Matthew 18:15–20 presents a beautiful, but highly misunderstood, aspect of Christian community. This text will not likely be preached in a church growth seminar. It is not considered culturally practical or acceptable, but if the Bible is to be the guide for the church, then it is a passage that we must submit our lives to despite how difficult it is.
At first reading, we may be tempted to feel that Matthew 18 is too harsh. After all, if this approached is followed, we run the risk of looking judgmental and losing relationships. It is much easier for us to talk about someone’s sin than to talk to someone about their sin.
Nevertheless, the approach Jesus gives his children here is designed not to be harsh, but kind. What Jesus says here goes against the practice of the normal religious community. The Pharisees would drag someone out into the public and show everyone how worthless this person was while acting pious and indignant (John 7:53-8:5).
Yet, in Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus encourages his followers to confront sin with dignity when they can first and foremost. He presents a plan to deal with sin privately, until it must be made public. He presents a framework for dealing with unrepentant sin among believers combining honesty and grace. His approach doesn’t dismiss sin, but shows compassion on the sinner.
Notice in the text, the offender is to be approached privately and graciously at first. If the problem doesn’t get resolved, two or three witnesses are to be taken. These witness are to help resolve the conflict while trying to involve as “few” people as possible. That approach is so different than our gossip, slanderous, lawsuit-happy culture. Additionally, these witnesses can provide objectivity and veracity to the issues at hand.
Only then, if all other measures fail and the offense is legitimate, is it to be taken to the church.
What if the church took Jesus’ words seriously here? What if we decided to go against the grain of culture and see the sensibility and compassion in Jesus’ approach? What if we trusted that his methods for dealing with sin are better than the world’s?
If so, then we would do two things.
- We would love one another enough to confront unrepentant sin patterns graciously and privately.
- We would love one another enough to accept godly encouragement from others.
A community that lives with love enough to both provide and receive gentle rebukes from one another makes an incredible family; a family that seeks to combine honesty and grace while not tolerating blatant hypocrisy.
We are to live with such a perspective, not looking for those we could confront, but examining our lives that we might live consistently with the gospel we profess. When we love enough to address sin in the camp and humble enough to allow others to graciously hold mirrors to our blind spots, we will find a unified community that stands strong in the face of great adversity.