For almost as long as the church of God has been in existence on the earth, Satan, enemy of all God’s purposes in Christ, has worked to cause difficulties among Christians. We see this near the very beginning, in Acts 6, when discontent and complaining arose among the Grecian (Greek-speaking) Jewish believers against the Hebrew believers, because of the very practical matter of neglect in distribution to the widows. We are not told how serious was this neglect, nor whether there was hypersensitivity on the part of the murmurers, but we can be reasonably certain of these few facts: the potential rift was not doctrinal in nature, so that revealed Christian truth was not in imminent danger of being compromised; and that the twelve apostles, of Hebrew stock, were led to appoint the Grecian men whom the “whole multitude” had selected to administer the distributions and resolve this practical dilemma.
Sadly, since that happy ending to a tense situation, the Enemy has had much success over the centuries in dividing and alienating even real believers due to an endless number of disagreements over practical matters and personal feelings. Preferences or even godly personal exercises regarding matters of appearance and conduct, language or translation usage, hymn selection, locations and times and frequencies of meetings, involvement in gospel efforts, and many other similar practical considerations have played a part in the offences that brethren have allowed to divide them.
Suppose a situation in an assembly gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in which a disagreement over a practical matter results in one or more of the brethren absenting themselves from the regular meetings of the assembly. Now we know that forsaking the assembling of ourselves together is exhorted against in Hebrews 10. It is also clear that any breach of fellowship between saints is the result of the allowance of the flesh, even a religious working of the flesh, and that the Spirit of God cannot approve of parties that, by their very existence, prove failure in keeping the unity of the Spirit. He cannot deny Himself by approving of sects that disregard the unity which He has formed in accordance with His own unity (Ephesians 4:3-4).
How then may separated souls be brought back into the enjoyment of practical fellowship with each other, so as to be able to keep in united testimony the unity of the Spirit? How can healing be wrought and peace restored among Christians? If these who have separated from each other through disagreements on practical matters condescend to viewing and treating each other as divisive persons as in Romans 16:17-18, it is doubtful that restoration “in the uniting bond of peace” will soon result. But a deep exercise of self-judgment and humility in communion with Christ will bring with it manifestations of the “fruit of the Spirit”, which alone can bring about restoration to real enjoyment of the Spirit’s unity. Disunity through lack of sincere love, and all of the fleshly manifestations that go with it, are in fact the context and reason for that wonderful list of spiritual fruit enjoined in Galatians 5: “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control.” This is the path to peace among brethren.
We must stipulate that unity or reconciliation of separated groups of Christians based on the principle of mutual concession is not of the Spirit of God, for that principle presumes to allow for compromise as to the truth. But it is reconciliation between individuals that may find its happy result in restored fellowship together at the Lord’s table, and it is most beautifully done through mutual confession of faults and failures. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.”
This humble confession of fault or failure may be done at almost any time and under most circumstances without compromise to the truth of God. A company of believers professing to maintain a unity according to God on scriptural ground should never be guilty of uncaring attitudes or harsh words toward their brethren in Christ. Notice the fleshly character of Rehoboam and Judah during that awful rending of Israel’s unity.¹ Contrast against that the godly character of Hezekiah’s humility and confession that called forth and gave weight to his invitation to the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, to the end that they should repent and return to worship at Jerusalem, the place of Jehovah’s choosing.² Godly humility encourages repentance in others,³ and paves the way for the restoration of some who may be languishing in carnality or bitterness of soul.
We would do well to imitate the spirit of godly Hezekiah in his desire to bring some of his estranged brethren back. There are numerous New Testament principles that will aid us in the carrying out of such a desire, without conceding truth or compromising righteousness in our dealings, and here are some of them:
- The strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak (Romans 15:1);
- The worshiper ought to seek reconciliation with his brother before bringing his gift (Matthew 5:23-24);
- Spiritual brethren are to take the initiative in restoring those overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1);
- A believer ought to take the initiative in gaining back a brother who has sinned against him (Matthew 18:15-17);
- Humility and submitting one to another in practical matters is a scriptural expectation (I Peter 5:5-6; Ephesians 5:21);
- Saints are exhorted to confess their faults to one another, and prayer and intercession ought to be made on behalf of those in need of spiritual healing (James 5:16-20);
- Christians are enjoined to “make straight paths for your feet, that that which is lame be not turned aside; but that rather it may be healed. Pursue peace with all, and holiness” (Heb. 12:13-14, Darby trans.); and
- We may practice James’s teaching on bridling the tongue and wisdom from above, ending with this summary: “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18 ESV).
The crowning joy of Hezekiah’s desire, confession, and prayer for collective pardon, was the blessing contained in this divine commentary: “The Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people” (II Chronicles 30:18-20). No doubt this was felt by all the godly souls there. These things are examples for us who are responsible in the house of God, which is the church of God, and we can learn much from that which the Spirit records of their failure and healing. That healing is God’s work of grace, but peacemaking is our labor of love toward those whom He loves.
¹ I Kings 12
² II Chronicles 30
³ I Peter 5:5-6