17:20-21, Jesus prayed that all Christians will be united.
Take note of His reason. “That the world may believe that You
[God] have sent Me [Jesus].” The unity of Christ’s church
focuses the world on God and His Son. The only way to have this
unity is to learn how to handle potentially divisive problems.
Satan is constantly seeking ways to divide us. We must be on guard
against him. To help with this, let us examine a circumstance in
Israel’s history in Joshua
22:10-34. The men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half
the tribe of Manasseh had received their land inheritance on the
east side of the Jordan. However, they had made a covenant to help
their brethren conquer the land west of the Jordan. When they
fulfilled their covenant, they returned to their land across the
Jordan. When they crossed to the other side, they built an altar.
Then the trouble began. Take note of five lessons from this
rebellion must be disciplined.
not condemn the Israelites from West of the Jordan for taking up
arms to go to war with their brethren. They were doing exactly
what should be done, if their brethren were being unfaithful. The
fact is, despite our desire for unity, we cannot be united with
those who rebel against the will of God.
Even the 2˝
tribes recognized that if they had really rebelled from God, they
deserved discipline. In Joshua
22:22-23. The unity which God demands is not a unity at
the expense of truth.
do not take up physical arms against those who rebel, but we must
discipline them as God has mandated. Matthew
18:15-17; I Corinthians 5:4-11; II Thessalonians 3:6-15 all speak of the discipline mandated
by God when a brother rebels. We must desire unity, but not at the
expense of truth.
In fact, as
the Israelites recognized, disciplining the rebellious is a matter
of self-preservation. They recalled the incident at Peor. That
incident of idolatry caused a plague in Numbers
25 killing 24,000 people (25:9).
They also recalled the sin of Achan in Joshua
7 which caused the Israelites’ defeat at Ai. They knew
what disobedience in the ranks meant. It meant judgment from God.
The same is true today. Discipline of the rebellious is a matter
of self-preservation. Revelation
2:12-17 demonstrates that unity with the rebellious causes
the removal of a church’s lampstand. It is no longer considered
a church of God in God’s eyes. If we desire to be Christ’s
church, we must discipline the rebellious and unruly.
not always what they appear.
looked bad from the western Israelite point of view. The altar of
God was in Shiloh with the tabernacle (Joshua
18:1). But, there it was, as plain as day, another altar
in a place not chosen by God. What else do you do with an altar
but have sacrifices on it? What else could these Israelites be
doing but rebelling against God?
appearances, this altar was not for sacrifices. Rather, it was a
memorial. It was built to remind the Israelites on the west side
of the Jordan that the inhabitants east of the Jordan were
Israelites and had a part in the sacrifices offered at Shiloh. The
easterners were afraid that after a generation or two the
westerners would no longer allow them to come over and worship God
at the tabernacle. The sole cause of this potentially divisive
problem was that the westerners were ignorant of the real reasons
the eastern tribes had built this altar.
The same is
true today. Things are not always as they appear. Generally, major
problems come out of trivial misunderstandings because of
ignorance on the part of one or more persons. We see someone
exiting an establishment that is not appropriate for a Christian,
we must not jump to conclusions. We hear a bit of information
second hand, we must not try and convict our brother or sister in
our own minds. Somebody seems to have ignored us, that may not be
the case at all. When we have a problem with someone, we must
recognize that we may not have all the facts.
We need to
question before we assume and accuse.
western Israelites did not just attack the eastern tribes for
their seeming rebellion. They sent Phinehas, the priest, along
with a man from each tribe west of the Jordan to question the
eastern tribes about this seeming rebellion (Joshua
We need to
do the same. Since things are not always as they seem, we need to
question the seemingly guilty parties, before we take disciplinary
action. Let me also say, because things are sometimes exactly as
they seem, we should not push problems under a rug. Rather, we
should question them. Since ignorance is the cause of problems,
questioning those with whom we have a problem is the only
many Christians do not attack problems in this manner. Instead of
questioning the one that appears to be guilty, they get together
with others and talk about the supposed sinner. They try and
convict the seemingly guilty before getting all the facts, but
they never do anything about it except gossip. Of course, they
might tell one of the elders about the sins of another person. Or
they might even ask the preacher to preach a sermon on the
problem. Then their consciences are salved. They believe they have
done something when they have not.
