15 Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Mat. 18:15-17
There are many stories of heroic rescue missions where the entire mission involved rescuing just one person. My pick for this post is the rescue of U.S. Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady. During the Bosnian war in 1995, against tremendous odds and against a formidable foe, the United States Army sent a team of servicemen to rescue Captain Scott O’Grady who had been shot down behind enemy lines. Although hunted down day and night by the enemy, O’Grady had managed to elude his pursuers for six days. Through unrelenting searching via radio, and operating just beyond the enemy’s reach, finally, the U.S. Army located their downed colleague.
But the enemy had also located O’Grady’s position, and they were waiting for the rescue team when it came.
But the team that went to rescue O’Grady was no ordinary team. The United States Army did not send a couple of guys over with the weak instructions to “Go see what you can do. See whether it is even possible to bring him out. If not, crawl safely back, we will just read his obituary.”
No, the Army did not do that. The Army intended to bring O’Grady back, alive. So what did they do? They sent in two navy helicopters carrying 43 Marines, together with two gunships, and four Harrier fighter jets. Forty heavily armed aircraft backed up the rescue team. All these were sent to rescue just one man. Yes, the United States commanders risked the lives of all these men, and their own positions, to rescue just one man. Fortunately, God was on the Army’s side and they overcame the enemy’s resistance and succeeded in bringing Captain Scott home – alive and well. The mission was a national success story.
So how does this story relate to our scripture above?
Far from it being a dead religious guideline on how to handle disputes in church, this scripture is talking of something entirely different, something far much grander. (At any rate, God is not religious in the myopic way we view religion. On the contrary, God is up close to each one of us, and unfathomably personal.)
This scripture is talking of the great worth that Christ attaches to every individual believer. We probably will never know while here on earth how much value, how much love God attaches to each one of His children.
Notice the progression of events here. If your brother trespasses against you, the first thing you are to do is to try and patch things up, just the two of you. If he hearkens to you, glory to God! you have gotten back your brother. Nothing more needs to be said and nobody else needs to know about what transpired.
If the brother does not hearken to you, still do not rush to the newspapers. Instead, the Bible says call one or two brethren and ask them to intervene. They must be spiritually sound, of course, otherwise things could turn out a whole lot differently. If the brother agrees to reconcile, it is a beautiful ending and you can both look forward to serving God better in the future.
If the man still does not relent, still, no problem. The Bible says to bring the matter up in church. The Bible does not tell us to bring the matter to the intelligent-looking or the moneyed, or our friends in church; no, it says simply the church. That is very important. The Bible, of course, assumes that the church is a spiritually mature and sound place where the Holy Spirit has full reign. Such a church has the power and authority to arbitrate between you and your brother. (The Bible categorically refuses us permission to take our cases to a worldly court of law. The church has the sole responsibility to arbitrate between Christian believers.)
If the brother refuses to listen to the church, then he has cut himself from the fellowship of the church, and from God. He in effect becomes a heathen, together with anyone who befriends him. There are always people in church who will try to show these kinds of people how much they have been wronged, etc. But God respects the church as much as He does His Son Jesus, and if someone will not respect the church, God has no choice but to leave or dump him.
But look! Notice how protective God is towards the erring brother. In every step of the way, great restraint is used. It is clear, right from the start, that God has no intention whatsoever of exposing one of his children’s faults. On the contrary, through the spiritual mechanism that He has set forth, God embraces the wronging brother! Because of the great love that God has for us, He has set up in church this mechanism to ensure that each of His children’s privacy is protected, so to speak. But God goes beyond there. Every step of this mechanism is geared towards bringing healing to the erring brother. How? By allowing him to reach the point where he can repent of his wrongdoing. Repentance is the sole bridge between God and man.
For a brother to get to the stage where he does not hearken to all these elements of the church, therefore, it means he is a son of Belial. Long before he gets there, God has given him chance after chance to repent and repair his ways.
What about us? What happens when we are not walking in the Spirit? We have no brakes. Even worldly nations have levels of everything, including terror levels. But what about us? When in the flesh, we will find ourselves jumping to the highest level of dealing with the erring brother. With no restraint whatsoever, we will want to first tell other people about what has happened. Sometimes we want to tell the whole world! Right away the brother who has wronged us becomes a mortal enemy! There are even brethren who write in newspapers about how they have been wronged. And some will even ‘prophesy’ in church. People will use any means to get back at the person who has wronged them.
But that ought not to be so in church. God is love. Through Jesus Christ we, too, have been moulded into the image of God, and His love and compassion ought to fill up our lives. We ought to love our brothers as God loves us. Trumpeting our brothers’ faults abroad is certainly not love, and such an approach scatters instead of gathering together. But if there is a chance that reconciliation can be reached just between the two of us, nothing more needs to be done. Or said.
But when we have crucified our flesh, we will do things just as God does them.
[The church is a place of love and acceptance]