“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
“I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” (Matthew 18:15-18)
These are Jesus’ guidelines for dealing with those who sin against us. They were meant for (1) Christians, not unbelievers, (2) sins committed against you and not others, and (3) conflict resolution in the context of the church, not the community at large. Jesus’ words are not a license for a frontal attack on every person who hurts or slights us. They are not a license to start a destructive gossip campaign or to call for a church trial. They are designed to reconcile those who disagree so that all Christians can live in harmony.
The forbidding and permitting this passage describes refers to the decisions of the church in conflicts. Among believers, there is no court of appeals beyond the church. Ideally, the church’s decisions should be God-guided and based on discernment of his Word. Believers have the responsibility, therefore, to bring their problems to the church, and the church has the responsibility to use God’s guidance in seeking to resolve conflicts. Handling problems God’s way will have an impact now and for eternity.
When someone wrongs us, we sometimes do the opposite of what Jesus recommends. We turn away in hatred or resentment, seek revenge, or engage in gossip, especially if we’ve been deeply hurt. By contrast, we are to go to that person first, as difficult as that may be, and forgive that person as often as he or she needs it (Matthew 18:21-22). This will create a much better chance of restoring the relationship. Is there someone with whom you are in conflict? Prayerfully take the path to reconciliation. Ask God for the humility to be gracious.