When is it a Good Idea Not to Follow Bible Counsel?

Thursdays section of this week’s lesson talks about the counsel in Matthew 18, regarding dealing with a brother who has wronged another. Here is the counsel:

Image © Lars Justinen from GoodSalt.com

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Matthew 18:15-17

This counsel rarely ever gets followed. How much better our world and church would be if people would follow this counsel from Jesus.

Here is what I have seen happen too often. Someone actually tries to follow this counsel, but when at step 2, when he tries to get a brother to go along, the brother perceives it as gossip and does not want to meddle in the situation even though this is exactly what Jesus says to do. Or, instead of the third party being neutral, that person gets an ear load from one side and goes into the meeting very biased.

Even more sadly, I have talked with church leaders who passed judgment on another member without ever hearing that person’s side of the story or going to them personally first. They clearly admitted they did not follow the counsel of Matthew 18 because they already had all the evidence without needing to follow Matthew 18. What? You don’t need to follow Bible counsel because you already have the full scoop? Since when was following the Bible optional? Apparently it happens all the time. To me this is the most sad situation of the three, because the people not following Matthew 18 know they are not following it and don’t care, but they still think they are fit to be church leaders while intentionally ignoring Bible counsel.

Before many churches can heal and move forward in proclaiming the gospel, they need to make sure they are following the gospel themselves. We need to make sure we follow Matthew 18 when a problem arises and go to our brother or sister one on one without anyone else knowing. Most problems can be resolved at step one. If not, then step two means we should take along another party who can hear both sides of the story at the same time, and not get an ear full from one side before even hearing the other side. This talking to another person and stacking the deck in one’s favor is very easy for humans to do, but with God’s grace we can avoid this temptation – especially if we are honestly wanting truth to win.

The third step is to take it to the church. At this point the church should not be afraid to handle the matter. It is not gossip at this point; it is Bible counsel. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul tells the church it will be judging angels and needs to be judging its own issues.

When we reject Bible counsel everyone loses. When we follow Bible counsel there is redemption for all.



When is it a Good Idea Not to Follow Bible Counsel? — 20 Comments

  1. I often take matters to individuals and then take two or three to the individual that doesn't understand what I am saying. The biggest heartbreak for me, is members and leaders who see things their own way, and no other way is considered. This is truly dysfunctional and continues to cause relational problems that can't be resolved. We are supposed to grow into mature Christians, but being right, or getting attention, or other reasons for being stubborn are more important for that person. I am learning unconditional patience and love like never before. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Facing someone one on one shows care and respect for one another than gossiping which pulls us away from God and therefore discordance and scrambling for titles in the church..Let God chair the peace and reconciliation commitee in my Christian life.

  3. I hope. That we as brothers and sisters yeild. And take the counsels in the Bible seriously, apply them in our lives there and then we'll have better relationships. In our churches.

  4. William, I think there is one other case where we are not directly involved where someone has something against someone else. In that situation I feel that we can be a sort of mediator smoothing things over and calming down some feelings.

    Such things are quite biblical. For instance, Moses mediation between God and Israel(Num 14:11-21) and Paul's mediation concerning Onesimus in Philemon.

  5. Dear William,

    You raise an interesting and pertinent topic. In the context of our leadership where you believe certain individuals are preaching contrary to Church doctrine that is clearly opposed to a foundation principle of scripture, should we follow the advice provided in Matthew 18?

    We are dealing with such a situation as it relates to the 7th-Day Sabbath in Samoa where sunday worship is condoned by the church leadership. The sad thing about this situation is even after bringing it their attention and also to those at the highest level at the General Conference, nothing is being done to rectify the situation.

    We continue to pray for God's Divine intervention and that the power of the Holy Spirit agitates within the hearts and minds of the leadership to follow God's Word and obey His commandments and keep His 7th-Day Sabbath Day Saturday, Holy.

