Settling Difficulties in Christian Love
“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more . . . If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation.”—Matt. 18:15-17.
1. (a) Why will Christians strive to work for peace with one another? (b) In what phases of activity?
JEHOVAH is a God of order, harmony and peace. His declared purpose is to reestablish peaceful, paradisaic conditions on this earth for the blessing of all those who will serve him and do the divine will. Such persons will want to begin now to bring their lives into harmony with his righteous principles, and thus show themselves worthy of receiving the free gift of life in God’s righteous new order. To that end they will give heed to the words of the apostle Peter recorded at 1 Peter 3:10-12: “He that would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from what is bad . . . let him turn away from what is bad and do what is good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous ones.” The apostle Paul also wrote to Christians: “So, then, let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.” (Rom. 14:19) In the light of this Scriptural counsel true Christians today strive to do all in their power to work for peace with one another and with all men, whether in their congregations, in their homes or in other daily activity.
2. (a) What are some factors that may hinder persons today who “seek peace and pursue it”? (b) Is theirs an unreachable goal?
2 Unfortunately, however, conditions on earth today are not conducive to peaceful living. These conditions were described prophetically in the following words: “But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong.” (2 Tim. 3:1-4) Besides this we are all born imperfect and subject to all manner of human frailties, imperfections and passions, and so the efforts of Christians today to “seek peace and pursue it” are fraught with many problems and difficulties. However, in spite of these conditions, when an individual sincerely strives to put into practice the counsel given him in God’s Word in this regard and takes advantage of all the help offered to him by his fellow Christians and follows the leading of God’s holy spirit, he can do much toward reaching his goal of living at peace with others.
3. What practical worldwide example proves that peace is not unattainable today?
3 That this is possible today is evident from the results obtained in the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses, which has built up an enviable record of living and working together in peace and unity. Especially is this seen in their large international assemblies, where persons of all races, colors and languages work with one another without signs of the strong racial differences and national barriers that are so common in this present system. Concerning this it is interesting to note what was reported in the Binghamton, New York, Sun in connection with their international convention of 1958 held in New York City. It stated: “Orderliness of the vast throng and the fact that it was made up of people of practically every nationality, with Negroes and Asians mingling with whites on equal terms and apparent enjoyment, was another unusual and truly remarkable feature.” Reporting on the same assembly, the New York Amsterdam News wrote: “The worshiping Witnesses from 120 lands have lived and worshiped together peacefully, showing Americans how easily it can be done. . . . The Assembly is a shining example of how people can work and live together.” Let it be noted here that this striking behavior of these Christians is not a veneer that is put on when they are exposed to public view and discarded at their convenience. On the contrary, it reaches down deep into the heart of each individual member of this dedicated Christian group. It is something that affects their very heart and mind, so that what is seen during their large gatherings reflects a pattern of life that each one strives to live up to and follow.
4. In what way does this group differ from others?
4 This is not to say that this group of Christians is different from others in their makeup, for they come from all walks of life and from every social and economic level. Neither does it mean that they do not have their individual, personal difficulties and problems. They do. They must face up to the same difficult conditions of life mentioned above, which were foretold for these last days. There exist human differences and personality clashes that might exist in any other corresponding group. Moreover, these persons are rubbing shoulders in close association for about thirty hours every month in their Christian meetings and in their ministry. So it is not surprising that personal differences do arise. What is surprising is that these difficulties are so few; what sets this group apart as different is the way these problems are handled when they do arise.
5. Give an example of a personal problem that arose between Christians of the first century. How did Paul handle the matter?
5 Even among the first-century Christians who lived when the power of God’s holy spirit was manifest in so many miraculous and marvelous ways, personal difficulties did present themselves. One example of such is briefly mentioned by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:2, 3, where we read: “Euodia I exhort and Syntyche I exhort to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, I request you too, genuine yokefellow, keep assisting these women who have fought side by side with me in the good news along with Clement as well as the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Now here were two spiritual sisters, evidently mature in the knowledge of God’s Word, who had worked side by side with the apostle Paul and others in the preaching of the good news, and yet they were having some difficulty in solving a problem that had arisen between them. So much so that it had come to the attention of the apostle and he saw fit to mention it in his letter to the congregation at Philippi, encouraging them to do their utmost to settle their problem. At the same time Paul asked that a mature Christian brother help them to work it out peacefully in the event that they could not do so themselves, so that they might be “of the same mind in the Lord.”
