Godly Conduct Toward Others
“I am writing you . . . that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in God’s household, which is the congregation.”—1 Tim. 3:14, 15.
1, 2. How can the Bible help us in our dealings with others?
AMONG the benefits that Christians have in studying the Bible is that they learn the godly way of dealing with other humans. Even persons unacquainted with Christianity or the Bible admit the wisdom and practicality of counsel such as: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.”—Luke 6:31.
2 The Bible provides much more than broad generalities about our conduct toward others. It counsels on how we should conduct ourselves toward individuals who are in certain specific relationships to us, or in certain situations. For example, it gives advice as to a Christian wife’s conduct toward her unbelieving husband, and counsel on our conduct toward lowly ones, the crippled and the opposite sex. (1 Pet. 3:1-6; Ps. 41:1; Lev. 19:14; 1 Tim. 5:1, 2) The Scriptures also offer much sound counsel on how we should ‘conduct ourselves in God’s household, which is the congregation.’—1 Tim. 3:15.
3. Why are we in need of God’s guidance as to our conduct?
3 Applying such divine counsel is vital, for God’s Word indicates that, in part, he will judge us on the basis of how we conduct ourselves toward others. (Matt. 18:35; 25:40, 45; Rev. 2:23) Hence, rather than being guided either by what some human says that we should do, or by our emotions and what we “feel” is proper, we should have David’s attitude: “Make me know your own ways, O Jehovah; teach me your own paths. Make me walk in your truth and teach me, for you are my God of salvation.”—Ps. 25:4, 5; 139:17, 21.
DEALING WITH SINNERS
4. Why is it necessary that we know about dealing with sinners?
4 As descendants of Adam, all humans “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23; 5:12) Our situation is not hopeless, though, for “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Everyone who recognizes that and who exercises faith in Christ can gain forgiveness even though he has lived sinfully in the past.—1 Tim. 1:12-16; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Acts 10:43; Rom. 6:12-14.
5. What needs to be done if a Christian commits serious sin?
5 But what if, after a person has repented, put faith in Christ and become a baptized Christian, he succumbs to weakness or stumbles into grave sin? He might still be forgiven, even as the apostle Peter was forgiven for denying Jesus. If you learned of a fellow Christian who had succumbed to grave sin, what would you do? Out of true love you certainly would want to see that that person got spiritual help. Often the devoted spiritual elders or overseers in the congregation are the means for providing that help. With what objective? That of restoring the erring Christian spiritually.—Gal. 6:1; 1 John 5:16; 2 Tim. 2:23-26; Jude 23.
6. If a Christian guilty of grave sin is not repentant, what action must be taken?
6 Sometimes, however, a person who has walked for some years in the way of true Christianity deviates from it, gives himself over to ungodly conduct and then is not repentant despite the sincere efforts of the elders to help him. The Bible shows that this happened in the first century, and it happens today. (2 Pet. 2:10-20) What then must be done? In his perfect wisdom and justice, God directs that a firm step must be taken to protect the moral and spiritual cleanness of the congregation, which step might also shock the wrongdoer to his senses. God’s Word commands: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” That means expelling him from the Christian congregation.—1 Cor. 5:13; 1 Tim. 1:20; compare Deuteronomy 17:7.
7. What sort of questions arise concerning a person who has been expelled from the congregation?
7 It is sad that a person’s conduct and attitude would require such action, but once he has been expelled, how are the loyal members of the congregation to view and treat him? Should they conduct themselves toward him as they would toward any neighbor, workmate or person they happen to meet on the street? Should they say “Hello” or even chat briefly if they cross paths with the expelled person? What about working for him or hiring him? To what extent should Christian parents, or other relatives, communicate or keep company with the individual? Many such questions arise. How thankful we can be that Jehovah God provides us with guidance in dealing with an expelled wrongdoer!
JESUS’ COUNSEL ABOUT WRONGDOERS
8, 9. (a) What counsel did Jesus offer about one who had sinned? (b) To what type of sin was Jesus here referring?
8 At a time when God was still dealing with the Jews as His people, Jesus offered some counsel about one who had sinned. Christ’s disciples, themselves Jews, would understand this advice in the light of the existing situation in the Jewish community. We, too, can benefit, for the counsel Jesus gave would apply later when the Christian congregation was established by God. (Matt. 21:43) Christ began: “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.”—Matt. 18:15.
