Problems arise in the church, and often times, these problems arise as a result of improper dealings with our brethren. Interestingly, our Savior admitted and expounded upon the ever present reality of these difficulties. In Luke 17:1, Jesus said, “It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” Jesus is telling His followers how problems will arise, people will be offended, and wrongs will be committed. He warns us to make sure it is not we who are personally causing these things to happen. We should strive to never be the offending party.
In this text, the term “offenses” is an interesting word commonly used in the New Testament. The actual Greek word denoted the portion of a trap or snare to which the bait was attached. This concept is used frequently throughout the Scriptures in noun form (“offenses”) and verb from (“offend”). In every occurrence of this word, the term is used figuratively or metaphorically to refer to anything which may hinder or impede the path of others and cause them to fall by the wayside. Jesus explained how we lay a stumbling block in the path of our brethren when we “trespass” (or, sin) against them (Lk. 17:3-4). When we sin against our brethren, do them wrong, and act improperly in our dealings with them, we hurt them and ourselves, and we create many problems in the body of Christ.
When we sin against our brethren, the Scriptures say we have a responsibility to repair the situation. Those who are on the receiving end of our incorrect actions have a Scriptural obligation too (Matt. 18:15-22), but Jesus also plainly expressed the responsibility of the offending party. These instruction are found in Matthew 5:21-26, but we find specific application to the offender in verses 23-24. When I sin against a brother or sister, two essential actions must take place.
First, Jesus said I must recognize my sinful actions. In Matthew 5:23, Jesus describes a situation where an individual is in the midst of worship and has remembered that they have a broken relationship with a brother due to his own improper actions. In verse 24, Jesus instructs such a person to leave their worship and return to their offering only after repairing the damaged relationship. Implied in this scenario is a keen awareness and honest recognition of personal failure. The individual in the text understands they are at fault, and their mind now reminds them of this situation which is hanging over their head. In like manner, when we have done wrong, our responsibility begins with placing the blame on self. We will not make excuses. We will not blame others. We will assign the guilt to self. We, like the prodigal, must admit we have sinned (Lk. 15:17-21).
Second, if I sin against my brethren, Jesus said my recognition must lead me to full repentance. Unfortunately, many individuals in the body of Christ have ruined relationships, yet they allow pride to hinder them from making their wrongs right. However, there is far too much to lose if we refuse to repent and repair our injured relationships. In fact, Jesus said immediate action must be taken to restore the relationship. In Matthew 5:23, the ASV says, “If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar…” The image in this scenario is a person in the very process of worshipping, yet they are told by Jesus to immediately leave to rectify the situation (Matt. 5:24). Such urgency is employed because of the grave consequences connected to sinning against brethren (Matt. 5:22), and the ultimate consequence is hell-fire. Beyond this, troubled relationships hinder our worship as depicted in this situation and other passages like 1 Peter 3:7. Jesus is simply driving home the serious and pressing obligation to do our part to repair the situation when we sin against our brethren. We cannot sit around waiting on our brethren to come to us. We must go to those we have wronged with humble confession, honest change of actions, and complete restitution when possible. The end result is being “reconciled to thy brother” (Matt. 5:24). Even though we have sinned, we can enjoy a repaired relationship and a restored spiritual standing with God when we do our part to seek forgiveness and restoration.
Brandon preaches for the Glencoe church of Christ in Glencoe, AL
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