"As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him." - Psalm 18:30

If Your Brother Sins Against You

“If Your Brother Sins Against You…”

Roger Leonard

Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15 ESV)

We are going to sin. And there are times when we do so that we sin against others personally.  What are we to do when a brother sins against us?  There are several things we might do: We could get mad and stay mad or get mad and get over it. We could get sad and stay sad or get over it. We could get mad or sad and do something sinful. We might get upset and go tell others what happened. In my experience a lot of us choose the last option, and think nothing of it. But, what did the Lord say that we must do?

First, we must determine “if” someone has “sinned” against us. Jesus said, “if.” Sometimes people do or say things that upset us, but which may not be sinful. Sometimes, however, people do forthrightly sin against us. We should fully consider what happened. 1. Study the matter in light of Scripture. Was there a violation of God’s word? Was is a “sin”? Since sin is transgression of God’s law (I Jn. 3:4) and separates man from God (Isa. 59:1, 2), we are dealing with a serious matter.  2. Consider the source. Did we see or hear it personally? Did we get the information second hand? Do we have solid evidence? Or is it merely a suspicion?  3. We should pray about the matter and ask for God’s help. (Cf. I Jn. 5:14-17) If it is not a sin or we are not exactly sure what happened, and we feel that the matter needs to be dealt with, then we should go and discuss it.

Second, “go and tell him his fault.” We have no option other than to “go” when sin is involved. The phrase, “tell him his fault,” means “to convict, refute, confute, find fault with, correct.” (Thayer’s Lexicon, E-Sword edition) . If we are going to show or tell someone of a fault, we must use the Scriptures to do so. (Cf. Heb. 4:12) This is not a matter of human opinion. A clear, loving explanation from God’s word must be used to show the person what God says about their wrong. We also must not be ambiguous about it, but biblically clear and accurate.  What this does is take the burden off of us, for even though they may have sinned against us, it is God’s will that they have violated, not ours. (Cf. Ps. 51:4) Let God’s word do the speaking and correcting.

Third, Jesus said, “between you and him alone.” This is a private matter. Jesus did not say to go and tell others what happened. Since this is a private and personal matter, sharing the information with others potentially may cause several problems.  1. It is really no one else’s business, not even your spouse’s, friends’, or preacher’s. Why? Because Jesus said so. So, telling others is being disobedient to the Lord!  2. If we do not go to our brother to discuss the matter, the truth may not be told. In fact, the chances are that the truth will NOT be told. We know how untrustworthy the proverbial rumor mill is! Also, others can begin to form an opinion over an event, about which they know very little. People begin to form an opinion about someone accused of something that they “may” have done. Slander may occur. 3. Telling others does not afford the offender the opportunity to correct his or her wrong.

The Gospel accounts record the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him. Yet, He did not tell the eleven about it, even when they asked who it was. He did tell Judas. (See Matt.26:20-25; Mark 14:17-20; Luke 22:20-23; John 13:18-29.) Jesus practiced what He taught. This is crucial. If Jesus would not tell others about Judas, then, well, you finish the statement.

Fourth, Jesus said, “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” There is an implication that a loss of fellowship has occurred between two brothers in Christ, the faithful un in the church, and God. The Lord Jesus prayed regarding believers before His death, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21) How we interact with one another is as important as the oneness between Jesus and His Father. How we interact with one another is so important that the faith of people in the world is potentially at stake. Yea, even the faith of weak Christians. Also, our aim is to gain, not “put them in their place.” It is to restore fellowship with us and, more importantly, with God.

Fifth, Jesus implies that if you or I sin against another and they come to us about it, in light of God’s truth, we must do right. It requires humility. (James 4:7-10) It requires a confession. (James 5:16) It requires honesty, repentance and prayer. (Acts 8:22)

WHAT IF YOUR BROTHER DOES NOT HEAR YOU?

Take a faithful brother with you.

