Wednesday, May 06, 2015

How to Deal with Offenses: Part 2

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In Part 1 of this post, we discussed the very first part of Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you.” As we found, there is a vital point to understand in dealing with offenses, and it is that we have to do something. We must either take it directly to the person with whom we have an offense, or we must let it go. To do anything else is to gossip or hold bitterness; either is sin.

Now let’s look at Matthew 18:15-17 for ourselves and see Jesus’s “four-step” process in dealing with those who sin against you:

Step 1: “Go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.”

Thus, as the Part 1 of this post implied, if we face a situation where we feel we have been wronged by someone and it is important enough to confront, we must go to the person directly.

In the Church today, though, we have a problem with this. We don’t like to make people upset, so we tolerate sin in the name of “love” and “kindness.” However, to tolerate sin is far from being loving and kind; it is to say that Christ’s death didn’t matter, and it brings about the ruin of whoever allows it to remain.

This is not to say, though, that we are ever to be judgmental, rudely confronting sin, nor does it mean that it is our job to confront every minute imperfection the moment we see it. As Galatians 6:1 explains, we are to “restore [such a person] in a spirit of gentleness.” (For more on the topic of confronting sin in a loving and gentle way, read Part 1 and Part 2 of “How to Deal with Far-from-God Friends.”)

Step 2: “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

Now, before I elaborate on this point, we need to understand that for every “step” of this process, it is necessary to re-evaluate whether it is still a worthwhile issue. Chances are that if it’s not important enough to do Step 2, even after the person has not listened to you, it probably wasn’t important enough for Step 1. If you’re at the point of moving on to Step 2, this issue has now become an issue of deliberate and continued sin, and is therefore much more serious.

So why is this step important? There are really two reasons. The first is that it brings validity to the issue. If only you are having a problem with someone, it could simply be personal preference or a personality conflict. But if this person hears it from multiple brothers and sisters, they may realize the reality of the problem.

The second reason why Step 2 is important is that it provides the necessary, “two or three witness” (verse 16) basis for Step 3:

Step 3: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”

Let’s stop for a moment to comprehend the seriousness of the situation at this point. We’ve first determined that it was a necessary problem to confront, then we talked to them about it, both by ourselves and then with one or two others; yet they are still unrepentant.

It’s deliberate sin. It’s what Paul was dealing with in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. It’s serious.

So why take it to the local church? We too often think of the church as something we “go to,” when it is really Christ’s Bride – us. We are to keep one another accountable, not simply “go to the same church.”

Thus, in a larger sense, the local church is responsible for the integrity of its members, disciplining as is necessary to live fitting to the unstained righteousness that has been imputed on us by Christ. Because of this, the church has the decision-making role. If the brother or sister is brought before the church and is still unrepentant of the sin of which they are found guilty, the church has the authority to remove that person from the local body of believers.

Step 4: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Here we are at the sad end of the tale. This person has defiantly continued in unconfessed sin, proving that they are in fact not even a Christian at all (1 John 3:6, 9, 5:18). For this reason, they have been removed from the local assembly of Christians.

Now here’s the really sad part: When we have an offense with someone, we most often skip right to Step 4 without even considering Steps 1-3.

We avoid them. We don’t talk to them. We think negatively about them. We don’t forgive. We don’t let it go. We don’t take it to them. We don’t try to restore them in gentleness with witnesses. We don’t take it to the church. We simply treat them like Gentiles and tax collectors.

What more do we think our avoidance, our silence, our negativity, can add to the sin-atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we think that the blood of the Spotless Lamb was not enough, and that we must add our own punishment in order to balance the scales? Why do we think it is our role to determine what kind of treatment someone else deserves? It is nothing short of a mockery of the cross of Jesus Christ.


If you have an issue with someone, even if it is a mere irritation, deal with it. If it is a sin that must be confronted, take it to them directly (James 5:19-20). If it is not, let it go. Do not linger in sin, being gossipy or bitter.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32, see also Romans 12:9-21)