THE BASIS FOR SETTLING DIFFICULTIES
6. Where is found the Scriptural formula for resolving personal difficulties, and what are the steps involved?
6 Just how that particular problem was finally worked out we do not know, since no further mention is made of it in the Scriptures. However, we do know that some thirty years earlier Christ Jesus, when he was on the earth, not only recognized that such problems would arise among his imperfect and sinful followers but also, in his wonderful wisdom, provided the solution for them. It is quite probable, then, that these two Christian women, on being admonished by the apostle Paul, would follow the sound counsel given by their Master in trying to solve their personal problem, and doing that very thing today in this twentieth century enables Jehovah’s witnesses to solve and eliminate many of their personal differences in Christian love. What is this formula? It is one found in the book of Matthew, chapter 18, verses 15 to 17. There Jesus begins by saying: “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, . . . ” By these words Jesus gave recognition to the fact that problems might arise among his true Christian followers. He then proceeded to give the solution, which consisted of three definite steps to be taken by the one offended or sinned against. (1) “Go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (2) “But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established.” (3) “If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation.” A simple formula, you say? Yes, truly it is, and one that should not be overlooked or ignored in trying to settle any difficulties of a personal nature in Christian love.
7. (a) In trying to resolve a personal problem, what should be done even before taking the first step mentioned in Matthew 18:15? (b) Why should this be done?
7 Now, then, for the benefit of our readers who may not have had an opportunity to see this formula applied in a practical way in their daily lives, let us explore it just a little farther. Let us suppose that you find yourself in a situation where you feel that another person has sinned against you or offended you. What will you do? Well, even before you take the first step quoted above, there is something else you should do in order to settle the difficulty in Christian love, and that is to think the matter over calmly and quietly in the light of your knowledge of the Scriptures, remembering that your desire is that you and your Christian brother be of “the same mind in the Lord.” Ask yourself such questions as these: Is the matter serious enough to merit taking it up with my brother? If I do not mention it, is there the chance that it will dissipate itself without further ado? Did my brother do it intentionally, or was it just a slip of the tongue of which he is not even aware? Could I just forgive and forget? The Biblical proverb is very apt here: “Where there is no wood the fire goes out.” (Prov. 26:20) Remember, too, the words of the inspired apostle: “Love is long-suffering and kind. . . . It does not keep account of the injury. . . . It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7) Also, Peter wrote: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8) So why not let your love for your brother cover over his sin against you, just as you hope that his love for you will cover over many of your own weaknesses and offenses against him? Many, many difficulties can be eliminated by making this preliminary analysis of the situation in Christian love.
“BETWEEN YOU AND HIM ALONE”
8. (a) Is this preliminary analysis of the problem does not solve it, what should be done? (b) What should be avoided?
8 On the other hand, it may be that, after making this analysis of the problem, you are convinced that it is not a trivial thing and you cannot just forget it. Then you must act promptly. Do not leave it to rankle in your mind and grow out of all proportion, with the possibility of causing you to lose your spiritual well-being. In this case the one offending against you has not followed the principle stated in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.” (Matt. 5:23, 24) So you must take the first step of Jesus’ formula in Matthew 18:15-17: “Go lay bare his fault between you and him alone.” What fine, practical counsel! Jesus recognized the human tendency to want to talk about the matter with others before going to our brother, but, no, do not do that! Rather, go to him alone. “The one covering over transgression is seeking love, and he that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another.” (Prov. 17:9) Rather than trying to seek sympathy from others for your cause, with the danger of being a gossiper, the course of practical wisdom is to talk privately with the offender. A calm discussion of the matter between you and him alone may result in having your mutual love for each other cover over his sin, and it may be quickly forgotten.—Eph. 4:26.
9, 10. (8) What should be the motive of the offended one in taking the first step, and, to get himself into the proper frame of mind to take the step, what is it wise to do? (b) With what results at times?
