Matthew 18:15-17 must surely describe one of the most commonly known and commonly ignored practices in Scripture. The admonition is so clear it is almost presented in outline form. The results are so plainly positive, if followed, so as to be beyond dispute. And the consequences of not following these directions are so obvious over and over that one would think this teaching would be universally adhered to. The only reason I can conclude that it is not strictly obeyed in every applicable circumstance is because...it is hard.
Jesus says in verse 15 that if your brother sins, go to him. Don’t talk about him, don’t surmise evil motives, don’t ignore his wrong doing , but go to him. Go and show him his fault in private (NASV). Again, don’t ignore his sin, don’t go and just pass the time, don’t go to beat him down, humiliate or embarrass him. “Go and show him his fault in private.” If he listens to you, it’s a “done deal.” He repents, and you have won him, end of story.
Verse 16 continues the outline, however, if he doesn’t repent. If repentance does not follow, we are not given the option of dropping the matter. Jesus says take witnesses and go back to him again. This is to confirm the facts, He says. This is to identify a matter as truly being “sin” and not just differences in judgment, not just one’s word against another. Once more, if it is a matter of sin and not just opinion, and if he repents, it’s over and you have won your brother.
What if the brother is stubborn, however? What if he persists in his impenitence even though several spiritual minded ones have spoken gently with him and implored him to repent? In verse 17 Jesus taught His disciples that the whole church family was to be involved. Shall we fear embarrassment when a soul is at stake? Shall we cover up the wandering sheep and let him just continue down his path without pulling out every stop? There may be one in the group who can still influence this one and call them back to tender recognition of wrongdoing. Jesus said, “tell the church.”
If he won’t listen, then have nothing more to do with him. Our Lord told these Jews to treat him like a Gentile or a publican. The reasoning for this is given elsewhere, but we are content in this context to simply point out the clear command to do it.
As with all of God’s commands, so many troubles could be avoided and so much leavening influence could be removed from the body of Christ if we would have enough faith and courage concerning God’s will to obey ALL His commands and not just the ones we are comfortable with. God bless your efforts to reach out to his sheep in obedient and God pleasing ways.
By Carl McMurray
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