Conflicts cause great damage to relationships when left unresolved. In our home and in the churches I have pastored, we teach and practice something we call instant reconciliation.
Jesus said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15-17; see also Matthew 5:23-24).
Let’s break it down.
1. Christ is speaking about a brother. This passage applies only to believers.
2. Jesus is talking about sin. “If a brother sins….” The Greek word used is hamartano (to miss the mark and not share in the prize). The mark is God’s holy law. It means that we should not take offense over personality differences, cultural differences, socioeconomic differences, etc.
3. The sin committed is personal – it is against you and not someone else. Christ is discussing private offenses and not public sins. If the sin is committed against you alone, or if you observe a brother commit a sin in private, then you are required to keep the matter private and go to your brother. Public sins are handled in a different manner. A sin that is public and known by the whole church requires a public rebuke and repentance.
If a disciple overhears a conversation between two believers in which he thinks something offensive was said by one believer to another, it is the person’s responsibility to whom the statement was directed to either overlook the matter in love or confront the person who made the statement. The person who overheard the conversation has absolutely no business taking offense and spreading the matter around the church when the person to whom the statement was made has not taken offense and would like to drop the matter altogether. If you believe that a brother is covering a sin that is so serious that you think it needs to be dealt with, then go to him privately and discuss it. But Christians who go about the church and meddle in affairs that should not concern them are gossips and busybodies and unnecessarily disturb the peace of Christ’s church. Gossip is sin (Prov. 11:13, 16:28; 2 Cor. 12:20).
4. The offended brother is to go and confront the brother who sinned in private and alone. “You, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” This is the first command in the text. This is a divine imperative from the heart and lips of God. This procedure for dealing with a brother who has committed sin is not optional for disciples. These are not suggestions. These are not just words of advice.
Often when accusations are leveled against a brother behind his back and spread throughout the church and the accuser and accused disagree, factions or camps will develop within the church. People have a tendency to take sides in a dispute. When those on opposite sides become heated and obstinate, often the result is a serious schism among the brethren. How many churches have a split because someone did not obey Christ’s simple command to go to a brother privately and keep the matter secret? Such divisions often take years to heal. It is a great sin to bring dissension and strife into the body of Christ. Church leaders have a solemn responsibility to ensure that Christ’s instructions are followed. Those who disobey Christ and bring strife and bitterness into the church must be rebuked publicly before all. When shepherds know that Christ’s command has been violated and yet do nothing, they are partly to blame for the chaos this brings to God’s Church.
Why are we to go to our brother?
You are there to bring about Biblical reconciliation. The passage says: “If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” Which means that the erring brother has agreed with you, admitted his sin and that you are now reconciled with your brother. But what is Biblical reconciliation?
Whenever sin is involved it is simply not enough to say “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Jay Adams explains why: “An apology is an inadequate humanistic substitute for the real thing. Nowhere do the Scriptures require, or even encourage, apologizing. To say ‘I’m sorry’ is a human dodge for doing what God has commanded.” The Biblical response is to say: “Yes, I am guilty. I have sinned against you. Will you forgive me?” The reason that an apology is inadequate when actual sin has occurred is because it does not elicit a proper Biblical response. When a Christians admits his guilt and then says, “Will you forgive me?”, the Christian who has come to confront him regarding his sin must say, “Yes, I forgive you.” This places the ball in his court. He must either explicitly forgive or openly rebel against God. When the brother says, “I forgive you,” he promises never to bring the matter up against you; never to bring the matter up again to others (including spouses); and never to bring the matter up by dwelling on it and dredging up bitterness, etc. This is Biblical reconciliation. Apologies are fine when you accidentally bump into someone at the shopping mall but they should never be used as a substitute for Biblical reconciliation.
Don’t let this day end before you begin to work on mending broken relationships in your life – the children are watching and will learn by your example. Be a doer, not just a hearer of God’s Word.
Grow in grace and truth.