9 Jesus evidently was not speaking of a “sin” in the sense of some small personal offense such as we read about in Philippians 4:2, 3. (Compare Proverbs 12:18.) Rather, it appears that he meant sins such as fraud or slander, sins serious enough that they might lead to a person’s being expelled from the congregation.a If the one sinned against could resolve the matter through a private approach, he would have ‘gained his brother’; when the sinner has evidenced heartfelt repentance and tried to rectify the wrong, there is no need to take the matter further.
10, 11. If that first step failed, what would be the next thing to do?
10 What if that step failed? Jesus continued: “But if [the sinner] 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.”—Matt. 18:16.
11 The ones brought along were to be “witnesses,” not mere neutral parties attempting to mediate a reconciliation. It seems that they would be individuals who had ‘witnessed’ the wrongdoing, such as knowing of the financial agreement when it was made and thus being able to testify as to whether fraud had occurred. Or, if the evidence of wrongdoing was a contract or the like, spiritually qualified brothers with experience in such situations might be brought along. They could become witnesses to the facts and to what was said by the accused during this meeting in case the last step had to be taken.
12. The final step would be what, as explained by Jesus?
12 Jesus gave as the final step in connection with the sinner: “If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:17) Yes, as a last effort to turn back the sinner from his way, the matter would be taken to spiritually older men of the congregation. These could hear the facts and obtain the witnesses’ testimony. And they would be able to reprove the wrongdoer with God’s Word. However, if he refused to repent, they would act in behalf of the congregation to discipline him, protecting the congregation from his dangerous influence by expelling him.
NOT INHUMANE TOWARD OTHERS
13, 14. How can we be certain that Jesus did not endorse being inhumane toward others?
13 As an aid in determining what our conduct should be toward such a person, we need to understand Jesus’ words: “Let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” In later centuries, some Jewish rabbis did express extreme views, such as that a Jew should not even help a Gentile who was in peril of death. Such heartlessness was not shown only toward Gentiles. For instance, in Jesus’ parable about being a true neighbor, both a Levite and a priest refused to help an injured fellow Jew, though a Samaritan later did so.—Luke 10:29-37.
14 But in Matthew 18:17 Jesus could not have meant that his disciples were to refuse to do an act of human kindness, as in a case of accident or of desperate need. Jesus showed such kindness to some Gentiles. For example, he did so to a Syro-phoenician woman. Though Jesus, his disciples and the woman acknowledged that her situation was unusual because she was a Gentile and Jesus was sent to the Jews, Christ nevertheless healed her daughter. (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30) Jesus showed similar human kindness when a Roman army officer implored him to heal a paralyzed and suffering slave. The officer admitted that he did not expect Jesus, a Jewish teacher, to enter his home. Yet “older men of the Jews” begged Jesus to show mercy to this worthy Gentile, and he did so. (Luke 7:1-10; Matt. 8:5-13) So by what he said about someone’s being “as a man of the nations and as a tax collector,” Jesus did not forbid expressions of merciful kindness. What, then, did he mean?
“AS A TAX COLLECTOR”
15. How did the Jews view and treat tax collectors?
15 First, how did the Jews look at and treat tax collectors?
“The publicans [tax collectors] of the New Test[ament] were regarded as traitors and apostates, defiled by their frequent intercourse with the heathen, willing tools of the oppressor. They were classed with sinners . . . with harlots . . . with the heathen. . . . Left to themselves, men of decent lives holding aloof from them, their only friends or companions were found among those who, like themselves, were outcasts.”—“Cyclopædia” by M’Clintock and Strong, Vol. VIII, p. 769.
Yes, Jesus’ hearers well knew that Jews in general shunned tax collectors. Only reluctantly would Jews have even minimal business contacts with them, to pay the tax required by law.
16, 17. What was Jesus’ conduct toward some tax collectors?
16 ‘But,’ someone might ask, ‘did not Jesus associate with tax collectors?’ Well, let us examine the facts.
