By Dusty Owens
Read Matthew 18:15-20. Here, Jesus tells what my obligation is toward one who has sinned against me, in word or action. He may have brought injury to my character, person or property; matters not, I must not allow this to fester inside of me, but must go to him to resolve the problem.
Too many times what we want to do is gain sympathy and support by going to everyone but the offending brother. We end up causing this brother’s reputation to be impaired as we stir up the brethren against him. What Jesus says to do is “go, show him his fault between thee and him alone” (v. 15). It may be that all was a misunderstanding, and I have “made a mountain out of a molehill.” A little kindness and brotherly love many times will help settle a difficulty immediately, and if this happens, I have “gained a brother.”
Again, my attitude plays an important part in my role here. I must have as my main objective peace with my brother, not who is right or wrong in the matter. Certainly, if sin is involved, I must try to get him to see that, but only in a spirit of meekness and gentleness, not arrogance and haughtiness. My approach to him must not be with a disposition to “get even,” or to “retaliate,” but must be Christ-like (1 Pet. 3:8-12).
“But If He Hear Thee Not”
The brother could take on the adversary role, what then? Sometimes it might be necessary to visit with him on more than one occasion to try to resolve the problem. If, after I have tried every way and everything possible, and he insists on their being enmity between us, I must seek out “two witnesses or three” to accompany me that “every word may be established” (v. 16).
There are several advantages to this: (1) they may be able to talk convincingly to the brother and help him to see the wisdom of resolving the matter; (2) they may be able to bring further evidence showing him to be at fault; and (3) they can act as “witnesses” if the matter must come up before the church (Deut. 19:15; 2 Cor. 13: 1; Jn. 8:17).
“Tell It Unto The Church”
If all has failed to “gain the brother,” then the matter must be brought before the assembly (church). Notice, please, that Jesus did not say, “bring the matter to the attention of the preacher or elders.” He said, “tell it unto the church.” That is to all Christians that normally assemble at one place. Notice again please, Jesus did not say, “This one should be written up all across the land” so that all churches may be notified to beware of such a one! No, the group to which he would normally have fellowship is under consideration, and they should be told for the same reason that I must go to him in the first place, to gain the brother. There may be others that can bring influence to bear upon the situation, hopefully to clear it up.
But, what if he will not “hear the church”? Jesus said, “Let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican” (v. 17). Notice, Jesus said, Let him be this “unto thee.” The original difficulty was between him and me. The consequence of his obstinacy involves two people! The church is not under obligation to withdraw fellowship on the basis of a falling out between two brethren. Too many times, the brother who feels “sinned against” immediately masses all the forces he can in the church to do battle and to win against the brother. If he cannot get the “offensive” brother to “repent,” he will try to get him “disfellowshipped,” or “discredited” in some way!
Jesus is not talking about disfellowshipping in general. He told the “sinned against” brother to treat the “sinning” brother “as the Gentile and the publican.” That means he may not enjoy a closeness or fellowship with him, but he must not treat him as an “enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:16). He must not hold a grudge, harbor ill-feelings, withhold his hand, snub, or in any way misuse him, but treat him in the same way he would treat any non-Christian (Gentile, publican).
Brethren, we have more to do in the kingdom of God than to do battle with each other. In many ways we seem to wear our feelings “on our sleeves”; we are quick to criticize and find faults in others without seeing our own; and we are highly suspicious of the motives of others, without the capability of knowing the heart!
Or, we go the opposite direction and demonstrate an attitude of apathy and indifference by not (1) going to a brother caught up in a sin, (2) showing an interest in one who is erring from the truth, or (3) getting to know the brethren so we can understand and love them.
May God help us to properly identify our erring brother and then to treat him as God has outlined in His word.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 18, p. 556
September 19, 1985