While it is easy for us to understand that we are charged with not being the offender toward a fellow Christian (Matt. 18:7-14), it is somewhat perplexing for us to think that we also have a responsibility toward the one who offends us. Matthew recorded these words of Jesus in 18:15, “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” What? Is Jesus saying that since my brother in Christ mistreated me in some way that now I have to go to him and rebuke him? But he offended me! Yes, but he might not realize it. He may be under an unusually high amount of stress at his job. His wife or child may be very ill. Perhaps he simply does not care. Regardless of the reason, Jesus said to go alone and rebuke him. If the brother is as humble as he should be, he will repent and we will have gained back our brother. If the disagreement comes down to our word against the offender’s, as there are no other witnesses, we must drop the issue. Each Christian should strive to live in peace even if confronted with a difficult and unrepentant brother (Rom. 14:19). We have done our duty by going to him alone. There are without doubt some brethren who are above rebuke both in their own mind, such as Diotrephes (3 Jn. 9-11), and in the minds of others, hence the need for other witnesses.
If the brother will not hear our rebuke Jesus instructs us to go back to the offender, this time taking one or two others with us to witness what is taking place (Matt. 18:16). Under Mosaic Law, two or three witnesses were required to convict an offender (Deut. 19:15). The precedent was not removed when that covenant ended, as Paul wrote that before an elder can be accused of wrongdoing, there must be “two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. 5:19). If the offending brother listens to us and the other witness or witnesses, and subsequently repents, we have gained our brother. We have saved a soul from death, hiding a multitude of sins, according to James 5:20.
When we have gone to him and he ignores us or denies the charge, and we have then taken one or two other witnesses with us and he still will not listen, we must take the case before the church (Matt. 18:17). It is the church’s duty to then rebuke him as one body. If he still refuses to repent, Jesus said, “Let him be as an heathen man and a publican.” He has decided that he will not subject himself to the authority of the commands of Matthew 18 and, therefore, he is to be treated as one who is not a member of the church. The church must do her duty to ensure that he knows that he is no longer a part of her. He is not to be then mistreated, but to be the subject of prayers and good will so that he may one day see the error of his ways and repent (1 Cor. 5:4-5). The authority for such action is binding here on earth and in heaven if, of course, the case is handled correctly and Jesus’ commandments are followed concerning it. It must also be recognized by all other faithful congregations. So it behooves the congregation in question to let it be known to other nearby congregations. Throughout the entire process, we must remember the end goal, and that is to gain our brother (2 Thes. 3:14-15).
Wade preaches for the Twin City church of Christ in Batesburg-Leesville, SC
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