17 As “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” Jesus was a light to all people, though he concentrated on the Jews during his earthly ministry. (John 1:29; 8:12; Isa. 42:1, 6, 7; Matt. 10:5, 6; 15:24) He was like a physician in aiding all those Jews who needed him most, including sinners such as harlots, drunkards and tax collectors, who often used dishonest means. Matthew Levi, a despised tax collector, was one who responded to the new message of salvation that Jesus brought. Matthew invited Jesus to his home for a feast, thus allowing Matthew and other interested tax collectors to hear more of the wonderful new truths. (Luke 5:27-32; 19:1-10) These were men who had ‘sinned in their ignorance,’ but who were ready to take steps to have their sins “blotted out.”—Acts 3:19; Heb. 9:7.
18. Why were Jesus’ dealings with some tax collectors not the pattern for what he said in Matthew 18:17?
18 However, Jesus’ effort to give a witness to tax collectors who ‘drew near to hear him’ and ‘followed him’ was not a pattern of how unrepentant sinners were to be treated. (Mark 2:15; Luke 15:1) How can we be sure? Though Christ ate with such tax collectors, the apostle Paul ordered that Christians must ‘not even eat with’ the sinner who was expelled from the congregation. (1 Cor. 5:11) Also, Jesus told his disciples to deal with an unrepentant wrongdoer as, logically, they viewed tax collectors of the time. The translation by R. F. Weymouth reads: “Regard him just as you regard a Gentile or a tax-gatherer.”—Compare New International Version; The New English Bible.
HOW WERE GENTILES VIEWED AND TREATED?
19. What does the Bible show as to relations between Jews and non-Jews?
19 The apostles who heard Jesus’ words that are recorded at Matthew 18:17 were Jews and knew that their countrymen did not socialize with Gentiles. The Law distinguished between Jews and Gentiles, serving to keep the Israelites separate from the surrounding nations. (Deut. 7:1-4; Num. 15:37-41; Eph. 2:11-14) At Passover 33 C.E. the Jews would not enter the Roman governor’s palace “that they might not get defiled.” (John 18:28) And the separation between the Jews and the Samaritans, who even accepted the Pentateuch, was so wide that a woman at a well in Samaria expressed surprise that Jesus, “despite being a Jew,” would ask her for water.—John 4:9.
20. What can be learned from Peter’s experience with Cornelius as to how Jews dealt with persons of the nations?
20 Furthermore, in 36 C.E., when God purposed to demonstrate that uncircumcised Gentiles could then be accepted as heirs of the Kingdom, he directed the apostle Peter to the Roman army officer Cornelius. But Peter told Cornelius: “You well know how unlawful it is for a Jew to join himself to or approach a man of another race.” (Acts 10:28) Peter’s remark shows how deeply Jews felt that there should be no fraternization with a man of the nations. Also, when it became known that Peter had gone to Cornelius, some Jewish Christians strongly objected that Peter “had gone into the house of men that were not circumcised and had eaten with them.” Yes, Jews regarded it as a shocking thing to be with and eat with a “man of the nations.”—Acts 11:1-3; compare Galatians 2:12.
21. How, then, do you understand what Jesus said about an unrepentant sinner being “as a man of the nations and as a tax collector”?
21 The Scriptures thus help us to understand Jesus’ advice to treat an unrepentant wrongdoer who refused to listen to the congregation “as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” Applying Christ’s counsel today certainly would not mean viewing the wrongdoer as an average person in the community, for that would not be how Jesus’ disciples understood what he said. We can better appreciate this by examining added counsel in the Christian Greek Scriptures, which will help us to deal with real-life situations today involving persons expelled from the Christian congregation.
a Under the law of Moses, some grave sins, such as adultery, homosexuality, manslaughter and apostasy, could not be settled merely on a personal basis, with a wronged individual accepting the wrongdoer’s sorrow and efforts to rectify the wrong. Rather, these grave sins were handled through the older men, judges and priests.—Lev. 20:10, 13; Num. 5:11-31; 35:12, 19-25; Deut. 13:6-15; 17:2-9; 19:16-19; 22:22.
WHAT DID “AS A MAN OF THE NATIONS AND AS A TAX COLLECTOR” MEAN?
The Jews shunned tax collectors as outcasts
Jews would not enter the palace of a Gentile governor
Peter said it was “unlawful” for a Jew to approach a Gentile
Jewish Christians were shocked that Peter ate with Cornelius
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The Jews shunned tax collectors, who were viewed as sinners. The only business contact with them was to pay the tax required by law