Our greatest tests as Christians are just ahead now! Here's how to protect and promote the love we should have for one another. "Daddy," asked my daughter, "what do you do when two of your best friends don't like each other?"
My daughter was faced with a dilemma. Here were two people, both of whom she liked. If she was with one or the other, everything was fine. But whenever the three of them were all together, tension and hostility filled the air. It really put my daughter in a difficult position.
If you think about it, isn't that just how Jesus Christ must feel sometimes?
Christ loves His people — true Christians — His Church — every last one of us. He calls us His friends (John 15:14). He eagerly looks forward to having us spend eternity together with Him. He commands us to learn to get along now — He wants the people in His Church to grow in an atmosphere of harmony and peace. Christ wants His friends to be friendly with each other.
Most of the time we are this way, as we should be.
As Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong has explained, human beings cannot solve difficulties and have proper relationships between themselves without the power of God's Holy Spirit. But we, if we are converted Christians, have the Holy Spirit. We are without excuse. The fights, quarrels, resentments and hatreds typical of human nature belong in our past — they should not be part of our lives now.
"For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another" (Tit. 3:3).
A Saturday-night visit to the emergency ward of a big-city hospital brought the truth of this scripture home to me forcibly.
Saturday night, a doctor explained, was a bad time in the emergency room. Several wounded people were in the waiting room, and most of them had been stabbed, punched, battered or shot. All needed patching up or stitching together and, in some cases, even major surgery was required. It was a sad situation! Such are the fruits of people who are "living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another."
Offenses among Christians God's people generally aren't this way. We don't physically assault each other, intentionally wounding other parts of Christ's Body.
But offenses do come, as Christ warned they would (Matt. 18:7). We aren't perfect yet. Even if we don't cause major physical wounds, We still do thoughtless, carnal things that cause emotional cuts and bruises on the Body of Christ.
But even small cuts and scratches can become infected and cause serious problems. Anybody who has traveled in some of the world's poorer countries where standards of cleanliness aren't high knows how important it is to carry a first-aid kit.
You don't need much — some antiseptic, a bottle of lotion, some bandages — just enough to protect yourself from sunburn and to quickly clean and cover small scratches or cuts before infection can get in and spread throughout the body.
Each little wound left exposed to a hostile environment can cause serious poisoning — and even kill.
It's the same way with Christian love. A small offense, a minor quarrel between brethren, can fester and spread, until eventually eternal lives are endangered. But some simple spiritual "first aid" will prevent problems from becoming too serious.
In His Word, God has given us several tried and tested remedies that will quickly heal the problems that sometimes flare up among us. Some, like suntan lotion, can help prevent injury. Others, like antiseptic solution and bandages, will cleanse and cover a wound before infection can spread.
Let's open up the spiritual first-aid box — the Bible — and see what is there.
Apply first aid promptly The first thing to remember about first aid is that it should be applied promptly. A wound should not be left untreated any longer than necessary.
Christ made this clear in the Sermon on the Mount: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matt. 5:23-24).
Today we don't bring gifts to altars. But it is easy to see the principle. Let's not fool ourselves — we can't carry on a relationship with God and ignore the fact that we have caused offense and hurt to someone else.
We should by all means pray about the problem to get in the right attitude. We need the help of God's Spirit to be able to say: "I am sorry. I was wrong." But having done that, we must get up and solve the problem.
Christ's instruction implies that we should do something about the problem right away — make a phone call, write a note, pay a visit — get it straightened out. If we tell the one we have offended that we are sorry and try to relieve the tension between two friends, then God will be eager to accept us both.
We shouldn't talk ourselves out of trying to be reconciled. Nor should we delay. Paul warned, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Eph. 4:26). The Phillips translation puts it, "Never go to bed angry."
Go to your brother But what if our brother won't be reconciled? Christ gave us a first-aid remedy for this, too. "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" (Matt. 18:15).
If we would just do this, probably 90 percent of all our quarrels and hard feelings would be cleared up at the outset. Yet we all seem to want to avoid using this simple remedy.
Sure, it's hard, and it's humbling. There is even a risk that we won't be received and that matters will get worse. But that seldom happens.
What usually happens is that the offended and offending parties will quickly make up, feeling rather ashamed of themselves. They will end up with a much better understanding of each other, and their friendship will be deepened and strengthened.
And if our brother will not hear us?
"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).
In the unlikely event that the other person won't accept us, we should take with us one or, at most, two other members, and try again. This will probably work. The other person will see that we are serious. Also, there will then be one or two witnesses to attest to the fact that we have tried to make up. It will no longer be just our word against his.
Note that the quarrel still need not be public knowledge. The instruction does not say to "spread the problem all around and get a whole group of people on your side, then pick your two most ardent supporters and once again besiege the offender." Doing so would be tantamount to starting a civil war in God's Church.
