What Should Our Attitude Be?
It is more than disappointing when faithful brethren depart from the truth. One wonders just exactly how Jesus felt when betrayed by Judas, and Paul at Demas’ departure (2 Timothy 4:10). The Psalmist expressed such feelings in Psalm 55:12-14:
For it was not an enemy that reproached me; Then I could have borne it: Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; Then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, My companion, and my familiar friend. We took sweet counsel together; We walked in the house of God with the throng.
The expression “familiar friend” indicates a deeper personal relationship than just an acquaintance. This is a friend with whom one is at peace, with whom one feels safe, a trusted companion. Commentators on this Psalm suggest that David may have had Ahithophel in mind. He was one of David’s beloved and trusted counselors (1 Chronicles 27:33). 2 Samuel 16:23 says, “And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if a man inquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.” After Ahithophel defected to Absalom’s cause, David prayed for God to overthrow that counsel which He did through Hushai (2 Samuel 17:14). Rejected, Ahitophel went back to his house, set his affairs in order, and hanged himself (2 Samuel 17:23). It is a sad and tragic ending to what was once a beautiful relationship; the beauty of the relationship makes such an ending all the more difficult to bear. One can imagine David weeping for Ahithophel, his once stalwart companion.
Ahithopel, Demas, Judas: they betrayed their friends and revealed their true desires. However, prior to the moment of actual discovery we find no indication in the scripture that these betrayers were dealt with in any way other than with love and fealty. They were accepted; their counsel received; their works appreciated. It raises a significant question: what ought our attitude to be toward faithful Christians who harbor secret sin?
First, we ought to determine to put away from among us an inquisitional attitude. While elders are charged to tend and defend, it would ultimately destroy the flock should they use the methods and attitudes of the Spanish inquisition. Such McCarthyism does not display true love for the brotherhood. True love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Convening public boards of inquiries, turning brother against brother to “rat out” one another, undermining the trust of the majority to weed out the minority is sinful and ought not to be practiced. The parable of the tares illustrates the great spiritual truth that one must not root out the wicked at the expense of the righteous (Matthew 13:25ff).
Second, even if we suspect something may not be right, a brother who has historically proved faithful deserves the benefit of the doubt. I know of no brothers who have ever lived such flawless lives that they have never had a single conflict with another brother. If we were to make a brotherhood exposé out of each and every conflict that arises, we would be guilty of what Paul called “biting and devouring” (Galatians 5:15). Instead, love will seek out his brother (Matthew 18:15), listen to his explanation (James 1:19), and be willing to believe (1 Corinthians 13:7). Jesus upbraided the disciples upon one occasion because they did not believe the testimony of their brethren (Mark 16:14). Our modus operandi, therefore, ought to be a ready willingness to believe what our ostensibly faithful brethren are telling us. If they are overtly lying, the odium rests upon them.
Third, the strong must bear with the weak. In Romans 15:1-2 we read, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification.” Galatians 6:1 (ASV) says, “Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Whether something is a matter of personal opinion, or a matter of sinfulness, we owe it to our brethren to work with them in a positive manner toward resolving any problems that could potentially rupture fellowship. After such proves to be impossible, reluctantly but obediently, we pursue public disciplinary actions. The goal, however, is to maintain the integrity and unity of the body of Christ and so the strong bear with the weak to this end.
Finally, it cannot be wrong to suffer an injustice from a brother rather than to be personally vindicated. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:7 contain a principle that we would do well to learn: “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” I would strongly oppose anyone who said that they have suffered a greater injustice than our Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet Peter says concerning Him, “For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23). It is enough, then, when our brethren have done us evil, to commit such things to the one who judges righteously. This is the example Peter says Jesus left for us to follow. Ultimately God exalted Jesus. We have no avenue to exalt ourselves by pursuing publicly, personal vindication.
“Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, who did eat of my bread, Hath lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). It hurts terribly when such is done to us and in hindsight we want to kick ourselves in the pants for not seeing the signs sooner, but when we have followed the above inspired advice for maintaining faithful and godly relationships with our brethren, let us take confidence in knowing that our efforts were sincere, holy, and brotherly. Let our efforts in that regard be characterized by the maxim, “Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).