Saturday, May 3, 2008

FAITH QUESTIONS: How should I respond when someone sins against me?

Question from Michell in Oregon (* Michell, thank you for your patience. I have about 20 Faith Questions I haven't had time to answer. I trust this helps).

FAITH QUESTION: A lady at church recently betrayed a confidence I told her. It wasn't about a sin issue, but about a private family matter. How should I confront her?

First and foremost you must determine if this is a significant offense. In Ephesians 4 we are called to be gracious and tolerant of each other's faults. True biblical love is "not easily angered" (1 Cor 13:5). Proverbs 12:16 tells us that “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult”. Frankly, at times scripture calls us to simply forgive a wrong and move forward (Acts 7:60). Yet there are times when confronting sin becomes necessary. However, it should always be in a spirit of love and in the best interest of the offender (Gal 6:1-2). In other words, confronting the offender is less about "making them say sorry", and more about letting them experience the healing power of living in grace. If this is not your motivation, then you shouldn't confront.

When we feel we must confront, it must be with gentleness and humility (see Gal 6:1-3) and without quarrelsomeness or resentment and with much prayer (see 2 Tim 2:24-26). As to the specifics of how to confront, Matthew 18:15-20 is God's direct answer to your question. It details how you are to respond when you feel someone has sinned against you. The entire passage states,

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault,
between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you,
that every charge may be established
by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.
And if he refuses to listen even to the church,
let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Truly, I say to you, whatever you
bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Again I say to you, if two of you
agree on earth about anything they ask,
it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

For where two or three are gathered in my name,
there am I among them."

First: It encourages you to talk to them in private to point out the sin or offense. There are several reasons for this. (a) It gives the individual an opportunity to makes things right with you privately, thus protecting their reputation. As Christians, we should seek to protect the reputation of our brothers and sisters in the faith. (b) It also gives you the opportunity to hear the other persons point of view. Listening to the other persons side of the story often helps avoid misunderstandings.

Second: If there is no repentance, you involve a couple of wise, godly Christians. Most specifically, this is referring to people who are in church leadership (such as deacons, elders, or pastors). Notice that this does not give you the right to run around telling everyone about the situation--even under the sinful and dishonest guise of "getting advice". There is no room for gossip or whining to others about how you have been hurt. To do so would be to commit a grievous sin in the eyes of God--and failure the protect the reputation of your brother or sister in Christ. Allow the wisdom of the godly leaders in the church to help mediate this situation, and in the process be open to any challenges they give to you about your own behavior or attitude. Be willing to growth personally, and don't be totally consumed about the "other" person growing.

Third: In conjunction with the church elders, bring the matter before the entire congregation if the offender refuses to repent. This is perhaps one of the most neglected aspects of church life in modern times. By failing to confront sin, and by failing to bring unrepentant sin before the Body, we give license to sin in our churches and destroy our effectiveness for Christ. More terrifying still, we damage our own souls. This is the last and most drastic step--and should only be done when the pastor and church leadership decide it is time.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Faith Questions" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.


  1. Great counsel, and biblical.
    Imagine how beautiful the church could be as we practice godly discipline for restoring the health of the body of Christ.


    tom coughlin

  2. I have just went through something similar and someone pointed me to this blog. How amazing it is and I am greatful to know that there are leaders out there spreading good Godly wisdom that is backed by scripture.
    Thank you for this article.