Where you find people, there will be times when mistakes are made and conflicts arise. Even when the people involved are servants of the most high God, on occasion there will be tension, strife, and sin. Our human frailties make it so.
What if my brother in the Lord sins against me? What course of action am I supposed to take? One might hear a number of opinions expressed on this topic, but the only point of view that really matters is the Lord’s. What does He tell us to do?
In Matthew 18:15-17, we read the Master’s words:
(15) Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. (16) But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses ever word may be established,’ (17) And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
So, the process begins with my brother sinning against me (throughout this article, we will use “brother” when we refer to either a brother or sister). What are the Lord’s instructions for me? The first part of Jesus’ charge is for me to “go.” Go where? Go to my brother. And do what? Talk to him. I may chit chat with him about the weather, the economy, and his kids’ schooling. But at some point, Jesus wants me to “tell him his fault.” I know, it is easier just to talk about him behind his back and let him deal with the information that I spread about him. But that is not Jesus’ way of handling it.
Under what circumstances does our Lord want me to tell him his fault? Jesus said this first-stage effort is to be communication between me “and him alone” (18:15) – just him, me, and the Lord are involved at this point. I know, some people have a strong personality and may have the reputation of being one who verbally smashes anyone that says anything with which they disagree. It takes courage to go to that type of brother and kindly confront him with his sin, but yet, hear this: that is exactly what Jesus said He wants us to do. When my brother sins against me in a personal matter, it is w-r-o-n-g for me to run to a preacher or some other saint and blab to them about what is going on. Brethren, if we tell the world that we are committed to doing all things according to what the Bible says, then let us step up and be real men and women and obey Jesus in this matter. His teaching on this subject is not complex.
Let us remember something about this whole process. The purpose of going to my brother is to “gain” him (18:15), that is, get this matter settled and help him get restored back to the right relationship with God. In every step, every action taken by me, by those who accompany me to talk to him, and by the church is with that one thought in mind – getting this brother back on the right track.
Well, what if “he refuses to hear” my message to him? (18:16). Then I am supposed to go back to him, this time taking with me one or two people. What are these people supposed to do? Serve as witnesses. They will need to hear both sides of the story and determine who is in error (both could be).
But, that is not all that these accompanying saints are supposed to do. They are supposed to talk to him. Jesus said, “But if he will not hear them . . .” (18:16). If he has a chance to “hear” them, then that means they have to talk. Someone says, “Well, I’ll go with you, but I will not say a word.” Sorry, you are not the person for this job. I need someone who will go and talk so he can “hear” them. That is what my Lord said.
If my brother receives the word of these other brothers, if he confesses his error and repents, then the matter is settled. Thank God that it is settled! Let us move on in His work, and there is no need for this sinful scenario to be publicized far and wide. If it has been resolved, then leave it alone and move on.
Sadly, in some cases the second visit (with one or two others joining me) does not solve the issue. In such an instance, what is the next step? Tell it to the church (18:17) – inform the church that this brother has sinned and refuses to correct the situation. What action is the church supposed to take? Because Jesus said, “But if he refuses even to hear the church . . .,” that means the church, too, as the church, must make an effort to reach out to him. The church is not to be silent. No, it gives the brother a chance to “hear” from it. Finally, if the brother still refuses to repent and correct his mistake, then the church is left only one option: count him like a heathen and a tax collector, meaning not extend its fellowship to him.
Brethren, the Lord’s way is right. Every time.
— Roger D. Campbell