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. 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. 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. 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. 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. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
We human beings don’t like to pay attention to this. Confront the person who hurt us? Talk to them directly? Gather a couple of people and go do it again? No way! It’s so much easier to just talk behind backs and whisper and get others onto our side. Why on earth would I want to talk to someone that I’m upset with? It’s so much better to convince other people that they’re wrong and I’m right.
But it isn’t God’s way for us to behave. Jesus laid out explicit instructions for us here in Matthew 18: 15-20.
Step one (God’s way): go find the person who wronged you, and tell them why you’re upset with them, what was done to you.
(Our step one: find a “trusted” friend and tell them all about what was done to you and how you were wronged. Make sure to convey your righteous anger to the fullest!)
Here’s the next mini-step, let’s call it Step 1.5 (God’s way): did the person apologize, ask for forgiveness? If the answer is yes, you’re done! The relationship is restored. If the answer is no, move on to Step 2.
(Our step 1.5: if the person happens to find out you are angry with them, deny it! Pretend everything is ok when you’re around them. Proceed with repeating step 1 by finding someone else to tell about your story)
Step 2 (God’s way): Take two or three others with you to confront the person. This is an area where you do need a trusted person, but not someone who is going to spin your tale or anything else. You need people you can trust to tell you when you’re the one who’s wrong. This is where the elders of the church can be helpful, or an impartial friend who can be discreet.
(Our step 2: gather your group of step 1 confidants for larger gatherings, and encourage them to spread the word about the person you’ve labeled as trouble).
Once again, there’s an in-between, identical to 1.5; Step 2.5 (God’s way): did the person apologize, ask for forgiveness? If the answer is yes, you’re done! The relationship is restored. If the answer is no, move on to Step 3.
(Our step 2.5: encourage your group to draw others into the discussion, and encourage them to share their own stories about the person who has inspired you to anger).
Step 3 (God’s way): Take this issue to the church. That means leadership, elders, the pastor. It can even mean going to the greater church body if your issue happens to be with folks in those categories.
(Our step 3: look for higher ups to “tattle” to. This can be the pastor, the leadership, the elders, or the greater church body, much like in God’s way of step 3. Here’s the difference – in God’s way, the person who wronged you is involved. They are invited. They are part of the meeting and hear everything directly. Our way is to call for secrecy so that the person never ever finds out).
Step 3.5 (God’s way): Same as 1.5, 2.5. did the person apologize, ask for forgiveness? If the answer is yes, you’re done! The relationship is restored. If the answer is no, move on to Step 4.
(Our step 3.5: if the higher ups don’t immediately punish the person, call their leadership into question. Begin looking for even higher authorities to make your accusations to. But keep everything a secret!)
Step 4 (God’s way): “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This is a tricky one. For the people in Jesus’ day, these were the WORST offenders of all. In order for a good Jewish person to remain clean, they could not associate with folks like this. However, Jesus also continually reached out to tax collectors and Gentiles. He offered the opportunity again and again to the worst known offenders of His time to repent and turn from their sinful ways. He gave forgiveness and healing. He didn’t excuse their behavior, but called it out. In essence, this passage is calling on us to look at them as lost souls in need of a Savior. Often those who refuse to see their sin are the ones most in need of forgiveness. But again, this involves that person, that sinner directly. The person is invited again and again to repent, to let go, to change.
(Our step 4: read Matthew 18 and specifically latch onto “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Make sure that the person is ostracized and belittled in every way possible. Turn your back as though he or she could contaminate you if you dared to make eye contact. Continue to spread your message of hate to anyone who will listen).
Confrontation is uncomfortable and scary. It’s so much easier to gossip, and to blame the person at the center of our gossip for deserving it. But no matter what you want to say, it’s wrong. The eighth commandment deals explicitly with this issue:
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
Even if the “gossip” you are spreading is true, it’s not ok to spread it. The explanation to this commandment makes it clear that hurting another person’s reputation is wrong. We are called to speak well of others, defend them, and explain things in the kindest way. Gossip is the opposite of that.
Every single one of us messes this up. We all have at least one person in our lives who inspires us to think, “but he…” followed by an excuse of why we don’t have to follow God’s way on this. And it’s true, when we mess up, Jesus forgives us. He still loves us.
The damage is done when others outside of the church see how we behave towards each other. If we are gossiping and hurting each other, if we aren’t paying attention to our relationships within the church, how does that look to someone outside the church? God’s family is an open invitation to everyone, but some folks already have dysfunctional families and really don’t want to join another one. How we treat each other can have a tremendous impact on the Kingdom of God, for good and for evil. Let’s work on trying God’s way as we share His message of salvation with the world.