And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” – Ephesians 4:32
We live in a world where accusations are shot like arrows at an opponent’s heart. These arrows aren’t always based on facts. Indeed, more often than not, (at least nowadays), they are rooted in falsehoods and fake news. No one is immune to these angry arrows. All that’s necessary to become a target is to be part of the opposition. Then, no matter how holy or wholesome a life you’ve lived, no matter how long ago a mistake, error or sin occurred, the bow is cocked, and the arrow is shot. And when the target hits its mark, reputations, relationships, and reality are frequently the victim.
I wish this could only be said of the secular. But the Church too has its share of archers. The Body of Christ is made up of many parts. The Church is composed of people from different parts of the world, different languages, different cultural backgrounds, different races, different ages, different intellects, different economic statuses, different levels of spiritual maturity. The Church is one big difference in many ways. Despite these differences, the Church is united in Christ and the essentials of His word. There is no Church without the Jesus. “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:2-3a). This speaks of the incarnation of God in Christ. That incarnation implies the mission of Christ. That mission was to provide a basis for the salvation of lost sinners; atonement on the cross and resurrection from the dead. This is the Gospel; salvation as a gift of God’s grace received by faith in Jesus Christ apart from human works-righteousness. And we hold these truths as received via God’s revelation in His word. We could go into much greater detail here. But the incarnation of Jesus, the Gospel, and God’s word are the most basic essentials of the faith. We should add to that the nature of God Himself. There are essentials of the faith that determine who we are as Christians and as the Church.
But then in all our differences, we begin to ask questions like, “Who is God? Who is Jesus? What is the gospel? What is God’s word?” and a host of other questions. We ask these questions and more and we have differing opinions on the answers. We argue over what are the essentials of the faith, about what identifies us as “Christian,” and “the Church.” (Maybe you’ve already been doing that here.) Add to this the myriad of nonessentials of the faith such as eschatology, the way we dress, the conflict between certain cultural mores and the word of God, dietary preferences, holidays, etc., and there is grist to grind into interpersonal powder. Some feel our nonessentials are indeed essential. Some feel our essentials are indeed nonessential. And these differences are not always communicated in a Christlike way.
We are to, “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We are exhorted by Paul to, “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). There is a time to reprove, correct, instruct in in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Of that there is no doubt. Even those in church leadership are to be held accountable to the word of God. But the way the Church does that is just as important as that they do this to preserve the purity of identity of the Church. The Christian and the Church is to speak truth, but speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15).
The way the Church confronts and corrects those in it, is just as important as the pure doctrine and identity such correction is meant to preserve. The way we correct speaks to those outside the Church about the genuineness and reality of our Christian experience. The way you say something speaks just as loudly as what you are saying. The Church does not always understand this. We are to, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Think of that. We are to have a kindness, a tenderness, a Christlike attitude of forgiveness toward each other. That is God’s standard and will for us. And yet, we so seldom adopt such a standard.
Why are we so often harsh to our brethren? Why do we so easily divide? I believe there are two causes for this. First, I believe it is a product of spiritual warfare. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We need remember that we have a very real enemy who is a very wise and able commander of his dark forces. He knows divide and conquer is the most rudimentary and effective military tactic of the ages. He is a murderer. He doesn’t stand for truth. He’s a liar (John 8:44). And so, he seeks a “place,” a foothold in our fellowships by way of sowing lies, half-truths and relationally murderous thoughts and words (Ephesians 4:25-29). This enemy wants to destroy us and anyone associated with Christ. He wants to destroy our relationships in the church, our reputations, and any reconciliation the Spirit might want to work out in and through us. We need to be aware and mindful of this reality.
But the other reason for our harshness toward one another hits closer to home. We have residing within us an unwanted house guest. This “guest” imposes their wants and ways on us as though they owned our house. This guest intrudes in our thinking and interrupts into our conversations. This unwanted guest is referred to in the Bible as “flesh.” It is our carnal sinful nature. Of it Paul said,” in me “that is, in my flesh” nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18). This sinful nature is only concerned with me, myself, and I. It is selfish and self-preserving. It is shortsighted and will frequently and stupidly forfeit the war for the sake of winning a momentary battle. The only antidote to this unwanted guest is Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through us (Romans 7:24-25; 8:1-39). Only the Holy Spirit can coral and subdue this unwanted house guest. Only the Holy Spirit can keep this intruder subdued. And only when we pass from this life to the next, will we be able to leave this troublemaker behind.
But, how should we address our differences? What is the right way to correct someone who is off course? The Bible states, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). That’s what this study is about; the right way to address differences and wrongness in another; in a way that is restorative and not destructive.
