For me, “gossip” is a real hot button. It is the fuel that has grown most (probably all) of the church conflicts I have ever seen or heard about from the initial small conflict to the raging firestorm they can become. Jesus hits the topic head-on. More amazing stuff from Matthew 18…
“If your brother sins against you,go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
This is utterly transformative teaching from Jesus. Getting our brains wrapped around this in any practical sense requires some serious prayer. But for this post, let me just make five observations which touch on some common misuses and abuses of this little passage.
- The Only Correct Motive for this Process is Your Love for the Brother. This is a reference back to the parable of the lost sheep which Jesus uses to lead into this process. See my previous post on this parable. If the motive in your heart is to cause him a little bit of vengeful pain, or to push him away, or to hurry up and get through these first two steps so you can take it to the church, or because you are feeling embarrassed, or because you are feeling protective of the church, or any other feelings other than a desire to love this brother back into the fold, your heart is not right and you should stop right there until you fix it.
- Every Step Along the Way Involves GOING TO THE BROTHER. Do you notice that there are no steps that involve going to someone else in order to talk about the brother? There is a common word for that kind of communication (i.e., talking about someone when we should be talking to that person): the word is GOSSIP. That, unfortunately, is what we are often inclined to do instead of going to the brother. What Jesus teaches us here is actually the very opposite of gossip. Figure this out and make it your practice in life and you will go a long way toward helping preserve the unity of your church.
- The Process Ends When the Brother Listens to You. You may not get an apology. You may not get a confession. You may not have the privilege of seeing the brother transformed right before your eyes. Jesus doesn’t say anything about your being entitled to those things. All you are looking for is that the brother genuinely listens to the concerns. The change in his heart, it seems, is up to the Spirit to do. Has he genuinely listened to your concerns? Maybe that is a question you need help answering honestly. That is another good reason to make the circle a little bigger and take someone else along with you, so the additional person can help you know.
- Keep the Circle of People Involved as Small as Possible, But as Large as Necessary. Remember, your reason for expanding the circle is simply to help both of you discern, i.e., to help the brother listen and to help you know that has happened. Pray long and hard about who you should bring along. It should be someone BOTH of you are willing to listen to. Jesus says that their purpose is to establish truth for each of you. Your objective can NEVER be to find people to turn against this brother. Check your heart on that issue. If what we are doing is just “choosing up teams” to fight against each other, we are doing way more damage than good.
- Taking it to the Church Means You Have Failed. Your goal was to present these concerns in a way the brother would listen to them. If he has not yet listened, then you have failed. You are like the teacher whose student fails the test. Sure, the student takes some responsibility, but doesn’t the teacher also? The good ones do. You have failed to communicate your concerns in a way this brother (who has been blinded to the truth by a very effective enemy) can “get it”. You have also failed in your attempts to find someone in the church to whom the brother will listen. Taking it to the church represents a series of failures which require some degree of humility on your part. It should be the most difficult thing a church ever has to do.
What would happen in your church if everyone learned this and began to get it right?
© Blake Coffee
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