Monday, January 14, 2013

Correction and the Number Two: Matthew 18:15-20

Correcting a Fellow Christian
15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
16 "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.
17 "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.
18 "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

A lot of church-goers in American society think that you should never take another believer aside and point out something they're doing that's sinful or may appear sinful to others because to do so would be "judging them," which we are clearly instructed against.  But it all comes down to your heart, motivation, and how you handle the situation.  Judging would mean thinking less of them or more of yourself, or making assumptions about their overall state based on that behavior.  But when you lovingly correct a believer, your motivation is to help them get back on track with Christ.  In that regard, correcting them is an act of extreme love.
The ideal way such a situation can turn out is one-on-one.  If it works, it doesn't spread to others who might engage in judgmentalism, and the person repents immediately.  We are given instructions on what manner we are to do this in:
Galatians 6:1
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 [presumably tempted to judge or join in the behavior].
2 Thessalonians 3:15
Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Also note that this isn't about a sin they openly acknowledge they're struggling with; it's something they're either perhaps unaware of or choosing to not take action to rectify.  However, if they're struggling with it, you might offer help, guidance and prayer in helping them improve - especially if their sin is causing problems for other believers.
If the person doesn't listen to you, bring one or two other solid Christians who you know won't gossip, will approach the correction with the right heart (as outlined above), know the person well, love the person as a brother/sister in Christ, and have witnessed the sinful behavior or a strong indication of the sinful behavior.  The point to this is that if the person didn't respect your opinion or thought you didn't know what you were talking about, hearing it from more than one person might convince them of the truth.
If the person still chooses to continue in that sin, bring it before the Church.  I would personally suggest handling this by bringing it before the clergy first.  They can choose if it's wiser to approach the sinful person as representatives of the congregation or bring it before the whole congregation itself (this way, it doesn't spiral out of control into gossip).  I think the clergy, as the spiritual leaders, should definitely be involved in this process to at least some degree.  One reason the leaders may choose to bring it before the entire congregation is outlined in 1 Timothy 5:20: Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest will also be fearful of sinning.  It's a reminder of the seriousness of sin.
So what's the punishment?  They are kicked out of the church, excommunicated, removed from fellowship.  If they are not living as a follower of Christ, they cannot fellowship with followers of Christ.  This is precisely what the bit about Gentile and tax collector means (because the Jews did not associate with those groups), and what the whole "binding and loosing" refers to (we did a giant study on that one phrase; check it out here if you don't remember it).  2 Thessalonians 3:14 tells us, "If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame."  This type of church discipline is partly to protect the others in the flock, but it also still has the objective of drawing the person to repentance - because not being able to fellowship will demonstrate to them the seriousness of their sin and how they cannot possibly be right because everyone else agrees that they are wrong.  Once it's apparent that they have genuinely repented, they are to be welcomed back wholeheartedly into fellowship!  2 Corinthians 2:6-11 is emphatic about this point.
So far we've focused on how to correct another, but it should also be noted that this is a lesson for how we should respond when another believer corrects us!!!  I have been both a corrector and a correctee - it's healthy!  We shouldn't be so focused on learning the correct procedure to correct another that we don't realize we will be on the other end at times.
Are there exceptions?  Yes, perhaps.  For example, Titus 3:10-11 takes a particularly strong stance on those who cause division within the church.  And while 1 Timothy 5:19 requires multiple witnesses to a church elder's sin in order for there to be discipline, the power of passages such as 2 Peter 2:1 and Revelation 2:18-29 makes it seem as if false/heretical teachers/leaders should be dealt with swiftly and definitively for the protection of the flock (which means you must determine the line between a leader being a heretic and a leader being in sin).  I would suggest approaching any such situation with prayer, reliance on the Holy Spirit's guidance, and the advice of a trusted spiritual leader.
Two or Three, Two or Three
19 "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
20 "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
Some people will try to take verse 19 as an absolute promise that they can "claim" to manipulate/force God to do whatever they want - like make them rich, or heal them of cancer.  But we must look at the context: The verses before it are clearly referring to a situation in which a group of Christians are fully tapped into the Holy Spirit and actively seeking God's will.  The fact that they are gathered together in Jesus's name (verse 20), a phrase which (in the original Greek) communicates living as He did and seeking His will, makes it explicitly clear that what is "asked" in that situation is in alignment with God's will.  The word for ask is also aiteo, or "request," so it's spoken with the right attitude, not as a way to try to force God into anything.  So, with all that clarifying out of the way, what is the actual point of the statement?  That when Christians actively seek God's will together, He will absolutely, positively bless their efforts.
Finally, verse 20's statement that God is in our midst when 2-3 Christians are gathered together does not mean that He isn't with each one of us all the time.  We know that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, and that God has promised to never leave us.  So, what this refers to is that special presence where the Holy Spirit is especially heavy to the point that you can sometimes even feel it.  When believers are gathered together to seek His will, that extra presence will abide!
Questions for You
Have you been in a situation where you corrected or were corrected by another believer?  Was the situation handled well, as outlined above?  What was the correctee's response?
Do you have any other comments, insights, Scripture references, opinions, or life experiences to add to our discussion?  Or any questions?
Leave 'em below. :-)
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image: A Women's Bible Study on the USS John F. Kennedy, by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Chris Weibull.  Wikipedia.  Public domain in the United States.

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