Rescue the Perishing
Rescue the Perishing
“If your brother sins go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”.
While many churches ignore these passages and many consider them to be harsh, what I have actually observed is that they are very merciful. Because when these passages are not obeyed then life can get really harsh.
Go and Show Him
I am impressed with the simplicity of the command. Instead of telling others about it, of getting a third party involved, dropping hints or remaining anonymous, handing it off to someone else, go to the person personally. One of the many reasons why we should be growing spiritually and investing in our relationship with God is so that we can perform this very important work (Galatians 6:1). This passage in Galatians reminds us that helping a brother or sister own up to their sin and get out of it will require humility on our part. We are not perfect, “lest you too be tempted”.
Show Him His Fault in Private
God is not out to humiliate people as much as He can. If a person sins, they are given the opportunity to correct such in private. In addition, this “in private step” insures that if I thought I saw or heard something that looked like sin but was wrong, there is an opportunity for the person to explain before inaccurate information is spread on my part. A good name or reputation is very important so this step is included to help cut down on gossip, false assumptions and accusations (Proverbs 22:1; Ecclesiastes 7:1).
If He Listens to You, You have Won Your Brother
So do not assume that they are going to automatically deny that they are guilty. There are people who are honest, who are willing to own up. There are people who are willing to change. The word “won” in significant. When we are in sin we are “lost”, the enemy has us, but when we repent, we are back with God (Luke 15:32).
From personal experience I know that obeying Matthew 18:15 is one of the hardest and scariest passages to fulfill. When you are seeking to help someone out of sin it is tempting to think, “Why do I have to do this?” “Why am I the one who had to see it?” “Why did the information come to me and not to someone else”? Yet, do not feel sorry for yourself. This is important work (James 5:20 “Let him know..”. This needs to be done because your brother, a precious soul for whom Christ died is in serious danger! “Save others snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). Again, the goal is not to catch them and say, “Gotcha” Rather, the goal is to bring them back to God.
But If he does not Listen to You
I am impressed that God is persistent when it comes to reaching people in sin. He does not say, “Try once and then give up”. The next step is where you bring one or two witnesses with you. Then Jesus quotes the Old Testament which often laid emphasis upon the clear command that no one was ever to be put to death upon the testimony of just one witness. “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” (Deuteronomy 17:6). In such cases, the hands of the actual witnesses were expected to be the first to stone such a person (17:7). So God set up a system in which the “witnesses” were never allowed to remain anonymous. The trouble with remaining anonymous is that such tends to bring out the worst in people at times. If I can hide behind some secret wall of privacy then I might be tempted to say things, and make claims or bring accusations that I would never bring if I knew that all my claims would be examined by the public.
This is one good reason why when setting before the congregation a list of potential candidates for elders or deacons that if anyone has a question or problem with one or more of the candidates that such questions be brought in person to the candidate by the person who has that concern.
Every Fact May Be Confirmed
Observe how God is into facts and not just mere feelings. So the brother under consideration in this context as “sinned” (18:15), that is violated a law in Scripture (1 John 3:6). This is not a case where someone has violated some cultural or personal opinion. Rather, they are out of step with the teachings of the apostles (2 Thessalonians 3:14; 3:6). Added to this, such witnesses exist to back up the brother who is attempting to help another brother out of sin, they also exist to protect someone who is being false accused. In the Old Testament various passages stressed the importance of being truthful and of never accusing anyone falsely:
- “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).
- “You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness” (Exodus 23:1).
- God is actually said to “hate” such false witnesses (Proverbs 6:19).
In addition, in the Bible the person who does give false testimony is not allowed just to go on their way, rather they were to be punished. “The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 19:18-19). So God did not want a culture in which innocent people were smeared from the shadows or people were allowed to make all sorts of accusations without any consequences if those accusations could not be proven.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church
Which means that God graciously gives someone caught in a sin two opportunities to take care of it before it goes public. Since the church is many people and not just one, the idea behind the command of telling it to the church is to give the other members who have not heard about this situation an opportunity to reach out to a fallen brother or sister in Christ.
A Gentile and a Tax Collector
Now I have heard some say that this expression simply means that you need to recognize that this brother or sister is in sin but that you can still associate and socialize with them. Yet that is not the way in which the original audience would have understood the statement. Some say that since Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors we can continue to associate with the unfaithful. Yet in those contexts it is clear that Jesus is associating with sinners who are wanting to come back to God (Luke 15:1-2; 19:7-10). In addition, other passages make it clear that at this stage of the process we are no longer allowed to socialize with this person (1 Corinthians 5:11 “I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler not even to eat with such a one”). The purpose of the “not to associate command” is not one in which the members feel superior to this unrepentant Christian, rather it is to catch the attention of the brother or sister and protect the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:6). It protects the church from others falling into this sin or unfaithfulness and protects the reputation of the body of Christ in the community (1 Corinthians 5:1).
2 Corinthians 2:6-7
Just as the body of Christ was involved in the process to reach the unfaithful member (Matthew 18:17), the entire body needs to be involved in welcoming and encouraging the brother or sister who repents. Just as all are informed that they are not longer faithful, now all are joyfully informed that they have come back to God.
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017