15 “If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Both my wife and myself have had circumstances where church discipline has been applied to us. In retrospect I would say that it was not done well in either case. The procedure is for people to bring all things back into harmony with God as soon as possible. The person disciplined must be in an attitude of continual and rebellious sin. The first step is for the person sinned against to try and deal with the offense quickly and privately. I have heard all kinds of excuses why this could not be done. Some would say they ‘clam up in conflict’, ‘they feel overwhelmed by confrontation’, ‘the person they are dealing with is scary’, or various excuses which start with, “I tried to let them know, but … ‘ There are cases where a person’s life might be in danger or there might be physical abuse, in that case I don’t think that these verses apply. However, in most cases the person who is continually sinned against must make their case gently but firmly and clearly to the one who is continuing in an unrepentant sinful pattern.
After the case has been put to someone that their sin is fractious and unrepentant, they may repent. If they do, the whole issue is to be dropped and forgotten. However, if they continue, someone else must gently but firmly affirm the case the first person has made. Finally, if the sinful action continues without any repentance the person should be treated like a tax-collector or any outsider. The church was to treat tax-collectors or pagans as those who were in need of convincing of salvation. In other words, if someone continues unrepentant in sin, our thought should be, “Oh, they probably weren’t saved.” We should then try to win them from the outside in. It might be said, though, that the use of tax-collector and pagan are curious choices. For a Jewish audience such people were frequently shunned. I am disturbed by the distinct possibility that Jesus may say that we should treat people who rebel against the faith with a shunning that Jewish people showed to the irreligious. I would err toward cordiality and apologetic persuasion, the kind of which I might use with an atheist friend.
In any case, the strong desire is to return the interpersonal relationships and relationship with God to a condition of harmony where disharmony has occurred. The question for the body of believers is, “Is there harmony among you?”
- What should you do when someone sins?
- What happens if the person you talk with listens?
- How should you treat someone who does not listen to correction?
- What is the point of church discipline?
- In what ways could you cultivate harmony with fellow believers?