Journal Matt 18 (all references are from the ESV; changes in punctuation are mine)
Scripture: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault—between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you (that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses).
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-17)
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” (Matt 18:21)
Observation: Forgiveness verses accountability; confrontation verses overlooking a fault. This may be one of the most misapplied in process and action scriptures in the Gospels. What is “going overboard” and what is “doing it correctly?”
Analysis: Lord God: You know I struggle with this subject. I really don’t like confrontation of others—I readily shift to the “overlooking of sin.”
Three things that are predominate subjects in this section of Matt 18:
- Identification and definition of “sin against me”;
- Confrontation to elicit a confession and repentance; and;
- When to escalate?
This section is usually identified as the “process to church discipline”, but I notice that this starts with a thought of “so and so” did something to me. Was it something that I think I should care about “so and so’s” soul about? Or is it a misunderstanding and/or something that could/should be discussed to the end of extending grace about? Should I care at all and chalk it up to diversity of opinion?
Extending grace in forgiveness is what Peter is looking for clarification about. Jesus’ answer of basically “you can’t count that high” to be a forgiver is the Believer’s direction from God.
That makes confrontation and “holding someone accountable” a little tough: When do you forgive and forget; when not? That is the binary choice facing folks like me.
I have found that there is no easy answer. Practical education comes from two ends: experience in the trenches of life and; examples from local church policy. I can’t speak for local church policy. From the scriptures, check out Acts 5 for the extreme example—I haven’t seen that done lately (and am grateful—scary).
Trench experience is very educational. Drives me back to the scriptures and SPECIALLY to seeking God and prayer. Why? Because when I have attempted to engage in “confrontation” I have usually come away with “well, that didn’t go well”, red-faced, and quavering in my conviction that this was the right thing to do. Try doing this with a spouse—I find my blind spots in a flash.
Forgiveness is way easier than concern for another’s soul. Note this is NOT witnessing to unbelievers—that is a separate subject and category. This is a process about so-called and/or professing “believers” and my relationship with them.
Bottom line: I must be courageous and bold but not prideful and projecting misplaced authority. I ask a ton of clarifying questions, keeping the Gospel in the forefront of my mind, knowing that I am no better, being forgiven much…just like this person.
It is extending care for the soul that drives this process—but it starts with extending friendship and a loving hand of concern.
Prayer: Father, hopefully reading this section results in a spontaneous result of self-confession, preemptively reducing the need to “confront.” (Confess faults to one-another—c. James 5:16). Help me approach another with fear and trembling before you, but with faith and courage that (seeking confirmation from you), it is the right thing to do.
Bring revival, O God.