The Second Step In Church Discipline

March 24, 2002 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos


Review the principles in Step 1.

  When a brother sins against you, “Go”
  • Don’t just keep silent and mull over the offense
  • Don’t go to others to talk to them about his sin. When a person sins against us, our tendency is to say, “Did you hear about So-and-so? It’s so sad, but we’re praying for brother So-and-so.” And the word starts spreading around. Eventually it becomes gossip.
  • Go and settle the matter with the offender, and do it quickly or ASAP.
  • But clear your heart of any malice or grudge before you go. Lev 19:17-18 17 Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. 18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.)
  • Going to a brother to show him his fault is a Christian duty. Someone said, “If you see your brother commit a sin, and you pass by and neglect to admonish him, it is just as cruel as if you should see his house on fire, and pass by and not warn him of it.”
  “Show him his fault”
  • Go purposefully.
  • Go with the intention of showing him his fault. Don’t just go hoping that your conversation will lead to the
  • Go with the intention of proving or convincing him his fault. You want the person to realize the seriousness of his sin or that he has really sinned.
  • Use clear words in doing so.
  • Show him his fault using Scriptures, but use it wisely and carefully.
  “just between the two of you”
  • This is not the step you do after you have talked to others.
  • Any discussion of the sin must be with the offender, not behind his or her back. Many “pious” gossips express concern for sin, often in the form of “prayer requests.” It is easy to gossip. It takes courage and caring to confront. But that is the Christian’s duty.
  • Confront in private, “just between the two of you.”
  • You should go alone so that there are just the two of you. The first confrontation is to be “between thee and him alone.”
  • If you confront the person in love and humility without saying anything to anyone else and that person repents, you will have a bond of intimacy that nothing will be able to break. God doesn’t say, “Shout it from the housetops.” He says, “Just go by yourself, and let it be between the two of you.” Verse 15 says, “If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” That is what you are seeking to accomplish.
  • Don’t bring others into the picture yet.
  • One Bible commentator wrote: In the history of the church believers have debated whether there must be a public confession of a sin that is dealt with privately. The church of the first few centuries consistently required persons under discipline to make a public confession. Matthew’s text does not give any suggestion that this is necessary. Whether the confession is public or private depends on the stage at which the offender responds to discipline. Repentance means that the sin is forgiven and the issue is settled. Unrepentance means that the discipline for sin must advance to the next stage.
  "If he listens to you”
  • Do not be too idealistic as to think that the first time you confront he will listen.
  • Hope for the best but be realistic!
  you have won your brother over.
  • Your goal in confronting in private is to win you brother over, i.e., to restore a broken relationship between the two of you caused by sin and to restore his broken relationship with God. You have won over your brother to the group that he has offended, especially when they see the change in him.
  But if he will not listen to you…(18:16a)
  • Pointing out someone’s fault is risky, for there is no way of knowing how he will respond.
  • Confront with patience. If he does not listen to you, do not give up immediately.
  What shall we do if the “one on one” confrontation is not successful? Shall we suddenly jump into a public disciplinary action?   No! The guilty individual must be given another opportunity to turn from his sinful behavior. According to the Lord Jesus we should now go to the next step in the disciplinary process:   Mt 18:16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' (NIV)   Paul’s language is similar: “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning” (Titus 3:10). Jesus and Paul both affirmed that one is to be privately addressed at least twice before any public disciplinary action is to be taken. Let us look more closely at the words of our Lord. If the situation has proved too difficult for two people to resolve alone. They need help, and “one or two more” believers are often able to provide sufficient assistance to settle the matter.  