9 But wait just one moment! Before going to him to discuss the matter, consider: what is your motive in taking this first step to solve your difficulty? Is it merely to prove to him that he has wronged you, and to bring him to his knees to seek your forgiveness? By no means; there should be no attempt here at self-justification. Jesus said: “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Ah! There, then, is the correct motive: to gain your brother. You want to effect a reconciliation between you and him, to be at unity again, and at the same time to get personal relief by clearing your mind of this matter that has been troubling you. But, remember, love “does not look for its own interests.” (1 Cor. 13:5) Of course, as he has violated some Christian principle, then we also want to help him to recover himself from his wrong course, as Paul wrote in Galatians 6:1: “Try to restore such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.” However, in many instances the difficulty is due, not so much to a breach of Christian principles, but to a misunderstanding on the part of the one or the other. So for that reason, too, you should take this first step with the primary motive of becoming reconciled to your brother. In order to reach that goal you should be ready and willing to make some concessions or give in a little too. Hence it is wise at this time to pause and think of a possible previous occasion when you may have been the one who had offended another and how difficult it was to humble yourself and apologize so as to effect a reconciliation then. It certainly was not easy, was it? So be ready to make some concessions in order to help your brother. Think, too, of the happiness that resulted for you and the other brother when you did become united again and that made it all worthwhile. Recalling such an occasion will help you to get into the proper frame of mind now to talk to the brother who has offended you, and you are now ready to take the first step in solving your difficulty in Christian love.
10 How often it happens that, if you approach your brother in this manner, you find him in the same frame of mind! He is only too eager and anxious to cooperate in solving the difficulty, and a few minutes is all that is necessary to effect a complete reconciliation. Or it may be that, after hearing his side of the story, you realize that you had an entirely erroneous view of the matter, and by airing both sides privately it is possible to reach an amicable agreement. This is as stated in the proverb: “The one first in his legal case is righteous; his fellow comes in and certainly searches him through.” (Prov. 18:17) How necessary it is, then, to avoid any feeling of self-righteousness when we take this first step, and, instead, be ready and willing to be searched through by the opinion of the other. At any rate, if a reconciliation is reached on this first step, peace and happiness will result to the parties concerned.
“TAKE ALONG WITH YOU ONE OR TWO MORE”
11. If the first step fails, where should the offended one now turn?
11 On the other hand, it may be that, for some reason or other, this first step fails and no reconciliation is reached. In spite of all your efforts you were unable to get through to your brother and settle the matter. What then? Do not give up. Rather, your love for your brother will make you persevere in your desire to make peace with him and to right the wrong that has been committed. In some instances one might think that the best thing to do now would be to write a letter to the Watch Tower Society and ask for their help in solving the difficulty; and certainly the Society is ready and willing to help when necessary. But it should be realized that it is very difficult to present the complete picture in a letter, no matter how many pages are written. And really there is a more direct way to solve the problem. For right there in the local congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses you have an appointee of the Society who is qualified to give you the necessary help, and that is the congregation overseer. Is the overseer not spoken of as being “like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land”? (Isa. 32:1, 2) Moreover, the apostle Paul showed that these individual overseers were as “gifts in men” from God for the very purpose of strengthening and upbuilding the congregation. (Eph. 4:8) So let us take advantage of these “gifts” from God in our midst by seeking their aid in solving any personal problems that may arise.
12. What should be the attitude of the overseer if he is to be of help in solving the difficulty?
12 It can now be appreciated how necessary it is for the overseer to be approachable, loving and understanding so that each member of the congregation may feel free at any time to go to him for help. An inspired overseer of the first century wrote: “We, though, who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those not strong, and not to be pleasing ourselves.” (Rom. 15:1) So the Christian overseer will make himself available to his brothers in the faith. He will not be too busy to listen to their problems but, rather, will take a genuine interest in the spiritual welfare of all those in the congregation. Before meetings and after them, while working with them in the ministry and when making brief, friendly visits with them in their homes, he will show himself to be “like a hiding place from the wind . . . and like the shadow of a heavy crag” to his spiritual brothers, and they will automatically turn to him when help is needed to solve a personal problem.
