walk in the word
15If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But 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. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. —Matthew 18:15-17
Yesterday we looked at the need to possibly bring others into the picture to help resolve a conflict. Sometimes, even this strategy fails. The next move is Jesus’ seventh step in conflict resolution: Appeal to the elders. Jesus said, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” Now, that doesn’t mean every offense between believers needs to be surfaced during a Sunday morning worship service.
First Timothy 5:20 says, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” The only time for a public statement in church is when it involves a leader, a pastor, or someone whose sin is known to everyone. And then, for the sake of the body, so fear might come upon everyone. But I believe “tell it to the church” means tell it to the elders, to the leadership. Get some people who can really turn the screws. They can firmly say, You say you’re a Christian, you say you love Jesus, you say you’re living under the authority of this Book, but here are three witnesses, all who agree about your offense. Yet you won’t admit you’re wrong. So either act like a Christian or stop telling people you are.
You ask, That’s it, the final step? Well, sadly, no. There’s a last move. Jesus’ eighth step in conflict resolution: Be willing to end the relationship. This possible conclusion is why you must make sure this is a big deal, because once you start the ball of Matthew 18 rolling, you can’t get it stopped. If the person is hard-hearted, this could come to the place Jesus described in the phrase, “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” That expression was first-century talk for, We’re done with you and you can’t worship here anymore. From that moment, we wait with open arms. We pray God will change their heart and turn our attention to the people who do want to live under the authority of Scripture.
In the Kingdom of Christ, in the church, the individual is not more important than the whole. But if you believe God honors obedience to Scripture, then you will move ahead by faith regardless of the consequences. Be willing to end the relationship. But always pray that won’t be necessary!
Heavenly Father, may I never be part of rushing into discipline or confronting another brother or sister with unclear motives in my heart. Thank You that Your Son spelled out a worst-case scenario, but that in truth, grace, and forgiveness ought to be the currency of our life together. Protect us, Father. And strengthen us for those times when Satan would attack through division and open sin. Deliver us from evil, and help us to keep Your kingdom and Your righteousness in mind every step of the way.
In Jesus’ name,
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