“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 by brother.” Matthew 18:15. Many times I have people who come to me when they have a problem with a brother or a sister and say, “You know, Pastor Hector, I am having this problem with this brother; he is doing this, that, and the other.” Do you know that the Spirit of Prophecy tells us that we are not to go to our pastor and talk to him about a problem that we are having with someone else until we have followed Matthew 18? Because I love them, I say, “Time out, my brother. Have you talked to this person yourself, first?” Too often we neglect to do this.
“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.” Verse 16. How many of us do this? We claim that we do, but we do not. Let us be honest with ourselves. “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church.” Verse 17. Here are the basic steps of gospel order to deal with clearing up problems between individuals.
Let us suppose that you decide to follow gospel order and you come in love to that brother or that sister and say, “My brother, I want to help you because I have a concern. I saw that you were doing such an such a thing which you should not be doing.” Are you following Matthew 18? If you are going to him in love and in kindness and humility, how do you think that brother is going to respond to you?
I have an open invitation to every member in our church that if they see me doing something wrong; I want them to come and tell me so that I can correct it. Recently I had a brother at Living Waters Church come up to me and say, “Pastor Hector, I saw you do this, and you should not be doing it.” I said, “Thank you for showing me this problem area in my life.” Why should we not do this with one another? We need to stop playing games and be honest with each other.
There are three possible things that could happen to you when you go to a brother as Matthew 18 has commanded us to do. He will thank you from the bottom of his heart because he is sincere about getting ready for the coming of the Lord; or he may say, “You know, I had better stay away from the church because they are watching everything I do.”
The third thing that might happen is that that person may deny that they have a problem. They may be self-deceived into thinking that it is you who has the problem. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” Proverbs 21:2. Then he may tell you, “I know that you came to me in love, brother, but I have to tell you that you are judging me.” And so he takes you to Matthew 7 and says, “’Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?’ (Verses 1–3). Why are you looking at me? Don’t you see what Scripture is saying here? Go solve your own problems before you come talk to me.” Then he dares to read verse 5 to you. “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
Remember, you started out in love and concern for this individual; but now you have offended him. “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like bars of a castle.” Proverbs 18:19. Have you ever visited a person who is on the other side of the bars? As long as those bars are closed, it is impossible to get through. It is often the same way with the heart of a brother or a sister whom you have offended.
Suppose that this brother now reads to you: “The reason is plain why Christ has said, ‘Judge not;’ for it is natural for man to exalt his own goodness. . . . If we looked upon things in the right light, we should see that we need mercy from Christ every moment, and should render the same to our brethren. Jesus has not placed man upon the judgment-seat; for He knew human nature too well to give man the power to judge and condemn others.” Review and Herald, January 3, 1893. How do you feel now? You are probably feeling very small. And then he continues, “He knew that in their fallible judgment, they would root up some as tares, who were worthy of their sympathy and confidence, and would pass by others who deserved to be dealt with in a decided manner.” Now this is very interesting because when this brother reads this to you, he is going to become a little confused. Did you notice what it said? “He knew that in their fallible judgment, they would root up some as tares, who were worthy of their sympathy and confidence, and would pass by others, who deserved to be dealt with in a decided manner.” [All emphasis supplied.]
Now what does that mean? If we are not supposed to judge, how do we deal with people in a decided manner? We are told, “When there are cases in the church which need to be dealt with decidedly, let the rule of the Bible be carried out. If the influence of erring members has an influence that corrupts others, they should be disfellowshipped; and heaven will ratify the action. It is the work of the enemy to sow tares among the wheat; and there will be men found in the church whose influence, as far as we can discern from outward appearance, is no blessing to the church.” Ibid. Pretty heavy words! It continues, “But even in cases of this character we are to move cautiously; for Christ and heavenly agencies are at work to purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Ibid.
What do we do when people are hindering the work? “God has given us our work, and if He has given us a message to bear to His people, those who would hinder us in the work and weaken the faith of the people in its truth and verity are not fighting against the instrument, but against God, and they must answer to Him for the result of their words and actions.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 433.
I want to ask you a question. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, did God still love and forgive them? Yes, He did. He provided a plan of salvation for them. If, however, God loved them so much, why did they have to be removed from their original home? Because there are consequences to our actions. “They must answer to Him for the result of their words and actions. All who have spiritual discernment may judge of the tree by its fruits.” Ibid.
Earlier we read that we were not supposed to judge, but now we are being told that we can judge the fruits. You see, it is not left up to me to determine the eternal salvation of an individual; I can never judge anyone and tell that they will not be in heaven. God has not given us the power to do that, but we are to judge the fruits.
