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Monday, August 25, 2014 | Comments (4)

by John MacArthur

Suppose a bomb were found in a house or office building, and the bomb-disposal experts simply stood around waiting for an explosion. What would happen? Likely, people would get hurt. And the so-called experts would be rightly punished for dereliction of duty.

But in the Body of Christ—where unrepentant sin is like a ticking bomb—church leaders often act like an ineffective bomb squad, taking a passive wait-and-see approach to sin in the congregation. And when the inevitable “explosion” happens, they’re left with deeply hurt people and collateral damage.

Even if church leaders take the popular approach of praying for God to deal with the offender(s)—obviously critical to the process, yet not all that’s called for biblically—that is an abdication of their responsibility as shepherds of God’s flock. In fact He expects His people—and not just those in leadership—to take responsibility for sin in the local church (1 Corinthians 5:9–13). In fact, when the church deals with sin according to His will, God Himself places His stamp of approval on the process and result (Matthew 18:18-20).

Last time, we explored what sins qualify for church discipline. We also saw that the initial phase of church discipline is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of all church members.

Taking the First Step

If we recognize a situation that warrants discipline and our responsibility to initiate that process, how should we go about it? Jesus provides us with the answer: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private” (Matthew 18:15). The verb translated “go” is a present imperative, meaning that this is a command and not a suggestion. It is not merely an option. If you see your brother in sin, you must go.

Jesus was clear that this first phase must be done “in private.” There is no need to involve others in the first stage. Don’t gossip about the offense with others, even under the guise of seeking prayer support. Just go quietly to your brother; tell him his fault between you and him alone.

Discipline is difficult with close friends because so much is at stake. Those who know you best may respond by pointing out some sin of yours. Discipline is also difficult with people we don’t know well. We tend to think, Who am I to intrude into this person’s life? While we are intimidated by the thought of confronting friends, we tend to be indifferent towards the people we aren’t close to. Either way we must see that what Christ commands in Matthew 28:15 is a solemn Christian duty that cannot to be rationalized away for convenience’s sake.

The Greek verb in the phrase “show him his fault” is a word that conveys the idea of light exposing something that is hidden. It calls for a clear, precise divulging of the brother’s offense. “Show him his fault” does not necessarily imply he is unaware of his sin—the process is not limited to sins of ignorance. Rather, the phrase means that you should disclose what you know about his sin, so that he will realize his offense is known. It establishes his accountability for the offense. If he thought his sin was secret, he must realize it has been uncovered. If he thought he could sin without consequence, he must now give an answer.

If the first step of discipline results in repentance, then that will be the end of the process—in which case, “you have won your brother.” Nothing more needs to be done. You will have a bond of intimacy with him that nothing will be able to break. Of course, you should encourage him to demonstrate the genuineness of his repentance by doing whatever is necessary to make things right.

If any kind of restitution is called for, urge him to follow through. If others have been directly hurt by his sin, he should go to them and seek reconciliation (Matthew 5:23–24). But assuming he demonstrates real repentance, that should end the matter. Uninvolved parties have no need to be told. No further discipline needs to be imposed. You may rejoice in having won your brother.

Ideally, private confrontation should be the final step in the majority of discipline cases. Unfortunately, those who remain unrepentant require the next step in church discipline, which we’ll examine next time.

(Adapted from The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness)


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#1  Posted by Holly Schrader  |  Monday, August 25, 2014 at 4:01 PM

Where are all the comments in response to this topic? In our permissive culture, confrontation is discouraged. Hence, this blog makes us uncomfortable. We do not want to go there. On whichever side of the equation we might imagine ourselves, sinner or confronter of sinner in the church, this is difficult for our flesh to contemplate.

I Corinthians 5:11, Paul warns, "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, is an idolater, reviler, drunkard or swindler- not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside."

These verses minimize the action of personal confrontation in light of the more drastic action of disassociation from an unrepentent brother in Christ, not even to eat with him. Thus, in taking the first step, and pointing out the sin of a brother in love, is a great mercy. It is also a command of God. Keeping that in mind is enabling, and hopefully private confrontation will allow for the avoidance of Paul's final warning to, "Purge the evil person from you," from Deut. 17:7, (I Cor. 5:13).

#3  Posted by Phillip Rogers  |  Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 7:53 AM

It is so sad that many or even most churches today think that ignoring the "bombs" that are going off in their churches is the best policy of love. I understand that it is our flesh that thinks this is the best policy. However modern theology quite often dismisses any concern with the mantra that love covers all kinds of offenses so we should just get over it or ignore the offense. So should we take these sins to the lawyers? Should we just get mad and leave the church? Should we just grin and bear it? Should we just ignore these wrong doings?

How does this change when it is a deacon that has committed the offense?

#4  Posted by Richard Wong  |  Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 9:24 PM

Recently I heard a pastor's sermon when he talked about the sexual relationship between husband and wife from I Corinthians 7: 2-6. He compared and said that ".... the intimate sexual relationship between husband and wife before God is a picture of Jesus Christ and the Trinity and their intimate fellowship eternally with one another face to face." I was puzzled and shocked by his analogy on the pulpit. As I never come across any teaching in the Bible compared/described Christ's relationship with the Trinity with the sexual relationship between husband and wife. I know our Lord's relationship with Father God and Holy Spirit is very close, but in the Bible, the relationship between God and our Lord only used father-son to describe the relationship, and Mary conceived Christ by Holy Spirit, and there is no other scripture to describe Holy Spirit's relationship with Christ as sexual relationship between husband and wife. For the sake of the doctrine and biblical teaching. I wrote to the pastor to ask for clarification. I do not know whether or not he took it as a challenge to his teaching and biblical knowledge; this pastor returned the email in a way basically said he was surprised about I did not know the biblical teaching of the intimate sexual relationship about husband and wife, then said pastors John MacArthur and John Piper preached about that and he could give me the links to look it up, but he never followed up to give me the reference. After private confrontation with the pastor in email, what can I do to follow up with this situation?

#5  Posted by Jean Selden  |  Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 1:00 PM

I would also like to know if it is a pastor that does not repent and

controls the whole church including the elder/deacon board and the accountability board? What actions should or can be taken then?