Responding Publicly to Erring Brethren: Motives and Methods, Part 2

Read Part 1.

Paul’s methods for responding to false accusation

In Philippians 1:12-18, Paul provides a model for our methods in responding to false accusations.

Provide the facts

Facts appear to be Paul’s primary weapon for taking on the untruths about himself. Assuming God wants us to write or speak publicly about the controversy, we should do our best to get the truth out there through whatever means are available. But in the actual writing or speaking, we should be restrained in our presentation.

Be restrained

Our Lord has withheld much information about these men from us, and it is not because He lacked knowledge, authority, or justification to reveal all. Whatever His reasons for not giving more information about the preachers of envy, those reasons were apparently controlling in this example. Though the men would have been quick to name Paul in their own messages, convincing their listeners of Paul’s wickedness, our Lord keeps their names out of the press. Though they committed their verbal sins publicly, Christ does not publicly elaborate on their sinfulness. Indeed, we are not given any salacious details that would tease and tempt our sinful flesh. Instead we get the barest of facts regarding sinful motives, and no names to put with the faces.

Should you ever be attacked publicly by another Christian, whether in message, or book or Internet post, the temptation to respond in kind, to name that person or ministry publicly, to write at length about them as they have written or spoken at length about you, will be great. You will have ample justification to name your attacker since he has spoken your name, vilifying you in public. You may have quite a bit of knowledge of their sins and mistakes. But, in my opinion, this passage stops short of giving automatic authority for speaking all your mind. Whatever principles or concerns God had in His mind when Paul wrote these brief words, they were enough to restrain his hand from writing more about the men.

I personally think I understand some of God’s unstated reasons for not using Scripture to utterly destroy these men when He could easily have done so. The challenge for us is to remember that those reasons exist when tempers are up and the anguish of a terrible situation is upon us.

Find good

Paul not only finds something positive to say about the men who attacked him, but also ends on an upbeat note in his remarks concerning them:

Some indeed preach Christ…even of envy and strife…. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice (italics added).

I don’t need to belabor this point. Even our worst enemy is not completely bad in every way. Our carnal response to an attack is to concentrate on the accuser’s flaws and not even consider any of his positive traits. Can you find anything good to say about Arius or Arminius or the pastor across town who wrote a diatribe about you on his website? How about the elder in your church who’s causing some problems and stirring up strife lately or the deacon who’s trying to split the church? Yes—it’s hard, but it seems to me we should follow Paul’s example and admit the good along with the bad. Go, and do thou likewise.

Maintain the right attitude

Paul writes, “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” Keeping our attitude right may be the hardest requirement of all. Regulating the mouth is easy compared to regulating my emotions during persecution or a crisis. Maintaining an even temper requires a real focus on Christ. It’s quite natural to get out of sorts with others who treat us unfairly. It’s supernatural to maintain joy at such a time. Perhaps what follows is one of the ways to accomplish that.

Move on quickly

Almost as quickly as the information in our passage came, it went. Within a couple of sentences Paul is on a new topic, and he does not revisit this particular situation. Rather, he moves quickly to profound and amazing ideas. It seems likely that whatever angst Paul felt as he wrote of his antagonists was forgotten within mere moments as new themes rose in his mind. Such is the power of the Word to captivate and attract our minds, taking us to heights of delight that displace baser feelings. David was a master of adjusting his attitude through concentration on the Lord despite his circumstances. Paul displays the same ability. By concentrating on our Savior, the doctrines of the faith, and the needs of others, Paul was able to move quickly from theme to theme and subject to subject, without needing time to stop and “vent.”

On disclosing the motives of other Christians

In light of this passage we cannot deny that believers have legitimately revealed others’ motives. Nevertheless, we must wrestle with the question of whether or not we may reveal and confront the motives of other Christians in our responses to their attacks.

We must have absolutely factual knowledge

I know of only one way to arrive at absolute certainty regarding another’s motives: those motives must be revealed. In the case here in Philippians, God revealed the truth of the other men’s minds to Paul.

Since God is unlikely to do the same for us, we may look to another source for true knowledge of another’s motives: the person himself may reveal his own mind. Authors sometimes write books attacking positions and people. In the process they reveal their own attitudes and opinions. Messages are often preached in which a speaker expresses his true thinking on a matter, even when his premise or conclusions are incorrect. Conversations or letters may reveal incriminating information. People often reveal motives they are convinced are righteous but that others immediately see as flawed and un-Christlike.

Suppose that we have in hand, then, a sermon recording that provides a solid nail in the coffin of our opponent’s arguments. We have incontrovertible proof of his sinful motives. Is this all we need to justify publishing it? Proof Only?

God’s will

Again, the principle of seeking God’s leading applies. Having the evidence is not a license to indict another. There is also the Righteous Judge’s ruling, His yea or nay. I must have a word from on high before I write something that puts another Christian servant so low. For many reasons, I would hold back on the harsh truth, even when it comes from the offender’s own mouth—not least because I will have to answer for it someday, but also because I want to keep a channel open for fellowship with that brother if at all possible. The more we say that makes our critics look bad in public, the less likely it is that we will ever have the chance for unity and brotherly love with them.

Conclusion

If, to the best of our knowledge, the Lord does not disapprove of our writing about a person or group that has opposed us—including facts we possess about their motives—then we have in this passage a Scriptural example to guide us in the method our defense. Some may not agree with all of my premises here. Even so, I hope we would all pause for prayer and an evaluation of our motives and attitudes before we go out into the world and take on erring brethren. If we fail to do this, we may find that we are among them.


Andrew Aird lives in Indiana and attends Victory Baptist Church in Whiteland (Pastor Mark Felber). He graduated from Bob Jones University in 1990 and serves as a part-time Bible teacher at his church. He works as a delivery driver for Toyota Auto Parts.

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