Believe me, there are lots of things I would rather do today than what I have to do now. As you know, the New Testament gives us very clear directives about the way we are to treat brothers and sisters in Christ who act contrary to scripture.
In Matthew 18, the Lord gives us some instruction concerning the specific approach we are to take with a brother or sister who is violating clearly stated commands in scripture. This does not concern violation of conscience, but rather a violation of principles or commands in scripture that are clearly stated and about which there is no question. When a brother or sister is living contrary to the truth there are certain things that are to be done and they must be done in a spirit of love.
Jesus said in Matthew 18:
“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 neglects to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
These are weighty words. Jesus said that if we see a brother or sister overtaken in a fault, participating in some sin, we are not to gossip behind their backs, nor are we to turn our backs on them.
- We are not to reject them;
- we are not to ostracize them;
- nor are we to overlook their sin.
First, we are to go to them in private and point out to them the specific area of disobedience.
Paul gives us a further note on this practice in Galatians 6. He says that we are to go in a spirit of meekness, considering ourselves lest we also are tempted, recognizing that we are all prone to fall into sin. At one time I may be the brother you have to approach, and another time you may be the brother or sister I have to approach. It works both ways. None of us has the right merely to sit in judgment on another brother without being willing to have that brother come to us in love and point out some area of sin in our life.
And yet if we see a brother who is sinning, we are to go to them and between the two of us, we are to sit down and look at what the scriptures have to say on that issue and to do so in a loving and gentle spirit. Then, if he refuses to hear the truth, we are to take two or more to speak with him about the matter. This is not a pressure tactic to try to force him to respond. Rather, we need to show him that this is not a personal vendetta on the part of one individual but something that affects the entire body. In the same spirit of love and gentleness, approach and talk with him. Jesus said that if he still won’t respond if he won’t repents and forsake that sin, we are then to tell it to the church; not, however, in a condemning way.
The purpose of this action is constructive and redemptive. The hope is that other members of the body who know that individual will go to him and appeal to him to return to the Lord and that all will pray for that brother or sister. Then, Jesus said, if he still will not respond, we are to treat him as a tax collector and a sinner. That has often been taken as justification for making an outcast out of a sinning brother throwing him out of the church, ostracizing him or excommunicating him. But that’s not what Jesus meant. If you know anything about the heart of our Lord, you know how he treated tax collectors and sinners. He loved them and ministered to them, but he treated them as those outside the family, outside the people of God. Jesus point is that if a person who calls himself a Christian can resist the kind of loving treatment he outlines here, this gentle handling over a long period of time, then he must not, in fact, be a Christian. Anyone who has Christ in his heart cannot hold out against that kind of approach. So, if our brother rejects the truth after his sin has been announced to the church, then he is to be treated as an unbeliever.
In 1 and 2 Corinthians, we have a New Testament illustration of this procedure in practice. In 1 Corinthians, we learn that there was a brother in Corinth who was guilty of flagrant sin (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2), and he was corrected in the way Jesus had described it should be done. Then, in 2 Corinthians, we have an added note that indicates that the brother repented and came back to the Lord and to the body (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). Paul says that since that happened, this brother is to be received warmly and welcomed back into fellowship because, as Paul says, “we are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). His point is that Satan can cause us to have a critical, unforgiving spirit and reject that brother because of some sin he has committed, and refusing to receive him back would bring about a split in the church. That was exactly what was happening in Corinth among the believers. Satan was dividing the church through a critical, carping, unloving, resentful spirit among the body there.
The thing that I want to underscore in all of this is that this action is redemptive; it’s constructive. This is no ultimate condemnation; it’s designed to bring a brother back. By and large, the church has forsaken this practice because of we’re afraid of it. But it is clearly spelt out in scripture, and we cannot avoid it. You see what I am talking about, and when a Minister does it he is drawn into disrepute and condemnation by other churches and individuals that are practising the same or even worst sins.