Recently, my wife and I had an opportunity to see X-Men: Days of Future Past. My wife was quick to point out that her favorite mutant is Mystique. Why, is that? Her ability to morph into anybody she’d like. Cool enough, I’ll admit. But my favorite hero just so happens to be Professor Xavier. Not just because I’d like to one day become a professor (I do!), but because of his supernatural ability to read minds. Ever wonder what people really have on their mind? What they may be thinking about you? I am reminded of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who, in contrast to the make-believe Professor Xavier, is able to read minds. The scripture teaches us that Jesus “knew what [men] were thinking” (Luke 6:8). We, unfortunately, do not know what each other are thinking, unless, of course, we speak up.
There has been a resurgence happening over the last 20 years that aims to put the Cross of Christ back at the center of Christianity. Because of this, confession and repentance have, once again, become a necessary part of the life of both, the individual believer, and the corporate body of Christ. Unfortunately, however, there is some extremism happening within the church that does not capture the heart of the Gospel-goal of reconciliation. When someone sins against you, or against the church, there is an immediate sense of withdrawing from fellowship with the offender, without a hint of grace that seeks the restoration of all parties involved. Moreover, like many of us who had to, first, hear the Gospel, often times people need to hear what they have done wrong (this may be especially true for new believers, who lack the maturity necessary to see many of their own flaws). Because of this truth, the Bible calls on the offended party to be the one to confront the sin of the believer, for the sake of repentance and restoration.
In Matthew 18, Jesus is schooling His disciples on issues like temptation, the perseverance of the believer, and sin and forgiveness. It is in v. 15 that Jesus says:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
The first condition here is “if your brother sins against you.” First we must realize that, our brother who has sinned against us is still our brother. We should treat him as such. Yes, he’s sinned against you. Yes, your feelings are hurt and perhaps you are angry. But, at this point, he is still your brother and should not yet be regarded as an infidel. Church discipline should not yet happen, at this point.
Secondly, Jesus gives an imperative: “go and tell him his fault.” Go, meaning go. No hidden meaning there. Go to his house. Go to him after church. Go to the local coffee shop and talk about it over a cup of espresso. Just go! Next, you must tell him his fault. As difficult as this may be, especially for the more severe offences, it must be done. You must communicate to your offender the way in which they have offended you. How else would they know, unless you have told them exactly what it was and how it affected you? Even King David, a “mature” man of faith, a man after the heart of God, had to have Nathan the Prophet, come and expose David’s own sin to him. Sometimes, the sin is so severe, that it deceives the offender into suppressing it and attempting to cover it up. But it must be shown to them, for their sake, and for the sake of the life of the Church.
Thirdly, it must be pointed out that v. 15b says to tell him his fault “between you and him alone.” It does not say to shun your brother and proceed to defame his name by spreading the news of his sin around town. At this point, it does not even mention bringing in another brother, or even your pastor. You are to, first and foremost, confront your brother alone. But, fear not, for Jesus promises that He will be there with you (v. 20).
Lastly, if your brother “listens to you” (other translations include confesses), then you have “gained your brother.” This is the great aim of our faith to begin with; that is—to be ministers of reconciliation. We are to offer up the same grace and love for sinners, as Christ has offered us. If you have confronted the brother, or sister, who has sinned against you, told them of their wrongdoing, and they listen and confess to you, then reconciliation is warranted. In fact, reconciliation is essential. Further down in Matthew 18, Jesus responds to Peter’s question of how often one should forgive by telling a parable. In a nutshell, the parable illustrates that, because of the magnitude of God’s forgiveness for us, we too, ought to forgive others, whose sin against us is incomparable to the way in which we have sinned against God. But, if your brother does not listen, or confess, well, we’ll save that for another blog post.