Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 18:15’

Ah – human nature! We all have it. We are all weak and stumble in many ways (James 3:2). For instance, we all have opinions about everything from the best football teams to the best new fashions, and often think our view is the view.  

And then when we get together in a group this comes out. There will be things we don’t like – it might be a person, a point of view, or just the way things are done. And we know from experience that this often leads to failings on our part and the part of others as we get caught up in ungodly conflicts and division.

With regard to a local congregation we know that God calls us to be together and to love each other and to do the work of the kingdom together. But how do we then deal with the things we don’t like about the group or don’t agree with? I want to be really specific in our focus this morning – how do we deal with what we may not like about the direction the leadership is setting for the group?

The title this morning is The right way to express concerns – or don’t be a grumbler! Let me emphasize, you will never escape being unhappy with parts of what goes on in a group. It’s human nature and you take that with you to any group you belong to. You can’t get away from it. So sisters and brother, we might as well learn how to deal with this in a godly and healthy way.

I share this morning not just because I happen to be a leader here and don’t like grumbling and how it damages us when it happens, but because I am a part of other groups and don’t want to be a grumbler myself. And I haven’t been and won’t always be a pastor, so I need this just like we all need to be reminded of this.

An all too familiar story

There are a number of stories about grumbling in the Scriptures. One story that stands out is Numbers 14. If you will remember the spies have come back from scoping out the promised land and most of them have given a bad report. It’s great, but . . . we will all be killed if we try to enter it. Then comes vs. 1-4. 1Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ 4And they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’”

They are grumbling primarily against God here, but for our purposes I want to focus on the grumbling against Moses and Aaron. And we learn first of all from this passage how grumbling works.

First, something bad happened that caused them to be full of fear and negativity. In this case, they heard a bad report. And instead of trusting God, and dealing with the issue, they gave in to fear. ‘We have come all this way only to discover that there are giants in the land waiting to kill us and our families! And even though God has done all these miracles and has been faithful to us in the past, this is too much. It will never work.’

So they began to speak against Moses and Aaron. As v. 2 says, they grumbled. Grumbling is expressing one’s discontent; it is complaining; and it usually carries with it the idea of saying these things quietly to others in the group. They had a problem, they were fearful and negative, and so they blamed their leaders, complaining about them and questioning their leadership to others.

They do bring their concerns to the leaders (v. 2) but not with a right heart. That’s because grumbling against a leader comes from a heart that is in the process of rejecting the leader. Which is what happened next. 

The congregation rebelled against Moses and Aaron. Let’s choose another leader and go in a different direction (v. 4). This is how grumbling works, at least in the case of grumbling against a leader.

We also learn from Numbers 14 about the seriousness of grumbling. 1. That generation was excluded from the promises. They were not allowed to enter the promised land but wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until they died (14:21-23). They did not obtain what God wanted to give them because of their grumbling.

2. Those who gave the bad report that led to the grumbling were killed by the Lord (14:36-37).

Grumbling brings judgment. Paul in talking about Numbers 14 says this in 1 Corinthians 10:10, we must not “grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” And he specifically says these things were written for our instruction to learn from (10:11). And James says in James 5:9, “Do not grumble against one another, sisters and brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” 

How should we express our concerns?

Well, certainly not with grumbling. Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without grumbling . . . ” Instead of this, we should 1. have a right heart. That is, don’t be fueled by fear and negativity which undermines leadership. The Israelites spoke to their leaders, but it was too late. They were already planning on getting new leaders and going in a different direction. Their heart wasn’t right.

Rather, recognize that there will always be problems that we go through as a group. And we need to respond in faith that God will lead us through. If we have allowed our hearts to be full of fear and negativity, pray for the Spirit to change your heart before you speak about your concern. 

2. Go to the leaders. Follow the principle of Matthew 18:15 and go to them face to face. Don’t whisper or talk to others, go to them. II have had for a while now a policy of not receiving anonymous critical notes. And I will say now that I will no longer receive any second hand anonymous verbal criticisms. I don’t want to empower this kind of harmful behavior. If you have a concern put your name and face to it. This is what God wants, direct communication about concerns.

Follow the principle of Galatians 6:1 and go with gentleness. Don’t wait so long that it all explodes in a hurtful and harmful way. Be loving and kind. And as 1 Thessalonians 5:12 teaches go with respect for your leaders.

3. Make your concern known. Listening by all parties is the key. James 1:19 says, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

You may find that leadership has more information on the situation than you do, or are working with confidential information, or there might be bigger issues involved that have to be considered. Or, leadership may not have thought of your concern, or they may have a blind spot on an issue, and it is actually God’s purpose that you speak to them to help them.

Hopefully each one’s concerns can be addressed, but sometimes there will still be different points of view. And so as followers we need to let those that God has put in place to lead, lead – knowing that they are responsible before God for the well-being of the congregation and so need to make decisions they are comfortable with. And unless they have done something that warrants their removal, or it is an issue that is so serious that we need to leave the group – we should respect them and the office they hold and pray for them.

Let’s end with a –

A different story

 This comes from Acts 6:1-5. “1Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers and sisters pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ 5And what they said pleased the whole gathering . . .”

So there was a complaint, Some were being overlooked in the distribution of food – an alms ministry conducted by the church in Jerusalem for widows. It is interesting that the word for grumbling is used here, translated as “complaint” in v. 1, but it is not used in a negative way. And I think it’s because they had a right heart. They were not fearful or negative, or rebellious against the leaders. They moved forward believing that God would lead the congregation through this.

They went to the leaders, not to others. They didn’t grumble and undermine leadership. And they made their concerns known. They were aware of a problem, which the apostles had overlooked. And because they went the apostles came up with a solution to the problem. They appointed other leaders to oversee the alms ministry and give full attention to it.  

Let me end by just saying once again – in any group we are a part of we will always have disagreements and discontentments. It’s what we do with these that matter.

  • If we follow our natural human response, the flesh, we will grumble and complain to others behind the backs of our leaders. This is the model of Numbers 14.
  • But I would invite you to follow the model of Acts 6. Come so we can talk together. I believe you will find that your input is welcome and valued. And if it seems too intimidating I encourage you to find someone to come with you, and we can talk together.

Which path will you follow? The way of Numbers 14 or the way of Acts 6?

William Higgins 








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In my title today I am echoing the form of some of the Proverbs, especially in chapter 30. And I do want to share some Scriptural wisdom with you today. I want to give us all some encouragement this morning to work at any relational tensions and conflicts we might have in our lives and in our congregation. And I am sharing this precisely at a time when I am not aware of any such concerns among us, so you can be sure that I have no particular situation in mind.

Working at good relationships is really important for any congregation, because when we don’t attend to our relationships it makes it quite difficult to be focused on doing the work of the Lord together. But when we do attend to these things and live in loving and healthy relationships with each other we can focus on doing the Lord’s work, and we will be the kind of people that God can use to do his work.

So here are 5 things in the area of conflict and broken relationships that amaze and bring joy, certainly to God and also to me as your pastor.

The first is –

Someone who truly confesses their wrong to another

If you have done wrong to someone, it is very tempting to be defensive. Maybe you think they have done worse to you before, or they deserved it – or whatever. And our culture would encourage you to make excuses and to evade responsibility. There is an epidemic of this. No one wants to admit their wrongs or take responsibility for them.

Instead of this, when you wrong someone, the Christian way is to freely and fully confess your wrong to the other person. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you (that is, you have wronged her or him), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24

Jesus teaches us to go to the one we have wronged. Don’t wait for them to come to you, or for the situation to blow up. Go to the one you have wronged. And go with the goal of being reconciled; of making things right, as Jesus said in v 24.

And this can’t happen if you don’t confess your wrong. You have to take responsibility for your words and actions.

The example of the prodigal son is instructive. He had wronged his father terribly. And so he came and said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” – Luke 15:21. He took full responsibility for his actions. He humbled himself. And he was willing to accept the consequences of his behavior.

And as we see in this story, true and heartfelt confession has the power to heal people; and it has the power to heal relationships. The father forgave him and they were able once again to have a relationship. They were able to start off anew.

A second thing that amazes and bring joy is –

Someone who takes their concern to the person who wronged them

If in the first case you were the one who wronged another, in this case you have been wronged.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” (NIV) Go to them in private, so that they can hear you and you can hear them and you can sort through the issue.

Now there is no doubt that this is hard to do. We most often prefer not to do this because we are conflict avoiders. We prefer to let the relationship wither rather than work hard to keep things right. And what a shocking indictment of our lack of love for one another this is!

But not only this, our conflict avoidance becomes an idol for us because it is more important to us than doing what Jesus teaches us. So in reality, we love neither God nor our neighbor.

When we don’t deal with things face to face we end up harboring resentment in our hearts which is poison within us. Or we might also be more active by spreading gossip. That is, instead of going to the person who wronged us, we go to everyone else and tell them about the wrong and how bad the person is. So not only is your relationship with the person damaged or destroyed, other people’s relationships with the person are damaged or destroyed.

It may seem risky, and it may be hard, but there is no other way if you want to maintain the relationship and be faithful to God. Take your concern to the person who wronged you.

A third thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who can deliver a good admonition

Admonition means “counsel or warning against fault or oversight.” In Matthew 18:15 it is translated – “point out their fault.” (NIV)

But how do we do this rightly so that its good admonition? Here are some keys:

Restoration is the goal. We go to “win them over” – Matthew 18:15 (NIV). Paul calls it “restoring” them in Galatians 6:1. We need to speak in a way that it can be received and have a positive outcome.

Mercy is necessary. We don’t go to condemn the person, judge them and put them down. As Jesus taught us in Luke 6:37-42 it is fine to take the speck out of someone else’s eye, but we must make sure we don’t have a log in ours; that is, a lack of mercy.

Humility is required. We have to be humble because we know that we are only forgiven sinners. We are not better than the person we go to. Paul says, “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted” Galatians 6:1 (NRSV). We too could fall into sin again, if we are not careful.

Gentleness is key. Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who have the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” – Galatians 6:1 (NRSV). There is no place for harshness.

When we do all this, we are giving what Proverbs 15:31 calls “life-giving reproof”; admonition that can truly bless and help someone.

A fourth thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who can hear and receive admonition

If going to another person with an admonition is hard, I think it is equally or perhaps more hard to be admonished; to receive admonition. Its hard because we don’t like to admit that we have done wrong. And we don’t like it if someone else points this out.

That’s why the book of Proverbs makes the point that it is scoffers (those who mock, deride, show contempt to others) who do not receive reproof – Proverbs 9:8; 15:12. And we don’t want to be scoffers!

It tells us that “he who hates reproof is stupid” – Proverbs 12:1. And we don’t want to be stupid! And it says, “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck (is stubborn or arrogant and won’t listen) will suddenly be broken beyond healing” – Proverbs 29:1. They will not receive the life-giving help that admonition can bring. And we don’t want to be in this position!

Proverbs also gives us positive encouragement to receive admonition, by pointing out that there are many benefits to it:

  • Proverbs 13:18 – “whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
  • Proverbs 15:5 – “whoever heeds reproof is prudent.”
  • Proverbs 10:17 – “whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life”
  • Proverbs 15:31 – “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise”
  • Proverbs 15:32 – “he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”

Receiving admonition is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of wisdom and maturity. That’s because the wise person wants to grow and be more faithful to God in every area of life, and so they are able to hear from another about their faults and any wrongs they may have done. And that’s why Proverbs 9:8 says, “Reprove a wise person and they will love you.” They will appreciate what you have done for them.

And so let’s be open to this, even if it is not done exactly correctly in your eyes (not tactfully or in a fully sensitive way). No, no. Listen for what God is saying to you through the person.

A fifth thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who doesn’t judge by appearances

Jesus said to the Jewish leaders who wrongly judged him, “Do not judge by appearances, but with right judgment” – John 7:24. And we should not judge each other by appearances. That is, don’t come to conclusions about someone else when you don’t know all the facts, when you have just overheard something or seen something that could be interpreted in various ways, or heard a rumor from a third party.

Never come to conclusions about someone else based on these things. How many relationships have been damaged or destroyed in this way! If there is a rumor or a question – find out the truth. Go to the person.

Leaders are especially vulnerable to this. And sometimes when there are issues that must remain private we can’t even say fully why some decision are made. But don’t judge by appearances. Have some trust and then if you need to, ask leadership any questions you have.

So here are five things that amaze and bring joy. Someone who:

  1. truly confesses their wrong
  2. takes their concern to the offender
  3. delivers a good admonition
  4. receives admonition
  5. doesn’t judge by appearances

The reason these qualities are amazing and bring joy is that they don’t come naturally to us. These are not our natural inclinations. These are a sure sign of God’s love working in our heart. They come from the Spirit of God working in us so that we both love God and do what he tells us, and we love our brothers and sisters as well.

William Higgins

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In working with those who seek to join the church, I try to make a point of telling people, “You aren’t joining a group of angels. You most likely will have conflict, be wronged, or have cause to get angry at times.” I say this to get rid of any illusions to the contrary or false expectations

Church is real life, with real people and if we seek to be a close community, that is involved in each others’ lives this stuff will happen

And so I ask, “Are you committed to working through this kind of stuff?” Jesus calls us to live in peace, not just walk away from each other when there are problems – like the world does. We are to be a different kind of community; one empowered by God to live in peace with one another.

We are really looking once again at Luke 17:3 – “If a brother sins, tell him to stop; if he repents forgive him.” We have dealt with what repentance looks like. And we have dealt with what forgiveness looks like. So today we look at what it means, in the words of this verse, to “tell him or her to stop.”

I am also bringing in Matthew 18:15. It says, “If your brother (or sister) sins, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.

Here is a checklist of seven things to do if a fellow believer wrongs you:

1. Make sure that you really have been wronged

This may seen strange to say, but sometimes our feelings get hurt or we get annoyed and angry, but we haven’t been wronged – at least not seriously. So we need to be discerning.

Is it a misunderstanding?  When people don’t communicate well, or don’t know each other well, or don’t understand each other (maybe they come from different cultural backgrounds) this is always a real possibility. In some cases you may think you have been wronged, but really the different parties just aren’t able to communicate with each other.

Is it a personality clash? Some people just don’t get along! They annoy each other and set each other off. They will probably never be close friends. And that’s OK. God likes different kinds of people. We are not all the same or even similar. We have to love each other, but we don’t have to be best friends.

This is a part of life – just don’t read into the other’s actions the worst possible motive, or make the worst assumptions just because your personalities clash. Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on . . . compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . ..” We need to learn to bear with one another in love.


Also, when there is an offense, ask, “Is this a minor issue that can be overlooked? For example if someone agrees to help you to do some project, but they forget about it and don’t show up – well this made you work more and maybe messed up your plans, but how badly have you been wronged? Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

How do you know if it needs to be dealt with? Check your anger level. Does it leave you feeling resentment or even a desire to get even? If there is abiding anger then deal with it.

2. Take the initiative and go

When there is a real wrong, Jesus tells us, “go” – Matthew 18:15.

I want us to notice first of all that if someone wrongs you, they should take the initiative to come to you and repent. This is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:23-24. Speaking to the person, he says, if you have offended someone – “.. . leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother . . ..” If you have done the wrong you are to go and make it right.

But if they don’t, don’t just let it slide. You are to go to them. In some cases, they may not be aware of what has happened or how you feel about it.

3. Go and deal with the person face to face

Jesus says, “between you and him alone” – Matthew 18:15. It needs to be a private conversation. In other words don’t go public with it at this point. Also, don’t go to someone else with gossip. Keep it between the two of you.

Now in some circumstances there has to be others involved. If the other person is intimidating or has power over the one who is wronged, for instance. But even here, when someone goes along, it is still to be seen as a private event, not a pubic one.

4. Go in order to make sure what happened

Jesus says, “go . . . between you and him” –  Matthew 18:15.

Don’t rely on hearsay, you know, when someone tells you that so and so did something or said something about you that was wrong.

Jesus tells us, “Do not judge by appearances, but with right judgment” – John 7:24. If you go to the person you may find that it ends up to be a misunderstanding or a minor issue. And then this becomes the opportunity to clear things up.

And even if it is obvious that you have been wronged (there is not hearsay involved), don’t reach a final verdict about all that has happened, or what they were thinking, or their motivation. Talk to the person that has wronged you to get the whole story, not just your side.

(In some cases this step may be unnecessary – when the wrong is great and the motivation is publicly known.)

5. Go in order to restore the person

In other words, go for the right reason. There is always the temptation to go off on them in anger. But the goal here is to “gain” your fellow believer. Jesus says, “go . . .. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother (sister)” – Matthew 18:15.

In the case of a personal wrong, it means personal reconciliation. But it also means on another level the restoration of someone caught in sin back to a right relationship with God

If this is our goal, we have to deal with our anger before we go. As Paul says about confronting people in general, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who have the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness – Galatians 6:1 (NRSV).

6. Lay out the wrong and call the person to account

Jesus says, “tell him his fault” – Matthew 18:15. This word means to admonish, chastise, reprove or call to account. In Luke 17:3 the word for “tell him to stop” means to rebuke, censure or chide.

You are to confront the person – this is what you did and it was wrong and you need to do something about it

7. If the person listens to you, accept their repentance

Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother (sister)” – Matthew 18:15. “Listen” here means they really hear you, with the implication that they act appropriately with repentance.

This is what we talked about last week. In the words of Luke 17:3, “If a brother sins, tell him to stop; if he repents (if he listens to you and repents) forgive him.”

Here is a summary of –

The seven steps

  1.     Make sure that you really have been wronged
  2.     Take the initiative and go
  3.     Go and deal with the person face to face
  4.     Go in order to make sure what happened
  5.     Go in order to restore the person
  6.     Lay out the wrong and call the person to account
  7.     If the person listens to you, accept their repentance

Finally there is the question you have all been thinking about –

“Do I have to?”

I don’t know anyone who wants to go and confront someone about a wrong. Our culture values privacy and conflict avoidance. In our culture we almost always choose not to deal with these kinds of issues. We afraid and we think it is all too messy. In fact, we are willing to sacrifice the relationship with each other, rather than to try to deal with the issues and find healing.

But Jesus values peace among his followers and not our desires for privacy or conflict avoidance. And so he tells us: Go to the one who has wronged you and seek peace.


It may be hard, but it is the only way the relationship can heal. Especially if the person hasn’t come to you, or isn’t even aware of the problem

So we need to set aside our fears, our cultural values, and whatever else stands in the way. We need to walk in faith, and do what Jesus tells us to do, even when it is difficult.

William Higgins

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