If Your Brother Sins
15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
In our lives there are a lot of things we don’t like to do. Yet we have to do them because we are the only ones uniquely qualified to do that particular task. The same is true with Church Discipline. No one likes going through the process. We are dealing with friends and in some cases even relatives who have fallen, and yet the Scriptures state that we as Christians are the only ones who can use this extreme measure in an attempt to restore a brother or sister back to their relationship with the Lord.
It’s also true that very few people like to be told they are accountable and will be held responsible for anything in society today. We can accept it in the workplace because there are tasks for the job that we do. But outside the workplace, we have a difficult time when someone tells us that we have to accept additional accountability and responsibility, especially because of a stand we take, we have no alternative.
Yet this is exactly the position that, as a Christian, we find ourselves in. As a Christian our lives are not our own anymore (2 Cor. 5:14-15; Gal. 2:20). These passages tell us that as Christians our lives are no longer ours to live as we chose. We live our lives according to the Word of God and that Word includes accepting the responsibility and accountability to administer Church Discipline should it be needed.
It’s only when sin is dealt with in a Biblical manner that positive results can follow (Hebrews 12:15).
15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.
Thus, the question must be asked, if we have no alternative should the situation arise but to use Church Discipline, what is our responsibility and accountability in the process? That is what I want to deal with today. If we look closely at the Matthew passage, four different groups of people are established, therefore I would suggest to you today that burdens of accountability and responsibility fall on.
1. The individual Christian in the Church (Verse 15)
2. The fallen brother or sister (Verses 15-18)
3. The witnesses (Verse 16)
4. The Church congregation. (Verse 17)
We will also see that ultimately as a Church we will stand accountable and responsible to God for our actions in attempting to restore a fallen brother or sister.
POINT ONE: THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN IN THE CHURCH.
Jesus addresses the individual concerning Church Discipline in verse 15. It tells us that if a brother sins against you, it is your responsibility to go to the brother or sister and attempt to make it right. But this is also the tip of the ice berg. There is much to look at before we get to this stage. We must also realize that as a member of a congregation, we also have the responsibility to make sure that the process is done in a just and biblical manner, with restoration the ultimate goal.
Our individual responsibility covers several areas:
POINT TWO: THE FALLEN BROTHER OR SISTER
The fallen brother or sister has several responsibilities in the process of Church Discipline. Some of these are obvious, while others fall by the wayside during the emotion of the process.
1. The first responsibility of the Christian is always to be open to correction (Proverbs 1:1-7; 19:20; 2 Tim.4:2-4; 2 Tim. 3:16).
In saying this, I realize that the levels of correction will be different. It’s one thing to deal with the sin of slander or gossip, it’s another thing to deal with the sin of adultery, or murder. Some people simply may not be aware that they are offending someone or may need to be shown better ways of dealing with situations and the correction is complete. The unique thing that happens here is that when sins such as jealousy, envy, gossip, etc., are dealt with successfully on a private basis, the restoration is complete on a corporate basis. A brother or sister restored privately according to Matthew 18:15 cannot help but become a prized treasure in the Church as people see the transformation in their life.
In other situations, it may be more difficult to remain open to correction. While all sin has consequences, some may be easier to bear than others. If I murder someone for example, I not only effect my life as I spend the rest of it in prison, but I also affect the lives of my family and the victim’s family. My sin effects the church as people are angered, hurt and disillusioned.
I believe a big part of the reason for this is the fact that it involves a conscious choice on the part of the offender to participate in sin. The action is known to be wrong, and yet the choice is made to participate anyway. Consider Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:4-13. The temptation was presented, and the choice was made. From that point on humanity became aware of several emotions that they had not experienced before. The emotions of sin, embarrassment, inner pain, stress, disappointment, and a host of others. Temptation is always seeded in our mind, and when we nurture it, will always give as its fruit sin (James 1:15).
In situations like this there is often a lack of openness. The person chooses not to accept the correction of the church, and in many cases leaves the church. In cases like this discipline in absence is the only recourse. Although the person is not there, the church acts and the individual is brought face to face with the words of Nathan to David 2 Samuel 12:1-13. Note especially the comments in verse 7 and verse 13. David is confronted with his sin and David acknowledges his sin.
2. There must be signs of repentance on the part of the fallen believer. All known sin is to be confessed (1 John 1:9; James 5:16). If we truly understand that we have wronged someone then our hearts should be convicted until we confess our wrong. But understand this, while our confession is in some cases public, our confession is only to God (Psalm 51:4). We may seek forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation from the church for the way the sin effected the church, but confession and repentance is made only to God.
3.The fallen believer must accept accountability and responsibility for their action. The type of sin involving Church Discipline of any form, always involves others. It can range anywhere from one person to the entire church. The offender must make a statement accepting responsibility for his or her action and allow themselves to be held accountable to the church during the process of restoration. The offender also accepts accountability for the consequences that arise as a result of his or her sin (Matthew 12:36-37).