Jesus further said: “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (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 be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (19)  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (20)  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”(Matthew 18:16-20 ESV)

Sin is a serous matter. It caused Adam and Eve to be separated from God by spiritual death, and to be forced out of their beautiful garden home. It made life more difficult. (Genesis 3)

Tell it to the church.” If a brother or sister does not hear you, then there is a need to get others involved.  Under the Law of Moses, we read the following regarding witnesses:

"A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” (Deuteronomy 19:15 ESV)

There is wisdom and practicality in having more than two witnesses. 1. Sometimes we don’t “hear” well, so we may not catch everything someone says or even does not say. Having two or more witnesses improves the clarity of what is said. Have you ever noticed in a TV crime show that a detective may be alone with an alleged perpetrator, but there are others listening behind the two way mirror?  2. There is a better chance of the restoration of the one who sinned, which should be our main goal. Is not the thrust of Scripture to rescue man from sin and its consequences? And two or three brethren involved in a situation improve the possibility of restoration. But even then, we begin with what God says: “‘Come now, and let us reason together.’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are as scarlet They will be as white a snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18). God wants us to turn so that we can be forgiven. And Galatians 6:2a reads: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…:  (Emphasis RLL). Note the word, “restore.”  And what about those who are “spiritual”?  These are faithful, Bible oriented brethren. They are neither spiritually weak nor novices in the faith.  Ideally, one or more of the elders would do this. As shepherds they must do this. Peter wrote, “shepherd the flock of God among you…” (I Peter 5:2a). And if a congregation does not have elders, then the most mature and faithful members should get involved.

Tell it to the Church.

However, often the one who has sinned will not hear two more witnesses, so the church is to get involved.  This, again, is a restoration effort. The goal is the soul! However, Galatians 6:2 must still be considered. Faithful brethren must be the primary ones involved. One thing we can share with people is James 1:21, where the Lord’s brother wrote, “ Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”

Now, the Lord does not give any specific methods how to accomplish this. So, how do we do it? Perhaps  4-5 could go together and talk with the erring bother or sister. There is no reason after the first efforts have been made that other individuals cannot try and restore. Cards may be sent. Calls may be made. Of a certainty, prayers need to be prayed! (Cf. I John 5:16)

The Lord has given us no time table for this, but He has given us a measure of common sense. We should be able to determine if enough efforts have been made and enough time has been allotted. We should then do what Jesus said, and let the person know that they are out of fellowship with the God and the congregation, just like the heathens and taxi collectors..

Do this under God’s Authoritative Word.

Binding and loosing in verses 18-20 deal with heaven’s approval of the actions taken when the Lord’s words are heeded. (Cf. Matt. 16:19, where Jesus spoke with similar words to Peter as an apostle.) The first application had to do with the authority of the apostles before the gospels were recorded. The answered prayer would be for them also. Today we have the written word, which is just as authoritative as the words of the apostles were then. (Cf. 2 Tim. 3:16, 17) The two or three gathered in the Lord’s name meant that a decision based on the evidence of those who had talked with and heard the words of the one who sinned, and that the will of the Lord was to be obeyed. Whether or not to discipline one who sins and refuses to repent is it not up to the whims of the church or her leaders. It is the will of God. Also, the two or three gathered in the Lord’s name means that the entire church does not have to agree with the disciplinary action taken in order to carry it out. Faithful and spiritual witnesses know the situation and can give testimony. The church should approve, based on the evidence, but they don’t have to for the discipline to occur. God’s shepherds are to take the lead in this today. If there are no elders/shepherds in a congregation, then the mature and faithful men of the church must do it.

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Note: There is some dispute as to whether or not eis se (“against you”) is original to the Greek text from Matthew’s account. And if it is not, then the application of the message is much brother than a person who sins against another individually.

Lexham Textual Notes:

Some early manuscripts and related later witnesses have “sins against you,” but the earliest manuscripts have “sins.” The difference is whether the “against you” is assumed by context or made explicit. The text “against you” is absent in the parallel passage in Luke 17:3, so its absence here may be the result of harmonization.[1]

15 εἰς σὲ Treg NA28 RP ] – WH

•      ὕπαγε WH Treg NA28 ] + καὶ RP[2]

Vaticanus does not include eis se

“I personally think this is an interpolation added by later copyists.” (Phil Sanders, personal email.)