The church at Corinth was a carnal church. It was a church with much spiritual gifting. But it was also a church that gave in all too often to the murmurs of their inner sinful nature. In First Corinthians Nine Paul addresses a source of division in this fleshly fellowship. Paul addresses what seems to have been an accusation brought against him that questioned his apostleship and the rights he had as an apostle. Paul’s instruction in chapter nine is in line with the topic of fellowship in chapters 8 through 10. Why would he address this issue of his apostleship in the context of problems with fellowship? Because the accusation brought against him was a source of division in the church. Accusations are arrows that inflict division on the church body.
By addressing the accusations brought against him regarding an alleged abuse of apostolic authority and by showing that he willingly gave up his rights as an apostle, Paul demonstrates a principle he taught in chapter 8. There were things Paul could do, and was within his just rights to do, that he chose not to do so that he could minister more effectively to people (including the accusers and weaker believers in the faith). Paul was willing to go the extra mile to show his innocence and purity of motive in order to diffuse accusations brought against him that might hinder his ministry. This is a lesson all Christians need to learn and it comes when we are fully surrendered to the Lord. The best way to diffuse a fire of falsehood or disarm an arrow of accusation, is to respond selflessly, or in the Spirit. But doing this we quench the flesh. If we don’t, we quench the Spirit. It’s an important differentiation to make. It’s an important decision to make.
Appropriate Handling of Accusations.
The context of 1 Corinthians 9 is Paul addressing the particulars of the carnal Christian faction mentioned earlier in his letter (1 Corinthians 3). The particulars are divisiveness rooted in accusations against his apostleship and apparent disagreement over the rights of an apostle.
What is an accusation? In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he is inspired to write:
- 1 Timothy 5:19 – Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.
The word “accusation” here comes from the Greek term katagoria meaning, “a complaint, i.e. criminal charge, accusation.”  We also get the English word “category” from this Greek term. The idea expressed by the term “accusation” is complaining about or categorizing a person in a negative light based on supposed evidence. To make an accusation is to point the finger at someone and charge them with wrongdoing. What is the Biblical way to address accusations? The following points should be considered.
First, every Christian and especially those who seek to serve the Lord are to make every effort to live above reproach. To live above reproach means to live in such a way that those around you will have little to no reason to approach you about inconsistencies, and possible errors in your walk with the Lord. The following verses are in support of this statement:
- Romans 12:17-18 – Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:22 – Abstain from every form of evil.
- Titus 2:6-8 – Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, 7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, 8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you. (See also Acts 6:3; Romans 14:19-21).
All believers are to live in such a way as to avoid being susceptible to accusations due to questionable activities.
Second, the ministry is to be protected against shame and reproach. This is true because if ministry is tarnished, ultimately God is tarnished. In the Old Testament David’s adultery with Bathsheba was cause for great blaspheme against the Lord (2 Samuel 12:14). In the New Testament Paul states:
- 1 Corinthians 9:12 – If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.
- 2 Corinthians 6:3 – We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.
What ministers or believers do reflects on God their heavenly Father. Keep that in mind the next time you question whether or not to do something.
Third, because of the flesh working in the hearts of people (including ministers), accusations will be brought. Accusations are brought by members of the flock against ministers and visa versa. Accusations are brought by ministers against ministers. Such accusations should only be entertained and taken seriously when they follow the prescribed biblical guidelines. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
- 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 – And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?
The eager willingness and delight to bring accusations is an attribute of the flesh. As a word of caution read what Jude wrote about accusations:
- Jude 8-9 – 8 Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. 9 Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
We should be cautious and very prayerful when bringing accusations and only do so when the Spirit is leading us to confront someone about sin.
Fourth, we are to address accusations and issues in a spiritual way. In another letter Paul writes:
- Galatians 6:1-2 – Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Notice Paul tells us the aim of confronting someone over a trespass is restoration. And when the issue is addressed with the offender it should be done gently and mindful of our own right motives. Those who are sons of God are led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14). Unspiritual fleshly accusations quench and grieve the Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30-32).
Fifth, if an accusation is brought against a minister it must be made by “two or three witnesses” to gain consideration. As we noted earlier, Paul instructed Timothy:
- 1 Timothy 5:19 – 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.
Accusations should not be entertained between one person and another. An accusation should not be offered or received unless there are witnesses who can verify evidence of the accusations. There must be witnesses who corroborate an accusation. Accusations should not be mere opinion, or speculation, they should only be made on a firm basis of truth.
Reputations can easily be tarnished by mere association with evil. A person can walk up to another and ask, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” And while this statement is baseless, the one being addressed is being associated with a terrible thing and their reputation tarnished. We need to be careful in giving credibility to those bringing accusations. The minimum of two witnesses and preferably three is the necessary requirement for entertaining accusations.
