Matthew 18:15-17 How to Deal with Brother Trouble

The greater the number of steps the deeper the separation

The greater the number of steps the deeper the separation

We are continuing on with Jesus teaching His disciples in a home in Capernaum. Today Jesus addresses what to do if your brother sins against you. I’m assuming this is referring to a believing brother relationship.

Here we go again God. Once again, You brings me to a section that deals directly with me and what I am going through. That child trouble I mentioned yesterday is directly connected to a brother problem. Only this brother does not behave like a believer. He is a brother-in-law and I will leave the determination of if he is a brother in the Lord to the Lord Himself. We have gone WAY past the one or two witness point, and suffice it to say, the church option is out of the question. Now that you know why this section hits me so close to home, let’s see what Jesus was teaching that day and move on from my drama. Sorry if this is or sounds like gossip. It is not meant to be. It’s just me being real.

Jesus is talking about your brother sinning against you in His message. I’m wondering what kind of sinning He is referencing. Most conflicts involve two sides and I have found that there is usually enough blame to go around for all the parties. Often one party bears significantly less blame that the other though. But in our text, Jesus specifically says that the other party is sinning against the one. The one, I’m assuming by the continued effort to deal with the sin, is blameless.

I’m wondering if this is a one-time sin against the other or a perpetual offense. Also, how big is this sin against the other? I don’t like confrontation, so I am very apt to let the one time stuff simply pass, if it is small. The problem with that though is, as humans, we tend to hold onto it in our memories and when something else happens we add the two together instead of dealing with the second one on its own merits.

For my own mind’s sake, I want to make a list of one sided sins. Lying (includes slander, liable and gossip), stealing (anything of value, including another’s spouse), and abuse (physical, mental and emotional). I don’t know if this is an accurate and complete list, but it is what I came up with.

If my Christian brother commits one of these sins against me, I am to go to him privately and discuss it with him. I am to tell him what I believe is his fault in our relationship. Identify clearly what it is that he has done to me. If he hears me and apologizes and makes it right, I am to forgive him and love him as before.

If he refuses to listen to me, I am to take one or two people with me and approach him again. I don’t believe the people I bring are to be people I have gone to complaining about my brother. If I was the one being approached, I would want one or two neutral parties that would listen to both sides of the issue.

If the brother refuses to listen still, Jesus says to tell it to the church. I believe that Jesus is talking about asking the church leadership to make this last appeal, not the general church members. At the time Jesus is teaching this, there is no church but the synagogue. Is He saying to tell the issue there, or is He teaching them a future concept that they will need after He is gone? Because Jesus’ message appears to be directed at spiritual brothers, I believe His instructions are for the church, which will be birthed at Pentecost.

This is the brother’s last chance to remain in fellowship with his believing family. I wonder if the offending brother is even still associating with the general church at this point.

I have been involved with churches that had to follow this procedure to this step on two occasions. By the time it reached this point the offender had left the church. We regular members were told after the party had refused to listen to the church leadership. We were told the general nature of the offense but we were not told any specifics; because we did not need to know any more. What we needed to know was that this person had been asked to leave the church as a result of their behavior, and until they repented, they were not welcome and were not to be associated with.

The offending brother at this point is to be treated as a Gentile or tax collector. I find this interesting because a former tax collector is in Jesus’ audience. I wonder what Matthew thought of this comment. Jesus’ church would also include Gentiles. But at this time, Jesus was speaking to Jews. They knew that His comments simply meant that they were to have no more to do with the offender than was absolutely necessary. They were no longer to occupy the position of brother, friend, or neighbor.

These are hard words coming from Jesus. His message of love and forgiveness was to apply to everyone. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love, but even love places limits on acceptable behavior. I pray that the offender would still find forgiveness if at some point he sought it.

Father God, I really would like a chance to set things right with my brother-in-law, but I don’t see that happening outside of a miracle from You. I have these grand ideas in my head about how to approach him, but I am holding back because of all the history. Father God, give me wisdom and Your guidance in this situation. I truly believe I am in the right here, but also know that I do bear some of the responsibility for the situation. Show me what to do. Father, if it is a one to one discussion, YOU make it happen. If it is the tax collector scenario, give me peace about that too. I leave this all at Your feet. I truly want to do Your will.

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3 Responses to “Matthew 18:15-17 How to Deal with Brother Trouble”

  1. Victoria says:

    Another great post, Annette.

    This passage is the core of Biblical conflict resolution, upon which the whole Restorative Justice movement is based. The concept rests on the recognition that ‘crimes are sins against people’ not against a nameless, faceless ‘state’ therefore, as often as possible, the conflict should be resolved at the most personal level possible. The passage shows a pattern for escalation, should the initial one-on-one approach prove unfruitful.

    The only difference in interpretation is in Jesus’ command that the unrepentant offender being treated like a gentile or tax collector. I too, had always heard that as being an instruction to avoid the offender. But the concept of “justice that restores” reminds us of how we are to treat those who are not ‘brothers in Christ’ by ‘loving them into the kingdom.’ Which I think you pointed out by recalling that Jesus was often found in the company of sinners, and even brought tax collectors into his closest circle.

    You also mentioned that in most cases, conflict arises by the actions of both the victim and the offender. That being the case, the ‘mediation’ step (taking along someone else) really does require that those listening to the issues of both sides be neutral to both. Because of that, a successfully mediated conflict generally requires a ‘give-and-take’ response by both parties–it is rarely a matter of one side giving over completely to the desires of the other.

    • avincent says:

      I definitely agree that the solution needs to involve accommodations from both sides. Often the “loving them into the kingdom” part is VERY difficult. Especially when the hurt is egregious and prolonged. But that is exactly what Jesus did for us. The least I can do is try. With His help.

  2. Victoria says:

    “The least I can do is try. With His help.”

    Truth be told…that’s the BEST any of us can do. 🙂

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