When a believer and member of the church gets tangled in sin, we should grieve over it. Deep down tears people. The way Jesus wept over our sin, we too should weep over others sin. We should love others so much that we weep for them when they sin. If we can't I wonder if there is sin in our hearts like pride or jealousy.
It saddens me that some church people think they are past being caught up in sin. Sin starts in the head.
New International Version (NIV)
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[a]28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
None of us are immune to the Devil's powers of deception. We are supposed to be putting on our spiritual armor daily, but that does not mean we cannot get blasted with an arrow of deceit. I think it is so important that we constantly are aware of the Devil's plans to kill, steal and destroy our joy in our churches today and how to handle the situation when it arises. Because it will arise. If we are ready and stand united as a body of Christ, we can be ready to combat the sin that will enter our churches. Christ gave us the power to be free from sin. So we can rise above it if we lovingly help each other out of it.
15 “If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d]17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
I have heard these verses before and loved them but I have never thought deeply about them. Often though I hear about churches that misuse these verses. They do the processes wrong and then people get offended, scarred and bruised by the very place that is supposed to bring healing and restoration. Now I'm no preacher, theologist, or expert in Jesus's words, but the explanation of these verses recently spoke deeply to me.
Verse 15 "just between the 2 of you" is the 1st step. This stops all the gossip. If we do this right the 1st time there is so much beauty in this process. If we lovingly talk to each other about our sin instead of talking about each other, we can help solve so many issues in the church. You see we talk about how much of a price Jesus paid for our sins on the Cross, but He also died for that person at the end of the pew who is struggling with anger. He died for the woman in the back who had an affair. But if treat our church members who are still living in sin as damaged goods instead of lovingly holding them accountable, or if we ignore their sin (even worse) then we are not doing what Jesus asks. (Note: Never go in to this step without much prayer and guidance from the hoy spirit). So what do we do if we do step out in faith and talk to them one on one and they don't accept it? Well Jesus gives us the next step.
"Take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." Why do we take one or two others along? Is it to gang up on them? Is it to prove you are right? No! It is very important that you only tell one or two people that you trust and not a whole group. Protecting the integrity of this person should be a top priority. After all, this is a brother or sister in Christ. This is part of the body. Gossiping and putting down a member of the church is extremely wrong and unbiblical. Disguising it as a prayer request is even worse. This causes much damage and will destroy your church. We bring others in to bring perspective and wisdom to the process. one or two others can bring new ideas on how to reach the sinner, also they can examine your motives to make sure you are pure in your ways. Remember the verses:
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5.
It is easier to see the sin in others and ignore the sin in our lives. An accountability partner can help you see clearly.
Then there is the next step of bringing it to the church. If this person does not repent by now, this is the next step. It is hard to hear. Because who wants to do that job? Really? But it is important that the church know. Why? Because the devil corrupts from within. He preys on our weaknesses and insecurities. He loves keeping us in fear. But mostly he loves keeping us alone. Jesus loves us so much that he will leave rest of the flock to search for us when we are wandering.
12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish."
Sometimes that means he will send a whole church after you to get you to come back. I have seen this step in multiple occasions go very badly. I personally don't believe this means to announce it at church service. Why, because you have members and non members at most churches. What I believe this means is the church board and pastor need to be informed and need to handle it from here. Imagine if you were a non believer and you watch a church member's junk become public in front of everyone, do you think that you would want to stay? I wouldn't. Because non believers are still so actively in their sin, it is so scary to think of it all becoming public. I also believe that in step two it should be explained to the sinner that this is the next step and that by biblical authority you are required to bring it to the church. If they know this is coming and still do not repent then you are dealing with a much different animal. Once our sin is brought to the light, the devil can't control us by shame and guilt any more. He wants our sins to stay secret. He wants us to live in fear of that moment when everyone finds out.
The next step was what enlightened me the most. Treat them as tax collectors and pagans. So where many churches go wrong here is they kick them out of the church never to come back, they then turn their back on these people. Let me just say that that is never the answer. In first Corinthians 5, Paul says.
"But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people."
So it sounds like we are supposed to turn our back on them. I believe that there is a clear line here. When a person has gone through these steps and still refuses to repent and turn their ways, they are definitely past our point of helping them come clean. We can no longer help them. We also can't Biblically let them be a part of the church. So what does that mean? Does that mean that they can't come to church? Well I say it depends. They probably wouldn't want to come to church anymore where their sin is known and they have to confront it often. But if they do, I think they should be allowed to come to church. But, they definitely should not be allowed to make any decisions in the church or church affiliated programs. They should not be included in church member functions any more and they should be treated differently. Why? Well because misery loves company. Someone who is openly sinning in your church without any form of regret or conscience will corrupt the church. Example, I heard a friend say she didn't want to go to her church anymore because there was this one woman who was sleeping with the husbands of the church. That many of the men in the church had succumbed to her seduction. When I asked why this wasn't dealt with by the church officials, she said she thought they were afraid to confront her. What does this say about the church? How are they to effectively continue the purpose and mission of all of Christ body, when they are so corrupt from within?
Now does that mean you turn your back upon them, absolutely not. When it said that part about treating them as tax collectors I remembered that Matthew was a tax collector before meeting Jesus. He knows how they were treated and how they felt. But Jesus wasn't turned off by the tax collectors or sinners. He didn't give up on them. You see we as the church are supposed to love the sinners like Jesus. How are we supposed to treat sinners and non believers? Do we turn our backs on them? No!!! We are here to reach non believers and sinners. But, we should be constantly aware of false prophets and deceivers. How do we do reach sinners and pagans? With love, mercy, grace, but mostly with God's truth. Let me tell you that if someone truly loved me enough to pursue me with God's truth, I couldn't deny it for long. What if a whole church loved me enough to do that? What an impact it would make in my life.
I heard a story of a church that was mostly comprised of one big family with a few other families mixed in. And that one big family ran most of the church. But within that big family there was an old secret sin that was never dealt with, and slowly that sin corrupted most of the family. When one of the other members became aware of the sin, they confronted them the correct way. Can you imagine being that person? When God asks you to do something courageous, He will give you the words and the strength to get through it. So, the secret sin was brought to the light, and many of those who weren't willing to deal with the sin left and the church was reduced to half. But, the people who stayed, and did the hard work of untangling the sins roots and replacing them with God's truth, grace and forgiveness, were transformed. The church started to grow, and most of all they had found amazing healing in the process. They learned true accountability and love. Now they were ready to show love and grace to the world. Teaching the truth in love.
To say to someone that you love them, should mean that you are willing to say the hard stuff to them. That is what being part of the church is to me. So I don't have to walk this hard, narrow road alone, that God will bring along others beside me to help me when I stumble, people who will lift me up when I fall and those who will shine a light when it is dark. And friends who will walk back with me towards Jesus.