I have been preaching through a series on the topic of Church Discipline. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus tells us that if we see a brother in sin, we should go and tell him his fault. This is traditionally understood as the first step of Church Discipline. Private confrontation of sin.
But how should it happen? How do you approach someone to talk to them about something in their life? My guess is that we often avoid this conversation because we do not know how to do it. Let me offer a few practical steps to consider when thinking about going to your brother or sister in Christ to talk to them about their sin.
1. Make Sure You Are Dealing With Sin
We need to be careful about going to our brother or sister in Christ to talk about a "sin" which is really nothing more than some tradition we have invented. Make sure that the topic is an actual sin. Are there clear biblical passages that explain what they are doing is sinful?
2. Pray Before You Go
Pray for your heart. Pray in repentance of your own sinfulness. Pray that God would soften their heart to be receptive to your initiation into their life. You will want to make sure to come with a praying heart.
3. Don't Talk To Others
Jesus didn't say when you see someone in sin that you should go ask everyone you know if they know what's going on with that person. And so we should avoid gossip. We avoid slander by going directly to the person. We can avoid a lot of damage by just talking to the person instead of talking about the person. In his book, The Transforming Community, Mark Lauterbach made this insightful comment:
"My obligation is to love my brother. If he has sinned, love owes him the opportunity to repent without embarrassment. If I have misunderstood, love owes him the opportunity to clear my misperceptions" (101).
4. Make Sure You Have Accurate Information
Ask questions. Don't go in accusing, go in seeking to know the person. Is there any chance you didn't see something correctly? Is there any chance you are wrong? Tell them what you saw or what you have heard and ask them to respond.
5. Choose Your Words Carefully
Lead with humility by the words you use. Make sure you communicate how much you love them and care for them. Make sure they are well aware that you are there for them. This is not a hit and run. This is not a traffic stop. Proverbs 25:15 says that a soft tongue breaks the bone. Be gentle with them and help them seek repentance.
6. Open Your Bible
Your authority is not your own wisdom. Your authority to help restore them rests in the authority of the Word of God. God says that His Word is like a sword that deals with the heart. Use it.
7. Give Them Time To Talk
This conversation best happens in an environment where you are not rushed. Engage them in a dialogue. Listen to them. Be engaged and interested in their life. Give them time to explain.
8. Pray With Them
Ask them if you can pray with them right then and there. The prayer is not one to call God's judgment down upon them. You are praying for their sensitivity to the Spirit of God and that He would help lead them in repentance.
9. Follow-Up With Them
Don't forget them after you have talked to them. Schedule a time later to talk to them. For some sins, if they repent, it is over. For others, while it will be over and forgiveness can be granted, the consequences of that sin are going to take time to help them walk through. So don't leave them alone.
What have I missed? What are some other things to think through as you seek to go to your friend in sin and help them be restored?