A Brother Or Sister Who Sins Against You


Unity between believers has always been paramount in Jesus’ teachings, because it speaks so much about our own relationship with God Himself, in terms of obedience to Him. The way we act not only with outsiders but also with our brethren should reflect the love of God and the unity we have with each other and Him.

As Christians we must deal with situations the way Jesus asks us to, how else will the world know we are different from them?

It’s a sad fact that many Christians go about settling their differences the way the world does, the offender often doesn’t care what someone thinks and has no interest in listening to the complaint.

The offended often tell everyone else what has happened, instead of personally speaking to the person who offended them, or as in most cases, they take the matter straight to the church and bypass Jesus’ first instruction.

In my experience, if Christians would only follow Jesus’ instructions on these matters, all parties involved would save themselves and the church, a whole load of unnecessary, strife, stress and heartache. Let’s see what Jesus commands to help us keep unity within the church.

Dealing With Issues Privately

‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.’ Mathew 18:15

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke of the innocent party who remembered that someone had a complaint against him, Matthew 5:23-24 and here Matthew informs us that Jesus is speaking about the one who causes the sin in the first place. Luke 17:3.

Notice that the person who has been sinned against must make the first move and go to the offending brother. One thing which is clear is that if we take Matthew 5:23-24 and Matthew 18:15 and read them together we see that both parties involved have the responsibility to approach each other.

Both parties have the responsibility of keeping unity between them, both parties must do whatever it takes to keep the peace between them, Romans 12:18, this is why Jesus speaks about ‘between the two of you.’

In other words, not all faults are or need to become ‘public’ announcements, some matters can be dealt with privately, 1 John 5:16. I’ve heard way too many issues being publicly announced from the pulpit, and I’ve heard too many preachers pointing out someone’s sin, especially if they have been affected by it. The pulpit isn’t the place to deal with personal issues, ‘go and point out their fault,’ will always mean ‘go and point out their fault’. Galatians 6:1-2.

What kind of sins are we talking about?

‘To point out their fault’ means to rebuke, convict, reprove him but the rebuke needs to be gently done, not in anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God, James 1:20. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul teaches Timothy how to treat the brethren if they need to be rebuked, an elder should be rebuked as you would your father, in the same way, Naaman’s servant rebuked him for not obeying the Prophet Elisha, 2 Kings 5:12-14.

When a brother or sister speaks reckless words against you to your face, words which damage your character, words which are not true would certainly be in mind here. Maybe if a brother or sister deliberately causes you physical harm, this can be things like physical harm, things which cause you to lose your job or affect your health. Maybe it’s a sin which involves damage to your property or results in your property becoming lost or stolen.

What’s the purpose of dealing with matters privately?

I don’t know about you but there have been times in my Christian life when I offended someone, and I wasn’t even aware of it, until I heard it through ‘the grapevine,’ so to speak. This was a matter which could have easily been avoided if that person had come straight to me because as it turned out, he totally misunderstood what I was teaching.

We could have settled the issue in minutes if he came straight to me, so I could explain, instead, he spoke to every other member about it, rather than simply coming straight to me.

In the context of the passage here, Jesus is teaching that the real purpose of the two brothers or sisters coming together is to open the way up for communication because when the two parties begin to speak to one another, hence Jesus says, ‘if they listen’, it opens up the door to accept the plea for forgiveness from the offending brother or sister.

Shouting and arguing back and forth doesn’t do them or the church any favours and making it public straight away doesn’t help matters either.

So often many things can be discussed and settled privately if both parties would simply agree to listen to each other. If we listen to Jesus’ words and put them into practice the result is unity, peace and winning the offending brother or sister over but when we ignore Jesus’ words and instead of dealing with the matter privately we make it public, it makes it so difficult for the offending brother or sister to redeem themselves and make things right.

Yes, if we have been offended, we’re left feeling hurt and let down, but do we seriously think that making a public scene about it will make it easier to win our brother or sister over?

Of course not, think about his feelings, think about his reputation, the longer we leave matters, or we just go public with it first, the harder it will be to win our brother or sister over, simply because we dealt with it in the wrong way. Leviticus 19:16-18.

Dealing With Issues With Witnesses

‘But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ Matthew 18:16

It’s clear that Jesus is saying that there may be some occasions when going straight to the offending brother or sister won’t settle the issue and so He tells us that the offended should take one or two others with him back to the offender.

The word, ‘others’ in the above text, should be the word, ‘witnesses’ as this adds an important meaning to the text, Deuteronomy 17:6 / Deuteronomy 19:15 / John 8:17 / 2 Corinthians 13:1 / 1 Timothy 5:19 / Hebrews 10:28.