18:15, we are told to reprove our brother in private
before bringing others into the picture. There is a two-fold
purpose to this. In the scenario this verse represents, the
brother has actually sinned. Going to him in private first allows
him the opportunity to overcome his sin without the embarrassment
of getting others involved. But in a situation like Joshua
22, it also allows misunderstandings to be cleared up
before they are passed on to other people. What often happens in
friendships, families and churches is Fred will have a problem
with Barney. Fred tells Wilma about this problem. Later, Fred
finds out things weren’t what they appeared. The problem is
worked out between Fred and Barney, but Wilma and everyone else
Fred told still have problems with Barney. We need to follow the
example of the Israelites and question before convicting and
We need to
have the proper attitude when questioned and when questioning.
One of the
great things about this Bible story is the attitude both sides had
during the questioning process. When potentially divisive issues
come up, we must have the proper attitude. Otherwise, a
circumstance that should not divide us, will wedge a chasm so
great we may never overcome it.
attitude of the 2˝ eastern tribes when questioned.
They did not
make countercharges. They did not respond with harsh angry words.
They did not get defensive, closing their ears to their
brothers’ question. They did not deny having built the altar.
They did not question the right of their brethren to ask them
about this altar. They did not try to get even, drumming up
reasons to go to war with their brethren too.
they freely admitted what they had done. They freely admitted that
if they had done what their brethren thought they would have been
wrong. And they freely explained what really happened.
comes to us questioning our actions or accusing us of sin. Our
reaction should be like these Israelites. We need to appreciate
their courage and the love that motivated them to speak to us. We
should listen objectively and carefully. Then we should respond in
attitude of the 9˝ tribes during the questioning.
they thought the 2˝ tribes were guilty, they gave them
opportunity to repent. They did not make up fake charges to add to
the supposed guilt of their brethren. When their brethren spoke
truthfully, they did not try to make up more charges to justify
their accusations. They did not question their brethren, receive
an explanation, go home and still talk about how wrong their
they accepted their brothers’ explanation with joy. They were
glad that no sin had been committed. They were not in this to
justify themselves, but to get rid of sin. Since there was no sin,
they were ready to put this misunderstanding behind them.
When we have
questioned somebody, we should not feel we need to be justified in
our questioning at all costs. If the truth is revealed, resolving
the misunderstanding, we should let it go. If the truth is
revealed and does in fact demonstrate that our brethren are
sinning, then we must deal with the sin. But we must deal with it
out of love and a desire to help others go to heaven.
Unity focuses the worlds gaze to God not to us.
At the end
of this situation the 2˝ tribes named the altar “Ed” meaning
“Witness.” This name signified that Jehovah is God. This
altar, a symbol of their unity did not say as much about them as
it did about their God. You see the division of this people
against itself would give rise to blasphemy among the Gentiles.
The unity of God’s people causes them to focus on God and not on
their own problems. In addition to that, this unity causes others
to see God is with them. It focuses the worlds gaze on God.
As we began
this lesson, we noted John
17:20-21. Our unity focuses the world around us on Christ.
It allows the people to see that God is with us. If we are
constantly bickering, backbiting and dividing, they will not
believe God is with us. If they see our love and unity with one
another, working together to a common goal, working through
problems they will know Christ is with us (John
Satan is constantly seeking to divide us. We must be
careful not to allow him to get his foot in the door of this
church. Instead, let us make sure we follow the example of the
Israelites and their altar whenever problems arise. Then we can
focus middle Tennessee’s gaze on God.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