How to Fight Against Sin When We Don’t Get Along

Matthew 18:15-16
 
May 2019
Jeremiah Krieger
 
All the kids were sitting there on the couch, perfectly lined up.
 
“What do you want, daddy?”
 
“Your mommy and I are going to take a trip and Mema and Bebah are going to be here to watch you while we are gone. We need to go over the rules before mommy and daddy leave.”
 
We went over house rules and scenarios about the right response each child was to take if they felt frustrated by their sibling. Each child was able to recite back an appropriate response for how they would work through their frustrations.
 
We prayed the instructions we left would stick with them while we were gone.
 
Many of us might remember our own parents going over house rules at times when we were growing up. They are important because they are the agreement for how we relate to one another. They are also the guidelines for whether blessing or discipline might be administered for behavior.
 
Just like we go over house rules, Jesus went over house rules with his disciples. Weeks before Jesus would complete his earthly ministry through his death on the cross and resurrection, he trained his disciples for the time when he too would be gone and unable to coach them through life’s problems.
 
We were created in God’s image to be stewards. However, because of the problem of sin, sometimes we wield our influence in harmful ways towards others. Jesus understood this and fortunately, he taught us how to honor one another in our fight against sin.
 
In Matthew 18, there are a couple of principles that Jesus gives us for when we engage in conflict so that at the end it helps us to conform more to the image of God and to honor our brother or sister in Christ.
 
As we read Matthew 18:15, we see that this verse is about fighting fairly. When we have a disagreement with a brother or sister in Christ, we need to follow the rules of engagement that Jesus gives us. Just like there are international laws for how an enemy can be engaged in war, Jesus also gives us guidelines.
 
In the case when we are sinned against, Jesus says to “go to your brother.” Our first directive for fighting fairly in a way that honors God and honors our fellow believer is to call out your opponent when they sin (v. 15a). This phrase gives the sense of how a lawyer works to prove his case convincingly when he examines and cross examines witnesses. In other words, we are to make it clear to our fellow believer when they sin and specifically how that sin has affected us.
 
Second, only two in the ring (v. 15b). Jesus said, “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” This is where many of us get it wrong. How many of us, when  we are frustrated with someone, go to others and tell everyone but the person who has hurt us?
 
One of the best ways to honor another believer is by going directly to that person. One of the best ways to cause division in the church is by spreading offenses to others who should not be involved. We should keep the circle as small as possible.
 
Third, Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” In other words, Jesus is teaching us to understand the battle (v. 15c). The purpose of going into the ring with an offender who is a believer is to “gain your brother.”
 
Ephesians 6:12 says,
 
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
 
Getting into the ring to battle an opponent is a battle with an opponent and not against an opponent. Our battle when we engage in conflict is a battle against sin. If we can understand this, it will help mitigate some of the fears we might have in going to our fellow believer when their sin affects our life.
 
You might be thinking, “I’ve tried this and it didn’t go well.” Perhaps the person withdrew (and isolated). They didn’t engage with you. Or perhaps, they escalated and there was a shouting match. Or they negatively interpreted what you wished to share or invalidated your feelings. What should we do when we are stifled by these negative responses and the other refuses to listen?
 
Jesus says, “16 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.”
 
There is a circumstance when we need to expand the circle in conflict. There is a time when we need to grab a coach (v. 16). Jesus says, “But if he does not listen.” The word means, “to take heed, to admit, such as mental acceptance.” The time we are to get help is when sin is ignored (v. 16a).
 
When this happens Jesus says to invite 1 or two strong believers to observe and recommend (v. 16b). The purpose of these witnesses is, “that every charge may be established.” The witnesses are not there to take sides. They are not there to argue on behalf of another. They are there primarily as a coach who carefully watches how two people are sparing in the ring.
 
Coaches observe technique and instruct when someone is not fighting fairly. They testify to the conflict resolution techniques and are available to call a timeout to instruct an opponent on how to spar. They might teach the prosecutor how to carefully make his case: to help them to be more clear about the issue. They might help the offender to see when he is not listening well or they are not validating. In the end the coaches will be witnesses of the agreement if restitution is required and witnesses to the terms of reconciliation. They are also there to help testify to an offender who doesn’t listen to coaching.
 
Fighting fairly and grabbing a coach are the first 2 principles for fighting against sin when someone hurts us. These are the ways that we can honor our opponent when their sin hurts themselves or others.
 
Romans 12:9-10 says, “Rom. 12:9   Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
 
Sin is a problem that each one of us must battle against. Jesus left us rules of engagement for this period of time when he is gone. Let’s honor one another because we are members of his household. Let’s honor one another because how we work through conflict will mark us as believers. If we become skilled at in these two principles in conflict resolution, we will better love our brother or sister in Christ when their sin is too big to be overlooked and when it is causing serious harm to themselves or others.
 
After we came home from our trip this week, we were happy to discover how well our children did while we were gone. There will be a day when Jesus returns to gather up his family. Let’s be prepared for that time by honoring Christ by how we honor one another through conflict.

In Christ,   Pastor Jeremiah