There are times in our walk as Christians when we make mistakes and sin in private or with only a single person/small group. (This actually happens to most of us daily, we just do not recognize it.) At those times we need to deal with our sin. Sometimes we recognize it on our own and apologize. Often everyone ignores the issue and moves forward leaving things unaddressed which is actually unloving and unhelpful.
The most loving thing we can do in a situation like this is to address a person’s sin if they do not see and address the issue on their own. The best section of scripture regarding this comes from Matthew 18:15-17. This passage lays out several steps:
- Go to the person directly and show them their fault.
- If he will not listen take one or two others along. This establishes witnesses.
- If he refuses to listen tell it to the church.
- If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as a pagan or tax collector.
If we want to deal with sin seriously we should be living in such a way that we practice this passage. It raises several keys that we really need to pay attention to.
- First, we need to go directly to the person. Don’t seek advice from others or talk it through with someone first. Don’t share about the sin with anyone else, but go directly to the person. This is a protection to make sure that you have not misunderstood something, that you have the full story, and that both your name and the other person’s name and reputation are upheld.
- If he will not listen, take one or two others along to help with the communication. Maybe you just are not communicating well with this person, or they need to see and hear that others view this as a significant issue. Sometimes we can think the other person is just making a big deal about a situation. A gray area exists here though regarding how the witnesses are informed about the situation. If the offended person talks to them without the offender to explain and preface the other meeting this could be viewed as a situation of gossip and slander. The best situation would be to invite the witness to sit in on the meeting without knowing why ahead of time.
- Another issue exists with the selection of the witness. The offended person will likely want to select a witness that will be on their side. However, if we keep in mind a goal of revealing sin, restoring relationship, and brining about repentance and restoration the choice of the witness might change. I would challenge people to select a witness(witnesses) that will help in the communication by being trustworthy, caring, and in relationship with the offender. Bringing in someone who could be viewed as an authority, a challenger, or intimidating because of their personality, position, or physical size/shape could actually hurt the situation. Additionally, if the conflict has been between a man and a woman it would be good to bring in someone who is the same gender as the offender so that communication flows a little more easily.
- If things are not resolved in this meeting (or multiple meetings) then the issue should be brought before the church. There are varying thoughts about what this looks like. Is the church invited to be a part of the process that of trying to get the offender to repent and change, or are they told about the situation and immediately asked to respond by determining the future of the offenders relationship with the body? In the church I have been attending the pastor was brought in at stage two and he, his wife, and an elder were all involved in a marital issue involving an emotional and physical affair. When it came time to bring in the church the decision was made that the woman would already be removed from the body and the church was just informed of the issue. I don’t read that as being the heart of stage three, but this is an elder run church and they believe that vers means the elders make the decision on behalf of the church. My thoughs is if we keep in mind that the process is there to love the person and walk along side them encouraging them repeatedly to change, repent, and have relationship restored then the body of the church should have been allowed to participate. This shouldn’t be a point that divides the body!
- Stage four is to treat the person as a pagan or a tax collector. What does this mean? It is referring to casting the person out of the community. The person has repeatedly showed that they do not desire to change, so rather than continuing to let them hurt the community by walking a false walk with Christ they are separated and left alone to walk in their sin or to change. Again, the heart here needs to be to see the person change and repent. It is not to cut them off but rather to present another situation that will cause them to change. I will address this further in another post, but we need to present an opportunity for repentance and restoration even if things reach this stage. Other scriptures that talk more about this topic are 2 Thessalonians 3:14 and 1 Corinthians 5:11.
This is the process outlined in scripture for how to deal with personal sins. Personal sins are those that occur individually or directly in relationship with one other person or a small group. These are not sins that the entire body of the church is aware of, or is impacting the name of the church in the community at large.