If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. – Matthew 18:15
This passage of Scripture is taken from a famous passage of Scripture where our Lord speaks about dealing with sin the Church. Many are quick to use this passage alone, out of context to have liberty to judge and expose a pastor, leader, or other brother or sister publicly. Public exposing of ministers has become a popular sport amongst believers in our day, one cannot read from a christian news website and not see some sort of expose or critical piece bringing to light faults, sins or unsavoury practices. A good question to ask ourselves: Is the Lord pleased with such things and is this the Biblical and Christian way to approach sin and failing in the Church? The world and the enemy is full of glee when an expose happens because it gives them more ammunition to reject Jesus Christ as a farce and assume Christianity is not true. In context this passage comes after the Parable of the wandering sheep where Jesus says it is very important to the heart of God to seek after the one lost sheep (Matthew 18:10-14). The heart behind seeking the sheep is not to accuse them, or publicly expose their failing, but to restore them to the fold as a healthy part of the flock. The Parable after this passage speaks of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven much but then in the end did not forgive his fellow worker (Matthew 18:21-35).
The heart behind the story the Lord was sharing is that we should always have mercy on the failings of others. All of us as believers have failed at some point. And it becomes a sin and thing that even angers God when we are unmerciful to others in the body of Christ. Coming back to the passage at hand now we can see it in a different light. The reason to go to the brother and sister is to share forgiveness and love to them, as our Lord told Peter to “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). If a believer is fully blinded towards his fault other witnesses can be brought, in the heart to see restoration, reconciliation and forgiveness from both sides. “Tell it to the church” means speaking confidently to the Overseers and leaders so that they can speak into the situation. Many use the phrase “if they refuse to listen even to the church” (Matthew 18:17) to mean now you can go ahead and expose them publicly to the world and to all christian believers. Such thinking is wrong and was not what our Lord thinks or had in mind in sharing what he did. Again, the heart of love that our Lord expresses in the Parable of the sheep, the mercy he requires in the Parable of the servant and the forgiveness he commands Peter must be in the forefront of our minds. The only reason to treat someone as a pagan who is a believer, such “shunning” is only to be a for a time in the heart of love to win the believer back. In the end the Church Elders are the one’s that can forbid the Lord’s Supper and give this discipline to the believer in great desire for healing and repentance. If all believers sought to correct each other in a strict judgement it would be havoc in the body of Christ and accusations would be daily. May we have mercy, love and forgiveness for all, for love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).