Friday, September 18, 2015

Sin in the Congregation

Are there Bible commands that are optional? I’m not talking about details under the Old Law like not eating pork or issues that may relate to culture like head-coverings. I am talking about the clear and direct commands of Jesus Christ. Do we have optional commands? We certainly have some that are rarely practiced, hardly noticed, and generally ignored.  Why?  They require such humility, selflessness, honesty and forgiveness that we read right over them with barely a glance. 

I’m talking about the Bible’s methods for dealing with sin.

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 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. (Matthew 18:15-17)*

This a command.  Just like a thousand other commands that we insist that we and others follow.   There is no bowing out, no hoping someone else (like our elders or our ministers) will be responsible for us.  This is the way Jesus commands that we deal with sin in our midst.  

Let’s imagine a scenario. 

You are at the grocery store grabbing three things before dinner.  You hear a brother’s booming voice one aisle over.  You are on the way to say hello, when you hear him speak to his wife in a way he shouldn’t speak to a dog.  You don’t want to interfere but as you step away you are shocked by his venom.  What do you do?

This one is tough because there are gender issues involved.  You can’t necessarily ask him to have coffee, and the grocery store is not the place for a private conversation.  But you could call him on the phone, explain what you heard and let him know that he was not displaying the gentle love that Christ has for the church for his wife. 

Could you call an elder and ask for some advice?  Or maybe consult with your husband before giving him a call?  Much depends on Jesus’ exact words.* However there is no escaping the fact that your brother's sin has become your personal responsibility. 

What if on the flip-side, we are the problem?  How does Jesus say we must deal with our own sin and the chaos it causes in our relationships?

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.(Matthew 5:23-24)
Jesus is making us uncomfortable again.  If we are the source of the conflict in our church, it is our responsibility to go to our brother and make it right.  It’s our responsibility to do it NOW before we go on with our everyday life of loving God and serving Him.  

What will it take for us to actually practice Jesus’ words?  Courage.  It is scary to go to a sibling and tell them about their sin.  Love.  We have to care a lot about someone to risk rocking the boat.  Humility.  Our pride takes a beating when we go and confess our wrong and ask a brother’s forgiveness.  


We have to want to follow Jesus in these difficult command as much as in the easier ones. 

Any body of believers who humbly followed these two commands would be inoculated against the viruses of dissension and division that so often plague our churches as well as have a much lower rate of saints drifting off into sin and leaving their first love. I know it’s hard, uncomfortable, scary and painful but change in a congregation starts with one believer who follows Jesus with all her heart, even when it’s hard.


*There is a significant amount of ambiguity in the Greek text. If you check several versions you will see that in about half of them first phrase is “If a brother sins against you.”  Two words translated “against you” appear in some manuscripts but not others. However I am confident that the point that we are responsible personally to confront in all love any brother or sister who is practicing sin can be supported from other passages. For example, James 5:19-20 says, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Regardless of whether we were simply witnesses or the recipient of the sin, we are commanded not to turn a blind eye to our brothers.  


  1. Good morning, Helene,

    This is a hard one, isn't it!

    Of all the passages in the NT, I think Matthew 18 is one of the most abused and overlooked.

    There are people who love to confront and find fault - almost as if they get their thrills from it. Then, there are others of us who never confront - almost as if they are afraid to do so.

    I think balance and much prayer and love are needed for this this passage to be followed well. I know I've been praying to personally handle conflict in a wiser way.

    Thanks for a post that made me think and will make other people think as well! Good word.

    Found you on Blessings Counter.
    Hope you have a blessed day~

  2. Good Morning,
    I'm so glad you stopped by to talk about this. I forget about the fault finders but Jesus makes it very clear and humorous (log and speck) that He's not willing to put up with that nonsense. Perhaps the next post about conflict I write needs to be about the love that drives it! Thanks for making me think this morning!
    In Christ's love,

  3. Hello Helene,
    This is a hard one.. I haven't personally taken time to study this commands. I just read through them, make some analogy and I'm off. Your post made me to go back to take a very close look at that Scripture. And I'm glad I did.
    Christ is making us responsible for restoring each other back when we sin. This is really hard, as we often easily fall to criticizing the fellow, fault finding, and sometimes isolating the person.
    He talks about meeting the person in private first, before announcing it to the 'public' as we often do. This is exactly opposite of what we have in this part of the world. When you sin, the norm is to condemn, scold, and everything possible in front of whoever is there...

    This teaching is an eye opener and something worthy of note and practice. Thank you Helene for sharing.
    It blessed me.
    Your neighbour at Soul Survival Link up.

    Do you mind, sharing this post with some other amazing bloggers at EncourageMe Linkup @

    God Bless you always.

  4. Grace,
    Thank you so much for your kind words. I know that this is not an easy topic to talk about and I am so glad that you found it eye opening. I'm jumping over to the EncourageME Linkup right now to link the post up!

  5. Just visiting today from Strangers & Pilgrims, and what a timely message.

    Many times, through no fault of our own, we are confronted with a situation that then must be dealt with. In the situation you mentioned with the brother speaking unkindly to his wife, I would have my husband visit with the man one on one, and mention what you heard... and it is like you said, following the words of Christ with all your heart means many times you need to do things that make you uncomfortable. However, to have the body of Christ healthy... this is what it takes. If you love your child, you don't let them get away with bad behavior, but correct them, and this in turn produces a child who understands discipline, and is happier for it.

    Wonderful post this morning to read :)

  6. Just some food for thought...
    The commandment doesn't say you must "confront the sinner" RIGHT NOW. In some circumstances it might be better to wait and see what isn't immediately apparent. In your example, you may not know that the man saw the look on his wife's face, felt regret, and apologized to her down the next aisle. (In which case, your preaching isn't even needed). Or, you may also not know that he actually beats his wife or emotionally abuses her...and when you "confront him with his sin" he may take it out on her. (In which case you've now caused her even more grief).

    This is the danger in feeling the need to immediately confront people with their sin. And we need to be careful that it really is SIN that we confront them with. Speaking poorly to one's spouse is a horrible thing to do...but it doesn't violate any of the 10 Commandments. There's a fine line between confronting a sinner and just being a Sister-Bertha-Better-Than-You.

  7. Jill thank you so much for your thoughts! I see exactly what you mean. We must absolutely have discernment, be patient, find a good moment, and even look for a trend of sinful behavior. Yet. Yet none of those sensible things negates our absolute responsibility to both give and receive correction in the relationships in the church. I think that question of relationship might be the key. If all I see of my sisters and brothers is an hour on Sunday mornings we won't have a relationship to basis correction upon! Thanks again for your good points.