In the last article we looked at some fundamentals of forgiveness associated with Scriptural discipline. Clearly, all Scriptural discipline is aimed at restoration. Our God delights in mercy and we must too. The first step in forgiving our brother is to have a personal awareness of our own need — that we too are encompassed by infirmity. Because of this, we then can “cast up” the problem to our Lord, to trust in his justice and righteousness. Ultimately, we know that we can commit our cause to “him that judgeth righteously.”
It is clearly true that not all offences are repented of, or restitution made. For sins not unto death, we can move forward because we “aphiemi” forgive. Whether we are fully restored is not essential. But, for sins unto death, whether against us or our Lord, we must pursue restoration since one’s eternal life is at risk.
That may fly in the face of the common thinking in the world around us. The humanistic thinking of the world tells us that we have no “right” to judge another’s behavior and that if such is done in “private” we have no responsibility in the matter. This could not be further from the true teachings of Scripture and serves as a warning to our generation. We are in this together. Your eternal life is my business and mine yours.
What does Scripture say about this? Solomon spoke about the warning to the one who views the sin and does nothing when he wrote:
“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Prov 24:11-12, ESV).
Ezekiel was warned about the role of the watchman when he was told,
“Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezek 3:17, 20-21).
In the Law, Moses wrote,
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD. Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt” (Lev 19:15-17, NIV). (The margin in the KJV says, “that thou bear not sin for him.”)
We need to view sins unto death this way. If they are not repented of, it is as if we are watching our dear brother or sister being taken away to execution. They WILL NOT inherit the Kingdom unless they repent. Think of it the way Solomon describes it. If you see your brother marching off to slaughter, you would do all you can to warn him and encourage him to change his direction. This is the responsibility we all have one to another. If we turn our heads, if we ignore it, we will be answerable to our God. He knows our hearts.
It is important, however, to know what we are and are not to judge. Perhaps you have heard within our own circles comments about how we are not to judge one another: that function is strictly the role of the Judge, our Lord Jesus Christ. Well, this can be absolutely right on some matters and DEAD wrong on others. We are to judge, but it is essential to know what we do and don’t judge.
In the New Testament, there are several words used for judge or judgment. We must know the difference between these words if we wish to appropriately understand Scriptural discipline. The first word is “krino.” This word is used for one that separates, selects, chooses, to pronounce judgment. This is used for the role of an adjudicator, in the process of a trial or the execution of sentence. In most cases, this is NOT our role. This is why Jesus tells us not to “judge” our brother, to judge not that ye be not judged. The judgment being spoken of here is all about a final sentence. Paul, in the context of areas where we have liberty, says:
“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Rom 14:10-13).
In these cases, we are being warned about condemning our brother over matters of liberty, acting as if we are “the judge.” We do not belong in this role.
However, elsewhere the Apostle mixes the word “krino” with another word — diakrino — which means to separate throughout as in the sense of arbitrating. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul uses diakrino to say “if we judged ourselves.” In the RV it is “if we discerned ourselves.” So, lets take a look at this passage. Paul writes:
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge (krino) the world? and if the world shall be judged (krino) by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge (krino) angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge (diakrino) between his brethren?” (1Cor 6:1-5).
What’s the message here? We will “krino” in the world to come. That will be a significant part of our role as a kingdom of priests. However, now, we are not called on to judge such matters. We are called on to diakrino, or to arbitrate, to seek resolution and restoration between brethren.
Here’s a quick way to look at our judgment today. We are expected to judge. But our judgment involves the application of the Word and God’s standards to OBSERVABLE behaviors. In some cases, this may require nothing more than a private rebuke or corrective word. In other cases, it may require us to fully follow the Lord’s direction in Matthew 18. But primarily, we are to deal with observable behaviors, not with what we believe lies within the heart. Perhaps that is the great lesson from the Parable of the Tares, where the judgment of the unrighteous is finally apparent in the tares at the harvest. It is separated by the angels, not us.
