Pointing Out 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?

Davies and Allison (Matthew 2:783) point out first that this is a serious and intentional sin, rather than a one-time insult, something which can be overlooked as a mistake or misunderstanding Second, this is a sin committed against a brother or sister in Christ. This does not apply to people outside of the church since they are not part of the family. Third, this is a private sin, rather than a public offense. If it were known by the community, then it should be dealt with by the whole community.

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 it 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”).

Jesus describes an escalation from a private confrontation to a semi-private meeting, and finally to a public meeting with the church. Two or three witnesses are likely drawn from the Law (citing Deut 19:15, cf., Num 35:30). No court matter could be established by a single witness, at least one or two other witnesses were required. Paul also used this principle of two or three witnesses in 2 Corinthians 13:1 (although Paul himself was the second and third witness) and 1 Timothy 5:19 (dealing with the sin of an elder). The Second Temple document Testament of Gad also recommends a private meeting, “speaking to him in peace.”

Testament of Gad 6 Now, my children, each of you love his brother. Drive hatred out of your hearts. Love one another in deed and word and inward thoughts. For when I stood before my father I would speak peaceably about Joseph, but when I went out, the spirit of hatred darkened my mind and aroused my soul to kill him. Love one another from the heart, therefore, and if anyone sins against you, speak to him in peace. Expel the venom of hatred, and do not harbor deceit in your heart. If anyone confesses and repents, forgive him. If anyone denies his guilt, do not be contentious with him, otherwise he may start cursing, and you would be sinning doubly. In a dispute do not let an outsider hear your secrets, since out of hatred for you he may become your enemy, and commit a great sin against you. He may talk to you frequently but treacherously, or be much concerned with you, but for an evil end, having absorbed from you the venom. Even if he denies it and acts disgracefully out of a sense of guilt, be quiet and do not become upset. For he who denies will repent, and avoid offending you again; indeed he will honor you, will respect you and be at peace. 7But even if he is devoid of shame and persists in his wickedness, forgive him from the heart and leave vengeance to God.

The final step is a public confrontation with the whole congregation. In the context of the earliest followers of Jesus, this would not be a large assembly. Gatherings were small groups of believers worshiping in homes or other semi-private places. This is not a public tribunal before a crowd of hundreds. If after the first confrontation the person does not listen (μὴ ἀκούσῃ) the semi-private meeting is necessary. But if he refuses to listen (παρακούσῃ, to ignore something which has in fact been heard, BDAG) to the two or three witnesses, a public meeting is necessary. Anyone who refuses to hear a word of correction from two or three fellow disciples implies the person caught in a sin disagrees they are in sin. They do not believe their behavior (or belief) is a fault which must be corrected. Looking ahead on what “binding and loosing” means in the next saying, the person may disagree with the community decision to consider something behavior (or belief) to be sinful (or not).

If a person does not recognize their sin, the final step is to treat the offending person as a Gentile or a tax-collector. This appears harsh since the Jewish people avoided contact with Gentiles (or those who worked for them, like a tax-collector). When the disciples visited the villages of Galilee, those which rejected the disciples were treated like Gentiles (shake of the dust of their cloaks). When Paul is rejected in a synagogue, he often does the same thing to indicate he will treat those who have rejected his teaching like a Gentile.

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.

16 thoughts on “Pointing Out 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.

  4. Sinning is a part of everyones lives. No matter what we do, there will always be sin. Whether or not we acknowledge we all sin is apart of our own decision making, whether it be conscious or unconscious. In the article it is said that some people really enjoy pointing out people’s flaws. This can be seen in current day whenever someone makes a mistake or in the Bible as well. John 8:7 states, “And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”” This verse is exactly like the message that is being passed across. We may be very quick to judge and ask for punishment, when in reality we ourselves are just as guilty. Why should we be so concerned with others sins when our own house is not in order? We ourselves must first change and do our best to live without sin. We must pray and ask for forgiveness for everything we have done. We cannot put blame on others without first placing the blame on ourselves. For me, I never stop trying to improve myself. There is no “perfect” in this world. We cannot “point out their faults” as the article says, without pointing out our own. We can help others try to avoid the sins we are seeing, however we cannot do anything more but show love and kindness. In other words, before we blame others, we must blame ourselves for not living in Christ’s image.

  5. This topic is a very hard one because Christians have so many opinions on how sin and falling away from the faith should be addressed. On one hand, some believe that it is not their place to call anyone out for their sin and the way they are living their life because they have their own sin to deal with, but on the other hand, many people are very quick to judge and show no compassion even though they have sin in their own lives. I think that I fall somewhere in between these views because we all sin and have our own issues and demons to deal with, however, God does call us to hold each other accountable in our faith and walk with Christ. But how is this done appropriately? As stated in the blog post, we need to do it discreetly and gently. I have seen way too many times where an issue was addressed in a harsh and unforgiving manner and all it seemed to do was drive the person away from their faith even more. I strongly believe that if we want to help anyone, it needs to be done privately, so as not to make them uncomfortable or shamed, and compassionately so that they know we understand. It is important to show them that we struggle with a lot of the same issues as them, it makes us seem much more relatable. But I also believe that before we can do any of these things we need to make sure our hearts and our own faith is in the right place. If we are not helping others for the right reason or if we are not walking correctly with God ourselves, there is no way we will be able to effectively help other people. We need to address and take care of the log in our own eye before nitpicking the speck in other peoples.

  6. When dealing with or pointing out someone’s sin I think we have to look at ourselves first as you stated. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. A lot of times people are quick to judge or see flaws in everyone else without seeing their own. Many times people like that will try to expose your flaws, bring them to the lighting, while hiding their own they feel as if everyone is focused on your wrongdoings they won’t notice theirs. There is nothing wrong with seeing flaws in anyone else or trying to help them out. The Bible talks about if your brother sins against you, tell him his faults between you and him privately. Don’t try to expose your brother in front of everyone and that’s how you know when it’s sincere and someone truly wants to help you and cares about you. Because you do it publicly then I feel as if you’re just trying to embarrass someone but you must do it privately and with your heart, then the Bible says if they don’t want to listen to basically cut them off. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped so if you point out someone’s sins and they don’t listen or want help let them be and you yourself must be open to the same help and fixing as well.

  7. I think the subject on pointing out someone’s sin is important to discuss because it is something that happens frequently in the church and among Christians. I like what you said, Dr. Long that “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” (Long, 2018). I feel like for many, many years Christians have gotten it wrong when it comes to pointing out other people’s sin–it comes from judgement rather than concern. Jesus does not want us to judge one another as seen several times throughout Scripture one example being in the book of James, “there is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12, ESV).
    We are not in the place to judge one another, but to go to the person that is struggling with sin (as we all have at one time) and as Dr. Long said, discreetly and bring them back gently. It is important that we go to each other with love and not judgement and I feel like we’re all guilty of judging others for their mistakes or their sins, but it is important that we recognize what Jesus has called us to do and it is not to be the judge, but to be the neighbor.

    Not only are we not in the place to judge because that is not our role as Christians, but we are unable to judge because we all sin. In the textbook, Four Portraits, One Jesus, Strauss mentions the disciples and how they “struggle and fail” (Strauss, 2007, p. 242). In Scripture, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, ESV). Therefore, we are not able to take on the role of the judge because none of us are free from sin. God calls us to love our neighbor, to look out for one another. God does not want us making each other stumble or judging one another for sin, but to help and to gently bring each other back to the ways of the Lord.

  8. This verse has always been convicting for me because I see the way that social media encourages confrontation. The problem with this sort of confrontation or conflict management is that it is all over for the world to criticize and evaluate. One can take a short look at a celebrity’s comment section, especially those who claim to be Christians, and see a large number of other Christians calling them out for every perceived fault. The likes of Justin Bieber, Sadie Robertson, Kanye West, and others who have a large following are constantly under scrutiny for every action. This does not very well follow verse 15, 16, or even 17 for that matter. One thing that this verse alludes to is that there is some type of relationship already built before this conversation happens. Enough of a relationship to request a private meeting. We are quick to condemn strangers but is there accountability with our close friends, family and church members?
    One more thing that I wish to point out is in verse 17 it tells us to treat “them”, or those unwilling to listen, as pagans or tax collectors. The way the modern church then treats needs to be reevaluated. I have been witness to people getting kicked out of the church, “shunned”, or asked to leave. This looks a little more like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time than Jesus’ actual ministry and life practices (Strauss, 245). Jesus continually ate with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 15: 1-7; Mark 2:14; Luke 19). He pursued them constantly, even while dying on the cross he looked to the sinner next to him and welcomed him in. If we’re to treat them like tax collectors and pagans, then shouldn’t we still be pursuing them as Jesus did? Does our method of church punishment need to change? Does it reflect the character and life of Jesus?

  9. It is easy for us as Christians to point out everybody else’s flaws. It is harder to look at our inner heart and determine what we are doing wrong. God is the one who determines the right and wrongs, but it is also not our place to point out other people’s wrong doings. God does not need help in seeing what people are doing wrong. He just needs us to help guide others than are in the wrong, in the right directions. As Christians that is what is important. God expects us to help others not expose others. Social media loves exposing people in all aspects but as Christians it is our job to lead as example and guide them in the right direction.

  10. This idea brings to mind two stories. The first was told to my family and me during a dinner out with a good family friend of ours (and former GBC faculty), Gwen Bean. She had, at one point, gone out to lunch with some staff members of the Church she had been leading worship at. The employee who waited at their table was a woman, though she dressed as a man and seemed to not be interested in the opposite sex. After she had taken their drink orders, the Church members began discussing whether or not they should inform the women that she was going to Hell. Appalled, Gwen convinced them not to say such awful things to the poor waitress.

    This is, unfortunately, a very common occurrence. Evangelicals (I don’t prefer to call them Christians) pick and choose certain sins (abortion, homosexuality, being a Democrat, etc…) and decide amongst themselves (independent of the Bible of course) that those who commit those sins are damned to Hell. No forgiveness, no grace, no love. Only politics and anger. This behavior is – in my opinion – inspired by Satan and his demons; meant to stir division and hatred by, for, and within Christians.

    The second story is quite different: a close personal friend of mine, who was working part-time at my home church, was accused of some inappropriate behavior. The first step that my church took falls right in line with the teachings of Jesus: the lead pastor had a calm, one-on-one meeting with my friend where he explained the circumstances. My friend was informed that until evidence proving his innocence came to light, he would no longer be allowed to work at the church. He was still allowed, however, to volunteer and attend. He was also told that the next step would be a second meeting with all four pastors. Thankfully, it was eventually revealed that he had not done anything seriously wrong.

    I have great respect for my church’s lead pastor due to his handling of the situation. No one was informed of my friend’s sin except for those who absolutely needed to know, and the situation was dealt with according to Biblical principles. My friend did end up leaving my church as a result of this incident (he now works at Res Life), but he says it is due to his embarrassment and not because of anger toward how the church responded to the incident.

    These stories display the best and worst of people pointing out sin. The first example is why many people in the world accuse Christians of being hypocrites and acting “holier-than-thou.” The world notices when self-professed Christians deal rudely and loudly with those who sin, and the world’s resentment toward Christians continues to build as those who claim to be full of grace, mercy, and forgiveness do not follow through on their principles.

    Jesus makes a point to address this topic because he knows that if his people fail in this regard, they will become hypocrites lacking in grace, justice, mercy, and love. He knows that they will bring shame to the kingdom. He knows that they will cause the world to reject him and his teachings (Christians become a “stumbling block” when they behave this way), and he knows that they will be spiritually dead because their hearts will be filled with hatred and anger.

    However, if God’s people follow Jesus’ teachings, they will be merciful, graceful, just, loving, and kind. He knows that they will strengthen their relationships, and he knows that they will be successful in working sin out of the lives of God’s people.

    This text is crucial to the Christian life, as pointing out sins incorrectly can do far more harm than good. It can cause a person to become a stumbling block which could lead potential Christians away from the Kingdom.

  11. The most important thing I took from this post is that it is talking about confronting fellow believers sins not non-believers sins. This is crucial to understand in our politically heightened society, screaming at non-believers that they are wrong or going to hell is not what God has asked us to do. To a non-believer many sins aren’t viewed as bad and therefore non-believers should not be held to the same standard as current believers, they don’t know any better. It seems many Christians are quick to call out the non-believers and slow to address their fellow believers and the “plank in their own eye” so to speak. When we are able to come together, make each other better respectfully, we will be much better at addressing the non-believers in the world. We should always come to others with grace, love and respect.

  12. Jesus discussed many issues about individuals’ behaviors and beliefs. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus discussed what our role is for when we know those who have walked away from their faith. It is easy to say, just let them do what they want, but often they are stumbling blocks for others, and should be addressed. Jesus does not want us to confront others over preferences, whether or not the music should be hymns or contemporary. Jesus addresses privately confronting those who have walked away from their faith in God. In this time period, there were no formal churches, but believers would have gathered in different settings. When we do this we bring to light our observations of them stepping away from their faith. 2 Timothy uses the words reprove or correct someone. They knew the truth once, so we want to help reprove these past beliefs. 2 Peter 3:15 tells us to share the Gospel with gentleness and respect and I believe the same applies here. When we confront others it should be with gentleness and grace. There is a time to be bold and speak our observations, but we all do sin and have doubts, but walking away from our faith is not the answer. I believe there has to be a balance between boldness and gentleness in confronting others. It is easy to pick out the little or big preferences people have, but the important part is the faith in God, not the music, coffee choice, or outfits. It is an encouragement and reminder for all.

  13. I’m sad to hear that your friend left your church out of shame. If the result of the confrontation of his (possible) sin is that this person feels alienated, embarrassed, and no longer welcome, I pray that there is more we can do for brothers and sisters in his position. The church may have ‘scored a win’ in regaining balance, but at what cost?

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