In my 50 years of preaching the one problem I’ve found that is pretty consistent in all churches regardless of size, culture, or local customs is the challenge of maintaining good relationships.
Specifically, how do you deal with a personal offense from a brother or sister in Christ?
Recently a reader wrote to ask my perspective on Matthew 18. This post is in response to her questions.
First, it’s important to realize that offenses will come. Jesus said so. He said that “it is inevitable” (Matt 18:7). One of my Bible professors at Florida College, E. V. Srygley, used to say, “Where two or three are gathered together, you’re going to have a problem.”
Personalities sometimes clash. Opinions differ. Doctrinal issues can divide. And through the weakness of the flesh, we may cast a stone of stumbling in the path of a fellow Christian. Of course, sadly, sins against others may occur through our own arrogance, stubbornness or selfishness.
But one way or another, we will all deal with the issue when there is friction and even sin among brethren.
Secondly, it is even more important to correct an offense in the right way. Listen to the Lord’s command.
“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)
There are 4 possible steps that may occur in this process.
(1) Go to the offending brother.
It is amazing how often this command is ignored. I have actually preached on this passage, only to have someone come and ask my advice on how to deal with a brother who’s wronged them. When I ask, “What did he say when you went to see him?” The response is usually, “Well, I haven’t talked to him.”
Jesus said, “Go.” Don’t wait for him to come to you. He may not even realize there is a problem. Go to the brother. Not to others to gossip about him. Go alone. “A quiet word of correction is better than public rebuke.” Then tell him. Tell him why you’re there. Tell him the problem. Tell him your hurt.
A word of caution here. Be sure your attitude is right. Be humble. Be gentle. Be kind. Speak slowly and softly. “A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).ESV
The Bible says, “Brothers if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).
Many a conflict can be solved by following this Scriptural counsel. However, what if the offending brother refuses to listen or correct his sin?
(2) Take one or two more with you to talk to the offender.
Jesus calls them “witnesses.” The question is raised “Are they witnesses to the offense? Or are they just witnesses to what is said during the second admonition?”
Contextually, it seems that Jesus is talking about a personal offense, not a public sin. So, there may not be any witnesses to the trespass. But the purpose of the witnesses here is not necessarily to prove that a wrong was committed but to aid in the reconciliation between the two brothers.
Having wise, spiritually mature, and gracious brothers present will create a good atmosphere. It may help the offender see the error of his way. The purpose of the witnesses is not to prove one brother is right and the other is wrong, but to bring the brothers together again. To listen objectively. Thoughtfully. And emphatically.
The witnesses can help to heal the hurt. To gently correct. To encourage confession. To facilitate forgiveness. To assist in godly persuasion. And to offer prayer.
Later, if needed, the witnesses can verify the truth of the conversation and their efforts in seeking reconciliation.
Steps 3 and 4 are necessary only if correction is not made. We will deal with these in a separate post tomorrow.
Remember this whole process is about restoring fellowship, correcting sin and finally forgiving the offender. It is not about getting even, seeking retribution, or embarrassing a brother in Christ.
George Herbert put it this way, “He who cannot forgive others burns the bridge over which he must pass himself.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman