Part 3 of a series called The Peacemakers
You can listen to this sermon here.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17).
Just Between the Two of You
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1).
Sometimes a person’s sin is too serious to overlook. How can you know if a sin is too serious to overlook? Ken Sande suggests that we ask ourselves four questions. First, is it dishonoring to God? Second, is it damaging your relationship? Third, is it hurting others? Fourth, is it hurting the offender?
“Although these verses endorse constructive confrontation, they are not a license to be a busybody. The Bible repeatedly warns us not to be eagerly looking for opportunities to point out the faults of others (e.g., 2 Thess. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13; 2 Tim. 2:23; 1 Peter 4:15). In fact, anyone who is eager to go and show a brother his sin is probably disqualified from doing so. Such eagerness is often a sign of pride and spiritual immaturity, which cripple our ability to minister effectively to others (Gal. 5:22-6:2). The best confronters are usually people who would prefer not to have to talk to others about their sin but will do so out of obedience to God and love for others” (The Peacemaker, 153).
We should remember three biblical principles about confrontation.
1. Be willing to take the initiative.
Jesus said, “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” (Matt. 5:23-24). “Note that this command is not limited to situations where the other person has something justifiable against you. Jesus said to be reconciled if your brother has something against you, implying that the obligation exists whether or not you believe his complaint is legitimate” (The Peacemaker, 148-9).
2. Speak the truth in love.
The purpose of confrontation is restoration, not condemnation. Whenever we speak the truth, we should do so in love (Eph. 4:15). The apostle Paul writes that those who confront should be “spiritual” (Gal. 6:1). To be spiritual means to be a person of love. “The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22). Paul also states that confrontation
3. Be ready to forgive.
Jesus taught, “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).
The Matthew 18 Process
“A general principle taught in Matthew 18 is that we should try to keep the circle of people involved in a conflict as small as possible for as long as possible. If we can resolve a dispute personally and privately, we should do so. But if we cannot settle matters on our own, we should seek help from other people, expanding the circle only as much as necessary to bring about repentance and reconciliation” (The Peacemaker, 186).
This process of involving others in a conflict may involve five steps.
Step One: Overlook minor offenses.
Step Two: Talk in private.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (v. 15).
Go tentatively. “Unless you have clear, firsthand knowledge that a wrong has been done, give the other person the benefit of the doubt and be open to the possibility that you have not assessed the situation correctly. And go repeatedly, if necessary. The Greek word for “go” implies continual action.
Step Three: Take one of two others along.
“But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (v. 16).
Step Four: Tell it to the church.
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church” (v. 17a).
Step Five: Treat him as an unbeliever.
“And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (v. 17b).
Jesus’ use of the word as is significant. Since only God can know a person’s heart (1 Sam. 16:7; Rev. 2:23), the church has no power to decide whether a person is a believer.
“Treating someone as a nonbeliever serves three important purposes. First, revoking the person’s membership in the church prevents the Lord from being dishonored if that person continues to act in blatantly sinful ways (Rom. 2:23-24). Second, other believers are protected from being led astray by a bad example or divisive behavior (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:1-6). Third, treating someone as a nonbeliever may help the rebellious person to realize the seriousness of his or her sin, turn from it, and be restored to God” (The Peacemaker, 194).