    A special prayer for the brethren and their families deeply affected by this unfortunate and wrongful leading of the church leadership. May the Holy Spirit continue to lead, guide and wrap His arms of love and protection around these faithful disciples of Jesus.

    God's rich blessings. ulalei

    • Your question has some important ramifications, Ulalei.

      If we had to go privately to the person who made a public statement or a performed a public act before we could discuss the appropriateness of the statement or the action, it would effectively quell all discussion of the actions of leaders, and they would have free reign to do what they wished, largely unaffected by the convictions of the members who elected them to represent them.

      I don't believe that Christ's counsel to go privately to an individual can be applied to statements or actions that are already in the public domain. The principle appears to be to keep things private in the smallest possible circle and correct them there. And, as William points out, many misunderstandings would be solved by just going to a person in private, rather than talking about the person to someone else. I believe that if we practiced the rule that Christ gave us, we would have stronger relationships and congregations that, together, reflect the love of Christ.

      However, a public statement (such as a sermon, for instance) and/or action can be and should be discussed to test its correctness. We need to be like the Bereans who went home to study to test whether what Paul had said was really in line with God's revealed will.

      When we believe an action or statement by leadership is wrong, I believe we need to pray, to study and consult together to ensure that we are not the ones in the wrong. In a local situation, it would be most appropriate to go to the local leader privately, if we find ourselves in disagreement. But this is not possible when leaders on a higher level issue statements or implement actions. If there is agreement between a number of members regarding a public action, it is, indeed, appropriate to take it to the leadership--not necessarily one-on-one (though that is fine too), but possibly as a group.

      Concerns should be clearly stated, with appropriate reasons documented. (Some examples regarding the Samoan Sabbath dilemma are The Sabbath in the Pacific Around the Date Line and Arguments For Keeping Sunday as Sabbath in Samoa Examined) Then it seems to me that it is the duty of the leadership to examine the reasons given and to give a biblical response, recognizing that leaders can be wrong, as history has so abundantly demonstrated.

      Normally, good Christian leaders will avoid making major decisions without dialoguing with the membership. In the case of Samoa, the question is whether such a major decision as changing Sabbath keeping from Saturday to Sunday was appropriate for the leadership to make.

      As I understand it, the government announced in June of 2011 that a dateline realignment was to be implemented at the end of the year. I would think it would be reasonable to expect that this would be the signal for leaders and members to study and pray for God's will to be shown regarding how to respond to the situation in a God-honoring way.

      But I don't believe that ever happened.

      James warns us that "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (James 3:1) That seems to indicate that leaders will be held responsible for their influence, whether good or bad.

      • What is the full story about Samoa? what thing would cause such a problem? and why would a whole church of caring people make such a change? I would like to pray for the situation but need to know what needs to be prayed for.

        [MODERATOR'S NOTE: There are imbedded links (colored text) in the above two comments that will explain the situation in detail, specifically http://sabbathissues.org/ ]

        • The short story is this: This past year Samoa decided to change their relationship to the International Date Line back to the way it was before the United States pressured them to be on the eastern side of the line. In response to that change the Samoan Mission leadership along with the South Pacific Union Conference put out the directive that the churches of Samoa were not to change in accordance with the government's decision. So when Samoa changed and placed themselves in the same time zone as New Zealand Seventh-day Adventists in Samoa found themselves worshipping on Sunday. It is really a mess of misunderstandings and convoluted reasoning and indirectly involves Tonga as well since they have been worshipping on Sunday for over 100 years without any other direction by the General Conference to do otherwise.

  6. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments, and for being a part of my Christian fellowship. I can also relate to these comments. Ulalei, as you consider to pray for divine intervention God will lead. I know this from experience. I am praying for you too!

  7. William, thanks for your well presented commentary on Matthew 18. Our and others' salvation could depend upon using the counsel in this text. It takes courage and the fear of rejection cannot stall us from going forward. I do have a question...If I have forgiven the person, eventhough they do not accept responsibility for their actions, how far should this then be taken? Does my forgiveness close the issue? Or, should I "work" to get the person to accept responsibility? Any thoughts???

