For our next Jesus Says command we need a kind of wrapper. Some fences to keep us from straying too far off course. The first fence is scope, this command is specific to our brothers and sisters in Christ and not necessarily towards the world. Or as Jesus put it, the tax collectors and sinners. The second fence for this article is holding onto generalities lest we write a book of law. Each locality must develop their own norms for this command. And what is the Jesus Says Command that requires these fences?
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15–17, NIV)
For me anyway, this is one of the hardest commands since I hate confrontation. Although I will add that the perspective of years has given me an appreciation for it. I even define a true friend as one that will tell me my faults. I call this the mustard on the shirt test of friendship.
Around this command are some other fences. Nearby is Jesus explanation of the forgiveness and the parable of the unmerciful servant. Forgiveness is a key attitude needed to follow this command. Further off but still in view is Jesus colorful picture of helping a brother with a piece of sawdust in his eye while we have a log in our own. Before we walk out this command we must first deal with our own sin, our own offense, our own unforgiveness.
We must also recognize the difference between sins. Some sin is sin for all. Murder, adultery, stealing, etc. But some sins are a matter of conscience and conviction. The grey areas that we often fight over.
Say that I’m convicted of the Holy Spirit that eating blue M & M’s is a sin for me. There could be any number of reasons why which are not important at the moment. Our bent is to put that conviction about blue M & M’s on everyone else. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, took a picture, and fell flat on my face. We must avoid putting a personal conviction on someone else.
Before implementing Jesus’ command we must ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Sometimes we see things in others that God is wanting to change in us first. Sometimes we’re reflecting our own internal guilt. Sometimes we do not see the whole picture. Sometimes they really do have mustard on their shirt.
Our attitude in this makes a huge difference. Are we addressing this from a place of offense? Desiring that they understand our pain more than desiring their change of heart. Are we confronting from a place of judgment? Seeing ourselves as the perfect and holy one charged with fixing everyone else. Or are we speaking and listening with an attitude of love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy? Two of these may reign in someone’s behavior, but only one will lead to a change of heart, repentance, and forgiveness.
Jesus provides two possible outcomes. The desired outcome is that the person turns and repents. The second outcome is best described as a changed relationship. There are so many nuances and variables to the second that it is impossible to encapsulate. Jesus said to treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. So, how did Jesus treat Gentiles, tax collectors, and sinners? That’s the key which must be applied here. He maintained an open door towards them and ate at their table.
Before we close this command there are a few things we must cover. Confrontation is so painful at times that we employ other means to get our point out, but that is not following Jesus’ command. Jesus didn’t say to post the sin in the public square. Or in our day, post it on Facebook or other social media. Jesus didn’t say to run to the court and file a lawsuit. Jesus didn’t say to shrug it off and ignore it either. Jesus didn’t say to utter it as a prayer request before the congregation or small group (evangelical gossip) or any other form of gossip. Jesus gave us a specific path that begins with talking to the person, one on one in private. What a novel concept.
Quick recap. Pray first. Examine our own hearts. Forgive. Go with a desire to see repentance, a changed heart instead of just changed behavior. Follow Jesus’ prescribed path. There are many more pieces to this which must be worked out locally. Here’s the thing to remember. This is not a suggestion, this is a command.
Jesus Says Go to Your Brother or Sister