1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
I wanted to focus an entire post on this one verse, because it is a core, repeated command that has been rampantly twisted and outright ignored in the modern Western church. Many Christians today believe that you can never point out another’s wrongs, citing Matthew 7:1-4 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your own standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?” However, they leave out the next verse “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” This passage is not remotely saying that we should not (graciously) point out our brothers’ and sisters’ sins to them; rather, it is saying (1) don’t judge them for their sin, and (2) make sure your own heart is in the right place – your own soul is your number one priority. Therefore, let’s dig into this topic – looking at how to go about in a godly manner, a few cautions, and why this is so important.
Jesus gave us a clear, step-by-step method for how to reprove our brothers and sisters with a “spirit of gentleness.” Matthew 18:15-17 says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” I can personally attest to this method’s success – in my experience, it usually stops at step one, a couple times at step two, and one time even at step three, but the point is that it worked!
Now, was it awkward? Yes! Did I risk our relationship? Absolutely! I was very afraid of what Paul expressed in Galatians 4:16 “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” But I (timidly, I freely confess) did what Jesus instructed, and as a result, a believer repented and stopped living in sin. James 5:19-20 states, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” Clearly, the end result is definitely worth the risk!
I would like to share a few precautions, however. Firstly, this command is not about a sin that a believer is aware of and struggling with – it is about sin that they are living in (i.e., unaware of, or, continuing in while unrepentant, such as sleeping with a boyfriend). Secondly, be gracious about it! Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:2, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Thirdly, bringing the matter before the church does not mean to gossip about this person’s sin!!! How you go about this final step will of course vary per situation, but I would suggest considering addressing the entire congregation (or small group, or whatever) at once – and with the pastor’s/leader’s blessing (in fact, in many cases in may be more appropriate for the pastor to address the congregation regarding this matter – so I would almost always recommend going to the church leadership first). But I believe it is imperative that, before bringing the matter to the large group, you pray about it and seek God’s will for how to go about this. Additionally, remember from the passages in the previous paragraph – never judge, always check your own heart, and follow the guidelines Jesus laid out.
In this study, we’ve already seen a few explanations for why turning a sinning brother or sister from his/her ways is so important, but I’d like to share more examples from Scripture. Titus 1:13 says, “This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” This not only helps the reproved person, but also makes their witness to nonbelievers more correct and effective. Additionally, Luke 17:3 tells us, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” The Gospel is a covenant of grace – just as, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” we believers should mimic this behavior and thus exemplify God’s grace to the repentant (1 John 1:9). In truth, reproving a brother or sister is not mean, but the most loving thing we can do – it helps restore them to relationship with Christ, the deepest yearning of our souls.
Some (I hope many) of you are quite familiar with the concept of graciously reproving brothers and sisters – particularly if you study your Bible frequently and/or attend Bible studies or a Bible-teaching church. However, many of us (myself included) sometimes still hesitate to act on this command because we are so inundated with the lie that it is rude, inappropriate, mean, and perhaps even sinful to bring another person’s sin to light. Just remember Leviticus 19:17 “You shall not hate your fellow countrymen in your heart; [however] you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not sin because of [rebuking] him.”
Today’s discussion starters:
1 – Have you used the 3-step program (one-on-one; two-three witnesses; before the church) before? Did it work? What did you learn from the experience?
2 – Can you think of other precautions to share with us regarding how to go about this, whether Biblical or from experience?
3 – How do you handle repentance in your own life? Personally, I try to do it as soon as my heart is open enough to do it honestly, as well as at the end of the day when I have my long nighttime prayer.