by: Pastor David Huffstutler
There are times when overlooking a brother’s sin is not an option. There must be a confrontation, repentance, and forgiveness to restore the relationship. This is conditional forgiveness—we cannot forgive the sinner unless he repents for his sin (see Luke 17:3–4). Sometimes love covers sins (1 Peter 4:8), and sometimes rebuke is better than hidden love (Proverbs 27:5–6). Four questions help us to determine whether or not sin compels a confrontation and forgiveness must be formal.
Does the sin harm the bond between us? Sometimes the sin severs the relationship between the innocent and sinning parties. As seen above in Luke 17:3–4, the sin is “against you” and Jesus commands the offended party to “rebuke.” If the offender has clearly sinned and refuses to repent, the innocent party should confront again with two or three witnesses. If repentance is still not forthcoming, the sin should be brought before the church (Matthew 18:15–18). Every step along the way, the goal is for the offender to repent.
Does the sin harm the brother himself? Sometimes a sin becomes a habit and traps the sinner in the sin. “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). The sinner is wandering and needs a brother to bring him back (Hebrews 3:13; James 5:19–20; Jude 23).
Does the sin harm another brother in Christ? Sometimes a sin is against someone other than yourself. Righteousness in this situation demands another Christian to come to the rescue by confronting the brother who is harming another. The innocent might be poor, fatherless, widowed, or oppressed in some other way (James 1:27; cf. Exodus 23:6; Proverbs 31:8–9; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:3). Whatever the sin may be, there are times when a Christian must confront one brother in Christ for sinning against another.
Does the sin harm the body of Christ? Sometimes the sin is so sinful that it can ruin the testimony of a church. Overlooking incest, for example, is not loving but arrogant and not even practiced by pagans (1 Corinthians 5:1–2). Other sinners that we must confront include those “guilty of sexual immorality or greed…an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler” (1 Corinthians 5:11). Additionally, tolerating this level of sin encourages further sin in the church (1 Corinthians 5:6–8). Allowing one bitter root of a person to spring and bear poisonous fruit could defile the body as a whole (Hebrews 12:15; cf. Deuteronomy 29:18–19). If such a one is unrepentant, he must be put out of the church (1 Corinthians 5:13). Even then, however, this action is meant to provoke the sinner to repentance, and, if he repents, he should be forgiven and restored (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5–8).
All quotes ESV. Articles by Pastor Huffstutler are at davidhuffstutler.com.