"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. "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.'"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.
Matthew 18:15-17 NKJV
I grew up in what many would consider a large family as I have two brothers and two sisters, all of us fairly close in age. I have at times, especially after having three daughters of my own, asked my mother just what was she thinking to decide to have five children? If you have found yourself in a similar situation, I'm sure you could share stories just as I could about the situations we all encountered as we grew up and matured as families.
I'm also sure that many of us have experienced the difficult times that follow when a member of our immediate family chooses to make bad decisions which can reflect poorly on, and adversely affect the relationship we have with each other. As believers, parents and siblings both struggle with feelings of responsibility with thoughts of “where did I go wrong” or “maybe if I had done something differently” when faced with the situation of a family member ignoring what they have been taught and instead choosing to do the things that God has said we are not to do.
We have been discussing the importance of the choices we make as believers for awhile now, and how important those are as they often reflect positively or negatively on the body of Christ. We have seen how those who claim to be believers can, by choosing to walk the wrong path, begin to change in such a way as to become indistinguishable from the non-believer. Their only thought is for their own happiness, and all of their efforts are directed to pursue that end regardless of the fact that they begin to make choices which ignore God's laws. All of which contradict the instruction we have from God to let our light shine before men in such a way as to bring glory to Him.
Obviously, the question that faces us all in a situation such as this is just what does God expect from us as believers when we see a brother or sister begin to make the choices that reflect negatively on the body of Christ? Although the easy way out is to say that God will deal with them, (after all He is their Father right?), in this passage from Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that we have a responsibility to perform within the family towards those who choose to sin. In these verses Jesus lays out a four step plan to implement when we find ourselves faced with a situation such as this.
Step one; "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” The first thought I had reading this was the gentleness and sensitivity implied here. There is no idea of publicly shaming the person, or possibly making the situation worse by having a judgmental or condemning attitude. Jesus simply says go to him or her privately and discuss what is going on. I think we can all understand that situations may occur where someone is genuinely unaware that what they are doing is wrong, and can be corrected by simply sharing what has occurred and what God has to say about it in a loving and gentle way. After all, who among us is without sin?
He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.
Hebrews 5:2 NKJV
Step two; "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.'” Have you ever disagreed with someone? Maybe had a lively discussion thinking you were right and the other person was wrong? In a situation like the one Jesus is telling us about here, it is possible that your brother or sister will disagree that what they are doing is wrong, and possibly think that you are being “judgmental” or have some other reason for confronting them. In such a case as this, Jesus tells us to take “one or two more” with us next so that the possibility of the situation being “personal” is removed. It also stands to reason that by seeking one or two others you are asking them as well about the possibility of you yourself being wrong. Paul used this same principle at the church in Corinth when he had to confront bad behavior there.
This [will be] the third [time] I am coming to you. "By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established."
2 Corinthians 13:1 NKJV
Step three; "And if he refuses to hear them, tell [it] to the church.” When it gets to this point, it is evident that the individual does indeed have a problem submitting to God's will. When several brothers or sisters can show where an individual is making decisions contrary to the Word of God, it would certainly seem that they would have difficulty excusing their behavior unless they have traveled far enough down the wrong road that they are at a point where they deliberately choose to ignore God's laws. By telling it to the entire church body, Jesus seems to be saying that there comes a point where we as a body must draw a line in the sand when it comes to someone claiming to be a believer, and at the same time choosing to sin. I think the obvious concern here is that we are being told that the actions of one could indeed affect the witness of the entire church body.
that there should be no schism in the body, but [that] the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with [it]; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with [it].
1 Corinthians 12:25-26 NKJV
Step four; “But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” This is probably the most misunderstood part of this passage in that many have come to the conclusion Jesus is telling us to “throw the bum out” or something similar like “shunning” or “excommunication”. In fact, Jesus is simply telling us to change our attitude towards the individual in that instead of considering them to be a brother or sister, look at them as an unbeliever who has yet to make the decision to allow Jesus to come into his life and submit to His will for them. Although they may claim to be a Christian, by their actions they declare that they are not. These then are to be treated with love and compassion, not judgment or scorn.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 13:34-35 NKJV
I think we can all agree it is especially difficult to watch a brother or sister make decisions we know to be contrary to the revealed Word of God. Yet Jesus gives us the blueprint to follow when these situations occur, and by obeying His instructions we have the greatest chance for success in helping the light of the body to shine it's brightest.