How do we judge the fruits of an individual? “The Bible is the standard by which to test the claims of all who profess sanctification. . . . The Bible will be to them ‘profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.’ ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits.’ We need no other evidence in order to judge of men’s sanctification; if they are fearful lest they shall not obey the whole will of God.” Review and Herald, October 5, 1886. Are you confused? The Bible tells us not to judge and now it says that “we need no other evidence in order to judge of men’s sanctification.” My brothers and sisters, all of us are different; but we are supposed to bear the same fruit. Do you get the point?
“Our Lord does not leave us in darkness as to whom to trust. Here is the rule by which to decide; ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.’” Signs of the Times, October 29, 1885.
We are supposed to give the light to the world. “‘A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.’ Our thoughts and purposes are the secret springs of action; and hence determine the character. The purpose formed in the heart need not be expressed in word or deed in order to make it a sin, and bring the soul into condemnation. Every thought, feeling, and inclination, though unseen by men, is discerned by the eye of God.” Signs of the Times, March 25, 1886.
We all need to reflect the character of Jesus Christ that men may see our good works. If we will be attentive to Christ’s voice, our characters will be blameless, harmless, and faithful, making us one of the chosen ones. We will be godly, guileless, holy, humble, hungry for righteousness, led by the Spirit, loving, lowly, meek, merciful, pure in heart. Do we have all of these traits of character? If we were to have all of these traits of character, people would not view us in the same light as the rest of the world. We would have the reputation of being Christians.
Unfortunately, most of us have a decidedly different character. The character of the vast majority of people in this world, even of those professing to be followers of Jesus, is one of alienation from God. They are blasphemous, blinded, boastful. Now as you read these characteristics, remember that it is by their fruits that you will know them. They are boastful, conspiring against the saints. They are corrupt, deceitful, disobedient, foolish, fraudulent, hard-hearted, hating the light. They are heady and high-minded, hypocritical, lying, selfish, and stiff-necked.
Now let me ask you something. If you find an individual with these character traits, would you have these people in responsible positions in your church? Why not? Are they exemplifying the character, or fruits of our Saviour, Jesus Christ? The problem today, however, is that we are finding too many people with all of these character traits who think that we, as a people, are not supposed to judge them. They believe that we are supposed to let them get away with anything and still allow them to stand in the desk and deliver a sermon, or take part in Sabbath School, or perform whatever other responsibilities that they may have. It is impossible that it should be this way. We are duty bound to not allow it to. Why? Because by their fruits, we are to know them.
When we refuse to allow such people to continue to function in responsible capacities, are we casting them away? No, we are not. We are merely saying, “We are no longer playing games in this church, my brother or my sister. You go home and put your house in order so that people see something different in you. When we see fruits of the Spirit in you, you can join us once again in this work that we are doing. We will pray for you, and you may join us in church and listen to the sermons. You may be admonished and edified with us, but do not expect to minister to us when we know that you are not demonstrating in your life the fruits of the Spirit.”
Today, we need to understand, my brothers and my sisters, that the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy tell us to watch the fruits of individuals because it is by their fruits that we are to know them. The next time that you come to an individual about a problem that they have, remember to first do a deep searching of your own heart and ask, “Lord, is there anything in my life that I need to change?”
And, if someone comes to you with something that you are doing wrong, instead of putting them off and refusing to listen, look in the mirror of the Law of God. Most of the time, when someone comes to you and reveals a problem in your life, it is not something that they have fabricated. It is the result of actions that they have seen and things that we have done.
Are you sincere enough to stop and consider what this brother or this sister is bringing to you? Have you come to a place in your Christian experience where you are willing to kneel down and say, “Lord, I know there are problems in my life; please help me; I want to be used in Your service; I cannot continue to go on the way that I am going? How can I go to church and pretend to be something that I am not?” It is time to stop playing games, my brothers and my sisters. This is serious business. And when you are involved in the gospel work, you had better have your house in order. As I mentioned earlier, I made a public request at Living Waters Church that if there is ever a time when I do or say anything that I should not be saying or doing, please come to me and let me know what it is. I want to know about it. And you know, if you do this in your church, the Lord is going to bless your church magnificently.
Consider, how much time do you spend looking at yourself in the mirror in the morning before you leave the house? We all spend a great deal of time making certain that we look the best that we possibly can. Have you put the Law of God in that mirror?
Each morning when we leave our houses, we need to pray to the Lord that He will help us to submit our wills to Him daily so that we can walk in the newness of life. And when someone comes to you, listen to that brother. I do not care who this person is, even if it is a person who is critical all of the time, listen to what he has to say, because maybe there is a fault that you need to see. Never cast away a brother or a sister who comes to you. If they are willing, be willing to kneel down with them, thanking them for coming to you and revealing these things in your life, remembering that we will be known by our fruits.