There are two schools of thought about the witnesses, some believe that they were the ones who actually witnessed the sin taking place in the first place and others believe that the witnesses were there to stand as a witness to what was being said and the final outcome, in other words, if the offending brother or sister doesn’t repent, they would be witnesses to this fact.

We could also say that having the presence of the witnesses would also highlight to the offending brother or sisters the seriousness of the matter.

Notice so far, that the offending brother or sister has now had two chances to make things right, privately and now with witnesses present. Jesus now takes it to the next level, he says if they still won’t listen take the matter to the ‘church’.

Dealing With Issues Publicly

‘If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church.’ Matthew 18:17

The church!

Interestingly, the church wasn’t established until the day of Pentecost, Acts 2, yet Jesus speaks of the ‘church’ here before it’s established.

There are two schools of thought about what the word, ‘church’, ‘ekklesia’ is referring to here in these passages. One suggests that Jesus is speaking about the principles which should be enforced when the church is established and the other suggests that this is referring to the Jewish assembly in the synagogue.

Whichever side we come down on, we must be consistent with the rest of Scripture, if the offended party hasn’t been able to encourage the offending brother or sister to repent of their wrongdoing, then the matter needs to become public, that is dealt with within the church, 1 Corinthians 6 / 1 Timothy 5:20 / Titus 3:10.


All too often when someone wrongs us we want to speak to our friends first and really ‘set the scene’ about what our offender did to us and just how much they’ve hurt us. All too often people go straight to the elders of the church and ‘spill it all out’ about what’s happened. Both of these ways of dealing with someone who offends us are unscriptural, we must always go to the offender ourselves first and foremost, if that doesn’t work, take witnesses and if that doesn’t
work take it to the church.


‘And if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.’ Matthew 18:17

This is the result of someone who simply refuses to listen to anyone and admit their wrongdoings, they haven’t listened to the offended, they haven’t listened to the witnesses, and haven’t listened to the church.

When a person becomes so unrepentant, they’ve placed themselves in a situation where the church has no choice but to disfellowship them, although the reality is they have disfellowshipped themselves from the church, Ephesians 5:21 / 1 Corinthians 5:11 / 2 Corinthians 2:6-7 / 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.

To be treated like a pagan or a tax collector was interesting because they were both classed as ungodly and dishonest by the Jews in general, so those listening would understand the full extent of Jesus’ words, those who are unrepentant should be avoided, 1 John 5:14-16.

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.’ Matthew 18:18-19

We must remember Jesus going on to speak about something else here, no with His words, He’s highlighting the seriousness of the matter He’s just been discussing.

In other words, He’s saying that what is agreed on by the church on earth concerning the unrepentant spirit of the sinner, has already been recognised by God in heaven, Romans 16:17 / 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 / Titus 3:10-11.

When the church as a whole, and that’s very important that the whole church is involved, withdraws its fellowship from the unrepentant brother or sister, then the sinner can’t expect or should even expect to have fellowship with God. We’ll deal with how it’s done at the end of this part of the study.

There is strength and unity when the church prays together on such matters, Acts 4:24ff and this is the example of unity we read about throughout the New Testament Scriptures. Unity must prevail even during difficult times when dealing with a brother or sister who is much loved by the church.

Notice that Jesus mentions ‘if two of you on earth agree’, this again is in reference to unity in prayer, two people praying together. Those who are unrepented need our prayers, they need God’s help, why? Because of their sinfulness, their eternal destiny is at stake.

We also see the closeness of the relationship between Jesus and His Father, He calls Him, ‘my Father’ here and when He was teaching the disciples to pray He said, ‘our Father’, Matthew 6:9 / Luke 11:2.

Seriously Misunderstood

‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’ Matthew 18:20

Time and time again I’ve heard Christians say that ‘where two or three are gathered, Jesus is present’. This to me suggests that if we were alone, Jesus wouldn’t be present, but if there were two or three gathered, then that somehow ‘guarantees’ that God will be amongst us, this is simply not true. Acts 17:28.

The church is the body of Christ which is made up of individual members and so wherever one Christian is, the church is.

Was He present when the offended party went to the brother or sister who offended them? Yes.

Was He present when the offended party took the witnesses along to sort matters out? Yes.

Was He present in His church, when His church was left with no choice but to disfellowship the offending brother or sister? Yes.

Was He present when the church made the final decision? Yes.

Jesus is simply implying that the agreement of Christians on matters that relate to their unity with one another is paramount. Jesus is ever-present even when difficult decisions need to be made through prayer.

