If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. (Matt. 18:15)
AS A YOUNG PASTOR, I was filled with a zeal for righteousness. Just as Saul had sought license from the Sanhedrin to roam from city to city rooting out those he believed had sullied the religion of Abraham with their “heretical” faith in Jesus, I was certain that part of my job was to protect the church from any hint of unrighteousness. Armed with the commands of Scripture and the traditions of our holiness movement, I had more than one occasion to practice the discipline outlined in Matthew 18.
Yet there was one thing I overlooked in my zeal: the purpose of disciplining believers. Jesus hinted at this in His careful procedure for confronting sin, which began with a private conversation, and He made the purpose explicit in His next statement. The purpose is not to win an argument but to win a soul. Like Saul, I was more concerned with the integrity of the religion than the heart of the sinner. My early attempts to challenge Christians to faithfulness may have done more harm than good.
Jesus embodied both truth and grace (John 1:14), and we should too. Confronting wrongdoing is not a matter of protecting the church or enforcing standards but of rescuing souls from slavery to sin. Privacy, tact, gentleness, and, above all, love are the tools of this trade.
Ponder this question: “Do I care more about purity or people?”
Lawrence W. Wilson is the author of A Different Kind of Crazy: Living the Way Jesus Did and coauthor of The Long Road Home. He lives near Indianapolis, Indiana.