step 2: take one or two others along

  Mt 18:16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' (NIV)  
  1. When do we involve other persons in the confrontation?
  The Lord said, “But if he will not listen....“   The word “listen” in this context means more than merely hearing with the ear. It means to “to agree, follow, heed or obey”. This is supported by what appears as a summary of Jesus’ instruction on this matter in Luke 17:3: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Repentance involves a change of attitude toward sin followed by a corresponding change of action. Genuine repentance may be evidenced by humble and patient listening to an admonition from concerned brethren, agreeing that he has sinned and willing turning from the sinful conduct and making restitution, if needed.   So the taking of “one or two others along” is only needed only after you have gone through the first step and only if the one being confronted does not agree that he has sinned or is not willing to change, and if the one confronting still believes the problem to be unresolved. If the offender acknowledges his wrong and asks for forgiveness, however, or if the one confronting realizes that it was a misunderstanding, there is no need for this second step in the disciplinary process.  
  1. who are the “one or two others” and what roles do they play?
  NRSV: 16 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.   New Living Translation 16But 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.   I am not really certain what our Lord means by this. If you read several commentaries you will discover that even the scholars are not in agreement as to the roles the one or two others play. But there are three suggested roles:
  • Christ is talking about actual witnesses who know the sin committed first-hand.
  • He is talking about counselors whose intention is still to win the brother over.
  • He is talking about individuals who will become witnesses before the church in case the second step fails and there will be a need for public confrontation.
  I will not choose one position against the others. I believe Christ means for these three roles to be included in this passage. When I interpret this passage and when I observe or apply it to the actual cases I have handled myself or have been involved in, I have seen that often two or three of these roles are needed. Sometimes the one or two individuals you take along are actual witnesses, sometimes they are mature counselors can help you settle the matter, sometimes they will become witnesses to protect from any misrepresentation this second step in the disciplinary process. And so let us look at the three possible roles:    
  1. The one or two we take along are counselors who will admonish and counsel the offender to repent and to help reconcile the estranged parties.
  This purpose is revealed in the first words of Matt 18:17: “And if he refuses to listen to them....”   The two or three are included in order to strengthen the reproof with a view toward restoration. The picture that we see here is a small group attempting to admonish the sinning brother. When they know that sin has taken place in the situation, at any time during their involvement in it, their job is to lovingly confront the one who is at fault.   Carl Laney While the witnesses may serve to bring new objectivity to the situation, it appears that their primary purpose is to strengthen the rebuke and thus lead the offender to repentance. Bringing a matter of sin to a brother’s attention in the presence of witnesses may sound like a threatening or intimidating situation. Yet the purpose is not to threaten or intimidate the sinner into repentance. The intent is to help the offender realize the seriousness of the situation. Bubna acknowledges, “Although moving into the group process is scary, it does improve the attention level.”   Spurgeon If the brother has sinned grievously, he will probably be angry, or disrespectful, and he will not listen to you. Do not, give him up; persevere in seeking peace. Plead your case with the support of companions: take with thee one or two more. Possibly the offender may listen to what is said by the other brethren, although he may be prejudiced against you; or he may attach weight to united confrontation which he might not feel if the complaint came only from one individual.   In actual cases, when the guilty party denies the sin, there may be a need for the “one or two others” to thoroughly investigate the case. This would, of course, include extended discussion with the people involved and perhaps bring in actual witnesses.  
  1. Now this leads us to the second possible meaning of this passage. The Lord is referring to ACTUAL WITNESSES.
  The one or two we bring along are those who know of the sin of the offender first hand and the reason they are brought along is to help establish the original charge by their added testimony. They confirm that the sin has really been committed. When church discipline will lead to public exposure, we must make sure that it is done only after the fact of sin has been confirmed and established by more than one person. This is in keeping with the Mosaic legislation in Deuteronomy 19:15, which Jesus quotes directly.   Dt 19:15 One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.   The purpose of that law of witnesses was to eliminate the possibility of someone’s being convicted on the basis of a false accusation from one individual.   Paul confirms this in 1Ti.5:19 when he wrote, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.”   For the confrontation process to proceed to the next level, therefore, the “one or two more” would need to be able to witness reliably to the fact that sin has indeed been committed.   These witnesses must be made to understand the purpose of the whole disciplinary process. It is to show the person his fault, to prove to him and convince him of his sin. It is to help him be delivered from the blindness of his sin. But the ultimate aim for this is to restore the offender to the offended and to Christ. We must not lose sight of that objective: to win the brother over. There may be a need also to warn the witnesses of the possibility for this process to still be unsuccessful. But they should be told not to give up. They need to obey the word of Christ and be patient and give the guilty person another chance to repent.  