So, if a brother in Corinth is eating food offered to idols, this is observable, but it does NOT necessarily indicate that he is falling back to idolatry. If a sister no longer is attending meeting, that’s clearly observable. What we cannot assume or judge is that she no longer values the Truth. If a man frequently returns to substance abuse, we cannot judge that his repentance was never sincere. We must understand the difference and deal with the observable sin, rather than the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Bro. Fred Pearce wrote in “A Duty to Withdraw” that “we need to distinguish between ‘judging’ whether a man is worthy of salvation, and ‘judging’ that a persistent fornicator, for example, cannot be retained in fellowship, while leaving the final judgment in his case to the Lord.”1
Earlier, Bro. Islip Collyer wrote these instructive words:
“The spirit of the law deals mainly in positives in which none but we ourselves and Christ can judge us. If a man steals or commits adultery we are called upon to judge, and withdraw from his company, although even then we must act with humility and the desire that he shall be saved. If a man spends the whole of his life without any real love for God or for man in his heart he must be left to the judgment of the Master. We cannot withdraw from a brother simply on the grounds that he is lacking in love. Yet the sins of omission may be far more serious than the sins of commission. The one wicked act may only be the expression of a moment’s weakness. The loveless inactivity may express the tendency of a lifetime. Humanity may judge that a certain one never did anything wrong. Christ may judge that neither did he ever do anything right. The picture of the judgment in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew shows us the righteous commended for what they had done, not for what they had avoided, and the wicked condemned for what they had neglected, not for what they had done.”2
So, with this as a platform, let’s now move into a quick examination of Matthew 18.
For many years, I viewed (wrongly) Matthew 18 as a process for getting restoration or repentance by a brother or sister that sinned against me. Clearly, Matthew 18 does deal with this. However, it is not restricted to this. Matthew 18 is intended, I believe, to deal with any sins unto death that are either committed against me or against our Lord. In other words, I have a responsibility to my brother or sister to follow Matthew 18 when I become aware of them being involved in a sin unto death — even if it is not an offence against me. This is a critical distinction and consistent with our role as watchmen for one another.
Perhaps much of the difficulty has been in translation. The KJV says, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee…” Because of this, I had always seen this as a process for dealing with matters that are significant sins unto death, but restricted to sins against me. However, this was never consistent with other parts of Scripture. The Sahidic, Egyptian Coptic texts that have been preserved in Alexandria, Egypt are now being viewed in newer translations as a more accurate way of looking at this passage.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matt 18:15, NIV).
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4, NASB).
This is an essential principle for understanding Matthew 18. Matthew 18 is a process to restore any who are lost in sins unto death. It is a process for restoration — not for one’s personal “justice” about being offended. This seems consistent with the context of Matthew 18, which is all about restoration. Jesus warns:
Be converted and become as little children;
Woe to him that causes offences;
Remove foot, hands, eye if it offends you;
Despise not one of these little ones;
The searching for the lost sheep of the flock of one hundred;
The standard of forgiveness of seventy times seven;
The unrighteous servant;
How we are to forgive from the hearts our brother of his trespasses.
This doesn’t mean that I should not follow the principle of Matthew 18 when dealing with a personal offence or a sin not unto death. In fact, the guidance the Lord gives about privately going to our brother is of great value. But, Matthew 18 is not to be fully applied to matters where personal liberty or sins not unto death are involved. Here’s what Bro. Roberts wrote on the matter:
“For the present it will suffice to note that the sin or trespass that Christ alludes to is a palpable, obvious, fatal sin. When doubt exists on this point, let us not apply Matthew 18:15–17. ‘Some men’s sins are open beforehand.’ Some are not, and therefore, we have to wait for later circumstances, or Christ’s infallible judgment, to disclose them.”3
It is interesting to see the way our Lord pulled this process together, using skillfully the guidance from the Law. The principle of going directly to your brother and keeping sin at bay as close to the source as possible is fully consistent with the Law. Moses wrote:
“If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deut 13:6-10).
