Just Between Us….

Matthew 18:15

“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.

Our passage today is one that most of us would probably rather just leave on the printed page.  No one relishes confrontation … even if it is well-meaning or intended to be constructive.  It is simply uncomfortable to most of us … and we are vulnerable to being misunderstood or accusations of being “holier than thou”.  We know that we too are sinners saved by grace.  So what gives us the right to point out the fault of another … the sin of another … when we struggle with our own issues and strongholds?

Well, let’s review this passage in a larger context to perhaps bring some clarity.  Jesus is teaching here, and He shares a parable about sheep who leave the flock and go astray. Of course, we can relate that the shepherd in this story is Jesus (that great Shepherd of the Sheep – Hebrews 13:20), and it expresses His deep concern for those who stray and need to be returned to the safety of the flock and the Shepherd.  The metaphor of sheep here indicate that He is speaking about His followers … believers.  Recall His words, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (Cf. John 10:27).  So I think this parable should be interpreted within the framework of a believer who has strayed from the faith and the need to seek them out:

Matthew 18:12-17 (NKJV)

12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.  15 “Moreover if your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

I think the context of the preceding parable sheds some light on why Jesus taught us to confront a person who is strays into sin and disrupts fellowship with another believer. Jesus cares deeply for the one who loses sight and wants them to return … to be reconciled … to be restored to fellowship.  His heart is that no one should perish.  So it follows that chasing the one who sins … pursuing the one who goes astray … is an act of kindness and grace.  The purpose is not to act superior to the offender; rather, the purpose is to gain their heart for the glory of the Father!  Further, note that in the parable, the shepherd leaves the flock (gathered believers) to look for the wayward individual. Again, to me, this is a clear picture that Jesus is teaching His followers.  The concept of taking action to seek out and to return those who become lost in sin is the objective.  And so the lesson of the parable is for the Church … which I believe makes Verses 15-17 that follow connected to it.

If a brother or sister has committed an offense (sinned against you), you and I are to seek out the offender. That generally would mean that we are to confront them regarding the offense.  We are to do so privately.  If necessary, another believer or two might join you to address the matter so that truth is established over feelings and emotions. Ultimately, the sinful offense should be taken to the Church if it cannot otherwise be handled in a private manner.  Paul addresses the necessity of this process at length in 1 Corinthians 6. So, I encourage you to read the full chapter to evaluate his instruction regarding the role of the church in discipline.  Further, the context for Chapter 6 follows an exhortation from Paul in Chapter 5 – dealing with the sin of a member in the church at Corinth.  I have reprinted an excerpt for your reference below:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NIV)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside13 God will judge those outside. Therefore, “put away the wicked person from among you.”

Therefore, it is clear that we as a body of believers must deal with the sin that occurs in and among ourselves.  It is required of us the church just as it was required of the Israelites to correct sin among ourselves for the glory of God and His Name. We need to seek the one among us who strays and restore them in love.  We need to confront the one among us who sins against the commandments of God.  I think the point that Paul is making here is that those who claim to be Christians yet live like unbelievers in the world must be confronted because of the disrespect and reproach they bring upon the name of Jesus Christ.  If believers continue to conduct themselves like unbelievers, they have not separated themselves from the world … and therefore are not truly part of the church (called out ones) they profess to be.  The “hypocrisy” provokes contempt for the Body of Christ among unbelievers … and incites those outside the church to blaspheme the name of Jesus and the holiness of God to which we have been called….

Romans 2:17-24 (NIV)

17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed (profaned) among the Gentiles because of you.” (Cf. Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-23)

Yet, as we judge sin within the church, we are to approach our “responsibility” with the heart of God.  Yes, we are to be firm and steadfast in the truth and His revealed will.  God is holy and we are to be holy as well! But we are admonished to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ Jesus – God forgave each of us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) Even those outside of the church … those in the world who live in sin and darkness … we are to engage with the same love, grace, and compassion as one seeking a sheep who has strayed. Our Lord Jesus died for us because of our sin. (Cf. Romans 5:8) He died to take away the sin of the whole world. (Cf. John 1:29) Our response to His sacrifice and atonement is to pursue the righteousness and holiness for which He died.  Let those who claim to be Christian … live worthy of that name!  And when we fail, let us gratefully receive the correction of one another in humility and in reverence for our Savior. (Cf. Ephesians 5:21) “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10)

I’m not sure how well I have articulated my thoughts here, but I hope this meditation and reflection will encourage you to read further and to study these concepts presented in the Word for yourselves.  There were numerous cross-references that I did not begin to share here due to the scope of the subject, but perhaps this start will inspire you to pursue self-discipline and holiness in your walk with Christ Jesus … considering the impact it has not only upon the church, but also the influence it has upon the culture around us.  As the Apostle Peter instructed, “Live such good lives among the pagans that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God in the day of visitation. (Cf. 1 Peter 2:12) I believe Jesus desires that we build fellowship within the church and relationships outside the church in order to continue His salvific work in these last days. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Gentle Answer

Colossians 4:5-6

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I think this passage is familiar to most of us … and its message is one of humility in our attitude and conduct.  Too often, I have seen Christians view themselves or project themselves to others as “superior” because they have come to a knowledge of the truth and believe that Jesus is the Son of God … sent to be our Savior, to redeem us, and to reconcile us to God the Father.  Sometimes they allow themselves to become filled with pride over their salvation … forgetting they did nothing to earn or deserve the unmerited kindness and mercy shown by God.  Salvation, at its core, is the most humbling experience a human being can undergo because we are utterly dependent on what God has done for us and there is nothing that we can add to it….  Salvation does not make us superior; rather, it makes us indebted to the One who gave us freedom from the penalty and power of sin.

That said … when we encounter other people, and especially those who are non-believers, Paul instructs us to be wise in how we act and speak toward them.  We are to approach others with the same attitude and grace as Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Why is this important?  Why does Paul instruct us to be careful in how we approach seekers and non-believers?  Because we ourselves received Jesus Christ through faith … and this was not of our ourselves … it was the gift of God. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8).  It was the kindness of God that led us to repentance in the first place. (Cf. Romans 2:4) So we are to be kind to one another … compassionate … forgiving … just as in Christ Jesus God forgave us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) As Paul related to Timothy, the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, and not resentful. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:24) So let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone.  This will equip us to make the most of every opportunity we are given to lead others to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Ability of Humility

Philippians 2:5-8

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

I love this passage of Scripture because it gives us a defined expectation for how we are to approach relationships with one another.  Paul clearly indicates that our own personal mindset that should determine the character and quality of our human relationships.  Embedded in his thought process is that we should have the inclination or mental attitude as Christ Jesus.  It is a fixed state of mind … unwavering.  Steadfast.  Resolved. Committed.

So what was the mindset of our Lord?  How did He view His relationships with people … with us?  Paul indicates that Jesus displayed an inconceivable attitude of humility.  “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage.”  He took on the very nature of a human servant! And He was so obedient to His Master – Father God – that He was willing to die for the purchase of our redemption … even death on a cross.  Wow!  The bar was set extremely high for us! 

Is Paul using hyperbole?  I’m not inclined to believe he is doing so.  I think he is just trying to describe the “mindset” or “attitude” of humility we are to emulate.  Our tendency as humans is compare ourselves with others and then find some point with which to elevate ourselves – mostly in our own eyes but sometimes in the form of diminishing others.  It reminds me of a parable Jesus told:

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

It is clear that our Lord Jesus desires us to be humble in our attitudes … in our spirits … and in our conduct.  As Paul more fully shared, humility is to govern our relationships within the Church – the Body of Christ:

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with yourfaith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

The most tangible manifestation of that character is to be willing to love one another to the fullest depth possible – regardless of the personal cost.  And put in context, the giving of ourselves through serving the needs of others within the Body of Christ … as each of us has been uniquely equipped to do … is the application of this passage.  We are not to boast of our gifts … or find pride in them … rather we are to exercise them for the needs of others.  Servanthood.  That was the mind of Christ when He walked this earth.  That is the heart of Christ as He lives in us.  We have been redeemed to participate in the divine nature to operate in our spiritual giftedness for the benefit of others.  Humble servants is what Jesus called us to be for His Kingdom and glory!  

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!