One of the most heartbreaking things in the life of any Christian is when a loved one refuses to repent of their sin. This is true in both a nuclear family and a church family. Exactly what are we to do when someone who professes to be a Christian decides to live in a lifestyle of sin? What do we do as the Church, and what do we do as individuals?
The goal in all Christian relationships is the reconciliation and restoration of the sinning brother or sister to the fellowship of believers. In undertaking any disciplinary action, the motive is not “punishment” but love.
Matthew 18 makes the process clear.
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.Matthew 18:15-18 (NASB)
This passage is often misunderstood to mean we are to “kick people out of the church” because they are sinning. It is viewed as punitive, harsh, and cruel among those who do not understand it and among some who have been placed under it. It is assumed that those who apply this passage are judgmental and unloving. While I won’t argue that point (because this passage has been misused in those very ways), the overall intention and application of the process speaks of nothing less than Christ-like love for a wandering sheep.
The application of Matthew 18 is an obligation of the Christian to the Christian and an obligation of the Church to her members. Ironically, the first verse (15) is played out every single day over the phone, over coffee at Starbucks, in your small group Bible studies, and in other discipleship type relationships. It is the thing loving friends and family members do for one another when they see someone heading for trouble or deeper waters.
It looks like Galations 6:1
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.Galatians 6:1-2 (NASB)
Think about how often you listen to a friend who start to tell you her struggle with something you know is sinful. Perhaps she becomes overly angry when disciplining her kids, or she is bitter and resentful toward her parents or husband. It could be anything! One misunderstanding is that we are to only confront the “big stuff” like adultery, but I tell you that if we intervened earlier on “smaller” sins, things might never get to the “tell it to the church” stage in some of these cases.
Our example for this series will be “Pat”, who professes to be a Christian and grew up in a Christian home. Pat has struggled in living her professed faith most of her life. She has now gone away to school and lives out of the area. Over the internet Pat reconnected with an old friend, “Dan,” and they renewed their friendship via a social networking site. Things quickly progressed between them, and Pat and Dan now are dating long distance. They speak daily for hours over the phone and message each other all day long on their cell phones.
Dan is not a Christian and has somewhat of a checkered past. Therefore, when Pat shares her excitement with her Christian friend, Jean, there is little joy in the hearer of this news. This is where Christian love must take over! If Pat is confronted early on by Jean and challenged biblically (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1), the situation may not get to the point of a full blown relationship between Pat and Dan.
We are to love one another enough to confront and challenge one another biblically. This is most effective when you use the Word of God as your sword.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.Hebrews 4:12 (NASB)
God’s Word is more effective at convicting our hearts than personal opinion will ever be. A Christian simply cannot argue with the Word and win! My wonderful husband frequently says, “The Word cuts us up,” and he is correct!
Your approach should be that of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) to help that person to the point of repentance.
Not everyone responds to the corrective measures the first time, so diligence is needed, repeated attempts are needed, and perseverance is needed. How many times? As many as it takes. As often as is possible until the point when you are convinced that you are being heard and discounted. When you reach that point, it is time for the next step.
Check back in next week for part two of this series.