Here’s a bit of preparation I’d like to offer heading into my sermon this Sunday. When you read the texts, Galatians 6:1-5 and Matthew 18:15-17, you will see why. These verses deal with the Christian’s duty to help restore fellow believers when they have become stuck in sin. Ok, now, can you see the reason some preparation is needed for this? Yea, this is not exactly a “tickle-me-feel-good” passage that soothes the ears. It’s one that makes eyes open wide and puts a lump in the throat.
So first off, why this text and why now? All summer our sermon theme has been “Serve Like Jesus.” So I have focused on key texts that teach church members how to serve faithfully for the growth and health of the church and the spread of the gospel globally. Things like deacon service, spiritual gifts, giving, caring for one another, being soul-winners have been in focus. An often forgotten way of serving the church is the area of restoring the one who falls into sin. Is that important? Ummm… you better believe that’s important. So way back in the spring when mapping out the sermons for the summer I put this one on the list knowing that the church is always in need of being real with each other in this way.
Is it surprising that people struggle with this topic? No. Some in our church are new to Christianity and new to the Bible and are just now coming to learn this command from Jesus. They along with everyone else know how hard it is to deal with sensitive issues, especially when it involves confronting someone or telling them they must repent of their sin. We live in a culture where it seems like there is only one sin – telling someone they’re doing something wrong. And there are others who grew up in church traditions where church discipline and church membership were practiced in very authoritarian or harsh ways that are totally unbiblical. So I can understand why many believers might have a hard time engaging on this.
The most important thing I can do is to point out this fact. The most loving being in the universe, Jesus Christ, who is also the most high King, gave us these instructions. So we must work hard to acknowledge that any perceived contradiction in our minds or wrong practices we’ve seen in others must be rejected and kept separated from the good, loving words of Jesus.
So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll offer some simple observations of the texts to put the focus on what exactly the Bible tells us to do. And I will offer you the opportunity to leave your questions as a response to this blog post. Honestly, you can ask anything you want (on topic) and I will do my best to answer.
Galatians 6:1 tells us we should expect to see people we love get “caught” in their sins. Sin will destroy people and it will be painful. It is not loving to ignore when people are being destroyed by their sins.
Verse 1 commands us to “restore” “in a spirit of gentleness” those who have been caught and harmed by their sins. This is never about condemning, judging or getting rid of bad people. It’s about loving restoration and patiently bearing one another’s burdens.
Verse 2 says doing this is fulfilling the “law of Christ” which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Refusing to take this action is to disobey Jesus. It is refusing to love the way Jesus commands.
Matthew 18:15 tells us what to do when someone sins in a way that hurts us or someone else. We must never gossip and spread the news to others. We must go to that person directly, addressing it in private “between you and him alone.”
Verse 15 makes it clear that we are to “tell him his fault.” Believers are never to excuse someone’s sin or redefine it so that it’s no longer called a sin. But wait, isn’t that judging? Of course not. Jesus just commanded us to do this and He would never command us to sin. Judging someone is pointing out in someone a “sin” that God doesn’t call “sin.” Verse 15 is telling someone that what they’re doing, according to God, is a sin. God is the one doing all the judging here, not us.
Doesn’t this mean we would just spend all our time constantly pointing out each others’ sins since we all sin constantly? No. Looking at the text makes it clear that the situation addressed here is one in which the sinning person should repent but has hardened his / her heart and will not repent. We see this only including sins that are observable, ongoing, and unrepented of.
Isn’t this meanspirited? No. Notice throughout the instruction that the hope is for our brother or sister to listen and turn away from the sin that is harming them and others. We do this because we long to see the person restored. We do it because we love them. Also notice the words from Jesus immediately before and after this text. In verses 10-14 the Parable of the Lost Sheep teaches that Jesus is the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine safe sheep to search for the lost sheep and bring him back home. In other words, Jesus does church discipline. Verses 21-34 is a parable where Jesus demands believers show forgiveness to one another. So the instructions dealing with one stuck in sin should never be seen as meanspirited but loving. And when one repents we must forgive them.
These verses give us four steps: v.15 – privately point out the sin, v.16 – point out the sin with one or two others present, v.17 – tell the whole church, and v.17 – remove them from the church. The eventual action for the one who hardens his heart to the extent that he will not listen to anyone is that he is removed from the church. He is no longer a church member, no longer takes communion, no longer thought of as being a Christian but as “a Gentile and a tax collector.”
The most loving being in the universe, Jesus, commands that we serve one another in this way. It is for the restoration of the person who is stuck in sin. It is for the protection and purity of the whole church since “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” And it is for the protection of the glory of God, His Son, and His gospel that the world will know that Jesus does not approve of the sins which caused Him to be nailed to the cross. I hope this helps us see our important role of restoring those we love to Jesus.
There are, no doubt, many questions that come to mind when talking about this much neglected topic. So please leave a comment with any question or concern you have. I’ll do my best to answer it in the upcoming days. And I hope this bit of prep will make Sunday’s sermon more helpful to everyone.