The Matthew 18 Principle

What if your brother in Christ sins against you?  Maybe he says something unloving.  Maybe he says something about you that isn’t true.  Maybe he destroys your property.  Maybe he physically assaults you.  Maybe he cheats you.  The possible list could go on and on.  This shouldn’t happened, but sometimes it does happen.

You could take your brother to the civil authorities and charge him with an offense.  Apparently that is what the brethren in Corinth had done.  The apostle Paul was critical of the brethren there for their actions.  1 Corinthians 6:7 “Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?”  Going to the civil authorities is the wrong approach.  Paul says that it would be better to accept the wrong or let yourself be cheated.  Jesus taught in Luke 6:29 “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.”  Therefore, one way you can deal with the situation is to accept the offense and don’t fight back.  At times, this may be the best way to deal with the brother who sins against you.

Since it is your brother in Christ who sins against you, there is a possible problem with just accepting the offense.  It is possible that your brother in Christ is on a path of sin that could lead to spiritual death.  James wrote in James 1:15 “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Since you love your brother, you want your brother to have life so you don’t want your brother to keep sinning.

Jesus gave the pattern for dealing with a brother who sins against you.  Matthew 18:15-17 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’   And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

The first step is to go to your brother and tell him his fault privately.  This may be a difficult step for some to take, especially if you perceive that your brother is not easily approachable or doesn’t listen to you with an open mind.  It would be easier to complain to the elders or to your spouse or to some other sympathetic ear or to gossip about your brother rather than confront your brother.  But slandering or gossiping about your brother is the wrong approach.  It is necessary to go to your brother privately.  Maybe there is a misunderstanding and your brother really didn’t sin against you.  By going to your brother privately, you can come to the correct understanding.  Or maybe your brother is ignorant of what he has done and once he sees what he has done he will quickly correct the matter.  It is also possible that you will convince your brother of the sin he has committed and convince him that he needs to correct the matter.  If so, you have gained your brother.

It is also possible that your brother will not hear you and correct the matter.  Then you must proceed to step two which is to take with you one or two more and go to your brother so that they will serve as witnesses in what was said between you and your brother.  These one or two additional individuals might see that you were mistaken and you are the one who needs to make things right.  Or, if you are right, they may be able to convince your brother that he is wrong and really needs to correct the matter.  This second step should be powerful in correcting most problems.

It is also possible that your brother will not hear you or the witnesses that you have taken with you.  Then you must proceed to step three which is to take the matter before the whole church.  Let the whole church hear the matter.  Any reasonable person would listen to the church and the matter would be resolved.  But if your brother who has sinned against you does not listen to the church, then you are to let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.  The people Jesus was talking to knew how they treated heathen and tax collectors: they didn’t associate with them.  On a similar subject, the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.  Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person.”  This is how you must treat a brother who sins against you and doesn’t listen to the church.

When a brother sins against you, it is important to deal with him in love.  1 Peter 4:8 “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’”  You use the three steps of the Matthew 18 principle because you love your brother.  Galatians 6:1 “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”  James 5:19-20 “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

I encourage you to use the Matthew 18 principle whenever a brother or sister sins against you.