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How To Approach A Sinning & Unrepentant Fellow Believer

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“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
(Matthew 18:15-20 ESV)


Today we continue to study Jesus’ instructions on how Christians should handle the situation where a fellow believer is living in sin. Yesterday we learned that we should go, in private, to this person to discuss his or her alleged offense. If that person listens to us then our part is done.

But if he (or she) does not listen we are to go back to him/her, taking one or two others along with us. This command by Jesus is consistent with God’s law that was established hundreds of years prior. In the law God gave to Moses He declared that an allegation of wrongdoing was to be confirmed by two or three witnesses [Deuteronomy 19:15]. This prevented people from being falsely accused by a single person who might have a bias or who is simply overreacting.

These witnesses can act as impartial judges to establish whether a sin was actually committed or not. Perhaps they have noticed the same sinful behavior of our brother/sister and can help that person see the truth by corroborating what we said in private. At the very least, they will be able to confirm that the brother/sister was approached. This will be important should the person continue to refuse to listen.

If that happens we are to tell his/her sin to the church. Notice how the circle of people involved widens as the sinner continues to deny his sin. What started out as a private matter becomes semi-private then becomes public if the person refuses to change his/her ways. At this point the entire church should call upon the brother/sister to repent.

But if he refuses to listen even to the church then he/she should be put outside the church, just as a Gentile or tax collector was not permitted to be part of the Jewish community. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it prevents others in the church from being influenced by the sinner. As we learned yesterday, God’s desire for us to be holy (i.e. pure). Removing sin from our circle of influence is a big part of that.

But removing the person from the Christian community is also meant to help them. Hopefully they will miss the blessing of fellowshipping with other believers and will come to realize the error of their ways, repent, and return. If they do we should rejoice just like God does in heaven [Matthew 18:10-13].

Sadly, very few Christians or churches approach sin the way Jesus tells us to in this passage. Usually we ignore it because we don’t want to make waves or think it’s none of our business. But ignoring it is sin, since Jesus’ words here are commands. He is not giving us optional advice.

Finally, notice that God doesn’t command His children to disassociate ourselves from sinful non-believers; only from sinful believers [1 Corinthians 5:9-13]. We need to associate with nonbelievers in order to be a light to them. We need to disassociate from sinful believers for the same reason. We cannot be light to the world (or the sinner) when we permit darkness to exist in our midst.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.

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