The Son of God gives specific instructions for what to do when a spiritual family member sins. Jesus clearly says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 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.” Notice the Divine pattern.
- Perpetration (15a)–“If you brother sins.” This is what initiates the situation.
- Presentation (15b)–“Go and show him his fault in private.” Paul would teach this later (Gal. 6:1). Notice that this is to be done privately.
- Aspiration (15c)–“If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Ideally, this is where the matter should end.
- Escalation (16-17)–Jesus tells one what to do if a sinner refuses to listen. Start by taking one or two. If that does not work, then tell it to the church.
- Repudiation (18)–If all three of these approaches fail to win the sinner, then you reject them.
Tragically, we very often disobey Jesus’ instructions about this and fail to understand that rebelling against His commandment then makes us a sinner, too. How often does it happen that a person, rather than dealing directly with the sinning brother, tells someone else? Then, that someone tells another. Soon, a whole group or even the whole church knows about the sin. Often, something that was private and even between just two people is made public by gossipers who continue to spread the matter. In some cases, those who hear and spread the matter never even speak to the offender. This prevents the sinner from being aware of who knows about it or being able to reconcile. It can even be the case that the sinner has repented and handled the matter with the original offender, but now others are brought into the matter after the fact. Those who have come to hear about the situation treat the sinner “as a Gentile and a tax collector,” without ever once speaking to them about it. Rifts form and relationships are affected.
When we fail to do things God’s way, we will make matters worse. May we consider passages like Mark 7:21-23, where Jesus places “big” sins like “fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness” alongside “little” sins like “deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.” Jesus’ analysis is that “all” these things are “evil” and “defile the man.”
Peter has a sobering warning for the church, writing, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Pet. 2:1). He warns them about the model, the methods, and the message of these men. The counterparts of these modern messengers is the false prophets of old.
Jeremiah lived at a time when such prophets flourished, and the result of their work was the destruction of the people. Jeremiah 23 is a graphic depiction of what God helped Jeremiah see as he looked at and listened to these sinful seers. Notice that in Jeremiah 23:9-40), he saw:
- Tears (9-10)–Jeremiah was heartbroken, trembling, and overcome, because he knew their message was different from God’s Word and it was taking people off course.
- Pollution (11-12)–The Lord found their way wickedness, and this pollution made for a slippery path that would make them fall in calamity and punishment.
- Offensiveness (13-14)–They looked to the wrong spiritual source and it led the people of God to commit horrible depravity.
- Tragedy (15)–Their message was going to cause their own spiritual sickness and death.
- Emptiness (16-18)–The message is from their own imagination and not from the Lord’s mouth, so they tell those who hate God they’ll have peace and those who walk in stubbornness that everything will be fine.
- Storms (19-20)–The storm is the tempest of God’s wrath upon the heads of these false messengers.
- Audacity (21-25)–They ran, but God didn’t send them; They prophesied, but God didn’t speak to them; God was right there listening when they said, “I had a dream, I had a dream!”
- Heart Trouble (26-27)–The prophets had spiritual heart trouble, and their message was loved by people with heart trouble. It resulted in both of them forgetting God.
- Straw (28)–Just as straw and grain are totally different things, so is God’s message and their false message.
- Judgment (29-40)–God’s Word is like fire and a hammer. He is against their Word and against them for misusing their speaking abilities and leading His people astray. They don’t furnish the people with “the slightest benefit.” They cause the people to forget what truth is. The end result is tragedy.
So many can have a message that sounds good, makes one feel good, but does no good! In fact, their message contradicts what God said in His Word. As we grow our Bible knowledge, it will help us see these messengers and their messages for what they are. God’s Word is a blessing to us, both now and eternally. But, measure their message against the Master’s. Embrace only the words that are from Him! Reject the words that come from them!
Misty Ann Weaver made a tragic decision. The Houston-area licensed vocational nurse is charged in the burning death of three people after she started a fire in her six-story office building. Why did she take such horrible measures that resulted in the unnecessary, tragic deaths of these victims? She was apparently behind on an audit for her plastic surgeon boss, and she feared being fired. She just wanted to start a small fire, enough to cause a distraction and buy herself more time. Obviously, she accomplished more than she intended.
Ms. Weaver is an extreme example of the tendency to try and avoid consequences by resorting to sin to “cover up” a shortcoming or failure. While few of us will wind up facing three felony murder counts, we are all tempted to “cover up” in this way. When we fail to study for a test, we may resort to cheating to “cover up” that fact. When we have a low self-image, we may resort to gossip or backbiting to “cover up” perceived flaws about ourselves. When we are afraid of negative consequences for not meeting some responsibility or expectation, we may turn to lying to “cover up” that inadequacy. The irony is seen in that the “cover up” inevitably puts us in greater spiritual trouble than before we engaged in it.
We may “cover up” for fear of the disapproval of others, out of embarrassment or shame, or out of concern for certain repercussions. Yet, to turn to sin to shield ourselves from the ramifications of our actions is to compound the problem. Let us have the courage to face God and man, to provide things honest in the sight of all men (cf. Romans 12:17). Israel was warned about the danger of adding sin to sin (Isaiah 30:1). It is strength of character to do our best in our every endeavor, but it is also strength of character, when we have failed to so do, to courageously, honestly “face the music.” However we rationalize, the fallout from this will be less severe than the “cover up” is!
The video from a gas station surveillance camera shows the baffling details. 37-year-old Austin Dawkins was playing with a cigarette lighter and got too close to his gas tank as his 30-year-old wife, Jessica, stood beside him at his truck as he was pumping gas. Flames flare up, Jessica runs away, and Austin lifts the gas nozzle from tank. This sets his wife on fire, and she is seen running as the flames envelop her. She received second and third degree burns to her legs, arms, back, and head. Her husband was arrested and charged with reckless conduct, a misdemeanor. If he has a conscience, the far greater penalty will be shame, guilt, and regret at what his careless conduct did to his wife (www.myfoxatlanta.com, 11/2/13).
The macabre moments caught on video, showing the woman on fire, are graphic. No one can doubt the danger and seriousness of the situation. Spiritually, men and women so often play with fire unable to physically see the consequences of their actions. Whether allowing themselves to become romantically involved with someone other than their spouse or even courting temptation, they put themselves into a very precarious position. In the very context of this moral problem, Solomon writes, “Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be burned? So is the one who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished” (Prov. 6:27-29). The Bible illustrates marital infidelity to playing with fire.
Perhaps one rationalizes indiscreet words, actions, or flirtations as harmless, innocent, and victimless. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The flames can spread beyond just the man and woman, doing harm to family, friends, and the church. It can ravage so many lives and leave the perpetrators with an enormous load of guilt. How much better and wiser to see adultery for the dangerous entity it is and leave it alone (cf. Prov. 6:32-33)?