Reading this will make you uncomfortable…Part II

In “Reading this will make you uncomfortable…Part I”  we discussed what Matthew 18 commands and who should follow it.  In this post I will try and answer some questions concerning what the main obstacles are, how to overcome them, and what might result.

Matthew 18 says:

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. 16But 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.’ 17If 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 will keep us from following this commandment?

  • “I do not have the right to judge..” If you grew up in a “christian” environment, live in a progressive city, or are sick of getting clubbed upside the head with cultural, religious, and arbitrary rules and told that you are making God angry unless you follow them then this is the first thing that comes to your mind.  Of course you wouldn’t have the right to judge because YOU don’t want to be judged. I do not blame you. The beauty of this idea though, is that it has very little to do with enforcing your random moral judgement and rules. It has everything to do with love. I can’t emphasize what a foreign concept this is. But I do have a story that occurred to me last night. I was meeting with our body and we were involved in a discussion that concerned an issue they were wrestling with. All of a sudden the tension rose when they decided that the conversation could not continue any further until an issue concerning my character was addressed. What ensued was 30 long minutes of them expressing experiences that they have had in which they had been damaged by my thoughts and actions. Some of these were from as far as 12 years ago and you could see how difficult it was and how silly they felt to express, through tears, something from so long ago. This was exacerbated by the fact that most of what they were addressing I did not either know had happened or remember. The point of this whole story is that at the end they stated: “Ben, we want you to know that we love you.” At that time, those words struck me in a very strange way. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs “DON’T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT!…I just watched you squirming in the chair for the last half hour doing things that are light years out of your comfort zone that make you look crazy and I know that the only thing that motivated you was that you care enough about me to endure it.” It felt like someone just jumped into a burning building risking their life to drag my sorry ass out and after said “by the way, even though I did that, you know I love you, right?” I am personally overwhelmed with thankfulness that the confrontation happened and that I am surrounded by a community that loves me more than any moral code that would result in judging me in silence. 
  • “It’s not my business…” This also comes packaged in such phrases as:“It will not affect me…” or “They are not in my community…” This is quite simply not true. There are two levels at which this lie occurs. The body level and the kingdom level. If someone is, in fact, in your community then a sin in their life is hurting them and is and will hurt you. On a Kingdom level we must look at the arbitrary categories that we create. When God looks down, I get the feeling he laughs when he sees categories that we create such as First Baptist, Southern Baptist or church member. Not to say that labels do not have their place but we must we remember that we are members of a Kingdom and we have and serve the same King. The expansion of that kingdom must be our primary goal and if we all share it there is no such thing as privacy or personal business. It would be the equivalent of my wife telling me that her being an alcoholic is her business. 
  • “It’s not that big of a deal…” By now, you should be able to recognize the problems with this. If someone says this there can only be a combination of 2 reasons.
    • They do not believe that sin is truly dangerous.
    • they do not believe that we are connected.
  • “It’s not my place to judge them…” This is also packaged using such phrases as: “I don’t know if I am right…” or “I am not qualified…” While this may be true it should not be used it is not an excuse to disobey the commandment and ultimately will not get to the root of the issue. I think people often get confused in thinking that in order to confront a specific person/issue you must have a masters degree in alcohol/lust/lying/image/beauty/identity/laziness/gambling/pride/ or even that person. While you do not need any of these things there is one thing that is required. A PhD in love. It is the greatest way and the ONLY requirement. This is not a job for pastors, elders, counselors or family. It is a job for those that love. 
  • “I already know how they will respond…” This is also coincides with “It’s not going to do any good” or feelings of “I don’t think we should be gossiping about this.” When we are gossiping sometimes we feel guilty. Usually our first response is to think “we shouldn’t be talking about this person behind their back.” In other words, the opposite of gossip or slander is silence. What if this wasn’t the case. What if the opposite of talking about someone behind their back was talking to them to their face? This would combat the concept that the result is more important than the process. The goal is not to change the persons morals. The goal is to have the body of Christ built up through love. In order to do this you have to love people. When you are gossiping, not only are you hurting them more, but you are not helping them.  Another breakdown that occurs is that  rarely do people follow the FULL process. There are guidelines of what to do if the person continues to live in sin. Approaching them with another “brother” or “witness” as other translations say can be equally important as the initial approach. I know that personally there are all sorts of things I can dismiss one person saying. If one person approached me and then 2 people and then my whole body I might really have to decide if I am better at making decisions than every other person around me put together. The Bible is smart enough to know this. 
Before I get to much into this I would like to state what my goals are in regards to this issue.
  • I would like to constantly be in a state of restoration  with the Father
  • I would like to exist in a body that is surrounded by love for each other and is more concerned about each others health than they are with their own standards or egos. 
  • I would like to see the Kingdom of God restored and advancing as members bond together in their common goal. 
With that in mind I would like to throw out the questions:
What would this look like?
If you had the choice to live in a community where people were so focused on their King that they were able to put aside their own personal agendas in order to help and be helped by others, would you want to? What if helping or being helped was not easy or even threatened your own independence? 
What does it look like to not follow these commands?
As individuals are destroying themselves, their community will observe from afar and often discuss with others how tragic the situation is. People will constantly wonder what others think of them and your ability to heal will be limited to your own perspective. When someone finally does step in it will be assumed that  your life is so extremely messed up that you need the help of someone who is better than you. 
Which world would you rather live in? What do you think it will take to get us there?
My hope in YOU reading this post is that you see if there are any people or areas in your life that you have neglected responsibility in these areas that you would begin to process that healing now. 
A word of Caution…

There is one very simple component that will always make this fail. If at any time the
 person who is being confronted or is doing the confronting is defending themselves than failure is guaranteed. Simply put, these verses were not given as a weapon to defend a system. They were given as a gift to unite a shepherd with his sheep. Before you think about any confrontation I would ask this question: If someone were to come to me right now and say “(Name)  I’ve known you for a while and I am concerned about________.” What would your gut reaction be? If it would be to defend yourself there is a much deeper issue that I would encourage us all to resolve. 

2 thoughts

  1. Both posts on this subject are great Ben! You have a unique sense for the principled importance of handling these sins that cause subtle community erosion. This strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a community of disciples.

    This process makes so much sense in the context of being a body (living life interdependently with other believers) but must less in an institutional environment. I remember seeing names of adulterers read to a congregation of 4000+ people thinking “is this really what Jesus meant?”

  2. jp, that 4000+ people example is pretty awesome. the only people who are ever disciplined in that model are the super high profile leaders. which would necessitate the question: What about everyone else’s sin? Is it less important? I’m also pretty sure that by the time church discipline is practiced in a public mega church sense the potential for restoration (or at least within that community) is too late. This is odd because it seems that the whole point of the passage is restoration NOT for the church to make a public stance against sin…which is how this passage seems to be usually practiced. thanks for the dialogue.

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