are then to take one other Christian and again confront the offending party. The presence of another Christian is as a witness to strengthen the serious effect of confrontation, to collaborate the exhortation of scripture, to amplify the Lord's presence in the meeting, and to verify the exchange of testimony.

Third, tell Church leadership (Matt. 18:17). If the first and second attempts fail, Jesus said then to "tell it to the church." This doesn't mean the "entire" church body, as this could cause unrest or damage the faith of young believers. The meaning is that the church pastors or elders are then to bear responsibility in dealing with the offending party.

Finally, if these three prescribed attempts fail, we are no longer required to entreat them with the courtesies shown to brethren. They may be dealt with in the same fashion as we would a heathen or publican (Matt. 18:17).

What to do if you trespass: If you are aware of any trespass you have committed against your brother, you have a responsibility to go to him and seek his forgiveness. Should you not attempt reconciliation, this will hinder your relationship with God. Your worship, your prayers and service to the Lord will not be acceptable. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matt. 5:23-24).

Note that the scripture says "if your brother has something against you." In other words, you might not feel that you have legitimately violated your brother or sister. But if you are aware that "they" harbor an offense against you, you still are obligated to go and try to resolve the issue. Be willing to be humble and submissive to others, even when you don't consider yourself to be at fault. Don't be so rigid and self-righteous that you stand in the way of a brother or sister's reconciliation with you or with God (Rom. 15:1-3). Offer your unpretentious, sincere apology for any unintentional offense and make every effort to reconcile, so that your relationship with God will not be hindered. Whether or not they pardon you, you have done your part and released your soul from blame.

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple use permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us. A newer revised version of this book is available from Amazon. If you have appreciated these online materials, help us reach the world with the Gospel by considering a monthly or one-time tax-deductable donation.