Summary: What to do when a brother or sister in the faith sins.
CORRECTING AND FORGIVING SIN
Scripture Reading: Psalm 103: 1 - 7
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18: 15 - 35
In today’s gospel reading Jesus addresses the question of what to do when you find a member of the congregation in sin. Our English translations of the bible have it, "When a brother sins against you," but many of the ancient writings have it "When a brother sins." The against you is not included. In either case you, a Christian, have observed a brother or sister Christian committing sin.
Jesus says that when that happens you should go to the sinner to discuss the matter and try to help get him or her back on the right path. Jesus is saying in effect that as a Christian you have a duty to do this. It is a duty of Christian love. You know that if that person continues to sin his or her soul can very well be lost to Satan. How can you love your neighbor and allow that to happen without making some effort to save the sinner. Recognizing the duty that is here, Paul, in Galatians 6:1 says, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him Gently,"
Gently. Note now in verse 15 Jesus says to "go and show him his fault, just between the two of you." Don’t embarrass this person by making him or her a public spectacle. If you do that you may be sure you will have greatly weakened any friendship you may have had and may have chased away a member of the congregation and all opportunity for correction of the fault. When I was in the Air Force I attended leadership school. One of the things that I learned there has always stood strong in my memory. It was "Complement in public, but criticize in private." I’m sure that most of us here have experienced the negative aspects of both sides of that admonition How many times have you wanted to go hide someplace because some fool came shouting at you in front of everybody for some mistake you may have made? And how about the times that you did something good and nobody ever recognized you for having done it? Jesus is saying in verse 15 to first go to the sinner privately. It may be that the two of you can work things out without anybody else becoming involved. If that happens the bond between you will certainly be strengthened, and you will have been instrumental in helping your neighbor back into the paths of righteousness.
I want to point out here that before you say that a person has sinned, you had better make sure that what they have done is indeed a sin. Too many people have some very misguided ideas about what constitutes sin. Often these people pick out one verse from the bible and they hang everything on that one verse or paragraph without ever checking the rest of the chapter, book or bible to see what additional things are said on that same subject. It’s also necessary to check the meaning of some words as they were originally used. For example: in our English translations of the Ten Commandments the sixth commandment says "Thou shalt not kill." Does that mean if I kill an animal to eat it I have sinned? How about a cabbage? I kill it when I eat it. And don’t forget those weeds in the garden for crying out loud!! Are our soldiers guilty for killing in a war? There are some who say they are. The truth is that the word that has been mistranslated kill is the Hebrew word ratsach (raw-tsakh’) that most correctly translates to murder. Now I’m sure that we all understand the difference between murder and killing. Murder of course is killing, but it is of a human being and always for evil motives. Again I say, before you judge somebody to have sinned, be sure they really have.
What happens if the sinner won’t admit to his or her sin, or refuses to change. Do you just turn away and say "Oh well!!" No!! Jesus goes on to say that others should be called in to reinforce the effort to turn the sinner to repentance. Jesus says first two or three others who can witness to your efforts and maybe to supply their own testimony on the same matter. When all else fails, the whole congregation is brought in, and finally if the sinner obstinately refuses to repent he is to be treated by the congregation as a person that has never been saved. He is to be no longer a member of the congregation with all the privileges that go with that membership. In 1 Corinthians 5: 2, Paul says concerning a man who has been caught committing adultery with his father’s wife. Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this." And in 4 he goes on to say "When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord."