Part 4: With others
Offering and announcements:
Camp: This time last year I reminded you of the importance of camp and how it changed my life. It’s still true: camp isn’t just a game-changer, it’s a life changer. I’m proof of that. The exciting news I want to share today is that AdventureLand arranged for FREE round-trip transportation for your kids if they sign-up for kid’s camp by Father’s Day (June 20th)! Kid’s camp is July 5th – 9th. We’re not just saving you about $30 of gas money, we’re giving back about 4 hours of your time…if you sign up by June 20th. Go to riverviewbiblecamp.com or the info center for more information.
Introduction: We have confessed and made amends for our sin; what do we do when the other person has sinned?
In this series, Making Peace, we started with God and we saw that God made peace with us, God reconciled us to Himself through Christ, not counting our sins against us, but He forgave us all our sins. I rebelled against God and became His enemy, but God made peace with me.
Then we talked about making peace with ourselves. If God forgave all our sins, why do we hang on to them? We need to forgive ourselves. Let it go.
Last week, we started talking about making peace with others and we focused on our part of that process. It always starts with you. As a forgiven person:
- you are responsible to overlook small offenses,
- to recognize your part in the conflict and take the plank out of your own eye,
- to take the first step and go to the other person—don’t wait for them;
- and to confess your sin first.
This week, we finally get to dealing with the other person’s sin. Please notice: three weeks on your stuff, one week on theirs. The Big Idea: get your stuff together before you try to fix someone else! So what do we do when someone else does something wrong and it can’t or shouldn’t just be overlooked? We go have a conversation with them. For what purpose?
1. Go to restore and to be reconciled.
We go to our erring brother to restore him and be reconciled. We don’t go to vent, to get it off our chest, to give him a piece of our mind (that we can’t afford to lose), to put him in his place, to tell him what we really think of him. The purpose of this conversation is to restore, not shame; to reconcile, not deepen the conflict. It’s not for you to dump your emotional load on them.
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
We briefly looked at this last week, and focused on the last sentence: watch yourself. Before you go to another, watch yourself.
So you’ve done that; you’ve taken the plank out of your eye, and you are ready to go to your brother who has sinned. Why do you go? To restore him…gently. The word “restore” is a beautiful word in Greek, katartizo; it means, “to mend, to restore to its former condition, to put to rights; to prepare for a purpose.” It is used in the gospels of James and John mending their fishing nets. By mending their nets, they restored them to their former condition, and prepared them for the purpose of fishing.
Here’s an interesting picture. When we sin, we put a hole in our net; we damage ourselves and make ourselves unfit for the purpose for which God has created us.
ILL: Picture it this way. Eric plays guitar—a beautiful Gibson guitar. The guitar’s purpose is to make beautiful music, to help us worship the Lord. But sometimes Eric beats on the guitar too hard, and pops a string, and he has to stop playing. The guitar is no longer fit for its purpose; it’s broken. What does he need? Someone to chew him out? “Stop banging on your guitar, meathead!” No, what he needs is restoration. He needs to put a new string on the guitar, to restore it to its former condition so it can fulfill its purpose.
When we go to a brother who has sinned, it is to restore him— to mend him so he can do what God made him to do, to help him make beautiful music again. And how do we do it? Gently. Humbly. Watching ourselves.
This is so important. We go to restore. So much confrontation is just critical, but not restorative: we criticize others but don’t restore them. It is problem-centered rather than solution-centered. It leaves a person feeling defeated, not restored. Make sure you go for this purpose: to restore, to mend, to heal and help.
We go to restore the person and to reconcile the relationship.
Matthew 18:15–17 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
We go and show him his fault—for what purpose? To win him over. The implication is that his sin has damaged the relationship; there is a breach in the relationship, and we go to win our brother back. Sin not only damages the person, but also the relationship. So we go to restore both: the person and the relationship.
By the way, this gives us a clue when we should have a conversation rather than just overlooking a sin. When the sin damages the relationship, when there is something between us—a wall, a breach, friction, conflict—we can’t overlook it. We need to go and win our brother back.
But what if he refuses to be reconciled? What if he thinks we’re full of it?
16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Jesus warns us that our attempts to reconcile won’t always be welcomed, and tells us what to do; we’ll look at that in a moment.
In another passage, Jesus tells us what to do when a brother sins.
Luke 17:3–4 So watch yourselves.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Notice Jesus begins by saying, “watch yourselves”, which is where we began last weekend. Start with yourself. Then He gives us a very simple instruction. If your brother sins, rebuke him. Rebuke—it’s not a very popular word nowadays—it has very negative connotations. In fact, the dictionary defines it as “telling someone off”. If he sins, tell him off! Wow! Its synonyms are to scold, reprimand or censure. Yikes! The Greek word is not a lot softer; it means “to express strong disapproval of someone, to rebuke, to censure.” Rebuke is a strong word. Without trying to soften it too much—we need some muscular words; we’re so concerned to protect everyone’s self-esteem that we’ve softened our language to the point of neglecting their character—without trying to soften it too much, I think you can deliver a rebuke gently. It doesn’t have to be mean or harsh; it does have to be clear, honest and direct—strong.
ILL: Last year I was visiting a friend of mine who is a pastor. He had asked me to mentor him, so I was asking lots of questions. I asked him to tell me about his daily time with God. He admitted that he wasn’t doing PBJ—he wasn’t reading the Bible, praying, and journaling on a regular basis. Very softly, I said, “That’s not good.” And we talked about why it was important and how to do it. When I got ready to leave the next day, I asked him what had been most beneficial to him about our time together. He said, “It was when you said, ‘That’s not good.’”
What was that? A rebuke. I rebuked him—but it wasn’t harsh or mean. It was clear and strong—I “showed him his fault”—but gently.
If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. It is very important to express forgiveness just as clearly as the rebuke. “I forgive you.” Let’s practice saying that together. “I forgive you.” Sometimes we say, “Don’t worry about it.” I’d rather hear, “I forgive you,” and know that I had been forgiven, rather than just be told not to worry. And Jesus adds that as often as someone asks for forgiveness, we’re to give it—even if they do the same thing 7 times in one day and keep asking for forgiveness!
What is the goal of the going in this passage? Forgiveness. The goal isn’t rebuking; it is forgiveness. So all three passages give us the same purpose: we go to restore, to be reconciled, to forgive. This is very important. Our purpose is not punitive; it’s restorative.
I want to look more closely at the steps Jesus gave in Matthew 18.
A. Go alone and show him his fault.
Matthew 18:15 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
There are two important things to notice here. The first is that you are to go directly to the brother who sins against you, and talk “just between the two of you.” Oh the trouble that we would avoid if only we did this! Instead of going to the brother who sins against us, what do we do? We go to others. Instead of talking to him, we talk to others about him. And in doing this, we don’t restore our brother or reconcile the relationship; we only spread a bad report and cause others to despise him and distrust us. Both these happen: people will think less of the person you are talking about; but they will also think less of you for talking about him. They will wonder what you say about them when they’re not present!
Why do we do this? Why do we talk to others instead of directly to the person?
- We are upset and need to vent to someone. I understand this—I’m a big venter! And it is wise to vent all that emotion before you talk to the person. But wouldn’t it be better to vent it to God? He can handle it better than anyone!
- We think the person won’t receive our correction. “They won’t listen anyway.” That may be true, but you don’t know until you try. And this passage clearly shows that you must try even if they don’t listen to you. In fact, Jesus assumes this is a possibility and tells us to go anyway.
- We want to talk with someone else and get advice. This is hard to argue with—it’s good to get advice, and sometimes we need a person who can act as a sounding board for our concern. But it’s one thing when we discreetly seek counsel from a trusted advisor; it’s another when we start telling our story to anyone who will listen.
The general rule is that we go directly to the person who has offended us and have a conversation just between the two of us. Are there exceptions to this rule? Yes; there are exceptions; but don’t start by assuming you are one. Most of the time, we should go to the person in private, and have a conversation just between the two of us.
The second thing to notice is that we are to “show him his fault.” One way to do this is full frontal attack—I don’t recommend that. A better way is to ask questions, and listen.
ILL: Recently, a friend of mine said something about me to another friend that taken at face value was inappropriate and offensive. When I heard it, my first response was indignation: “We’re going to have a conversation!” After I cooled down, I realized that my offending friend often says outlandish things in a joking fashion to make a point. I decided to assume the best, but still ask him about it. A few days later, we were together at a meeting. I said, “Can I ask you a question? I heard that you said such-and-such to my friend. Did you really say that?”
He blanched, realizing how bad it sounded it my presence. “Yes, but I was joking around. I was trying to make a point, and I said that in a joking manner to make a point.”
I said, “I assumed that if you did say that, you said it as a joke. But did you know that he didn’t take it that way? He reported it to me as a serious statement.”
He immediately apologized all over the place, and assured me that he didn’t mean it as it sounded. I accepted his apology and we’re good.
Rather than a full frontal assault, “you said such and such”, I started with a question, which gave him the chance to confirm the information (that’s important, because I might have had bad information), and explain himself. Then I listened respectfully and accepted his answer. I also explained how his remark had been taken and how it affected the other person and me—I “showed him his fault”. When he heard that, he was deeply sorry and apologetic.
Here’s something we need to remember: “There’s always one more fact you don’t know.” If we give people a chance to explain themselves, we will learn what happened and why. Usually, people do things for reasons. In hindsight, they may not be very good reasons, but at the time, they seem good. If we give people a chance to explain first, it helps us understand their actions, and it helps them want to understand how their action affected us.
The first step (after we’ve done all the stuff we talked about last week) is to go alone and show him his fault. What if he doesn’t listen?
B. Go with another person.
Matthew 18:16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
Now it’s time to enlist help. Take someone along, not to gang up on him, but to be a help to both of you in working this out. Take someone as a mediator to help both of you. The best way to do this is by mutual agreement. If at the end of your one-on-one meeting, you are still at odds, ask your friend if the two of you could meet with a mutual friend or friends who would help you both work it out. Choose that person or persons together. By proposing this at the first meeting, you are letting your friend know that you are serious about working this out, and it demonstrates your commitment to him and to your friendship. Most reasonable people are willing to do this, and usually it results in reconciliation.
But some won’t. Then it’s up to you to find someone whom you think the other person will respect and respond to, and go together to him. This is peer pressure—good peer pressure. It’s easier to say no to one person than it is to two or three. Many conflicts have been resolved at this level, where two or three came together to restore and reconcile.
But it doesn’t work every time. What if he won’t listen to two or three of you?
C. Go to the church.
Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
What does it mean to “tell it to the church”? Well, it means that each week, I stand up here and read the names and offenses of people to all you. “Bill was a jerk to his wife this week and won’t apologize. Jim lost his tithe money in a poker game.” Then we post them on our website! Is that what it means? No.
Did you notice that Jesus is enlarging the circle at each step? The general principle is to keep the circle of people involved in a conflict as small as possible for as long as possible. Remember: what is the goal? To restore and reconcile. Not to expose or shame or embarrass, but to restore and reconcile.
So what does it mean to tell it to the church? It would be crazy to do that here, in front of thousands of people who don’t know the person. In our context, it would be done in a Life Group or other small group setting where the people know the brother who sinned, and could appeal to him in love.
ILL: Several years ago, some very upset people met me before church. A husband in their Life Group had told them he was leaving his wife. A couple of the men had spoken to him without success. Now, they told me, the whole group was going to confront him after church. They asked me to pray, and told me with tears in their eyes, “We are not going to let this happen.” And as I recall, it worked; he stayed with his wife and they worked things out.
That’s a great example of telling it to the church. You expand the circle to include a few trusted friends; you increase that good peer pressure to reach the goal of restoration.
And if it doesn’t work, then Jesus said, “treat him as you would a pagan or tax collector.” How did Jesus treat pagans and tax-collectors? He loved them; He told them the truth; He treated them with respect as people who needed to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. This doesn’t mean we shun the unrepentant person; it means we treat them as someone who needs Jesus, with love.
And, here comes a big one, it means, if we are wise, we forgive them even if they don’t repent.
2. Forgive as Christ forgave you.
I said we should forgive them even if they don’t repent. Is that possible? Can an unrepentant person be forgiven?
Forgiveness is a two party deal. The offended person forgives the sin against them. The offender accepts the forgiveness. We talked about this two weeks ago, when I offered to give anyone who asks $1000. I’m giving, but you have to come ask to receive. (We were pretending.)
So can an unrepentant person be forgiven? Yes…and no. The offended party can forgive—he can let go of the sin, the desire for revenge, the memory and the pain. To forgive means “to let go or send away”—it’s the opposite of hanging on to something. You can choose to let it go, regardless of what the other person does. The offended party can forgive and be free.
ILL: A teacher once told each of her students to bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes to school. They were instructed to call to mind every person they had a grudge against. For every person they refused to forgive, they chose a potato, wrote on it the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag.
They were told to carry this bag with them everywhere, putting it beside their bed at night, on the car seat when driving, on their lap when riding, next to their desk during classes. Some bags were very heavy. Lugging it around, paying attention to it all the time, and remembering not to leave it in embarrassing places was a hassle. Over time the potatoes became moldy, smelly, and began to sprout “eyes.”
Often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, but really it is a gift to ourselves. When we forgive, we let go of the offense and we’re free—regardless of what the other person does!
However, unless the offender repents, he remains trapped in his guilt. He refuses the gift; he stays estranged, needlessly. So is he forgiven? The offended party has forgiven him, but he is still packing the weight of the spuds.
ILL: In 1987 an IRA bomb went off in a town west of Belfast. Eleven died; 63 were wounded. Gordon Wilson, a cloth merchant and devout Methodist, was buried with his 20–year–old daughter under five feet of concrete and brick. “Daddy, I love you very much,” were Marie’s last words, grasping her father’s hand.
From his hospital bed, Wilson said, “I’ve lost my daughter, but I bear no grudge. Bitter talk is not going to bring Marie back. I shall pray every night that God will forgive them.”
Once recovered, Wilson crusaded for reconciliation. Protestant extremists who had planned to avenge the bombing decided, because of the publicity surrounding Wilson, that such behavior would be politically foolish. Wilson wrote a book about his daughter and spoke out against violence, constantly repeating, “Love is the bottom line.”
He met with the IRA, personally forgave them, and asked them to lay down their arms. “You’ve lost loved ones, just like me,” he told them. “Surely, enough blood has been spilled.”
When he died in 1995, all Ireland and Britain honored this ordinary citizen for his uncommon forgiveness
Had the IRA repented? I don’t think so. But Gordon Wilson forgave them anyway, and he was free, even if they refused to be.
When all is said done—when you have gone alone, and gone together, when you have rebuked and confronted—you will be better off forgiving, regardless of what the other person does. Let it go! For your sake! We are called to forgive as Christ has forgiven us. How did He forgive us? Freely and fully, all our sins.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Forgive others as freely as God has forgiven you. He taught us to pray:
Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
That is a dangerous prayer! You are asking God to forgive you in the same way you have forgiven others! If you are holding a grudge against someone, you are asking God to hold a grudge against you! If you refuse to forgive someone, you are asking God to refuse to forgive you! Or if you have forgiven others for all their sins, you are asking God to forgive you all your sins too.
Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Jesus wants you to forgive—not just for the other person’s sake, but for your sake too. Forgive. Let it go. Drop the spuds! You can do it because you’ve been forgiven. I finish with this story.
Matthew 18:21–35 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”