Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
We are still pondering and exploring this one question from the Gospel of Matthew, and the conversation it records between Peter and our Lord. This continues to be our question, even though we are wandering around quite a bit.
Specifically, we have been talking about a subject often referred to as “church discipline.” We have convered the idea that the transgression of a brother are very much in fact, the business of the church; we have even talked about a situation where sin and error in a church were confronted and dealt with very wisely and Biblically. Now, we are going to talk about how we, as church member, might go about dealing with sin in our midst.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
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. We have established that “against you” in this situation may or may not be against personally. In many ways, a sin of any sort is a sin against all of us. Some things seem to come to light here.
Tell him his fault between YOU and him. You who? Is this the preacher’s job? Is it the job of the Deacons or Elders? Clearly if something is done against us directly and personally, we should also deal with it directly and personally. What about other open, unrepented sins among us? Well, just allow me to say this; our preachers and leaders are not in place to be morality police in our congregations. Whose job is it to approach a sinning brother? I would say the person who observes the behavior. One writer said the following: “The person initiating discipline is any believer who is aware of another believer’s sin.”
Accountability partners are good here. I know exactly who is going to come tell me when I mess up, and he knows who is coming to see him when he does. Truly, if we love our friends, we will confront them when they step off the Godly path.
You and him alone. This is a big point. At this point, who really needs to know about what a brother is doing? Well, the offending person knows(maybe), you know, and any others who have personally observed know. At this point, who does NOT need to know? Anybody not on the previous list! I get that some legal issues might require telling others about something, but really, this should be a completely private matter.
When is the best time to approach a situation such as this? When it happens. Sins allowed to be fully developed and become habitual are much harder to eradicate from our lives than those we face honestly earlier. In fact, it is entirely possible that our brother has absolutely no clue there is a problem.
Attitude counts. The truth is that none of us want to be told we are doing wrong. At least I don’t, and I assume that is true for readers as well. We have to confront the sins of our brother openly and honestly, yet without condemnation. Telling someone what they are doing is not the same as condemnation. Our goal here is not just to inform them they are wrong, or to establish our own perfectness in the eyes of another. Our goal is to teach what is right, and bring a person back into fellowship. Any conversation with our brother such as this has to be done in meekness and humility, with an obvious air of reconciliation on our part.
To sum up. The truth is that discipline and restoration is not easy; it is a difficult subject. It can be an uncomfortable and difficult task. It is, however, a necessary one. God is love, and we should be the earthly expression of that love as well. Sin is destructive to the sinner, it is destructive to others, and it is destructive to the work of God and our churches. We do not love anyone by simply turning our heads and ignoring it. Even worse would be to ignore our brother’s faults with an air of smug indifference our self righteous contempt; what would be sin on our own part.
If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. Done properly, in love, and with meekness and humility this entire process can end right there. After all, isn’t that the goal? If our brother acknowledges his issue, honestly repents and commits to staying on the path then nothing further need happen.
It doesn’t always work that way, though, does it? If our brother refuses to listen and repent, what then?