  1. There is a third possible role of the “one or two more”. This becomes their role when this second process becomes unsuccessful. They will act as witnesses before the church in the third step in the disciplinary process.
  Jay Adams The “witnesses” are not merely witnesses. They are first counselors who seek to reunite the two estranged parties. That is indicated in the words “if he refuses to listen to them.” They are pictured as actively participating in the reconciliation process. It is when the refusal takes place, and only then, that they turn into witnesses. They do not appear as witnesses in this informal stage (to whom would they witness?); They will become witnesses if and when the matter is formally brought before the church.   Spurgeon By calling in worthy arbiters, you give the offender a better opportunity to set himself right. This time, let us hope, the brother will be won. But if not, you will have secured yourself against misrepresentation: 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. It is by misquotation of words that quarrels are fomented; and it is a great thing to have the means of rectifying erroneous reports. Although it is a very unwise thing to interfere in quarrels, yet from this text it is clear that we should be willing to be one of the two or three who are to assist in settling a difference.   MacArthur Verse 16 says that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established.” These are not one or two people who saw the sin or originally knew about it. Rather they are witnesses of the confrontation who can come back and confirm what was said. Their presence is as much a protection for the one being approached as it is for the one approaching. After all, a biased person could erroneously say, “Well, I tried to confront him, but he’s impenitent.” It would be presumptuous to think that one person could make that ultimate determination, especially if he had been sinned against. The witnesses need to confirm whether there is a heart of repentance or one of indifference or rejection. Such a report provides the basis for further action because the situation has been verified beyond the report of one individual. God wants two or three witnesses to confirm either the person’s repentance or impenitence. Before discipline takes place, He wants to be sure that our analysis of a person’s attitudes and actions are accurate. He doesn’t want wrong reports given about His people. He doesn’t want it to be said that they are not repenting when they are, or vice versa.  
  1. What Kind of People Should we involve in the confrontation?
  Jesus does not answer this question directly in Matthew 18, but let us turn to other passages for guidance.   Gal 6:1 says, “If a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”  
  1. The one or two that should be included in the confrontation, especially if they will serve as counselors should be individuals who are SPIRITUAL IN CHARACTER.
  1. Spiritual people know Scriptures (Col 3:16)
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  
  1. Spiritual people are filled by the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.   MacArthur To be filled with the Spirit has the idea of being moved along, being controlled by the Holy Spirit. (Mt 4:1—Christ was led by the H.S. Lk 4:1—full of the H.S. Christ was thrusted to the wilderness. To be filled is to empty yourself of yourself. It’s a matter of the confession of sin. It involves the simple surrender of your will, your intellect, your body, your time, your talent, your treasure, everything to His control. It’s the death of self, the crucifixion of self, it’s the slaying of your own self-will, it’s the mortification of the members of your mortal body, it’s the death of you, when you die he fills, when you empty yourself of yourself, he will fill it up. Col 3:16 is a parallel of Eph 5:18. Being filled with the Spirit is the same thing as letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly. It is because it produces the same results. Do you want to be filled with the H.S.? Fill yourself with the word of Christ. As we are filled with God’s Word, it controls our thinking and action and we thereby come more and more under the Spirit’s control.  
  1. Spiritual people are prayerful. They realize that unless the Lord builds the house those who labor do so in vain. One pastor said: “Praying without doing anything is wrong, but doing anything without praying is equally wrong.”
  1. Spiritual people take their involvement in the process of loving confrontation very seriously.
  • The Old Testament law of witnesses states that when someone was convicted of a crime worthy of death, the witnesses themselves would be the first to bring down the heavy stones upon the head of the criminal (Deut 17:5-7).
