So far in this series I’ve examined the beginning of Jesus’ instructions on what to do if someone sins against you. Step one, you may recall, was to go to the person and tell him or her the fault in the hope of reconciliation. Today we move on to step two. Once again here’s the whole passage:
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17, NRSV)
But If You Are Not Listened To
Jesus is realistic. He knows that sometimes confrontation does not lead quickly to reconciliation. Sometimes the one who sinned against you will not listen to the facts, no matter how kindly and clearly you present them.
I’ve seen many situations like this, either as one initiating the confrontation or as a pastoral observer. None of us likes to face up to what we’ve done wrong, so our natural inclination when confronted is to become defensive and not to hear what we need to hear. Yet some people are particularly closed to facing their own sin. There are many reasons for this, including: hard-heartedness, pride, insecurity, and good ol’ fashioned sin.
I’m sad to say I’ve seen prominent Christian leaders who have not been willing to admit their own failures. Pastors are especially notorious in this regard because we tend to be insecure and because we’re generally the people who are doling out the challenges. We don’t like being on the receiving end of bad news about ourselves. Plus we tend to be pretty good with words and can argue ourselves out of almost anything. (Another view of the “perfect church” without conflict, the Abston Church of Christ, popularly known as “The Lego Church.”)
Jesus knows human nature. Jesus knows that, even though we who believe in him are saved and have the Holy Spirit within us, we will sometimes fail to do the right then when confronted by someone. So Jesus gives us step two.
Take One or Two Others Along with You
Yes, here’s something you may not want to hear. If your first effort at loving confrontation didn’t work, you’re not done. How tempting it would be simply to write off the offender and try to forget about it! But Jesus doesn’t give us this option. Instead, we’re to make another go at it, but this time we don’t do it alone. We take one or two other people.
If you need to take the second step in Jesus’ process, be careful whom you choose to come with you. The person (or persons) should be people whom the offender would be apt to listen to. If, for example, you take along your spouse or your best friend, chances are pretty good that the one who sinned against you will dismiss the new testimony as biased. If at all possible, it’s good to ask someone who can be truly fair, someone whom the offender will believe to be fair.
There have been many times in my pastoral ministry when I have been called upon to be such a person. These are not my favorite pastoral moments, I can assure you. But they are important. When they lead to reconciliation, they are well worth the effort. And when they don’t, at least we have honored Jesus in our obedience to his teaching.
In tomorrow’s post I’ll finish up this examination of this step in Jesus’ instructions.