Pointing Out a Someone’s Sin – Matthew 18:15-17

So far in Matthew 18 Jesus dealt with those who cause a little child to stumble (18:6-9) and the person who has wandered away from their faith (the one who has stumbled, 18:10-14). In this paragraph, Jesus addresses another related issue, a brother or sister in Christ who has some fault but has not yet stumbled and wandered away from the faith. As suggested by Craig Keener, this person may very well be a stumbling block to others, therefore they need to be addressed before they cause others to stumble (Matthew, 452).

Jesus is concerned his followers should discreetly confront those who are beginning to wander and bring them back into the flock as gently as possible. The earliest communities were very small house churches in the Jewish diaspora. As more gentiles were attracted to the Gospel, it is likely these house churches had to deal with serious conflicts between disciples of Jesus.

Total MoronThere are several difficult issues in 18:15-20. Jesus appears to lay down a process for church discipline, and Matthew’s use of church seems anachronistic. There was no church prior to the resurrection, although it is possible the word can refer to the community of Jesus followers, something like the yahad at Qumran. If this is the case, is there a direct application of the process to modern Christians as they confront one another over their faults?

The disciple of Jesus should attempt to deal with personal offenses privately. The verb is the typical one expected for sin (ἁμαρτάνω, aorist subjunctive). There is nothing here which implies this is offending someone’s preferences. For example, this is not about confronting someone for wearing a bolo tie and cowboy boots to church, nor is this about coming to church with a face full of piercings and tattoos. These things are matters of (good or bad) taste and not personal sin which is damaging to one’s spiritual life.

The phrase “point out their fault” (ESV) is a single word, ἐλέγχω. This verb can have the connotation of “to scrutinize or examine carefully, bring to light, expose” (BDAG) as in Ephesians 5:13. But is sometimes used for “express strong disapproval of someone’s action” (BDAG), to reprove or to correct someone (as in 2 Tim 4:2, “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching”).

The problem is how this works out in real life. Some people really do enjoy pointing out another person’s fault. The Internet is full of people who have nothing better to do than argue about theological issues and condemn someone’s practice of their Christian faith. Some of those issues may be legitimate, but most of the time there is condemnation without any real engagement.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talked about how one confronts a fellow disciple because of a sin. The disciple ought to deal with their own sin, the “log in your own eye,” before confronting someone over a minor sin, the “speck in their eye.” If the disciple of Jesus is busy dealing with their own spiritual life, then they will “see clearly” (Τότε διαβλέψεις). In Matthew 7:3-5 Jesus says the one who has dealt with a particular problem is able to gently correct a fellow disciple. To “gently correct” is the guiding principle in Matthew 18:15 as well.

6 thoughts on “Pointing Out a Someone’s Sin – Matthew 18:15-17

  1. We are often quick to point out when someone does something wrong and we may even be rewarded for our observation with a laugh or two from the people around us. However, as the post said, we need to make sure that we are reproving the wrongdoing, especially a personal wrongdoing privately.
    Another thing I wanted to address is that we need to make sure that the “sin” we are confronting someone about isn’t just a matter of personal dislike. This is something that’s sadly often overlooked, even if you disagree with someone it’s usually considered a horrible sin. We really need to focus on what’s truly important and I believe redefine what a true sin is because we mix the two so often.
    I like that the Bible doesn’t say that when someone does something concerning that we aren’t supposed to ignore it or do nothing about it. We are to take action, but appropriately take action. We’ve “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and I think for this reason we need to remember to be gentle (Rom. 3:23, ESV). We are all going to struggle with different sins during our time on Earth and it could very well be that a fellow believer doesn’t even recognize the wrong that he is doing.


  2. “Jesus is concerned his followers should discreetly confront those who are beginning to wander and bring them back into the flock as gently as possible”, I think that this excerpt is significant because there are many Christians who are quick to call out others publicly. I think that most of the time people feel the need to do this in order to show how good of a person they are, or how great of a follower they are- rather than actually trying to help the person who might be struggling. This is especially prominent today because of all the social media and online communication people are using. I think that calling out somebody online or publicly comes off as being judgmental and pushing people away, instead of trying to bring them closer to God. As Christians and people who have also dealt with sin in our lives, we must show compassion and talk to people with love in order to help guide them.


  3. Today, it seems like the ability to hide behind a computer has brought about a new mentality when it comes to confrontation. I feel like many people have adopted an attitude of “speak (or type) first, think second” when it comes to pointing out someone’s fault or perceived offense. There just does not seem to be much empathy or consideration for others anymore. The very first verse in this section says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matt. 18:15). This should not be a shaming but should be done in a loving and humble manner. When a child has disobeyed in a store, screaming at them in the middle of the dairy aisle will probably stop the behavior. Yet, are you teaching the child or simply embarrassing them (and yourself!) to the point they stop…only to repeat that behavior later? Instead, by taking the child aside and privately correcting, you are hopefully instilling a lesson that will resonate in the future. This same approach should be used when dealing with personal offenses as adults. The graphic you use for this post is a perfect image of what a public shaming truly does. I would guess that almost anyone who came across such a display would not find it truly convicting. Instead, most reactions would probably be to double down on whatever it is this woman is condemning. Furthermore, I would assume the rhetoric is not convincing others that God is loving and forgiving, but instead may push them farther away from Him.
    I also appreciate Allison remarks about the importance of identifying a true sin versus a personal dislike. Once again, today’s society is so quick to turn personal disagreements into full blown “me vs. you” animosity. It is so important to hold to God’s standard of what sin is, not what our personal feelings may be. There are many things in our society that we may personally dislike but are not actually a sin. However, on the flip side we must also be willing to lovingly confront what we know is a biblical sin when our culture may try to convince us otherwise.


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