13. How should the overseer or the mature brother who acts as the third party proceed in taking the second step?
13 In the light of the foregoing we can appreciate the reasonableness of going to the congregation overseer or some other mature brother in the congregation, explaining briefly the problem and asking one or two such persons to go along to talk to the offending brother. (Matt. 18:16) Just as in the first step, the primary motive is still to try to ‘gain your brother.’ So the mature brothers, too, will bear in mind that they are going along, not necessarily to decide who is right and who is wrong or to render a decision in the matter, but, rather, to help in effecting a reconciliation between the two parties by the use of the Scriptures and sound counsel given therein. They will be certain to listen to both sides carefully and without prejudice. By thus calmly airing the matter before a third party it may be that any misunderstanding can be clarified and a reconciliation readily reached. Or it may be necessary for the overseer to bring to bear certain Scriptural principles previously overlooked by the ones involved. He will not arbitrarily try to impose a solution on them but, rather, he will let the Scriptures talk, so that the brothers will appreciate that it is not mere human wisdom but that it is Jehovah counseling them through his written Word. After the Scriptural counsel is given it is often effective to ask the offending one for a suggestion as to how the wrong might be righted. His love for Jehovah God and for his brother will in many instances guide him in making a suggestion that may successfully lead to a solution to the difficulty. When this is achieved, how wonderful it is to see the two reconciled again to each other and unity prevailing between them! There is once again an atmosphere of joy and contentment that will enable them to continue to serve together without resentment.
IN CHRISTIAN LOVE
14. (a) What quality is essential in order to find a happy solution to any problem? (b) How can it be maintained in the New World society?
14 We cannot overemphasize at this point the need to exercise that greatest of all fruits of the spirit, Christian love, in order to attain success in applying Jesus’ formula for solving personal difficulties. “Love never fails. . . . Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:8, 13) Because this evil world does not have God’s spirit, it prevents those of the world from solving their many differences. It must be observed, too, that, when personal problems arise between individual Christians, God’s holy spirit is being obstructed in one way or another and so is unable to operate fully to produce its fruitage, which is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22, 23) However, when Christian love is shown and is successful in removing that obstacle, then once again there is opportunity for the full flow of God’s spirit upon the ones involved, and they are able to feel and produce in a greater measure its fruitage in their lives. So now there is a feeling of unity and harmony as was so well expressed by the psalmist: “Look! How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the good oil upon the head, that is running down upon the beard, Aaron’s beard, that is running down to the collar of his garments.” (Ps. 133:1, 2) This quality of unity is absolutely essential to the spiritual well-being of Jehovah’s New World society today. By maintaining it we will make our work more productive, for we will be able to work with our whole mind, soul and strength. It will make our living together a truly pleasant and happifying experience, which in itself will be a source of strength to us. It will also more definitely identify us as a truly New World society operating under God’s holy spirit. However, it cannot be maintained miraculously, but only by the individuals in the New World society cultivating love for one another. Remember that love is a fruitage. It can and must be cultivated. Nowhere is this more evident than in this matter of settling difficulties in Christian love.
15. (a) Why is this direct, personal approach to the problem the best one? (b) What third, more serious step can in most instances be avoided?
15 In view of the foregoing we can fully appreciate the divine wisdom manifested through Jesus Christ in giving us this simple but effective method of settling problems that arise. “O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are! For ‘who has come to know Jehovah’s mind, or who has become his counselor?’” (Rom. 11:33, 34) Foreseeing the possibility of personal difficulties even among his dedicated servants, Jehovah saw fit to provide us with an effective remedy. It is certainly the course of divine wisdom, then, to avail ourselves of this remedy when such difficulties do arise. This direct, personal approach to solving personal problems is the most rapid and effective, for much time and effort may be saved for yourself and others if these problems are settled promptly and alone. If this fails, we can seek the aid of a more mature brother in the congregation. Seldom, however, should it be necessary to take the third, more serious step outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18:17, that of taking the matter to the representative members of the congregation, calling in the wrongdoer before witnesses and proving beyond question his sin. The mature Christian will do his utmost to settle privately his differences with his brothers, doing so in Christian love.
16. Following what Scriptural counsel will help us to face the more difficult times ahead?
16 Now more than ever it is essential that this be done. We live in the “last days,” and “critical times hard to deal with” are upon us. As members of Jehovah’s New World society we need a united front now in order to face the more difficult times ahead. So we are deeply grateful to Jehovah for having provided us with a remedy for solving our personal differences and keeping Jehovah’s organization clean and at unity. These differences are few; but love will even lessen them. So let each one resolve now to continue “putting up with one another in love, earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.”—Eph. 4:2, 3.