October 9, 2015
Sin in the Camp
By Skip Heitzig
What should we do when there's sin in the body of Christ? According to Matthew 18:15-18, there's a process to follow. I've discovered that most Christians don't follow this process. They'll say, "Oh, I just forgive that brother or sister in my heart," or they harbor bitterness or gossip about what happened and don't deal with it the right way. But Jesus Himself gave us three steps to take in this process.
Number one: when you've been hurt by a brother or sister, go privately to that person and tell them how they have sinned against you (see v. 15). The purpose here isn't to vent or win an argument; it's to win the brother or sister back, to bring reconciliation. If they say, "You're right. Please forgive me," it's over. Reconciliation has been achieved.
If, however, the person is recalcitrant and obstinate, then you are bound by Scripture to take step number two, which is to get some help (see v. 16). Get one or two mature believers and approach that person as a group, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, everything can be established (see Deuteronomy 19:15).
If the person still refuses to repent, step number three is to seek the help of the church (see v. 17; see also 1 Corinthians 5:1-8). Until confession and repentance is achieved, you treat that brother or sister courteously but firmly. You treat them like an unbeliever, because that's how they have chosen to act. You can still say, "I love you and expect to see some real repentance in your life as a genuine follower of Christ," but you should have no fellowship with them. This shows people the seriousness of sin in the camp. Frankly, you don't find this practiced in many churches, and that's unfortunate, because it's as plain as the nose on your face when you read the New Testament: the administration of forgiveness has to be done in stages.
If you read on in Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Jesus, "'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'" I know some of you are counting: "Well, that's 490." But that's not the idea; the idea is that you forgive as many times as somebody sins against you, and when they ask for your forgiveness, you're lenient to them.
Jesus told a story to make this idea stick (see vv. 23-35). The servant who owed ten thousand talents to his king (that's millions of dollars in today's economy) owed a debt he wouldn't be able to pay in his lifetime. And the application is simple: God is the king. We're all sinners before Him and owe a debt we can't pay. But Jesus Christ paid that debt for us.
So, if a Christian wrongs you, there's a process you go through. If at any point in the process you personally refuse forgiveness, you are the ultimate hypocrite, because you have been forgiven the ultimate debt. Since we are forgiven people, we can't be bitter toward anyone. We can't be unloving toward anyone. Because if we are, what makes us any different than an unbeliever? If we truly are redeemed, then we ought to reflect that redemption and extend the love that has been extended to us toward others.
Today, find that brother or sister who has wronged you, and make it right. Follow through with these steps. Get other Christians and the church involved, if necessary. It's beautiful how this process works. The truths about sin in Matthew 18 are far from simplistic, but they are simple, straightforward, and unmistakable. I pray that we would deal with the sin in our lives head-on and be part of this process of reconciling brothers and sisters.
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