Don’t Judge Me! Steps to Reconciliation (Matthew 18)

Don't Judge Me graphic3No matter how hard we try, no matter how nice we are, eventually we will experience interpersonal problems. Someone is going to hurt us with their words or actions. That is a fact we are just going to have to accept.

The question is, what are we going to do about it? In the previous articles, we observed the four questions we must ask before confronting anyone about their sin:

  • Is it clear disobedience to God’s commands?
  • Is it true?
  • Am I also guilty?
  • What is my purpose?

Take a closer look at question #4. What is my purpose? As we have already seen, the goal must be restoration. Therefore, before I talk to anyone about their sin, even if it is a personal slight against me, I need to make sure that my purpose is not retaliation, but restoration of our relationship.

It is possible that the best path to restoration is to simply overlook what was done. When a person sins against you, is it something you can just overlook and go on with your life? If so, do it! People are going to hurt you. It’s part of life.

Somewhere we get the idea that in a loving community, such as a church, there are never any disagreements. Everything has to be unanimous. However, the foundation of unity is not that every person has the same opinions, but that people with different opinions are able to resolve their differences along the way.

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins. (I Peter 4:8 NKJV)

Some things should just be overlooked. However, when someone offends you to the point of hurting your relationship, you need to go to them to resolve the situation.

Now, let’s look at what Jesus says:

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. (Matthew 18:15)

Notice first of all that these instructions are for when your brother has sinned against you. Our natural response might be, “He did wrong, so he needs to approach me!” That is not God’s plan, however. If he has sinned against you and it is not something you can overlook, you need to approach him. Maybe he doesn’t even realize that he hurt you!

As we look through the steps that Jesus gave, remember that the ultimate goal is reconciliation. If at any point you become reconciled, the process is over.

So, let’s look at the steps to reconciliation.

Step 1 – Go to him alone

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. (Matthew 18:15)

Most of the time this step is skipped. It’s much more fun to go to someone else first. The more people who are informed, the more shame is heaped upon this wicked reprobate. But what is the goal? Remember, the purpose is not to punish the offending brother or to teach him a lesson. The target is reconciliation. If you go to him alone and he recognizes his fault and repents, the process goes no further. You have gained your brother. Case closed.

One reason that it is wise to go to him alone first is that the whole saga may stem from a simple misunderstanding. After all, “nothing can be sliced so thin that it has only one side.” Taking care of step 1 first just might save you a lot of embarrassment.

If it works, you have gained your brother. The only ones who know about your struggle are the two of you, so embarrassment is averted and your relationship is strengthened.

Only if step 1 does not work is it time to advance to step 2.

Step 2 – Take one or two others with you

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.” (Matthew 18:16)

What we have here is not a big meeting or a group discussion. It is not a series of phone calls to your friends.

Jesus was making use of the instructions given in Deuteronomy:

One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. (Deuteronomy 19:15)

Why would you bring one or two others with you? So that “every word may be established.” In other words, to make sure you are right! Someone might just tell you, like Bill Handel from Handel on the Law, that “You don’t have a case.” Also, these other folks serve as witnesses. If reconciliation does not seem possible, you will need witnesses to the fact that you are following correct procedures.

If steps 1 & 2 do not result in reconciliation, it is time to move on to step 3.

Step 3 – Take it to the church

And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. (Matthew 18:17a)

You might observe that Jesus gave this speech before the church as we know it was officially founded. So why would He say to take it to the church? The word “church” is translated from the Greek word ecclesia, which means “a called-out assembly.” Ever since Jesus started His ministry, He has always had a group of followers. Sometime there were only a few; sometime there were many. Today we have the church.

Please notice that this does NOT mean to start talking about the situation in the lobby or the nursery. It does not give permission to publish your grievances in the church newspaper or offer it as a “prayer request.” This would be best carried out in a meeting with the elders or other leaders in the church.

Again, the goal is not defamation, but restoration! Gossip never brings about reconciliation.

Now we come to step 4, the one that we never want to experience.

Step 4 – Church discipline

But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:17b)

This is the absolute last resort. If the offending brother has been deemed by church leaders to be in sin and is still unwilling to repent, he is to be treated like an unbeliever.

This is a very serious responsibility. Apparently God recognizes the disciplinary actions of His church.

Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:18-20)

When church leaders, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance, make a decision to discipline a sinner, God endorses it.

What does it mean, though, to treat a person like an unbeliever? Maybe we should put it this way: how do you treat unbelievers? Do you refuse to acknowledge them? Do you prohibit them from coming into church? Do you use the Internet to shame them?

Of course not. You treat them with love, hoping to bring them into the fold! That is how you should treat this unrepentant person. He may have to be removed from church leadership and church membership, but the goal is to win him back.

You have just lost a brother, one who should be very important to you. Just because he is hurt does not mean you want to cut him off from you forever.

I remember jamming my finger with a basketball several times when I was younger. If you have ever done that, you know how much it hurts. However, I did not cut it off so it would stop hurting, because I knew that would only make the situation worse. I wanted to take care of it so it would heal. When one part of the body is out of commission, the whole body hurts.

If we were to continue reading in Matthew 18, we would encounter Peter musing over these instructions of Jesus. Apparently he had experienced some run-ins with people and is curious about how many times forgiveness should be offered to those who hurt him. Knowing that God seemed to have an affinity for the number seven, he inquired, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus, however, refused to impose a limit on forgiveness. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).

In other words, shoot for reconciliation, regardless of how many times you have to forgive.

Click here to view the previous article, A Condescending Accusation.

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