By Robert L. McDonald
“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.” (Matt 18:15)
Of the admonitions in the Word of God, the above quoted appears to be one of the most difficult for brethren to heed. It is not because it is so difficult to understand, for there is nothing in the text to warrant misunderstanding. The difficulty lies in one or both parties being unwilling to take the initial step for reconciliation.
Jesus said, “If thy brother shall trespass against thee. . .” The word “trespass” comes from the Greek (hamartese), defined by Thayer, “to commit sin:” According to the Analytical Greek Lexicon, this verb “is strictly the expression of a momentary or transient single action . . . . It is, however, used of a prolonged action, if there is no positive need to make a direct expression of that circumstance. It is thus of constant use in the narrative of past transactions.” The study of the word itself is to show the sin referred to is not necessarily a continuous act. It may be a single or prolonged action.
Further, “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” “Fault” (elenxo) is defined, “to convict, reprove, rebuke.” (W. E. Vine) Evidently, the innocent person has an obligation to show the error of his brother in Christ -the two being alone! Notice other translations of this text:
“Go and reprove him in private.” (New American Standard)
“Go and while alone with him show him the wrong.” (Williams)
“When you and he are alone together. ” (Living Oracles)
Albert Barnes has commented on this verse and it is passed on for your consideration: “In the original it is ‘go and reprove him.’ Seek an explanation of his conduct, and if he has done wrong, administer a friendly and brotherly reproof. This is required to be done alone: 1st, That he may have an opportunity of explaining his conduct. In nine cases out of ten, where one supposes that he has been injured, a little friendly conversation would set the matter right and prevent difficulty. 2nd, That he may have an opportunity of acknowledging his offense or making reparation, if he has done an injury to the cause of religion. This should not be blazoned abroad. It can do no good – it does injury; it is what the enemies of religion wish. Christ is often wounded in the house of his friends; and religion, as well as an injured brother, often suffers by spreading such faults before the world.”(Commentary, Matt. 18:15)
One may ask, “Have you known of Matthew 18:15 being followed today?” The answer is in the affirmative. This writer has personally been involved in the instructions contained in this divine directive. In addition, I have known of brethren who have seen the importance of maintaining a proper relationship with their brethrenand often strained relationships have been restored when brethren sincerely follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even if none of us has known of such action, we would not be excused by our neglect. “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” is directed to you and me!
What is the objective? “If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” Genuine love for one’s brother prompts the innocent to take the initiative to bring about restoration. True love and genuine concern for another’s soul has been demonstrated! No hypocrisy here! Applause by men is not coveted! This humble soul is doing what he can to bring about reconciliation, and “if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother.”
Truth Magazine XVIII: 2, pp. 20-21
November 14, 1974