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I recently had an intense argument with a brother in the Lord. It wasn’t fun. I initiated it by bringing up some frustrations I was having with him. He responded in kind. When I walked away from the conversation I did so not knowing if any of it was helpful or right. There was relief in saying what I thought needed to be said. There was also this gross, icky feeling that I was at fault due to my own sins and the fact that I initiated the argument.

Another brother, who unfortunately had to witness this conflict, asked me if it was helpful at all. What is the point of such arguments? What purpose does airing our frustrations with one another serve? Are we suppose to go around to our brothers and sisters and air every little grievance we have with them? Is there a distinction between being our brother’s keeper and being a record keeper of his sins? Are we, as Christians, suppose to constantly search ourselves and others for sin so that we can expose it and clash about it? Aren’t we justified, covered, and righteous in Christ?

These are good questions. They are also difficult ones. I cannot fully answer them here. I think, though, that there is a need, at least for me, to briefly meditate on them.

Three things immediately come to mind.

First, we should always remember that we are incredibly sinful.

More specifically, we are incredibly sinful with our words and our mouths. The Holy Spirit through the apostle James did not mince words when He wrote this in the New Testament:

 … the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.    How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.    James 3:5-12

Our mouths are condemned here by God as a vehicle of great destruction and hurt. Mankind has learned how to tame the earth and take dominion over it. Yet, man has not yet learned how to tame his tongue. We use our mouths to curse, malign, gossip, slander, bully, and belittle others. Yet, these same mouths are also used by us to bless God. We go to church and worship God, and then at the next moment we use our mouths to vilify and accuse our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Our hypocrisies are bewildering.

This is the reason why Scripture commends the man who has learned to hold his tongue. There are numerous verses extolling this virtue.

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.

Proverbs 29:11

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Proverbs 29:20

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.

Proverbs 20:19

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Proverbs 17:27-28

There is always risk involved in our words. This is especially true where offenses and sins are concerned. When we speak without wisdom and understanding in tense situations we can do a lot of damage, not just to our brothers but also to ourselves. In the sermon on the mount our Lord Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:21-22

Reading these verses, I wonder whether it was even wise to say what I did to my brother. If I was godly I may have wanted to hold my tongue and seek to resolve my own discomfort and frustration through prayer and long-suffering first. As a young person, I am filled with the pride of life. I often think that I know what is best. This can lead to unrighteous judgement. Not speaking might have allowed me more time to consider my own sins and failures in light of the situation. There’s nothing like pointing out your brother’s sins only to have yours thrown back in your face:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

We all have different temperaments. For some, being long-suffering and patient with their tongues is easy. Others are quick to anger and need to seriously consider the ways in which they let their tongues lash out at their neighbors. Regardless of our personalities, we all have a duty to be wise and charitable.

Second, we do have an obligation to be our brother’s keeper. If you are the type of Christian who is good at keeping his mouth shut, this is the area in which you are more likely to stumble and fall. You don’t have to worry about offending your brother because you never say anything that could possibly offend him. This isn’t the wisdom of the quiet and wise man. Rather, this is the sin of cowardice.

Immediately after Jesus exhorts us not be angry with our brother in the sermon on the mount, He tells us to go and speak with our brother so that we might be reconciled:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:23-24

If our brother is offended at us, or we are offended at him, we should do all that we can to make amends. Sin damages and endangers the soul. If our brother has sinned so as to depart from God’s truth, the godly man seeks out to rescue that brother:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James 5:19-20

If we love our brothers, we will reason with them about the sin that they are committing. It is actually an act of hate to withhold our counsel from them:

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:17–18

Notice here that the opposite of hating your brother in your heart is reasoning frankly with him. Talking to him. This is not easy to do. If you are conflict adverse, which most American Christians are, you are probably more than willing to let things slip on by without ever bringing up what is causing you or others offense.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:5-6

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.

Luke 17:3-4

We must deal faithfully towards our brothers when it comes to sin. It isn’t easy. It’s messy. Receiving rebuke and correction from a close friend can wound your pride and cause insecurity and distrust. But it is necessary. You cannot pretend to have peace with your brother when you actually don’t have it.

This brings me to my last point. How should we hold together these two truths?

We are easily deceived into thinking that we are right about everything and we use our tongues to gossip, slander, and speak evil of one another. Yet, we are commanded by God to faithfully rebuke and exhort one another in the faith. Both present tremendous challenges to us. If we never speak up, we lie. If we speak up, we sin in anger.

At the end of the day it sounds cliché, but we really just need genuine love. We need compassion, gentleness, and affection for one another. Our needs, our fears, our worries, and our insecurities need to be baptized in Christian charity.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:1-2

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

Proverbs 17:9-10

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

When we actually want to be helpful to one another, and we know our own sinfulness, we become those who extend incredible compassion, trust, and good faith towards those who have offended us, and vice versa. We correct others, not because we think we are godly, but because we know that we are sinful. We cease slandering and gossiping and start protecting the reputation of our brothers. We hold our tongues, contemplating the evils of our pride and selfish ambition. We are careful to be gentle with our words, always remembering that we deserve hell. When we must be harsh, it must to be for the sake of our brother’s soul rather than for the sake of our hypocritical righteousness.

Of course, these things are all easier said then done. These are principles and not a checklist or a blueprint. If we think there is a one size fits all solution to these tensions then we do a disservice to ourselves and our neighbors. Loving someone is hard and glorious work.

As Christians, we are forgiven and justified in the sight of God. When we sin against one another, we don’t have to be quick to penalize one another. If we have even the slightest hint of self-knowledge, we will realize that we are worst of sinners. Sometimes we have to approach those who have sinned against us and let them know that we have taken offense. They might be in the wrong. We might be in the wrong. We do this because we cannot allow sin, or even the perception of sin, to disrupt and disturb our relationships. We don’t want to live in darkness, but in the light.

Christianity doesn’t come to angels, but to sinners.