Written by: Bill Elliff
When Jesus is giving us instruction about how to help little children, He gives us Matthew 18:15-20 which records the most clear, precise teaching on how to deal with a brother who falls into sin. I once had the privilege of spending about nine months studying this truth with 90 men over the course of a year. One of the most surprising discoveries we made was that this restorative process is taught in every single book of the New Testament. God knows that this will be an ever present need with His children while in this present darkness.
The world, flesh, and devil are strong and active. God knows that people are going to be tempted and fall into sin. But He has put something in place to help those who fall. He has given us each other.
When our brother sins we are to go in private and help him. If he refuses help, we are to broaden the circle, taking 2-3 others with us. If he refuses that level of accountability, we should broaden it further until the members of the church are all throwing the one who is going down in quicksand a hand. If he refuses all of that, the church is called by God to pull back the protective level of their fellowship. The sinning brother, in fact, is the one who has withdrawn himself. The church is simply confirming this reality. Their step of removal of fellowship is a sad, but powerful tool to, hopefully, bring him back to repentance.
Scripture and experience indicates that this is not necessarily a quick, calloused “1-2-3” process. In my opinion, you continue in one step of this restorative help until you see that it is of no effect and needs a broader application. Only then do you move forward to broaden the circle of concern and aid.
…is to win your brother back. But there is more. Other Scriptures broaden this purpose. Everything we do should be for the glory of God. And also, 1 Corinthians 5 indicates a further result is to purify the church.
The order of these purposes is important. In my opinion it is first to glorify God, i.e., to show the world that a true follower is not like this and that God (whom they represent) is not impure, immoral, etc.
Secondly, a “little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5. If sin is left unchecked in a church it will spread. One man’s sin becomes another man’s justification. Children and students are put in harm’s way—not because people sin (we will all do that)—but because it is not lovingly and effectively challenged and overcome. The final, but still vital purpose, is to restore the brother.
What’s very important in this passage is the context. Right before this teaching, the Lord reminds us of His passion for a single lost sheep. It is not His desire that “one of these little ones perish.” He tells us that good shepherds will leave the 99 sheep to go after the single one that is lost.
Following the passage on church discipline, He tells us a parable to help us realize we should always forgive. Even if we are in the unenviable, but necessary position to have to confront a brother, we should come from a position of personal forgiveness.
Forgiving a brother in your heart and confronting a brother are not mutually exclusive. They must be done at the same time. Forgiveness does NOT mean that you overlook his obvious sin that is destroying his life and the lives of those around him. It does mean that you have released all personal desire for revenge.
Our purpose for confrontation should never be for revenge or “getting even” or “making him pay,” etc. We should be righteously upset with what sin is doing to a brother and to those around him. But we cannot, in fact, confront correctly if it is not driven by love and aided by forgiveness.
THIS SHOULD BE A WARNING
We all dabble with sin. We do not want to find ourselves on the wrong side of this teaching, i.e., being the one that others are confronting. In fact, one of the great course correctors for men is to see this process in play so that it becomes a sad, sober warning to those who may be contemplating the same sin and a glad, helpful encouragement when it results in repentance and victory. It becomes a preventative to sin and an encouragement to victory for others.
I have had these conversations hundreds of times over the years. Very, very rarely have they ever come to the final step. True believers, when confronted, will run to repentance, particularly when they are confronted in truth and grace.
MUTUAL SUBMISSION AND ACCOUNTABILITY
On the personal, proactive side, as growing believers we should submit ourselves voluntarily to others for loving accountability. Years ago, when a godly man I loved fell, I sought out three other men who I knew would look me in the eye and help me see the cracks in the foundation of my life. We have retreated every year for the past twenty years for season of mutual accountability. Only eternity will record how much this has saved us all. There is no man nor woman that does not need this kind of friendship.
A humility that recognizes our own weakness and a transparency that lets others in to help should be our constant posture. Why would we not run to the very people that God has designed to help us, which is Christ’s Body?
(copyright Bill Elliff, All Rights Reserved)
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