Theme: Fraternal Correction
Text: Ezek. 33:7-9; Rom. 13:8-10; Matt. 18:15-20
The best news is good news but we very rarely hear any good news these days. Instead we hear about cheating, stealing, bribery and corruption, which have become a way of life. We hear about pornography, rape and other immoral sexual acts, which have become very common. We often hear about fraud and armed robbery and have become used to it. And now we are hearing about the practice of occultism on our university campus. The sad aspect is that such news does not seem to have any more effect on us. We have become so accustomed to these everyday acts that we no longer care. Instead we have become content to live for ourselves and not to worry about anyone else. We have conveniently forgotten what history has taught and continues to teach us that we do not have to be involved in a conflict to be affected by that conflict. Indeed conflict is the cause of so much of the pain that exists or has existed in the world. The reasons behind most conflicts are twofold. Another person has something we want and will not give it to us or we have been offended and must do something about it. Conflict takes up most of our time and energy and keeps us from doing what is really needed. A certain level of behaviour, however, is expected of Christians who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ but there is no Church at the moment that is free from conflict. But conflict can also lead to a greater reliance on the Holy Spirit. In dealing with bothers and sisters, friends and relatives in conflict situations fraternal correction under the guidance of the Holy Spirit can preserve their relationship with the Lord and with one another.
Pointing out sin is the responsibility of all Christians because God has made us watchmen. Very few people in the world today would consider themselves accountable and responsible for anything that happens in the society but the truth is that we are. Why do we consider ourselves accountable and responsible to what happens at our workplace and not in the society? Is it because we are paid for the work we do? Regardless of what we think God will hold us accountable when we know but fail to warn those who are sinning. As Christians we have a responsibility to take a stand against sin. Our primary responsibility to unbelievers around us is to see sin in their lives as an opportunity to share the gospel. We cannot help them deal effectively with sin if we do not share the gospel with them. Trying to correct each sin we see is like trying to make a dirty rag clean by pointing out the dirt instead of washing the rag. When dealing with our brothers and sisters who have already heard the gospel, we must confront them with their sin in such a way that they will repent and turn away from sin.
In olden times, cities were walled and watchmen were placed on towers to warn of any approaching danger. Especially at night while the whole city slept in peace the watchmen would stay awake and keep watch. The life of the whole city was in their hands. They were the first to know if there was any danger or if an enemy was approaching. The watchmen had to be alert, attentive, trustworthy, dependable, and focused. His main job was to warn the people of the enemy so that the people could defend themselves. What if the watchmen fell asleep or did not raise the alarm because he was afraid or scarred that he would be laughed at and embarrassed? Would you hold them responsible for the deaths of those they did not warn? As watchmen we are accountable to God if we do not warn the sinner of impending destruction. We will be held responsible if we make no effort to save a sinner or to restore a fallen brother or sister. Our individual responsibility also extends to our own walk with the Lord. Our Christian walk must measure up to Biblical standards because we cannot attempt to remove the speck in our brother’s eye with a plank in our own eye.
We cannot warn against sexual sins or any other sin when we ourselves are guilty of those sins. We must be concerned about sin and the harm it does to the sinner. Unfortunately many people who should be watchmen are only watching out for themselves and many people are dying in their sin. Are we telling people about Jesus? Are we sitting comfortably in our Churches and homes unconcerned about the many people who do not know the true way to peace and happiness? Are we too busy with our private lives to worry about anyone else - too busy with our own activities and pleasures to see the hurting and the lost?
As watchmen we are vulnerable on our own and only the power and grace of God can sustain us. This is available to us as we obey the Word of the Lord. Jesus has given clear instructions for dealing with sin in the church. To achieve the right results His instructions must be carried out under divine guidance. A quiet correction is always better than a public rebuke or worse yet – gossip. We should not see ourselves as accusers but as counsellors relying on the Word of God. We must make them understand and see the relevance of the Word of God in their particular situation. We are not to present ourselves as prosecuting attorneys presenting evidence and pronouncing guilt. We are to restore gently.