  • This stipulation provided incentive for an honest, grave, and reluctant report from the witnesses—and the principle behind it should remind us of the seriousness of confrontation.
  • The life of the accused is really at stake, even in our confrontations today, and so the “one or two more” must exhibit a sober attitude in their words and actions.
  • Also, spiritual people take the process seriously because they recognize the special presence of Christ Himself in discussions concerning sin and conflict (Matt 18:20).
Mt 18:20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."  
  1. Spiritual people are objective.
Prov 18:2 says, “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.” ~ Sometimes we can be so intent on making our point that we continue making it even when some data surfaces and proves it wrong. ~ We must give others the benefit of the doubt and try to put ourselves in their shoes, just as we would want them to do to us if the roles were reversed (Luke 6:31).  
  1. Spiritual people have enough personal integrity before others.
This is a requirement especially if they would be credible witnesses to the church if another step of confrontation becomes necessary.  
  1. Spiritual people do not have to be the church leaders.
Obviously the leaders of your church should be qualified to be involved in this kind of discussion, but it might often be better to leave them out of the problem until it would become necessary to “tell it to the church.” This would keep them from being overburdened with every problem in the local body and also would allow other mature members of the congregation to be involved in this important aspect of ministry.   And so that is their character: Spiritual. Next we turn to their objective. The one or two we take along in the this process should first have the right character and secondly, they should have the right objective.  
  1. Their objective is to restore.
  Gal 6:1 Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”   Your goal in confronting in private is to win you brother over, i.e., to restore a broken relationship between the two of you caused by sin and to restore his broken relationship with God.   They do not involve themselves in this process because they want to quarrel or because they enjoy confronting others. Pro 17:19 “He who loves a quarrel loves sin” Pro 20:3 “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel”  
  1. Their manner is with Gentleness.
  Gal 6:1 Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”   Pastor Robbie Casas We must recognize that a Christian caught in sin is in a very precarious position and could be further “broken” by the wrong approach on our part. A lack of gentleness could tempt him to respond badly and cut himself off from the help he needs, but the presence of gentleness can work wonders. Consider these verses: Pro 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Pro 16:2 Pleasant words promote instruction. Pro 25:15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.   Gentleness that makes the confrontation easier to take can be exhibited in a number of practical ways.
  • You should confess any sin you may have committed against those you confront and ask for their forgiveness.
  • If you don’t know of any sin that you have committed, you could still ask them if they believe you have done anything wrong.
  • You should make sure that your manner of speaking and the tone of your voice are calm and kind, rather than angry or brusque.
  • You can explain how you have struggled with the same sin or others in your life, and even how someone helped you through loving confrontation.
  • And you should compliment them on the good things in their lives as well as confronting them about the problems. (This is not a psychological trick, but a biblical practice based on the approach of Paul in most of his epistles. Before he addressed the problems in each church, he thanked God for the good things in their midst [e.g., 1Cor 1:4-9].)
  They are Gentle because they are conscious of their own sinfulness. After Paul tells the Galatians that they should restore others in a spirit of gentleness, he adds, “looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted.” Robbie Casas It is possible to approach the situation in a wrong way and hurt the person more, or you could become prideful and look down on him without trying to see the problem from his perspective. The Lord wants you to understand that you are just as capable of falling into sin as anyone else (even the same sin), so that you will enter into confrontation with an attitude of humility. In fact, you need to realize that you may even be tempted to sin during the confrontation!   They are gentle because they have Compassion. Paul described his attitude toward the Corinthians when he wrote his confrontational letter in 2Co 2:4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.   He wanted them to understand that his purpose in confronting was not to hurt them in any way, but to help them grow in the Lord and receive His blessing in their lives. Others will be able to accept your correction and instruction more easily if they know that you care for them.   After the confrontation with the one or two others, the issue should be closed. They should not gossip about this. It’s settled. In some cases there will be a need to bring in the leaders of the church, only to help in the restoration process. If this second step fails, then we go to the third step. This time the church gets involved. We will look into that next time, God willing.