Jesus has been both instructing and illustrating about greatness in the Kingdom by the life of a child. This love necessarily includes forgiveness. Forgiveness includes two parties – the offender and the offended. The following instruction is to be the common and regular practice of the church, though in our day it is virtually non-existent, at least at the corporate level.
15 “If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17.
1. The Preamble. Humility. Context is critical in this passage. The hard work of humble confrontation, of explaining sin and its offense or being corrected as to a misunderstanding, takes courage, wisdom and humility. It starts with childlike humility. 1 Corinthians 10:12: So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! James 3:2: 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. The last thing needed is for one who has been offended by the sin of another to come as if they are above a similar sin or more self-righteous than the one confronted.
2. The Process. 4 Steps: 1. Go and show him his fault. 2. Go a second time with one or two others. 3. Tell it to the church. 4. Treat him as a pagan or tax gatherer. Between each step, the wayward pilgrim has rejected the request for confession and repentance; hence, the levels and accountability and consequences are increased. The backdrop assumed in this process is that disciples enjoy a common fellowship and relationship in the church, having taken Jesus and His message seriously, and committed to an honest life in the church. James 1:26-27 26Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
3. The Product. The remarkable promise is that Christians that follow this process should expect a spiritual power and impact on those around them: ‘bound on earth is bound in heaven, loosed on earth is loosed in heaven, agree on what is asked for and it will be done. Matthew 18:20: 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” In other words, spiritual integrity among Christians and the church results in spiritual impact and results for those around us. Amazing promise.
Sadly, at least in my experience, this process is lacking. While individual confrontation can and likely does happen with some regularity, for the wayward saint who refuses to repent, the third and fourth level – the gathering of the church to pray for and plead for repentance – I have only seen and been a part of twice in the church. Interestingly, both times were successful with the individual saint turning from their sin and beginning the restoration process with those he or she has damaged. Again, this process is not to condemn or embarrass as an end in itself but to plead for repentance for an individual turning from his or her sin which will only lead to spiritual disaster.
There is a secular banner that I like – and use with some regularity. It is: Take what we do seriously, but do not take ourselves with the same seriousness. On the one hand, we all have feet of clay, are prone to stumble, struggle with sin, and need the gentle encouragement of others for spiritual living. On the other hand, what we do, and how we live, is critically important and is the path to individual and community spirituality that unleashes the power of heaven toward us and those around us. Again, amazing. Stay well. Next week - What happens to those who refuse to act with grace and mercy.
- John Moore