Commands of Christ

Go to Offenders

Where is this command found?

“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.”

Matthew 18:15–17

Applying This Command

In a previous command, Jesus said, “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee . . . first be reconciled to thy brother” (Matthew 5:23–24). This command deals with the other side of a conflict: “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and . . . thou hast gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15).

In both cases, we are commanded to take the initiative. In the first case, we are to go in order to clear our consciences and restore fellowship with an offended brother. In the second case, we are to help an offending brother clear his conscience and restore fellowship with us. Our natural inclination when offended by another believer is to wait for the offender to come and make it right with us. Meanwhile, we may try to forgive the offender and hold back feelings of anger and bitterness.

The problem with this approach is that “the tongue can no man tame” (James 3:8).We cannot stop the hurts of our hearts from coming out of our mouths, especially when a friend asks us what is bothering us or when someone talks about the one who hurt us.When we tell them about the offense, we violate the command to go and tell our offender his fault “between thee and him alone.”


Bible Verses for Meditation

In addition to meditation on Matthew 18:15, meditating on the verses below will provide you with further insight and understanding of Christ’s command: Go to Offenders.

Proverbs 25:9–10

“Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another: Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away.”

Galatians 6:1

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

Luke 17:3

“Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”

Romans 2:4

“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”

Hebrews 12:14–15

“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”

Romans 5:8

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Related Episodes

From the Podcast

Dive deeper into the command Go to Offenders with these episodes from the Commands of Christ podcast!

Study Question

Q: Since we are commanded to tell only an offender his fault, why did Paul tell Peter his fault in front of the entire group and also tell the whole church about the fault of Demas? (See Galatians 2:14, II Timothy 4:10.)

A: When a sin that affects an entire group is committed, the head of the group must be notified, in the same way that the head must be alerted about an infection in part of the body so that proper action can be taken to deal with it and prevent it from spreading throughout the entire body.

This is consistent with the instructions that Paul gave to Timothy about church leaders: “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (I Timothy 5:19–20).

“Rebuking before all” is what Paul did to Peter concerning the matter of separation: “When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:11–12).

Paul went on to explain how Peter’s hypocrisy had led astray other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas. Because Peter’s offense had affected an entire group, he needed public rebuke. God used Paul’s voice to warn others of falling into the same trap.

There are ample witnesses to verify the need for public rebukes—we can assume that Demas was warned by Paul and other witnesses not to love the world. Thus, Paul wrote, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica” (II Timothy 4:10).

It is critical that we distinguish between different types of offenses in order to determine the most effective rebuke for each situation. In every case, however, it is our responsibility to first examine our own lives according to Matthew 7:5: “… First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

For Further Study

You can learn more about the command Go to Offenders in the book Commands of Christ: Series 5.

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