Matthew 18:15 (New International Version)
A Brother Who Sins Against You
‘If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.’
Galatians 6:1 (New International Version)
Doing Good to All
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
In a fallen world, where every individual rules his sphere of influence much like (as Pastor John Burke phrases it in his book entitled “Soul Revolution”) a monarch rules a kingdom, war is bound to break out from time to time. Conflict between people is inevitable. Jesus himself consistently ran into conflict with the religious leaders of his day on nearly every subject relevant to traditional Judaism.
It is important to remember that as unpleasant as it can be, conflict is not inherently a bad thing. I maintain that it is quite good. Nearly every discernible improvement in my character was preceded by conflict. I hurt someone’s feelings with poorly chosen words. When that person lets me know, I am able to apologize and try again. If multiple people have similar encounters with me, I can learn that I have a problem communicating with tact. Then I am aware of a weakness in my personality, which I can then seek the Lord’s help to strengthen.
Just as pain can be an indicator that something has gone awry in our physical bodies, so, too, can conflict reveal “broken” behavior in our interactions with others. Conflict is inevitable. How we handle it is what gives us the opportunity to bring life and healing to a potentially difficult situation.
I love to study the two verses above, side by side. Both make it clear what kind of behavior requires confrontation (sin). One reveals the method I am to use to address my offender (show the fault in private). While the other tells me both the manner in which I am to speak to him (gently), as well as my aim in coming to him in the first place (restoration).
When my brother commits a sin against me – let’s stop there. I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten my nose out of joint over not sin, but preference. When I think of how much time I have wasted in battle over an issue of little consequence to God, I am ashamed. When I realize that I feel offended (sometimes I am not always certain) by the actions of another, I try to remember to ask God, “Which one of us is trippin,’ Lord?” I am diligently at work on adopting an attitude that maintains, if our difference doesn’t keep either of us out of heaven, or cause either one of us to have to go to heaven, then I’m good. I isn’t easy because I am picky.
I just don’t think in the greater scheme of things that it will matter much if my husband folds the laundry his way or mine, or if my cousin always takes the first Saturday in the month for her child’s birthday party, even though our children share the same birth date. Similarly, it can’t be right to get hung up on whether or not “proper” baptism occurs by immersion or by sprinkling, when millions of people in the world go to bed hungry every night. I’m just sayin.’
Once I’ve figured out that my “issue” with my brother or sister is actually a sin, not a preference, I am to confront – but gently. I cannot even count how many times I have “missed the mark” with this one. Whether I was determined to “tell her about herself,” “let him know” or “give her a piece of my mind (as though I have any to spare),” I have lumbered through a confrontation with all the finesse of an eager toddler attempting to pet a newborn kitten. “GENTLY, SHEERI!” I can almost imagine the Holy Spirit screaming in vain. Too late, my mouth is already open. And now I’m sinnin,’ too and better! Yeah, there is plenty of blame to go around.
And how about that “just between the two of you” part? If I had a nickel for every time I jacked that one up. In the past, by “venting” to my friend about another friend, I’ve really just given myself permission to air that other person’s dirty laundry. But it’s not gossip, though, because it actually happened to me (As I write this, I find myself wondering if the Lord ever rolls his eyes in disgust at our “rational lies”). Although confiding in one person may be understandable, telling your bible study group is a fail. Oh! And my personal (least)favorite is when we believers share another’s dirt in the name of “praying” for that person. That stunt goes way back, like sweat socks and flip flops – and is equally as wrong.
The last, but most crucial component of biblical confrontation is this: Motive. What is your purpose in confronting another? If you just want to hear yourself talk, prove your point, express yourself, or “tell ‘em how you feel,” then firmly close your mouth and sit down. I beg you.
When confronting another, the motive of our hearts must be to “restore,” or to “win” the person. Both words indicate that the person was okay, but now is not. Our mission is to figure out what happened and bring him/her back. “Back to where?” you may ask. If the problem is indeed a sin-issue, and not a matter of preference, then we, who have (presumably) unbroken fellowship with God, are to help return our brother or sister to the fold. Any sin separates us from God and thus from each other. If my husband yells at me, even for a good reason, my feelings may be hurt (and they would be), but my primary concern should be that in his sin, he has broken fellowship with God, the source of life.
As a paramedic’s every action cooperates with his mission: to get the patient to the doctor, so my behavior should cooperate with my motive: to bring my brother or sister to the Doctor. I am to restore my brother or sister by gently, privately confronting him or her about the sin I have witnessed, so that first his/her relationship with God can be restored, then so that (s)he and I can be reconciled to one another.
I am embarrassed to say that I fail most often at this last part. If I’m honest, my motive in confrontation is often just to be right. But I and others like me, must answer the question: Is it more important to be right, or right with God?
Dear Lord, let it be the latter from this point on. Amen.
Be blessed, Family!