Friday, March 17, 2006

Do unto others . . .

Matthew 18:15-17 states, "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. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."

This passage--and others like Mathhew 7:1-5 which deal with the same subject--confounds Christians. My misuse it. We misinterpret it. We deliberately ignore it when it suits us. But seldom do we live by it. We think a fellow Christian sins; so, instead of talking to that person, we decide to tell our twenty closest friends. We gossip about it before church services. We write anonymous letters to people in positions of authority. But we don’t talk to the fellow Christian we think has sinned. We don’t stop to get our facts straight. We skip right to the part where we treat the person "like a heathen and a tax collector".

As the liturgy--and indeed, our own experience--tells us, we are by nature sinful and unclean. No matter how hard we try to obey the Law of God, we cannot perfectly obey every mandate He sets before us. This includes the mandate contained in Matthew 18. We are all guilty. There is not one of us who can cast the first stone in this matter. Our sinful nature does not, however, excuse us from striving to treat each other as the Christian brothers and sisters we are. Notice that Jesus said right off, "If your brother sins against you . . ." We are not talking about dealing with strangers here; we are speaking of how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ! In the Lord’s Prayer we say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." God forbid our Brother, Jesus, would treat us the way we treat each other! Our Lord does not write our sins on the clouds for all to see. He deals with us individually through those who, by His command, stand in His stead.

The Lord lays it out step-by-step. When your brother sins against you, go to him and speak to him privately about the matter. Show him how he has sinned. If he repents, wonderful! There is joy in heaven over one lost soul who has been found! If he does not repent, take one or two people who are wise and discerning with you and try again. If he doesn’t repent then, tell it to the church, that the whole congregation of brothers and sisters might restore the erring brother. This is not a matter of "ganging up on" your brother; it is a way for this brother to see that his whole family cares for him.

It is never the intention of the church to permanently remove a brother who sins. We are all sinners. We know what it is to sin. We also know what a joy and privilege it is to be forgiven, and it is also a privilege to share that forgiveness with others. If you have an issue with me--if I have sinned against you--I fervently hope you will speak to me, so we may settle the matter as brothers and sisters in Christ. And if your brother sins against you, speak to him as a brother, so that our family may continue to grow together. May our risen Lord strengthen and aid you as you seek to treat your brethren as our heavenly Brother has treated us!

No comments: