Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:15-20
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. –Matthew 18:15-17
The above scripture is tough. If sin is separation from God, how does that play out in relationships between humans? If sin is missing the mark? Who establishes what the mark is? If the way we treat one another classifies as a sin against God, what is our responsibility to the other member of the church involved whom we are called to love? Does this scripture indicate that the church is a closed, exclusive organization with no concerns about people beyond its walls? How does that mesh with Jesus’ teachings about loving our neighbors? It probably is not fair to separate verses 15-17 from verses 18-20, but I fear that is what happens in the everyday functions of any church.
Christ calls us to be one, and that requires us to figure out how to get along and work productively with one another. Becoming one is a challenge when we cluster with people who are very much like ourselves. Becoming one with people of markedly different cultures is much harder even impossible without the abiding presence of God’s guiding our way.
I cannot imagine what it was like carving out a new religion in the first century bringing together peoples from various other faith experiences or none at all. We see snippets of frustration with melding diversity throughout the gospels and the writings of Paul. One of the most difficult parts surely was moving from a predominantly exclusive system honed by years of oppression by outside forces to a fully inclusive system opening the doors to former oppressors.
With these considerations aside, the advice in verse 15 is sound. When there is a problem between two church members, it is best to discuss it calmly and privately. The inability to resolve the problem amicably resulting in involving others opens a different can of worms. History tells us when such situations lead to positive or negative outcomes. For good or bad, our many denominations are the result of such disagreements. It is very important that our actions are not missing the mark with God.
Prayer: Lord, grant us the gift of discernment that we may know how to deal with one another within the context of your rule of love. Help us to comprehend when we have sinned against another and guide us to seek forgiveness from the one we have harmed and you. When we feel someone has sinned against us grant us the wisdom we need to deal with the issue in a way that will bring you glory. Amen.
All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.