Matthew 18:15-17 ESV
“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.”
Who is your brother?
He or she is a fellow Christian, one who professes faith in Jesus Christ, but not a mere professer of faith, but a doer of that faith. He or she is one who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, having been crucified with Christ in death to sin, reborn of the Spirit of God, and has made it his or her practice to follow Jesus Christ with his or her life (Rom. 6:1-23; Rom. 8:1-17; Eph. 4:17-24; 1 Jn. 1:5-9; 1 Jn. 2:3-6; Lu. 9:23-26; Jn. 10:27-30).
But, could this also apply to those who make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, but by their lifestyles they deny him? I think there is biblical precedent for that (1 Co. 5:1-13).
And, what is sin?
It is disobedience to God. It is whatever the Scriptures call sin. It is sexual immorality, lying, cheating, stealing, hating, murdering, gossiping, slandering, idolatry, witchcraft, sensuality, outbursts of anger, drunkenness, greed, adultery, bitterness, resentment, pride, and unforgiveness, etc. (Gal. 5:16-21; Eph. 4:25-32; Eph. 5:3-6; Col. 3:5-11).
What’s the process?
So, if a person who professes to be your brother or sister in Christ Jesus commits a sin (as God calls sin) against you, the first thing you are to do is to confront that individual with his sin, and thus give him or her the opportunity to repent (to turn away from that sin) and to change his or her behavior towards you, with the goal that the sin would not continue.
But this is not an easy task. For one, it is possible that the fellow Christian didn’t do what we thought he did. It is possible that we took the person wrongly and we judged something as sin when no true sin took place. And, it could be that what he did doesn’t qualify as “sin” biblically, but we were judging by our own standards, and not God’s. So, if we don’t have solid evidence of wrongdoing, then we need to take a different approach.
We could say something like, “When you said this, or when you did that, what was your intention?” Or, we could say that when he did or said this or that, his actions or his words were of concern to us, and we could then ask for clarification of the words or actions.
For, it is possible for us, as humans, to misinterpret someone’s words, actions, and/or motives. Yet, it is possible, too, that what we are sensing is true, but we can’t prove it, so we just have to leave it with the Lord if the other person doesn’t admit wrongdoing.
But, if we have suspicion of sin or we have hard evidence of sin, we need to talk with the person who we believe sinned against us. And, we need to not go tell other people, which is often the habit of people to not confront the one they believe sinned against them, but to tell others, and that is wrong. We only bring in others when we have first confronted the person with biblical sin against us, and when they have not truly repented of the sin, but they have continued in the sin. For, repentance is not just admitting sin.
But, let me add a word of caution here. If the person who sinned against you is your sibling or your spouse or someone of the same sex, or someone you are not sexually attracted to, then feel free to confront that individual one-on-one. But, if the person who sinned against you is not your sibling, spouse, or not the same sex as you, don’t confront that person by yourself.
If he listens or not
So, if your fellow Christian listens to you, this doesn’t mean that he just hears you out with his ears. It means he has taken to heart what you have told him, he has confessed his wrongdoing, and he has chosen to not go there again. And, he doesn’t go there again, certainly not as a matter of habit, but there is evidence of genuine change of heart, attitude, and actions.
For, repentance has to do with changing direction. It has to do with leaving our past sins behind us, and we now follow our Lord in obedience.
If change does not take place, and the sins keep getting recycled, and this keeps going on, then true repentance didn’t take place. Worldly sorrow may have occurred, but godly sorrow which leads to repentance did not.
So, even though the fellow Christian may have given the appearance of listening, but the sins continue, which is evidence that true repentance did not happen, then that would be cause to bring in someone else (See the parable of the two sons in Matt. 21:28-32). Or, if the person refused to repent of his sin, that would also be cause to bring in others.
Involvement of the church
But here is where it gets tricky. In today’s modern church, at least here in America, confronting sin in sinful humans is not being done much anymore. Repentance and obedience to Christ are also not being taught. Christians are being told to “Stay in your own lane,” and to not say anything to anyone which might offend them. And, many pastors and church leaders are living in sin themselves, many of them dabbling in or addicted to pornography.
So, true godly leaders are scarce. Even many who appear godly outwardly are sinning secretly behind closed doors. And, this becomes evident by their diluted gospel messages which appeal to human flesh and which coddle people in their sins, and by their own ungodly attitudes and behaviors.
So, if you even have the courage to follow this biblical model for how to handle a situation of a brother or a sister in Christ sinning against you, chances are pretty good that nothing will be done about it, or that they will take the side of the offender and will not support the one being sinned against. And, so sin runs rampant within the church because leaders are caught up in sin themselves and no one has the courage to do anything about it. And, this was the situation in 1 Corinthians 5, and it reminds me, too, of the church in Laodicea spoken of in Revelation 3.
But this is the biblical role model of what to do, and we should follow it if we can get the church leadership or any other believer in Christ to follow it, as well. But if we can’t, then we must follow whatever other teachings there are in Scripture that tell us what our actions should be toward those who profess faith in Jesus Christ but who are living in (practicing) sin.
And, my understanding of what this teaches here is that, if the one sinning against a fellow Christian refuses to repent of his sin, he is to be treated as though he is not a Christian at all. And back in biblical times, from what I understand, that person was to be removed from the fellowship of the believers. But what we often refer to as “church” today is not the fellowship of the body of Christ, but it is a blend of the world and professing Christians.
Matthew 18:21-22 ESV
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
So, whether our brother or sister in Christ repents of his or her sin against us, or not, we still have a moral obligation to forgive that person of his or her sin (Matt. 6:14-15; Mk. 11:25; Lu. 17:3-4; Col. 3:13)?
But this forgiveness is like God forgives us. So, how does he forgive?
Well, God doesn’t forgive if there is not true repentance. If we don’t turn away from our sins to follow our Lord in obedience to his will and to his ways, we aren’t forgiven our sin, and we don’t have eternal life with God (Rom. 6:1-23; Rom. 8:1-17; 1 Jn. 1:5-9; 1 Jn. 2:3-6; Gal. 5:16-21).
So, some of these Scriptures on forgiveness sound as though we forgive if the person repents, but others sound as though we forgive regardless of whether they repent. So, there are differences of opinion on this matter.
But what happens if we don’t forgive? It turns to bitterness, and that, in turn, hinders our walks of faith, it hinders our relationships with all people, and it eats away at us physically, mentally and spiritually. So, forgiving others is as much for us as it is for them.
But forgiveness does not mean going soft on sin. It doesn’t mean we look the other way and we ignore sin. For, the real purpose of forgiveness is to help the other person to truly repent and to change his ways.
The Sands of Time are Sinking
a.k.a. Immanuel’s Land
by Anne R. Cousin, 1857
The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of Heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for—
The fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
The King there in His beauty,
Without a veil is seen:
It were a well spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army,
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory—glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my king of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel’s land.
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