You May Gain Your Brother
“Go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”—MATTHEW 18:15.
1, 2. Jesus gave what practical advice about dealing with faults?
WITH less than a year of his ministry left, Jesus had vital lessons for his disciples. You can read them in Matthew chapter 18. One was the importance of our being humble, like children. He next stressed that we must avoid stumbling “one of these little ones” and that we should try to recover straying “little ones” so that they do not perish. Then Jesus added valuable, practical advice on settling difficulties between Christians.
2 You may recall his words: “If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17) When should we apply such counsel, and what should be our attitude in doing so?
3. What general approach should we take toward others’ errors?
3 The preceding article emphasized that since we all are imperfect and prone to error, we need to work at being forgiving. That is especially so when there is hurt over what a fellow Christian said or did. (1 Peter 4:8) Often it is best simply to pass over the offense—to forgive and forget. We can view doing this as a contribution to peace in the Christian congregation. (Psalm 133:1; Proverbs 19:11) Yet, there may be an occasion when you may feel that you must resolve a matter with your brother or sister who hurt you. In such a case, Jesus’ words above provide guidance.
4. In principle, how can we apply Matthew 18:15 to others’ errors?
4 Jesus advised that you “lay bare his fault between you and him alone.” That is wise. Some German translations phrase this, present his fault “under four eyes,” meaning yours and his. When you kindly bring up a problem in private, it usually is easier to resolve. A brother who did or said something offensive or unkind may more readily acknowledge the error to you alone. If others were listening, imperfect human nature might incline him to deny being wrong or to try to justify what he did. But as you bring the issue up “under four eyes,” you may find that it was a misunderstanding rather than a sin or deliberate wrong. Once you both grasp it as a misunderstanding, you can settle it, not allowing a trivial issue to grow and poison your relationship. Hence, the principle at Matthew 18:15 can be applied even to minor offenses in daily life.
What Did He Mean?
5, 6. Contextually, to what sort of sins was Matthew 18:15 pointing, and what indicates that?
5 Strictly speaking, what Jesus advised relates to more serious matters. Jesus said: “If your brother commits a sin.” In a broad sense, “a sin” can be any mistake or failing. (Job 2:10; Proverbs 21:4; James 4:17) However, the context suggests that the sin Jesus meant must have been serious. It was sufficiently grave that it could lead to the wrongdoer’s being viewed “as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” What does that phrase imply?
6 Jesus’ disciples hearing those words knew that their countrymen would not socialize with Gentiles. (John 4:9; 18:28; Acts 10:28) And they definitely avoided tax collectors, men who were born Jewish but who turned into misusers of the people. So strictly speaking, the reference at Matthew 18:15-17 was to serious sins, not personal offenses or hurts that you can simply forgive and forget.—Matthew 18:21, 22.*
7, 8. (a) Sins of what sort need to be handled by elders? (b) What class of sins could be settled between two Christians, in line with Matthew 18:15-17?
7 Under the Law, some sins called for more than forgiveness from an offended person. Blasphemy, apostasy, idolatry, and the sexual sins of fornication, adultery, and homosexuality were to be reported to and handled by elders (or priests). That is true also in the Christian congregation. (Leviticus 5:1; 20:10-13; Numbers 5:30; 35:12; Deuteronomy 17:9; 19:16-19; Proverbs 29:24) Note, though, that the class of sins Jesus here spoke of could be settled between two persons. As examples: Moved by anger or jealousy, a person slanders his fellowman. A Christian contracts to do a job with particular materials and to finish by a certain date. Someone agrees that he will repay money on a schedule or by a final date. A person gives his word that if his employer trains him, he will not (even if changing jobs) compete or try to take his employer’s clients for a set time or in a designated area.* If a brother would not keep his word and is unrepentant over such wrongs, it would certainly be serious. (Revelation 21:8) But such wrongs could be settled between the two involved.
8 How, though, would you proceed in resolving the matter? Jesus’ words have often been viewed in three steps. Let us consider each. Rather than view them as fixed, legal procedures, seek to grasp their sense, never losing sight of your loving goal.
Strive to Gain Your Brother
9. What should we bear in mind as to applying Matthew 18:15?
9 Jesus began: “If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Clearly, this is not a step based on mere suspicion. You should have evidence or specific information that you can use to help your brother to see that he committed a wrong and needs to set matters straight. It is good to act promptly, not letting the matter grow or letting his attitude become entrenched. And do not forget that brooding over it can damage you too. Since the discussion is to be between you and him alone, refrain from talking to others beforehand to win sympathy or improve your self-image. (Proverbs 12:25; 17:9) Why? Because of your goal.
10. What will help us to gain our brother?
10 Your objective should be to gain your brother, not to castigate, humiliate, or ruin him. If he really has done wrong, his relationship with Jehovah is at risk. You surely want to keep him as your Christian brother. The likelihood of success will be enhanced if in the private discussion you remain calm, avoiding harsh words or an accusatory tone. In this loving confrontation, remember that you both are imperfect, sinful humans. (Romans 3:23, 24) As he realizes that you have not gossiped about him and sees that you sincerely want to help, a solution may readily come. This kind, clear approach will especially reflect wisdom if it turns out that you both share a degree of fault or that a misunderstanding was really at the root of the matter.—Proverbs 25:9, 10; 26:20; James 3:5, 6.
11. Even if an offender does not listen to us, what might we do?
11 If you help him to see that a wrong occurred and that it is serious, he may be moved to repent. Realistically, though, pride can be an obstacle. (Proverbs 16:18; 17:19) So even if he does not initially admit the wrong and repent, you may pause before taking the matter further. Jesus did not say ‘go only once and lay bare his fault.’ Since it is a sin that you can resolve, consider approaching him again in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 and “under four eyes.” You may succeed. (Compare Jude 22, 23.) Yet, what if you are convinced that a sin has been committed and that he will not respond?
Getting Mature Help
12, 13. (a) Jesus outlined what second step in dealing with faults? (b) What are fitting precautions in applying this step?
12 Would you want others to give up on you quickly if you were guilty of a serious wrong? Hardly. Accordingly, Jesus showed that after the first step, you should not give up trying to gain your brother, to keep him united with you and others in worshiping God acceptably. Jesus outlined a second step: “If he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established.”
13 He said to take “one or two more.” He did not say that after taking the first step, you are free to discuss the problem with many others, to contact a traveling overseer, or to write to brothers about the problem. Convinced as you may be about the wrong, it has not really been fully established. You would not want to spread negative information that could turn out to be slander on your part. (Proverbs 16:28; 18:8) But Jesus did say to take along one or two others. Why? And who could they be?
14. Whom might we take along for the second step?
14 You are trying to gain your brother by convincing him that a sin has been committed and by moving him to repent so as to be at peace with you and with God. To that end, the ideal situation would be if the “one or two” were witnesses to the wrong. Perhaps they were present when it occurred, or they have valid information about what was done (or not done) in a business matter. If such witnesses are not available, those you bring may have experience in the field at issue and therefore be able to establish whether what occurred was truly a wrong. Moreover, should it later be needed, they could be witnesses to what was said, confirming the facts presented and effort made. (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6) So they are not simply neutral parties, referees; yet, their being present is to help gain your brother and theirs.
15. Why might Christian elders prove helpful if we have to take the second step?
15 You need not think that those you bring must be men who are elders in the congregation. However, mature men who are elders may be able to contribute by their spiritual qualifications. Such elders are “like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.” (Isaiah 32:1, 2) They have experience in reasoning with and readjusting brothers and sisters. And the wrongdoer has good reason for showing confidence in such “gifts in men.”* (Ephesians 4:8, 11, 12) Talking the matter out in the presence of such mature ones and sharing in prayer with them can create a new atmosphere and resolve what seemed irresolvable.—Compare James 5:14, 15.
A Final Effort to Gain Him
16. What is the third step that Jesus outlined?
16 If step two fails to settle the matter, congregation overseers are definitely involved in the third step. “If he does not listen to [the one or two], speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” What does this entail?
17, 18. (a) What pattern helps us to understand the significance of ‘speaking to the congregation’? (b) How do we apply this step today?
17 We do not understand it as a directive to bring up the sin or wrong at a regular or special meeting of the whole congregation. We can determine the appropriate procedure from God’s Word. See what was to be done in ancient Israel in a case of rebellion, gluttony, and drunkenness: “In case a man happens to have a son who is stubborn and rebellious, he not listening to the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and they have corrected him but he will not listen to them, his father and his mother must also take hold of him and bring him out to the older men of his city and to the gate of his place, and they must say to the older men of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he is not listening to our voice, being a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city must pelt him with stones.”—Deuteronomy 21:18-21.
18 The man’s sins were not heard and judged by the whole nation nor by all of his own tribe. Rather, the recognized “older men” dealt with it as representatives of the congregation. (Compare Deuteronomy 19:16, 17 about a case handled by ‘the priests and the judges who were acting in those days.’) Similarly today, when it is necessary to take the third step, the elders, who represent the congregation, handle the matter. Their goal is the same, to gain the Christian brother if at all possible. They reflect this by showing fairness, not prejudging the case or being partial.
19. What will the elders designated to hear the matter strive to do?
19 They will strive to weigh the facts and hear the witnesses needed to establish whether sin truly has been committed (or continues to be committed). They want to protect the congregation from corruption and to keep the spirit of the world out. (1 Corinthians 2:12; 5:7) In line with their Scriptural qualifications, they will endeavor “to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9) Hopefully, the wrongdoer will not be like the Israelites of whom Jehovah’s prophet wrote: “I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not listen; and you kept doing what was bad in my eyes, and the thing in which I took no delight you chose.”—Isaiah 65:12.
20. What did Jesus say must occur if the sinner refuses to listen and repent?
20 In a relatively few cases, however, the sinner reflects that same attitude. If so, Jesus’ direction is clear: “Let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” The Lord did not recommend being inhumane or desirous of any hurt. There is, though, no ambiguity about the apostle Paul’s direction to exclude unrepentant sinners from the congregation. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13) Even this may eventually result in the goal of gaining the sinner.
21. What possibility remains open for one excluded from the congregation?
21 We can see that potential from Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. As illustrated, after a period of living outside the loving fellowship of his father’s house, that sinner “came to his senses.” (Luke 15:11-18) Paul mentioned to Timothy that some wrongdoers would in time repent and “come back to their proper senses out from the snare of the Devil.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26) We would certainly hope that any who unrepentantly sin and must be excluded from the congregation will feel their loss—both of God’s approval and of the warm fellowship and social contact with loyal Christians—and then come to their senses.
22. How may we yet gain our brother?
22 Jesus did not consider people of the nations and tax collectors as being beyond redemption. One of the latter, Matthew Levi, repented, sincerely ‘followed Jesus,’ and was even chosen as an apostle. (Mark 2:15; Luke 15:1) Consequently, if a sinner today does “not listen even to the congregation” and is excluded from it, we can wait to see if he, in time, will repent and make straight paths for his feet. When he does and is again a member of the congregation, we will then be happy to have gained our brother back in the fold of true worship.
McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia says: “The publicans [tax collectors] of the New Test[ament] were regarded as traitors and apostates, defiled by their frequent intercourse with the heathen, willing tools of the oppressor. They were classed with sinners . . . Left to themselves, men of decent lives holding aloof from them, their only friends or companions were found among those who, like themselves, were outcasts.”
Business or financial matters involving a degree of deceit, fraud, or trickery can fall in the range of sin that Jesus meant. As an indication, after offering the direction recorded at Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gave an illustration of slaves (employees) who owed money and failed to repay.
One Bible scholar commented: “It sometimes happens that a wrongdoer will take more notice of two or three (especially if they are people worthy of respect) than he will of one, especially if the one is a person with whom he has had a difference of opinion.”
Do You Recall?
□ Primarily, to what sort of sin does Matthew 18:15-17 apply?
□ What should we remember if we have to take the first step?
□ Who may be of help if we must go to the second step?
□ Who are involved in taking the third step, and how may we yet gain our brother?
[Picture on page 18]
Jews avoided tax collectors. Matthew turned from his ways and followed Jesus
[Picture on page 20]
Often we can resolve a matter “under four eyes”