    • God has given humanity the greatest part of His character "free choice", we must remember cross gives freedom to all......................... who will accept it. Bro you have forgiven, now you must accept choice is his................to accept or forsake. Read Matt. 7: 14 "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."

    • Assuming that the "offender" is guilty of doing wrong, forgiveness from me to an offender is wonderful because it frees me to love that brother. But if the offender has not admitted to the offense, the forgiveness is not really received for what it is. And if the offender does not admit to the offense, then there is no repentance toward God either. If the offense is offensive to God (however small a sin), do I care enough to "work" with the person to help him come to Biblical understanding of the issues at stake? The issue is not closed until there is reconciliation between all parties involved.

  8. Thank you Bro Hamp for your comments. You raise a good question. First of all, if you have already forgiven him, the next question would be how big of a deal is it? Will he continue to be a threat to cause serious harm to you or someone else? If the answer to the two last questions is "no" then I would just let it go. However if you feel he may cause serious harm to another soul, then I would move on to step two and take another unbiased brother along that can help him see the pain he is inflicting. Remember, the mediator does not need to hear your side of the story or the other side before the three of you all meet together. Here is where many err. They give the so called unbiased third party an earful of their side of the story, before the meeting ever takes place, thus making it impossible to mediate and fulfill the counsel Jesus gave. I will be praying for you and your friend that true reconciliation and healing will take place.

  9. Thanks very much for the article, it has made me need help for a situation which am facing now. When 3 people have a misundertsanding should the elders take the side of 2 without finding out from the 3rd person? One elder told said plainly marjority carries the vote based on consulting the second person after the first person have made the allegations against me. I took the pain to talk to the elder and after hearing my side of the story went back to the two and told them my part and they (2) both said am right. In a case like this who should be blamed the two with the elders, or just the two? I have deceided to print out your article and give it out to some members because it's very helpful and educative. May the Lord continue to give you more knowledge and wisdom.

  10. What if the person you need to make things right with is the other woman who is in a relationship with your husband? Does this statement apply if she and he are still in the church and my husband is a pastor?

    • Dear Broken Hearted. I am praying for you. I have seen somethng similiar to this before. The issue for you right now is not the other woman. It is your husband. Go to him. If you dont get anywhere take a brother or sister. Next step would be the church and in your case also the conference officials. Sadly I know of a case where a pastor's wife had to do this, but she backed down after her husband scared her into believing that if he got caught he would lose his job and she would end up starving to death. Remember, Bible counsel is the only way to go. My prayers and heart go out to you. Please keep in touch with us so we know you are okay.

  11. A Great article indeed. It Reminds me of the hymn, 'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus'. The song goes on to say "Just to take Him at His Word" and "Just to know, "Thus saith the Lord". And then John 15:5 and Philippians 4:13 sum it all up. We are facing challenges in the church today of discipline, conflict, gossip,etc. and failure to heed the counsel of Matthew 18 will lead to destruction. Let's keep on praying for Heavenly Wisdom, Knowledge, and Strength.

  12. We must be careful when following the counsel of Christ that we do not try to solve every issue within the church. At the church I attend there was an accusation of child molestation between a youth leader and one of the youth. The parents of the youth went to the police first, then went to the parents of the leader as they were close friends. They also brought it to the church board. No one outside of the board was told what happened. The conference advised the pastor to not get involved and to stay away from the accused's family. Although there was no conviction, the family of the leader transferred membership to another church and the leader withdrew membership of the SDA church entirely. It came to light later that this was not the first time this had happened and that the first victim's family kept it between them and the accused's family.
    There are times when we must seek outside assistance in solving a problem.

  13. Dear Anonymous, I totally agree. If someone is a threat to the public then it is no longer just about the private parties. I don't think that contradicts the idea Jesus was trying to convey.


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