"A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle."
It is cause for much gloom and sadness that in the church of the living God there are such things as offenses. We know that our Lord has informed us that it is impossible but that offenses will come. He also said, "But woe be to him by whom they come". Well it would be if God enabled and blessed us to examine ourselves daily to see wherein we might be offenders. As the Scriptures inform us there are times we would make a brother an offender for a word. Meaning, most likely since we cannot agree with every word and syllable the individual has uttered or written, we must cast him aside as being unfit for our companionship. We have all seen over the years the church rent with just such things as these, but is there not a better way to treat brethren and avoid having them be harder to be won than a strong city?
It is a very truth that once we have spoken, that which we said cannot be recalled. We may apologize, we may beg forgiveness, but the words nonetheless will no doubt ring in the ears of the one to whom we have uttered them. Who knows how deep the offense might go? Thus the meaning of our text. When a brother becomes offended it is extremely difficult to win him back. It is even like the taking of a strong city, a fortified city, and one which has barriers and obstacles in the way of those who would enter. We find our way into the hearts of those whom we have offended well nigh impossible, and further, their contentions as the writer said are "like the bars of a castle". They have become so offended they now contend things which they otherwise would never dream of and we cannot break those contentions down, try as we may.
Does not this awful prospect give room for a long pause, and serious consideration? Is there any room among the saints of the Most High for even the least offense? What a great warning our Lord gave His disciples about "Better that a millstone be put around our neck and we be cast into the sea" than we should offend one of these little ones. Yet, it could be said with truth that probably no one living has escaped the crime of offending their brethren in some way or another.
Could we not enumerate a few things that by grace might guide us in avoiding offending a brother?
1. When you feel inclined to "lay your brother or sister out" for their supposed faults, seek the Lord's strength that you may remain silent. As our Lord described in the Sermon on the Mount, "First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
2. When we meet in our holy assemblies, if we cannot speak acceptably of one another in conversation let us again seek God's guidance that we may say nothing at all. Can any good at all come from criticism? Also, gossip among brothers and sisters has been an evil almost equal to that of jealousy among ministers - and no doubt rivals it for the mastery in the hand of Satan.
3. If we must speak, let us do so according to Bible precept. If a brother or sister has trespassed against us, then we must follow the rules laid down by our Lord in Matthew 18, "Go to that one alone" and attempt to make reconciliation.
4. In our business meetings and conferences; never seek to raise questions or make statements which might be misconstrued. Weigh every word carefully as if they might have an everlasting impact. What price peace?
So many things could be written in this regard, but suffice it to comment on only one verse further by reading from Ecclesiastes 10:4, "If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offenses." There may be times when our only course is yielding. Well we know that this goes against the grain, and contrary to our evil nature, and yet if yielding pacifieth great offenses, is it not worth yielding a point? Is there anything to be gained by telling someone "I told you so", or to point out their error, or their wrong? We know that there are times when "silence is yellow" and other times when "silence is golden". May we ever be blessed of our gracious Heavenly Father, the King of Peace, to seek peace, and to yield whenever possible and to prefer our brothers and sisters above ourselves, having no desire to have the preeminence, longing ever that we might be at their feet, and not otherwise, seeking the back seat and not the first or the uppermost, going to the low place and not the high. There really is no place among brethren for offenses of any sort, for surely our Lord has greatly condemned them. May we condemn them in ourselves and trust that the Lord will enable us to forgive those who trespass or offend against us.
Let no one assume we here advocate yielding truth up to error, or remaining silent should heresies or evil practice gain the ascendancy. Our text involves offending a brother, not pacifying anti-christ.
J. F. Poole
Volume 1, No. 4
June - July, 1987