Sixth, those in ministry positions can expect to be falsely accused at times. Jesus was falsely accused and those who minister in His name can expect the same. Jesus warned:
- John 15:20-21 – Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.
- 2 Timothy 3:12 – Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
Persecution very frequently involves accusation. Accusations are inevitable, but we should deal with them in as spiritual and biblical a way as possible.
Seventh, when an accusation is brought by two or three witnesses it should be carefully considered and investigated along with the consideration for false testimony. False testimony should not be taken lightly. False testimony is a serious offense in the sight of the Lord. In Deuteronomy it states:
- Deuteronomy 19:18-19 – And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, 19 then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you.
The one who brings a false accusation should be rebuked and corrected.
Eight, when correction is needed it should be both made and received in humility. If the accusation proves true or a false accusation is exposed, those being corrected need to be humble and accept reproof and correction. Those doing the discipline should do so in a spirit of humility as well. The Bible says:
- Leviticus 19:17 – 17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.
- Proverbs 27:6 – Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are
- Psalm 25:9 – The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way.
- Psalm 141:5 – Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.
- Proverbs 9:8-9 – Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
How a person receives correction tells a lot about the person’s walk with the Lord. And remember, God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Ninth, it is the wise person who considers the deceptive nature of the flesh and seeks the guidance of the Spirit in such situations. The Bible states:
- Proverbs 18:13 – He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
- Romans 8:26 – 26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
If the Spirit is not leading in such situations, a great deal of harm and division can occur. And this means the enemy gets the win!
Tenth, when an accusation is brought, those involved should ask, “Is this bringing glory to God?” Later in Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians he states:
- 1 Corinthians 10:31 – Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
The objective is not merely to prove who is right or wrong, but to bring glory to God. That is the most important motive and purpose.
Are You Aiming at Someone?
Are you aiming at someone? The body of Christ is composed of people and where there are people there will be offenses. How we handle such situations determines whether or not our fellowship and church is fleshly or Spirit-filled. If you have been entertaining or even initiating accusations against others in the body of Christ, please consider this final story.
A seminary had a professor. We’ll call him Professor Wise. Professor Wise was known for elaborate and interesting ways to effectively teach Biblical truths. He had a profound lesson in store for his class this day.
Professor Wise had hung a large target on the front wall of the classroom and near the target was a table with a large bowl filled with darts. Professor Wise instructed the students to draw a picture of someone they disliked or even hated in their church. After their pictures were completed, he would give them a chance to take turns throwing darts at the image. The students eagerly began to work with what they viewed as a fun opportunity to vent some of their anger. They had devilish fun drawing likenesses and caricatures of their enemy. Some drew pictures of those they felt had wronged them. For others they drew pictures of someone who said something they didn’t like to them. Still others drew pictures of those they felt corrected them harshly, or didn’t agree with them on something, or even had just given them a “look.” Some drawings were of those they felt beat them out of a position they had wanted at church. Some drew pictures of worship team members. Others drew pictures of Sunday school teachers, ushers, and church leaders. And some even drew pictures of their pastors. They snickered and even laughed out loud as one by one they pinned their enemies’ likeness to the target and threw their darts at it.
Finally, right before Dave got his shot, Professor Wise stopped them because the class time was running out. Dave was upset he didn’t get his chance. He had wanted to vent his anger at his pastor for some correction he had recently received. But he returned to his seat as instructed by Professor Wise. Then Professor Wise became silent. The students grew silent in response to his silence because they knew the punch-line and point of the activity was coming. What was he trying to teach them? Professor Wise moved over to the target and slowly took it down from where it was hanging. On the other side of the target, hidden from the students, was a picture of Jesus. Professor Wise then read this verse, “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:40).
No other words were needed. The students were shocked at what their carnal nature had led them to do. They were brought face to face with that dark intruding house guest; their flesh. Tears welled up in many of their eyes. No one had a word of defense or excuse as they one by one got up and left the room for their next class. The message had been sent. The message had been received. And hopefully a few repented and would think twice before they threw another arrow of accusation at someone again.
You know what? In our divided and accusation laden world today, they can benefit from the example of Christians and churches that, while they may disagree on certain issues, they do so in an agreeable way. The unity found in the body of Christ is a solution to the disunity in our fallen world today. And a big part of that is knowing how to address our differences in a Christlike way.
Before you make an accusation, make sure you follow the Biblical guidelines, pray, and ask God to lead you in a way that brings glory to Him. Protect the Bride of Christ. Ask yourself, “Am I being kind and tenderhearted? Do I have a forgiving Spirit like Jesus? Is what I’m doing being done in love? Is it for God’s glory, or my own?” Speak truth always. But don’t’ forget to always speak it in love. Always live, in His service, by His grace, for His glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Strong, J. 1997, c1996. The new Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words (electronic ed.). Thomas Nelson: Nashville