Israel operated best with this principle in mind. The role of all was to work together so that as a family, a tribe, a nation they would all be holy people unto their God. Discipline is best handled closest to the individual and as early as possible. No member was to be an island, but all were accountable to the body. The first place that sin should be fought is in the close, intimate relationships we have in our lives. We are warned to spare not! What an important lesson for our ecclesias today! If we all serve as watchmen to those we know best, if we don’t conceal missteps, we not only serve those we love best, but we protect the ecclesia. More on this later.
So, if we deal with observable sins unto death as our Lord commands, we are doing what we can to save a soul from death. If our brother is approached in love by the concerned brother or sister, the vast majority of times they are saved and the repentance process begins. The Lord has laid out for us two additional steps, witnesses, and the ecclesia, if the private communication and rebuke does not bring about at least an expression of repentance. But, if one will not hear the brother, the witnesses, or the ecclesia, this is not just a sin unto death, it is rebellion! We have already looked at how our God views rebellion. The core issues that bring about rebellion, which can all be traced back to the flesh and pride, must be dealt with. But, that process is not for us. It is the work of our Lord and his angels. We are called on to “deliver him unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” In this part of the restorative process, the Lord works with the individual to bring them to a place of repentance. It involves a process of crushing one’s pride to bring them to point of repentance. In our next article, we will be specifically dealing with this final step of the disciplinary process. It is frequently misunderstood and often poorly applied.
So, how might we understand this important process for helping our brother? We might think of it this way.
Remember your own weakness and need — a critical starting place!
Forgive (aphiemi) and give the resolution of this matter to the Lord.
Pray for your brother and for yourself — that you will be guided in your work.
Arrange for a private conversation.
Make an appointment, select an appropriate time/place.
Begin with affirmation of your love (been praying for you, concerned).
Ask permission to share your concern.
Share (behaviorally) your concern.
Use Scripture to govern standards.
Promise to continue praying.
If this does not lead at least to an expression of repentance, you MUST progress to private corroboration with 2-3 witnesses. If this does not lead to an expression of repentance, the matter must be taken to the ecclesia and the brother is confronted by the many. If this does not lead to an expression of repentance, then sadly we must progress to public condemnation and censure (delivered unto Satan for destruction of the flesh).
Is this the end of the disciplinary process? Absolutely not! It has reached a stage when all our efforts to bring about repentance have failed. We now hand this over to our Lord and ask him to work in our brother or sister’s life so that they will repent and not be lost. Our next article will specifically look at how our Lord does this work.
In closing, we would like to share a couple of final thoughts. First, too often we hear comments about ecclesias applying this final disciplinary step as being unloving, not reflective of brothers and sisters who truly care for one another. Further we hear comments that would indicate a sincere doubt that such a step would do little more than drive away the brother or sister. Actually, there is no more of a loving process we can follow than Matthew 18. Following it in a compassionate manner, reflecting the love of our Lord, states that we love our brother and sister so much that we will not turn our faces from them — we will not stand by while they destroy their spiritual lives.
Last, I would like to share some comments from Bro. Roberts about the need for private conversation when we first hear of such sins. He wrote:
“Nothing tends more to the keeping or the restoring of peace than the observance of this law; and no law is more constantly broken. The universal impulse, when anything is supposed to be wrong, is to tell the matter to third persons. From them, it spreads with the result of causing much bad feeling which, perhaps, the original cause does not warrant, and would not have produced if the aggrieved person had taken the course prescribed by Christ, and told the fault “between thee and him alone.” If good men, or those who consider themselves such would adopt the rule of refusing to listen to an evil report privately conveyed, until it had been dealt with to the last stage according to the rule prescribed by Christ, much evil would be prevented. Disobedience is almost the universal rule in this matter. The results are serious now, in the generation of hatred instead of love. Much more serious will the result be to the offenders against this rule in the day when all matters will be measured and settled by the divine rule…”4
In our next article we will look at “delivering unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” or the final step of Matthew 18, viewing a rebellious brother as a heathen man or publican.
David Jennings (Pomona, CA)
1. The Christadelphian, 1974, p. 411.
2. The Christadelphian, 1913, p. 203.
3. The Christadelphian, 1895, p. 57.
4. The Christadelphian, 1888, p. 458. See also Nazareth Revisited, p. 201.