When the media spotlights controversial subjects, you get to hear everyone’s opinion on it. Social media is full of posts letting you know how all of your family, friends and acquaintances feel. I don’t find fault in this because I like to share things as well. I do try to be wise about what I share, sharing only what I consider to be of value, truth and in love. It can be rather disturbing though, when you see what others believe by sharing and liking certain things. (FYI, others can often see things you like, which has been some of the most disappointing things to me. What some may not publicly share, they will often “like” it and then it shows up in my feed.) As my husband recently said, “You don’t have to read minds, just read Facebook.” I’m often concerned, frustrated and down-right sad over what I’ve seen.
The subject of judging others has come up many times. “Only God can judge me (or them)!” And they are correct in terms of God judging the soul for eternity. God is the ultimate and final judge. Unfortunately, many find comfort in this for some reason, but the reality is that it should cause fear and a good long look at our own life in comparison to God’s word. We will all be judged and God’s standard is perfection.
The truth is God has laid out how we are to deal with others in sin. We are called to judge other believers. We are responsible for those who call themselves members of His body. We are called th look at the fruit in the lives of others who profess Christ. The verse often quoted, “Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:1),” doesn’t end there. Jesus goes on to say that the judgement you give someone will be the same given to you (my paraphrase, read the text here). So, first you deal with your own sin, before you can go to someone else about theirs. Matthew 18:15-17 goes deeper and says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him along. 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.”
These verses are for the believer, for the body of Christ. They are for anyone who calls themselves a Christian. It is our job as believers to keep one another accountable. It’s our job to go to someone who is “wandering” as James says. If we see something questionable or outright sin, we should go to them in love. It’s always in love and covered in prayer. As the verses lay out, first you go to that person one to one. This always begins within relationships. It’s how we should operate in biblical community. Our walk with God isn’t one done in isolation. For the believer, it is our whole life. The goal in going is to talk it out. Maybe you misunderstood a situation and everything is fine or maybe there is sin. If there is sin and the person refuses to repent before God, you go to them with others. Again, the goal is restoration with God. Lastly, if there is no repentance, it goes before the local body of believers that this person has revealed an unregenerate heart. An unregenerate heart is one that doesn’t know Jesus. The issue of hypocrisy would dwindle inside the church walls. If this person has no local body, well, that is another subject all together. A believer needs a local body for many reasons, one being accountability. That subject is for another day.
It’s important to see that those who went to him were not the ones who revealed that unregenerate heart. The Bible revealed it. Those who went to him just followed the steps that God laid out in scripture. The hope is, of course, that the person will say, “You’re right. This is sin and I need to repent.” And they will do just that and be restored to God and continue to grow in faith. That doesn’t always happen, but there is still great purpose in the process.
There is one huge problem with this and that is that most churches do not practice this kind of accountability. Most believers don’t go to one another because “it’s not my place” or “I don’t want them to think I’m judging them”… But that is not loving. Let me attempt to explain. Let’s say you have two churches, both with a person living in unrepentant sin. It’s become evident to members in both churches. In one church they practice church discipline. So, they follow the steps and this person says, “I’m going to continue to live this way.” This church then, considers this person an unbeliever and he is no longer a member of that local body. The other church does nothing. Many people notice this person’s sins but they don’t want to get involved. They just ignore it. This is completely unloving. This person continues to live in this sin all the while the church is affirming that he is a Christian. The first situation didn’t end as anyone would want it to, but the hope is that it will jar the person into seeing their separation from Christ. The prayer is that this person’s eyes will be opened to their “lostness” and that God will open their eyes to the truth. This is the point of the gospel message! To open the eyes of the blind! This is how to love others. The second person, whose sin is ignored, has had no one share the truth to him. The reality is that no one cares for his soul enough to and if he is an unbeliever, his fate is hell. Sometimes we need to be reminded, people do die and go to hell.
James 5:19-20 says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Practicing Matthew 18 with your brothers and sisters is one of the most loving things we can do. It reveals the heart. It will reveal if there is fruit of a regenerate heart. A Christian wants to be in fellowship with God. And if the person truly doesn’t know God then the prayer is that this person is brought back to the truth and saved from death (that is, hell). This is not a way we deal with those who don’t call themselves a Christian. They need the gospel message brought to them. I struggle often with how to deal with some I come in contact with. In our area and I think common in the Bible belt, most people consider themselves a Christian. And many aren’t in a local body at all. So, I’m trying to figure out, how to we talk to them about their sin? How do we apply Matthew 18 to them when there isn’t a local body to answer to. I’m often deeply concerned with those who claim His name but they don’t have the fruits of a regenerate life. I’d love some thoughts on this, so please share! Also, I’m wanting to take a specific look at some verses like “Judge not…” that are commonly misinterpreted for future posts.
As always, I pray this was encouraging and that God is glorified! May we love others deeply in truth, the way Christ did.