Summary: When we stand before God to give an account of our life on earth, He won’t ask how many fences we made, but how many bridges we built.
Two brothers living on adjoining farms fell into conflict after 40 years of working together. It began with a small misunderstanding, grew to a major difference, and finally exploded in an exchange of bitter words, followed by weeks of silence.
One morning, there was a knock on the older son’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. "I'm looking for a few days' work," he said. "Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with?
Yes," he said, "I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm; that's my younger brother! Last week, there was a meadow between us, but he took his bulldozer and dug a creek between us. I'm going to do him one better. See that pile of old lumber? I want you to build an 8 foot high fence between us so I can't see his farm or his face anymore." The carpenter said, "Show me the nails and the tools, and I'll do a good job for you."
The older brother went to town for the day. When he returned at sunset, this eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. There was no fence at all. Instead, the carpenter had built a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other, handrails and all!
His younger brother came toward them with an outstretched hand. "You're quite the guy," he said, "after all I've said and done." The two brothers met in the middle, and shook each other's hand. When they saw the carpenter leaving they said, "Wait! Stay a few days. We have other projects for you." "I'd love to," the carpenter said, "but I have many more bridges to build."
1. It’s wonderful to hear scripture passages that uplift, encourage and affirm us. But what happens when the word confronts us with a subject that makes us uncomfortable? Our text from Matthew’s Gospel falls into this category.
2. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) provides four scriptures for each Sunday/special day. I’ve followed the RCL texts in my preaching since 2003 and find it quite beneficial:  We share common scriptures with churches all over the world (community);  Reading the lections takes us into nearly every book of the Bible in a three year period, (broad exposure to scripture) and  I like the challenge of working through a pre-selected text (discipline): this prevents me from preaching favorite passages while ignoring the rest of the Bible.
3. When I read the gospel lesson I was reminded of the value of difficult texts. OYBT Mt. 18.
1. Jesus just warned his disciples not to cause any of the “little ones” to stumble, referring initially to children, but extending the analogy to the lowly, common people who sought him. His words now address those already in the Messianic community. He knows there will be conflicts among them, and turns his perspective from an inside-out view to an outside-in view.
2. Jesus provides a specific model for building bridges between those in conflict in the church: a model that forms the basis of our study and is a powerful, albeit difficult, lesson for us: What to do if your brother sins against you.
3. Before we begin, we must distinguish between sinning against you and simply annoying you. Jesus has no words on the latter, which tells us how important it is (or isn’t).
A. Ask yourself “What sin is being committed and where does the Bible address that sin?” Be specific, and test your answer against scripture. If it passes, Jesus’ model will guide you; if it doesn’t, you have a different problem (notice the emphasis on you).
[When we stand before God to give an account of our life on earth, He won’t ask how many fences we made, but how many bridges we built.]
III. STEP #1: ADMONISH YOUR BROTHER (SISTER) PRIVATELY (15)
1. Jesus’ teaching contrasted that of the Jews, who preferred that the offender seek forgiveness first (as many as three times, before witnesses). Interestingly, Jesus affirms that reprimand must precede punishment. The offender must have opportunity to repent.
2. If he listens, you have won him over. By starting privately, the offender has the opportunity for forgiveness and restoration while saving face in the community (i.e., church).
3. This is the hardest step in the process, and therefore is usually dismissed in lieu of gossip.
IV. STEP #2: TAKE A FEW WITNESSES WITH YOU (16)
1. At first glance it is unclear whether the witnesses are to support the confronting brother by bringing additional testimony about the sin committed or provide witness to the confrontation itself, should the issue go before the entire church (I lean to the latter; the former requires three witnesses to the sin committed, an unlikely resolve in this context).