Thought On Church discipline

Church discipline is one of those topics which isn’t spoken about or even taught very often within churches, simply because either people don’t understand the reason for it or don’t know how to enforce it but in most cases, church discipline is mainly neglected and not practised because the leaders feel they don’t want to confront anyone and upset the flock. This sadly is the downfall of many a congregation.

Scriptural Authority for discipline

Whether congregations realise it or not, they have the obligation to maintain discipline, Titus 2:11-12. The word, teaching or instruction in Greek is the word ‘paideuo’ which literally means putting in order, Acts 22:3.

The Scriptures themselves fulfil four functions

‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ 2 Timothy 3:16

Doctrine or teaching, rebuke, is associated with the idea of proving to be right and therefore rebuking error, correction and instruction, which in Greek is the word, ‘paidia’ which means training or discipline.

Authority of Christ

We know that all authority has been given to Christ, Matthew 28:18. And we also know that Christ gave authority to His apostles, Luke 10:16.

The authority Christ gave His apostles involved the apostles exercising discipline. Acts 5:1-11 / 1 Corinthians 5:3-13. This also involved evangelists and churches exercising discipline by apostolic authority, 1 Thessalonians 5:14 / 2 Thessalonians 3:6 / 2 Timothy 4:1-2.

The Great Commission involves Discipline

There are two parts to the commission, first of all in the making of Christians.


‘Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.’ Matthew 28:19


‘Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ Mark 16:16


‘Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.’ Luke 24:47


‘Baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Matthew 28:19

‘Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ Mark 16:16

Secondly educating and developing Christians involved discipline.

Teaching them the commands of the Lord

‘Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ Matthew 28:20

Teaching them to observe those commands

‘Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ Matthew 28:20

This involves all the work of discipline, 2 Timothy 3:16 and it involves exclusion where necessary as we saw earlier in 1 Corinthians 5:3-13 / 1 Thessalonians 5:14 / 2 Thessalonians 3:6.

And here’s the key to understanding discipline, the more discipline is maintained the less exclusion will be necessary and that’s because the law of admission and the law of exclusion are related. To emphasise the law of inclusion into the kingdom and neglect the law of exclusion is unfaithfulness. And so, we’re obligated to keep a proper balance, James 2:10.

The church must not only preach but keep the whole counsel of God. Acts 20:26-27.


Discipline is all about preserving the purity of the church because Christians must follow after holiness. Hebrews 12:14 / 1 Peter 2:11 unto ultimate perfection, Ephesians 5:27.

Christians must be bound in love with each other 1 John 4:6-13 and Christians should live in the bond of peace Ephesians 4:3. The church must therefore be guarded against every subversive influence, things as false doctrine, Acts 20:29-30, division and strife, Acts 20:30 / Romans 16:17 / 1 Corinthians 1:10 and from impurity, 1 Corinthians 5:3-13.

It’s the church’s duty to deal with those failings and help the situation in every way it can, Galatians 6:1 / James 5:19-20, and if all else fails, then disfellowshipping someone may be necessary. Matthew 18:17 / Titus 3:10.

But please remember the whole point of disfellowshipping someone isn’t the goal, the goal of the church is to save members of the church. The salvation of souls is the object of the church, Philippians 2:12-13 and this involves instruction of the ignorant, correction of those in error, 2 Timothy 4:1-2, restoration of transgressors and disfellowship of the unrepentant.

This extreme action of disfellowshipping is therefore a measure designed both to save the individual Christian and the church. 1 Corinthians 5:5 / Revelation 2:1-7.

Occasion for discipline

The New Testament gives us examples of where disfellowship has to be exercised but they are not to be taken as the only grounds. The principles behind them must be considered. The following are in order of occurrence.

Malice against fellow Christians. Matthew 18:17
Causing division. Romans 10:17 / Titus 3:10
Immorality. 1 Corinthians 5
Walking disorderly. 2 Thessalonians 2:6, this literally means ‘walking out of step’. It’s applied in the immediate
context to those who were idle gossips, 2 Thessalonians 2:11. But it obviously in principle covers a wide range of
offences. 1 John 1:7.
Blasphemy. 1 Timothy 1:20
False doctrine. Acts 20:30 / Revelation 2:2

Manner of discipline

The manner and method must be Scriptural, the manner of carrying out a matter often determines its effect. In other words, Scriptural discipline can become unscriptural when its carried out in an unscriptural manner. The right motives must be behind the action.

In personal grievances, the object should be to gain a brother. Matthew 18:15.

In public grievances, the object should be restoration. Galatians 6:1 / James 5:19-20.

In all cases, edification should be the object and not destruction. Luke 9:51-56

Discipline should be exercised in the spirit of love and that’s because all things must be done in love, Romans 13:10 / 1 Corinthians 13 / 1 Corinthians 16:4. The love that Christ manifested to us must be manifested to others. Colossians 3:13 because this is the mark of true discipleship, John 13:34-35.

Discipline must be strictly according to the New Testament, for example in public grievances, the offender should be properly warned, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, they must be admonished at least on two occasions, Titus 3:10.

In private grievances, if the offender thinks they have committed an offence against another, they must go and rectify it, Matthew 5:23-24.

The offended one must go to the offender Matthew 18:15, if they will not heed, they are to take witnesses, Matthew 18:16. If this is not effective, they must take it to the church, Matthew 18:17. It, therefore, becomes a public matter, if the offender does not listen to the church, they must be disfellowshipped Matthew 18:17.

It must be maintained with firmness and fellowship, no undue haste, no undue severity, and no slackness or unfaithfulness, Romans 12:8. It should be constant because if it is neglected, this means that the number of cases can accumulate, and it establishes a precedent in future cases. The church becomes infected with a spirit of negligence, 1 Corinthians 5:2 / Titus 1:5, and the longer a case is left, the harder it often becomes to deal with it.

Each case should be wisely and judiciously exercised, the principles are given but the immediate application is left to our judgement, hence the qualification of elders must be sober-minded, discreet and of sound judgement, 1 Timothy 3:2.

When withdrawal of fellowship is required, it must be done with proper warning to the offender, Titus 3:10 and in concert with the whole church, 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 / 2 Corinthians 2:6 and it’s vitally important that every member supports such a decision. Other congregations must also support it, Romans 16:17 / 1 Corinthians 5.

If this part was practised today it would certainly stop a lot of ‘church hopping’ when someone is disfellowshipped from another congregation.

Is it possible to disfellowship a whole church?

Paul was writing to a group of churches in Galatia, Galatians 1:2 and he declared that the whole group had departed from the truth, Galatians l:6-9. If they persisted in their error they would be severed from Christ, Galatians 5:1 and so, there seems warrant therefore for disfellowshipping congregations as an extreme measure.

However, a careful distinction must be made in a congregation between those remaining faithful and those not. Compare in 3 John the condemnation of Diotrephes, 3 John 9, with the commendation of others 3 John 1.

The effect of discipline

The effect is far-reaching, the offender is to be treated as a heathen man and a publican, Matthew 18:17, they are to be avoided, Romans 16:17. They are to be taken away from among you, 1 Corinthians 5:2.

Not to keep company nor to eat with them, 1 Corinthians 5:11, have no company with him 2 Thessalonians 3:14, they must not be assisted in any way that would promote his false position, 2 John 9-11 for the Christian so assisting is giving moral support to his error.

Every member of the congregation must support this action. However, this is not to be done in self-righteousness nor malice, but simply to make the offender ashamed 2 Thessalonians 4:14, with the hope of bringing him more rapidly to repentance. At all times it has to be remembered he is a brother, 2 Thessalonians 3:15.


The restored offender should be forgiven without recriminations, 2 Corinthians 2:7 they must be comforted 2 Corinthians 2:7 and be given a special assurance of love and affection 2 Corinthians 2:8.

This must be done not only for their sake but for our own, lest unworthy personal motives become involved, 2 Corinthians 2:10-11. There should be true rejoicing at the restoration of a fellow Christian, Matthew 18:13-14 / Luke 15:7 / James 5:19-20.

A closer look at the discipline and the treatment of the offender from the Corinthian example.

Review of 1 Corinthians

After the introduction, Paul raises the matter that was causing him great concern, the division in the Corinthian church which called for immediate attention. Disunity in the congregation prevents the exercise of discipline and allows problems to go unchallenged and unchecked.

In 1 Corinthians 5, he mentions his shock and dismay on hearing that immorality is being committed by someone in the congregation, and no action has been taken to deal with the offender. Bearing in mind that the Corinthian letters were written early in Paul’s ministry, it is probable that the Corinthian Church was without scriptural oversight at this time.

Contrast his opening greeting in the Corinthian letters, with the greeting in the much later letter to the Philippian congregation, which he knew well and with whom he had an excellent relationship. Notice the absence of any reference to ‘bishops’ in both Corinthian letters.

The exercise of discipline is virtually impossible, and, at best, extremely difficult, in a congregation which lacks a Scripturally appointed Eldership. Elders have both the duty and the responsibility to maintain the purity of the church, and their appointment should be a priority in the programme of any young congregation, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.


1. The offender is known to everyone in the congregation but is unnamed in Paul’s letter.

2. The immoral relationship is described as being with ‘his father’s wife’. His stepmother.

3. The church has done nothing about the offensive situation.

Paul’s implication seems to be that, because of their divided state, they lack either the will or the desire. Or the ability to deal with it, the remedy is clearly stated, ‘the guilty man should be excommunication’. 1 Corinthians 5:2

4. This verdict is not primarily intended to be punitive, i.e. a punishment but is meant to be corrective. 1 Corinthians 5:5.

The Sequel

‘If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote to you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.’ 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Titus, who has carried a second letter, the ‘painful’ letter! to Corinth has found Paul in Macedonia, probably in Philippi, and reported that the situation in Corinth has greatly improved and the guilty person has been confronted, has been dealt with, and has repented.

Look at how the church had acted. 2 Corinthians 2:6 uses the word ‘punishment’. The word Paul uses here is ‘epitomic’, and it’s different from the word for ‘punishment’ found in Matthew 5:46, which reads, ‘These shall go away into everlasting punishment’.

Here the word is ‘kolasin’ and relates to suffering a penalty. The passage in which we’re considering the word would be better understood to mean ‘rebuke’ or censure.

The church has, at last, brought the offence out into the open, and has confronted the guilty man with his sin and then excommunicated him, denying him fellowship. This action has been effective, He has suffered the grief of repentance, and has been made to understand that to be excommunicated means to be placed outside of the fellowship of God’s people and in the realm of Satan, where, if he remains, he will lose his salvation. In that state, neither religious nor social contact with members of the church is permitted.

But since ex-communication isn’t amputation, which is permanent, but is a condition which can be reversed, and since, in this case, the guilty man has shown evidence of repentance, Paul urges that the church show him comfort, lest he becomes so depressed that he becomes completely crushed by his grief, or, as Paul puts it, ‘Reaffirm your love’, 2 Corinthians 2:7.

The previous verse, 2 Corinthians 2:6 may be understood in two different ways. Paul speaks of ‘the punishment’ which was ‘inflicted by the majority’, which implies that the decision wasn’t unanimous!

Does this mean that the congregation wasn’t unanimous in the decision to ‘punish’ the guilty man? Or does it mean they weren’t unanimous in determining the manner or severity of the ‘punishment’?

It may seem inconceivable that anyone in the congregation would object to the man being faced with his immorality, but, bearing in mind the composition of the congregation Greeks, Jews and probably other races, and the immaturity of most of them, it is possible that there was a minority, as Paul’s words imply, that felt ex-communication was too severe a punishment.

It may be that among the Jewish members there were some who had belonged to the stricter sect of Judaism, and these people believed that when a Gentile submitted to the ceremonies which admitted him into Judaism, his conversion cancelled all previous relationships, and this meant that he was free to form new relationships.

It is possible that they constituted the ‘minority’ who didn’t agree with the course of action taken by the majority, and it’s clearly to this group that Paul directed his illustration based on the Passover and the leaven, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.

Obviously, there is much we don’t know about the situation at Corinth. Paul doesn’t give details. No names are mentioned. Neither the man nor his father is named, and the woman involved is described only as the man’s stepmother.

The phrase ‘his father’s wife’ is the Hebrew form of step-mother. It’s probable that no charge was made against the woman because she wasn’t a member of the church and therefore she was outside the church’s ‘jurisdiction’.

Again, the man’s father may have taken a younger woman as his second wife, and this may have resulted in her affair with the ‘younger’ man. Or, as some commentators suggest, the wife had been divorced by the father, and this immoral affair had developed with her stepson after the divorce or may even have caused it.

We may speculate about the details of the case, but we cannot be certain! What we may say with certainty is that between this man and the woman, an immoral relationship developed which couldn’t be tolerated because it defiled the Lord’s church, and discipline had to enforce.

But the man’s ex-communication mustn’t be the last act in the matter, because, as Paul points out if the church cuts itself off from the man completely and permanently, ‘Satan gains a victory’, 1 Corinthians 5:5

Imagine what would happen if a local congregation found it necessary to disfellowship a man and treated him as ‘dead’, and the neighbourhood learned about this?

How quickly would it be said, ‘That’s Christians for you! That’s how they behave in that church!’ The effect on the public’s opinion of the church would be devastating.


1. The frequent failure to exercise Scriptural discipline has often resulted in damage to our congregations, weakening their internal spiritual strength and their external witness.

2. Elders or ‘leaders’ often lack the courage to act, when an offence should be dealt with, and one of the sad reasons for this may be that, on earlier occasions, problems which should have been confronted have been deliberately ignored, or ‘swept under the carpet’.

3. In dealing with occurrences which require the application of Scriptural discipline, Galatians 6:1-5 should never be overlooked.