But what if the offended or offending person still won't be reconciled? "And if he shall neglect to hear them [us and our witnesses], tell it unto the church" (verse 17). Obviously, a serious problem is brewing — one that may go deeper than the superficial wound we are trying to treat with first aid. Better get help from the experts — go and tell the ministry.
From then on, the problem is out of our hands, except that we should continue to pray about it. The minister may have to take serious disciplinary action, even going to the extreme of putting the unforgiving member out of the Church (verse 17).
But most quarrels among brethren never get this far. Most of the time, going to our brother is enough. Christ's Church is a healthy body — easily able to fight off infection, if the infection is treated promptly.
Personality conflicts A physical first-aid kit usually contains something to prevent chafing and blisters, such as from a shoe that's too tight.
Personality conflicts in God's Church are like blisters. Some people just seem to rub each other the wrong way.
Our spiritual first-aid kit contains two items to help in case of these spiritual blisters. These items are labeled "Forbear" and "Don't judge."
Forbear means "to tolerate," "put up with" and "be patient with." "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" (Col. 3:13).
Rather than reacting, we should overlook the things others do that annoy us.
If anyone is entitled to bear a few grudges, Jesus Christ is. Our sins put Him to death — our sickness and carelessness with our health caused Him to have to undergo a terrible beating. But Christ has totally forgiven us and bears no grudges.
How is it that God can overlook great offenses without bearing grudges or seeking revenge, and yet we cannot?
Just as we are not anxious to hurt our children or see them injured, even when they seem to be "looking for trouble," so God as a loving Father pities His children (Ps. 103:13). Although He will not put up with rebellion and lack of effort forever (verse 9), He is not anxious to punish (verse 10). If a person's overall motivation is right, God will be patient, longsuffering and forbearing. The way we act must often irritate Him, but He looks on the intent of the heart.
Human beings find it hard to do this. Without God's Spirit leading us in our personal relationships, we judge by what we see — or what we think we see. But our vision is often obscured.
Seeing the problem clearly "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" asked Christ (Matt. 7:3). "Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?" (verse 4).
Christ, of course, was using an analogy. But if we did really have a piece of timber sticking out of our eye, would we trust our vision driving or even crossing the road? No — we couldn't see straight.
The beam typifies a self-righteous, super-critical but grossly distorted point of view. We are all subject to it. We evaluate others too harshly, and tend to see not a person with a problem, but a person as a problem. We say: "He's so stubborn." "She's too fearful." "They're so selfish."
Stubborn, fearful, selfish. These are serious problems that need drastic remedies, for they could keep a person out of God's Kingdom. But are we sure we have seen the problem clearly?
"Thou hypocrite," said Christ, "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" (verse 5). The Bible teaches us that when we judge a person, it is possible that we are doing the same thing ourselves (Rom. 2:1). In other words, we see our own sins more clearly in other people. (Our spiritual first-aid kit had better have a mirror.)
Maybe, when we have gotten the beam out of our eye, we will see more clearly the other person's problem. And perhaps, after glancing in the mirror and seeing ourself with the same problem, we will be more anxious to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Instead of viewing others with a spirit of judging and criticism, we will see them with empathy and compassion.
Maybe we will see the man we at one time thought was stubborn as actually being persistent. We will realize that the lady we saw as fearful is just cautious. That couple we thought were selfish will appear as good examples of frugality.
But maybe there is a bit of a mote in our brother's eye. Then we will be able to see it clearly. The Bible says to restore such a one in meekness, aware that we can, and probably do, make the same mistakes (Gal. 6:1).
We should always be careful about criticizing others. Sometimes, a problem is just none of our business. We shouldn't appoint ourself to go around "restoring" people.
"Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4).
The lesson is that we shouldn't go around meddling in every problem we see. A first-aid kit, in the hands of a hypochondriac, does more harm than good.
First aid saves lives But, properly used, our spiritual first-aid kit can save much suffering and hurt for the Body of Christ.
Today, Christ's Body — the Church — must live in the very hostile and unclean environment of this world. The world is getting worse all the time.
Satan, knowing his time is short, is stepping up his efforts to poison the atmosphere, spiritually and physically. Paul prophesied that the last days of this age would be "perilous times" when men and women would exist "without natural affection" (II Tim. 3:1, 3).
In a time like this, the little cuts and bruises we occasionally inflict on one another can become inflamed and infected. Little grievances become major offenses, and smoldering dislike can be easily whipped into the flames of hatred.
"And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another" (Matt. 24:10).
The greatest tests of our Christian love are just ahead. We must learn now to keep that love sound and healthy, free of infection and threat of disease. Christian first aid saves lives — eternal lives.