Sin within the body of believers weakens the Church and must be dealt with. We all know the story of Achan and the fight for Ai. Because of the sin of one man, the Israelites lost a battle they could have easily won. This makes us all responsible for each other and we should be concerned when there is sin in our midst. Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel reading answers the question of what should be done if a brother or sister sins against us. Jesus is not talking about conflicts and quarrels that stem from differences in personality and style but about conflicts and quarrels that result from sin. Sin can only be dealt with when the sinner repents and accepts responsibility for his or her action. If a brother or a sister sins against us we should first go to them and show them their fault keeping the matter between the two of us. The Church can become a very unsafe place when we involve others in our conflicts before we meet privately with the person involved. Satan loves it when we do this. Somehow he convinces us to air our conflicts with anyone but the person involved. The main motive behind this is really to build us up above somebody else in our own eyes or in the eyes of others. When this one on one approach does not have the desired effect we can then bring other people into the situation. The purpose is still to win your brother over. And if that also fails we are to bring it to the church. Hopefully, the offending brother or sister will recognize the authority of the church and be more ready to listen and more receptive to the solutions to the problem. If this also fails, he or she should be treated as a pagan or a tax collector. This means that although we do not allow them the privileges of a believer we continue to associate with them. This is because a person who refuses to be reconciled through all these steps has already removed himself from participating in the life of the Church. It is the same thing that happened to Adam and Eve. They were sent out of the Garden of Eden to protect them from eating of the tree of Life and being able to live in their sin forever, and be permanently out of a relationship with God. To be treated as a pagan and a tax collector is not to break all links with the person. The links are to be maintained so that they can still be won over. Jesus related to pagans and tax collectors. He appointed a tax collector as one of the twelve disciples and ate and stayed with them. We are dealing with people we deeply care for. We are dealing with brothers and sisters and with friends and relatives. When the church resorts to this extreme measure our hearts should be burdened to such an extent that we spend time in prayer asking for the Holy Spirit’s intervention in that person’s life. How do we relate to one another? Are we concerned when a brother or a sister sins? Do we even make the effort to restore them? How do we relate to those who have stopped fellowshipping with us because conflict situations have remained unresolved? Let us treat them in ways that make it possible for them to be restored. Let us pray for them. When we meet them let us say a kind word to them. Let us check up on them just to see how they are doing. Let us continue to love them.
Love is demonstrated through caring and we are commanded to love our neighbour. It involves being good to them and seeking their well-being. It involves seeking their protection and security. It involves warning them of sinful behaviour and sinful habits. The way we urge him to repent and to give up sin is very important. Our response to sin should be carried out in love and concern for the individual involved. Sin involves a conscious choice on the part of the offender. The action is known to be wrong and yet the choice is made to participate anyway and that is why we can only deal with the problem in love. Love involves the responsibility to warn our neighbours concerning their spiritual well being. Our Christian testimony to our neighbour in both words and the way we live our lives is very important.
Adam and Eve had a choice between the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead of choosing life they chose death. Everyday we make choices. Our choices either lead to life or to death – in our lives and in the lives of others. When we make the wrong choices God gives us the opportunity to be rescued and this is the duty of every believer. Jesus wants us to have the kind of Churches where He can rescue people. He wants us to be lifeguards and not umpires. When Jesus was teaching in the temple the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught in adultery. The Pharisees wanted her to sin no more and to them that meant judging her sin and giving her what she deserved according to the Law – death by stoning. Jesus also wanted her to sin no more so in love He offered her forgiveness and life so that she could live in righteousness. Both Jesus and the Pharisees were trying to accomplish the same thing. But one would have resulted in death and the other resulted in life. If we are true followers of Christ, we will put our love into action. If we are truly interested in being the church God has designed us to be, we will be devoted to loving people, no matter who they are or where they come from. If we are truly dedicated in fulfilling our mission to make disciples of all nations, we will love one another and we will love our neighbour as ourselves. To love our neighbour is to speak to them the truth of the gospel - to hate our neighbour is to keep silent and let them go to hell. When people are angry or bitter and living in unforgiveness it is our responsibility love them and share the gospel with them.
To worship God is the highest priority in the life of a Christian. But Jesus says that being reconciled with others takes precedence over our acts of worship. Get right with your brother or sister – then come and worship. Obviously if we need to get things straightened out with someone, that activity would take precedence over everything else too. Let’s imagine that after church all of us decide to go outside and play a game of football. And while we are playing, you break your leg. The break is painful and you cannot use your leg. A suggestion is made to take you to the hospital so that your leg can be treated. But you would rather wait and see if it would heal on its own. While most of us wouldn’t put off the treatment of a broken leg, the practice in church all too often is to postpone the treatment of broken relationships. And from God’s perspective, broken relationships among his children are far more serious than broken bones. What would you do to a man who allowed thousands of people to die without warning? What would your judgement be on him? Are we guilty? Are we that man or woman? How many people do you know that are going to Hell? How many friends do you know are going to Hell? How many family members do you have that are going to Hell? Have you warned them? God does not want anyone to perish. He wants us all to be with Him in Heaven. Will you be there in heaven? If you are not sure all you need to do is repent of your sin and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Amen!