Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dealing With Sin In The Church

Matthew 18:15-20

“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matthew 18:15)

Jesus had just explained that things were going to happen that offended or hurt people.  He then described how that a shepherd would put the others in a safe place then go out and seek one that was lost, stressing that he had come for those who were lost.  In conjunction with those teachings he begins to explain how to deal with a fellow Christian who is doing wrong.

The first step is to approach him calmly and privately.  Sometimes our perception of what happened is incorrect, and other times they don’t realize they did anything hurtful or offensive.  The goal is not to embarrass them but to get things straightened out.  If you are successful in working things out the relationship will be strengthened.

“But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.:” (Matthew 18:16)

If you are unable to straighten things out privately, then you take two or three impartial witnesses who can verify everything that is said and judge what is actually right and advise how to work things out.  If they are successfully worked out, the matter should go no further.

“And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” (Matthew 18:17)

If the meeting with two or three others produced no resolution of the problem, then the person should be brought before the whole church and confronted with the whole church’s opinion and judgment so there is no question as to whether he is doing wrong.  It is not just one or two people but the entire church that is offended by what he is doing.  The goal is still to work things out, but if the person refuses, then the church is to put him out, essentially to suspend his membership.  They are not to shun him but to treat him as they would any other unsaved person in hopes that he will decide the friendship matters more than what he is doing.

“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)

Once again, Jesus reminds us that earthly actions have eternal consequences.  Things that are not straightened out here will be addressed in heaven, and the goal is to work things out and make them right here on earth.  The common practice of allowing the pastor and a couple of representatives he chooses confront the accused instead of following all the steps Jesus described is an unscriptural approach that frequently results in rebellion rather than reconciliation. 

“Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

Many today think that larger groups have more spiritual power to get things done.  Jesus said if two or three are there and in agreement, they have all the power of God present with them.  God told Gideon to send most of his people home because they would depend on the crowd’s strength rather than on God.  God doesn’t need a big crowd, and frequently a large crowd gets in the way, hindering rather than helping.


  1. Great post, Donald! Our pastor taught on this topic just last week. Unfortunately, rather than follow the Biblical procedure, the first response is often to gossip with others about the alleged offense, when often the "offender" does not even realize that his words or actions were perceived wrongly. By the time he finds out, irreparable damage has been done. And, as you say, having the pastor and his representatives confront the person should happen only if needed when the preceding Biblical steps have failed. A friend of mine who attended another church was shocked by a surprise visit from her pastor and two elders who criticized her because the car of her male friend was parked at her house for a weekend. He was visiting from out of town and was a friend not only of hers, but of her two teen sons, and all of them spent time together visiting local attractions. At night, he slept alone in the guest room. She was so hurt at the suggestion of any impropriety that she and her boys not only left that church, but began avoiding churches altogether. It is true that one should abstain even from the appearance of evil, but this was clearly not the Scriptural way to handle this situation.
    God bless,

  2. I have seen the saem thing happen over and over, and numerous people have been turned away just as your friend was, even when no wrong was done. Many times. even when the person had done wrong and the pastor adn elders were allowed to put the person out of the church without the rest of the church's involvement, there is a sense that the pastor was out to get the, rather than a recognition that they were doing wrong.