Personal and Public Differences
By James S. McDonald Jr.
"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).
This passage says that if one Christian has a problem with another Christian, he should reconcile the difference with his brother on an individual basis. Jesus was talking about personal differences. If the difference is private, let it be settled privately.
Paul was concerned with this problem when he learned that in the Corinthian church members were going to law against each other. He wrote, "But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. 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?" (1 Cor. 6:6-7). Again, Paul is concerned about individuals solving individual problems individually.
Jesus said, "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). Jesus was concerned with individual or private differences. "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" (vv. 16-17).
If the matter cannot be resolved privately, it must be brought to the attention of the local assembly.
Some take these passages out of context and misapply them to matters of doctrinal differences affecting the whole church. Doctrinal differences are not private, but matters of public and urgent concern. Those who taught things contrary to the doctrine of Christ were guilty of public sin and were handled under a different set of commands.
Paul told Timothy of some who put away their faith and made shipwreck the faith of others. Then Paul named names: "Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Tim. 1:18-20).
In 2 Timothy 2:16-18, Paul warns against profane and vain babbling, for "their word will eat as cloth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some."
Hymenaeus and Philetus were false teachers who were overthrowing the faith of others. It was imperative that doctrinal error be dealt with urgently to avoid damage to the unsuspecting.
Paul marked Demas for his worldliness and departure from the faith (2 Tim. 4:10). Paul marked Demas, told others to avoid him, but did not chase Demas over the countryside to talk to him privately.
There are two rules concerning how we deal with a brother with whom we have a difference: 1) private differences; and 2) doctrinal matters which affect the safety and the faith of others.