Yesterday’s post, How to Deal with Personal Offenses, was in response to a reader’s question regarding Matthew 18:15-17. If you missed it, please read it first. It will provide the context as we continue this discussion.
Remember the issues discussed in this text have to do with sin. The King James Version uses the word “trespass”.” But it is the word hamartanoo which means to “miss the mark.” Thayer says the word means “a sinning whether it occurs by omission or commission.” It is not a matter of personal opinion or just a mere personality clash. One brother has sinned against another.
So, what are we to do?
Following Jesus’ command, we should first go to the brother alone and seek reconciliation. If that fails, then take one or two more witnesses to solve the problem so repentance and forgiveness can occur.
But what if the offender rebuffs the efforts of good brethren to repent? Suppose neither of the first two steps works? What then?
(3) Step three is to “tell it to the church.”
So far the matter has been private. Limited to the two brethren involved and the witnesses. However, change has not been affected. Repentance has not occurred. The matter is serious. Souls are at stake.
The Bible clearly teaches that repentance is necessary in order to receive God’s forgiveness. When a brother won’t repent of his sins, extraordinary steps must be taken in order to impress on him the seriousness of the situation.
Assuming the church has Shepherds that are overseeing the flock, they should take the lead in this matter, as they “watch for souls’ (Heb. 13:17). Their job is to keep the church pure and not allow sin to fester within the congregation (Ac 20:28-32).
Some object to this step saying, “it is embarrassing.” While that may be the case, it is what Jesus commanded. But worse than public embarrassment, is losing one’s soul for a failure to repent.
Sometimes, this step fails to produce the desired fruit. Then what?
(4) Jesus said, “But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a publican.”
This unrepentant brother in Christ has forfeited his special relationship with the church family. He now is to be considered as a pagan unbeliever outside our fellowship. Publicans were tax collectors, often considered as a traitor by the Jews, and with whom they had no association.
The point, though it sounds extreme, is to withdraw spiritual fellowship from the offending, unrepentant brother. Yet, this teaching is found in other New Testament passages.
Romans 16:17-18 teaches that we are to “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.”
In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 Paul says, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
Then 1 Corinthians 5 teaches special steps for “withdrawing fellowship” in the public assemble from Christians who fail to repent. The Apostle’s words are clear and unmistakable.
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. (1 Cor 5:9-11)
Through the years, I have heard many objections against “withdrawing fellowship.” Yet, the Bible teaches it. Some say, it won’t work. However, in the case of the Corinthians the immoral man who was disciplined for his sin, repented, returned and was restored (2Cor. 2:1-11).
In each of the four steps outlined by Jesus, the goal is the restoring the sinning brother. Our attitude toward the erring should always be one of care, concern, and compassion. Discipline should be exercised out of love.
Again, we are reminded that when a sinner repents, we should be ready to forgive. How often? Peter thought 7 times was sufficient. Jesus said, “seventy times seven.” In other words, forgiveness has no limits. No bounds. No restrictions. It is unlimited.
We must forgive those who repent. “To refuse it,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman