February 13, 2023 | by: Gregg Hunter | 0 comments
What do you do when you see your brother in Christ commit a sin? Most Christians are familiar with the instructions in Matthew 18: go and tell your brother their fault; if they don’t listen, then bring two or three witnesses and do it again; if they still don’t listen, then bring it before the church; if they still don’t listen, then excommunicate them in the hope that it will bring them to repentance. This is the model for church discipline that good, bible-believing churches practice.
BUT, if you look at the first verse of that passage, Matthew 18:15, it begins this way: “if your brother sins against you…” If your brother lies to you, or steals from you, or punches you in the face, then you are to follow these instructions. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
In this post, I want to address an all too common situation that isn’t covered by Matthew 18. What do you do when you log on to social media and see your brother’s post repeating the words of a false teacher? Or your sister’s post that is laced with curse words? What do you do when your sister in Christ keeps flirting with all the men in the church? What do you do when you visit your brother’s home and see the holes punched in the wall? What do you do when you go on the ladies retreat and overhear the constant gossip? What do you do when you overhear your brother at work telling a raunchy joke?
These, and many other situations like them are perhaps even more prevalent than having our brother or sister in Christ sin directly against us. What happens when we merely witness their sin, but it isn’t directed toward us?
Matthew 18 doesn’t directly deal with these circumstances, but plenty of other Scriptures do. I have compiled them together to give us 6 Simple Steps to take when we witness our brother in Christ commit sin.
The first step is always to pray. This may sound cliché, but that’s because it’s true. The first thing a Christian should always do is pray. In fact, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), so we should always be praying. However, if you’re like me, then being told to pray doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight. You think, “of course I’ll pray! But what should I pray for?” Well, allow me to give you three specific items for which you should pray:
First, you should pray for the forgiveness of the sinner. When John addresses this issue in his first epistle, this is the first and only step that he suggests: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life” (1 John 5:16). Plenty of books have been written regarding ‘the sin leading to death’ and that’s not our purpose here. Suffice it to say that nearly every sin you witness your brother committing is not the sin leading to death.
So, what should you do when you see your brother committing a sin? John says “ask, and God will give him life.” Pray for your brother. Pray that God would forgive them for their transgression.
Now, you may think to yourself, “but they need to ask for forgiveness; I can’t ask for them!” True. You can’t save a lost soul, and you can’t cause your brother to turn back to Christ. But, if your brother or sister is so crippled because of their sin, then you can carry them to Him.
Think of the poor paralytic, whose four friends carried him to Jesus. Mark tells us “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “son your sins are forgiven”” (Mark 2:5). Our faith can have a monumental impact on the forgiveness of others. That’s why we are given the ministry of intercessory prayer. Pray for the forgiveness of your brother. And that leads naturally into the next step of prayer.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).
What I want to draw your attention to is the word “first”. People love to quote verse 1 of Matthew 7: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” But taking that verse out of context is dangerous. It’s followed by what we just read, and there Jesus says “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” He doesn’t tell us to leave the speck in our brother’s eye because we ought not to judge. Rather, our Lord warns us that a blind surgeon can cause irreparable harm, but a surgeon that sees clearly is necessary to save a patient’s life.
So, take the time to wash out your own eyes first. Ask God to remind you of your own sin. Confess that sin. Then remember Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for your behalf. When Jesus died, all the weight of your sin was placed upon His shoulders, and all the wrath that God bore toward you was poured out on the Son. When Jesus rose again from the grave, it proved that God accepted the sacrifice. Sin and death no longer have any power over those who have been forgiven through faith in Christ. Not only has your sin been paid for, but all the righteousness of Christ has been credited to your account. You are forgiven.
Taking the time to confess your sin, and remember the grace and love of God that forgave you of your sin may be the most powerful part of your prayer time. But your prayers ought not to end there. Next, you should…
If your brother is sinning, then you need to proceed to the next steps. But, if you’re an introvert like me or simply don’t like confrontation like most people, then the next steps can be hard. So be sure that they are necessary before attempting them. Taking the time to pray for clarity will give you the assurance you need to do hard things.
In Romans 14, Paul brings up a couple of issues that aren’t sinful, but were perceived as such. One brother felt that you should only eat vegetables while the other felt that eating meat was fine; one brother felt certain days are holier than others while the other felt all days are the same. Both brothers were likely convicted about their beliefs, which is good! When God gives us a strong conviction regarding a certain topic, we ought to honor our convictions, and respect our consciences.
BUT, we shouldn’t impose our own convictions upon our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul warns “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls… Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:4, 10, 12).
When it comes to certain issues, we may feel strongly about them, but they aren’t necessarily sinful. Should I dress up for church or come as I am? Should I abstain from all secular music and television or use them as a tool to connect with and reach the lost? Should I actively post about politics to further the Kingdom of God or keep my opinions to myself in order to open doors for the Gospel?
If you have strong convictions regarding these or any number of other issues, it would be sinful for you to violate them. But that doesn’t mean it’s sinful for your brother to violate them. Maybe he is even convicted the other way, in which case it would be sinful for him to do what you do!
We are not to judge our brother in matters of opinion. We therefore need to pray for clarity when we see our brother sin. Did they really sin, or did they just do something that I wouldn’t do?
If it’s the latter, then ask God for grace to continue loving your brother in spite of your differences. If it’s the former, then move on to the next step.
This is the hardest step for most Christians. The easy thing to do when we see our brother sin is to tell another brother about it, or to ask the pastor to minister to them, or to bring it up as a “prayer request” in our small group. We comfort ourselves in thinking this is biblical, BUT IT IS NOT!
Paul writes to the churches in Galatia “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).
Somehow, we read these verses and come away thinking the elders or the pastor should be the one to restore the transgressor, but that’s not what it says, is it? Paul writes, “brothers,” which is a term he uses to address all believers. He again addresses all believers with the phrase “you who are spiritual.”
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “but I’m not that spiritual. I have a long way to grow in my walk with Christ.” Great! That’s some good humility, which, incidentally, will help you grow in your walk with Christ! But it doesn’t excuse you from your responsibility to your brother.
Still, if you can’t get over the phrase “you who are spiritual,” then turn to James. He writes, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). You may not feel all that spiritual, but surely you can fit into the word “someone.” Anyone can be someone!
You may be the only person to have witnessed your brother’s sin, or the only one who cares enough about your brother to address it. Don’t let the enemy intimidate you into silence. Love your brother. Love him enough to pull the thorn out of his paw or the speck out of his eye. Go to him to address his sin. And when you go to him, don’t just make small talk, but move on to the next step.
Jesus says “Temptations to sin are sure to come… Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:1, 3).
Temptations are all around us. Lest we be tempted to hide our head in the sand to avoid them, Jesus uses the plural, urging us to “pay attention to yourselves!” We ought to be paying attention to the church, to our brethren, and caring for their souls just as we care for ours. That’s how we find ourselves in our current situation where we’re aware that our brother has sinned.
What does Jesus say to do when our brother sins? “Rebuke him.” How do we do that? Well, Paul gives Timothy some helpful advice. He tells him, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:2). I want to make three observations about rebuking our brother.
First, rebuking should be done through the preaching of the Word. In the previous chapter, Paul told Timothy “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). You may not have official training in conflict resolution, but you have the Word of God. You may not know everything your brother is going through, but you have the Word of God. You may not be able to speak eloquently, but you have the Word of God. The Word of God equips you for every good Work God is calling you to do, including rebuking your brother.
When you go to him, make sure you can point out in the Bible that what he’s doing is wrong. If you can’t do this, then go back to the first step and pray for clarity. If it’s in there, God will show it to you and you can show it to your brother; if it’s not, then show grace to your brother.
Second, rebuking should be done “with complete patience and teaching.” We are to “restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). A rebuke is not meant to be angry or wrathful. It is meant to be done out of love for our brother. If you cannot speak out of love, then go back to the first step and pray for his forgiveness until God molds your heart more into His heart. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If God could send His Son to die for us while we were actively sinning against Him, then surely He can help us to love our brother while he is sinning. Since “Love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4), we ought to kindly, rebuke our brother.
And lastly, rebuking should be done cautiously. When rebuking your brother, Paul writes “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1), and Jude adds “show mercy with fear” (Jude 23). When we rebuke our brother, it inevitably puts us in a position of power. Power is tempting. Don’t let it go to your head. You came to your brother to rebuke him for a specific sin; there is no need to start addressing a host of other sins. You came to that brother for a specific sin; there is no need to go on a rebuking rampage, addressing every sin of every brother and sister in the church. God led you to rebuke that brother for his sin, and you did. You should feel good because you were faithful. But be wary of any temptation to pride.
We are now halfway through the six steps. Congratulations! You made it this far, and honestly, you’ve made it through the hard part. But you’re not done yet. Next, you need to…
Jesus says plainly “if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). “But wait,” you might be asking yourself, “if he didn’t sin against me, how can I forgive him?” The short answer is: you can’t… but God already has.
Remember, we are talking about confronting a brother or sister in Christ over their sin. They have already confessed to God that they are a sinner, repented, and placed their faith in Christ. The moment they trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they were forgiven of all sin: past, present, and future. This means, the moment they trusted in Christ—be it ten years ago or ten days ago—in that moment, they were forgiven for the sin for which you are now rebuking them.
However, when we are confronted with our sin, it can still feel overwhelming. At that point, we need to confront our feelings with what we know to be true. This is hard to do by ourselves, which is why your brother is fortunate to have you present with him. Having been rebuked from the Word of God, he now needs to also hear from the Word of God: “take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
We need to constantly be reminded of the encouragement from God’s Word: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). This sin too has been nailed to the cross. The price for it has been paid. Your brother is forgiven. And he needs a loving brother in Christ like you to remind him of that wonderful truth.
These last two steps are not always necessary, but be prepared for them when they are.
All temptation is too great for us to overcome on our own—that’s why we have the Holy Spirit living within us. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). But sometimes the weary sinner has quenched the Holy Spirit, and is resistant to His leading. In those cases, God graciously provides more aid by sending a fellow believer to help resist the temptation. You may be that fellow believer.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). If your brother needs help, be prepared to either help them, or point them in the right direction. We are not all trained counselors, and this may be the point in time when we need to urge our brother to talk to someone else. But we can all follow up. We can make a phone call, or stop by their house, or make a point of talking to that brother in church and ask, “how are you doing, really?”
We can also refrain from adding to their temptation. Despite a popular expression, forgiving our brother does NOT mean forgetting his sin. In fact, truly loving our brother requires us to remember his sin—so that we can avoid adding to his temptation.
Back in Romans 14, Paul adds “Therefore let us… decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother… for if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love” (Romans 14:13, 15). We need to do our part to help our brother or sister avoid this temptation that has caused them to stumble. We need to care more about their growth in the Lord than our comfort, and strive to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Finally—and this last step should really be practiced throughout all the previous steps, and for the rest of eternity—we need to…
Unfortunately, when we witness our brother or sister sin, our first temptation is to tell someone else about it. I already addressed this in the 2nd step, but I wanted to repeat myself here to drive this all-important point home: telling someone else about your brother’s sin is not your responsibility. If you repeat his sin to anyone but him, you are now engaging in gossip, and perhaps slander, division, envy, or any number of other sins.
In some rare instances, his sin is so grievous that it needs to be reported to the police, and the leadership of the church needs to be informed. But we’re not talking about such crimes in this post. We are talking about addressing those sins which a believer in Christ ought not to commit, even though non-believers commit them every day.
It is perfectly biblical for you to address your brother about such a sin (I’ve just given you 6 simple steps to do so!), but it is not biblical for you to bring that sin to other people. When you do so, you violate James’ command “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers” (James 4:11).
Whatever your intentions may be, sharing another person’s sin with a third individual will usually cause division within the church. Paul wrote: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions… avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Such an attack on the church is cause for excommunication: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, having nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).
This is why we must approach our brother prayerfully, making sure our intentions are pure when addressing his sin. We must go to him privately, not to anyone else, then we must rebuke him, forgive him, and help him. These are Six Simple Steps to take when we witness our brother in Christ commit sin.
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