A statement of accountability and responsibility is necessary, and it is necessary as it is the offenders admission that they recognize their sin and claim it as theirs, they take possession and ownership of it. The fact is, that it is only by taking ownership of the sin, recognizing we are guilty, that we can be forgiven, and reconciled. Confession is good for the soul.
How that statement is made is divided into three camps, of which I would support two. The first camp follows the formula of Matthew 18:15. It is a private meeting between two individuals. The offending party realizes that he has hurt a fellow brother or sister and apologizes immediately. This then is the end of the incident and nothing more needs to be done.
In cases of sin that deals with others, there are two schools of thought. First there is the school that states that the offending person may speak to a small group of church leaders, i.e.: the deacon’s board, or its equivalent, or possibly a church council which is made up of all the committees of the church. The second school believes the statement needs to be made to the entire church. Under strict conditions I favor the second.
It is the responsibility of the person under Church Discipline to willingly submit to any further action deemed necessary by the church for the process of restoration. Again, there are some responsibilities to which the church is charged in this respect which we shall look at in a moment. Right now, suffice it to say that all action taken by the church should be to the advancement of the fallen member and therefore the fallen member must accept the further actions with grace.
POINT THREE: THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE WITNESSES:
The responsibility of the witnesses is straightforward. Matthew 18:16 tells us that the responsibility of the witnesses is to "establish the matter", or "to bring back a factual account of the confrontation. They are to serve to verify both the position of the offender as well as that of the person offended. They are to bring testimony as to the spirituality of the confrontation, and the attitude of the characters involved.
POINT FOUR: THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCH:
This aspect of Church Discipline, found in Matthew 18:17 is without a doubt the hardest for us to act on. We aren’t just dealing with people here, but with friends and relatives. We are dealing with people we care for deeply. For the church to have to resort to this extreme measure of Church Discipline our hearts should be breaking and there should be sleepless nights spent in prayer asking for the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In dealing with the responsibility of the church we need to keep in mind that the ultimate goal is restoration of the fallen member. Anything that is done, including the suspension of church membership, must be done with restoration in mind. This leads us then to the responsibilities of the church.
Matthew 18:17 is addressing a different type of individual. Jesus says treat them like a pagan or tax collector. How did Jesus treat the pagans and tax collectors. We can start by realizing that Jesus appointed a tax collector as one of the twelve disciples. Consider Matthew 9:9-13. Jesus ate and stayed with tax collectors and pagans.
Do not allow them the privileges of a believer in that you want to protect them from taking them unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27; Acts 5:1-11) but we do associate with them. A kind word on the street, checking up on them just to see how they are doing, sharing from your own experiences, keeping the door of communication open is vital in restoration.
Then the second thing a congregation can do is to express love and concern to the individual involved. Urge him to repent, to give up sin, and to give in to the pleadings of the body and of the Spirit of God. Especially is this true of people who are friends of the individual and have known him for a long period of time. The cooperative effort of many to help the one involved see what he or she has done is a very powerful weapon to turn him from evil.
Thirdly, individuals in a congregation can share with this person experiences themselves may have had in finding God’s grace sufficient in their own lives to resist evil, or to turn from it, once it has been discovered or indulged in. That will encourage the individual to realize that the only way out of his situation is to return to the Lord, who will forgive.
The church has the responsibility to restore and forgive if true repentance is shown, and the plan of restoration is being followed. This is sometimes hard to do, but in the church we are called to do some things that may go against everything our natural nature tells us to do. That is one of the things that sets us apart. After restoration takes place the church also has the responsibility to chose carefully the ministry of the individual. The individual needs to be brought back gradually, avoiding positions of great responsibility until well established in the church again. They need time to just be a part of the fellowship again, to just enjoy people caring about them.
The issue of Church Discipline is one that we would all like to avoid, but in some cases cannot.
The ultimate goals of Church Discipline is always the restoration of the individual, the protection of the church with reference to holiness and purity and dealing with a serious situation in an open manner so that there can be closure to the situation.
We have to have faith in the church to be the church. We are not taking matters to the church for gossip’s sake, nor do we take a matter to the church in the hopes of turning the people against one that has fallen. We turn the matter over to the church in an open forum to make sure that we have conducted a thorough investigation, and that we have lived up to our responsibilities to the fallen individual and to God.
We conduct the matter in open forum to make sure that the church realizes that there is no other option but the action taken. We conduct the matter in open forum to give the church the final say, as Matthew 18:17 states we are to "tell it to the church". We take it to the church for the church’s forgiveness of the individual and once that forgiveness is given, then the church has dealt with that matter and it may never be brought up again.
But the best way to avoid the issue of Church Discipline is to lead our lives walking daily with the Lord. Let Him be our guide, even when life is difficult. We are all vulnerable on our own, and only the power and grace of God can sustain us through this life.
Let Us Pray:
Pastor Richard Santos
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