Chapter 18 of the Gospel of Matthew deals with matters relevant to the church, where it appears for the second time in only two of the occasions in which it is specifically mentioned in the Gospels.
After informing His disciples that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is he who becomes humble as a little child, the Lord Jesus determines the procedure that the believer must take when he feels offended or prejudiced by another brother.
Let us see what the Lord is teaching in this passage: "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17 -NKJV).
It is simple, and consists of three steps:
To seek the offending brother and rebuke him in private, just the two being present. The secrecy of this meeting is important, as it allows for an explanation, forgiveness and reconciliation if the brother guilty of the offence admits his fault and remedies it, avoiding publicity with its disastrous repercussions. The offending brother will feel gratitude for the attention given him, and the bonds of brotherly union will be strengthened between the two: the one offended will have gained his brother.
If, however, this first step doesn't produce the desired result because the offender refuses to hear the offended brother, the latter must again seek the offender, now taking with him one or two brethren as witnesses in a new interview. This time, the offender may repent and so the matter may be closed without greater problems.
Finally, if the offender continues to be adamant refusing to listen to the complaint, the matter must be taken to the church, there being now witnesses to his fault. If even then he refuses to give satisfaction he must be regarded as a "heathen and a tax collector", in other words, a godless sinner, unworthy to belong to the church of God.
Obedience to this commandment of the Lord is vital for the spiritual health of the church, and for the communion of its members.
This spiritual procedure, however, is opposed to the instincts of the flesh in man, and for this reason isn't always adopted. In the majority of cases it is simply forgotten, not only by the believer who feels offended, but even by the brethren in the oversight of the assembly where he meets.
The offended believer sometimes does nothing about it but keeps a grudge against the offender. The Bible teaches us: "Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26): anger is a natural emotion which must be controlled, otherwise it can lead us to act in an irrational way of which we shall repent later. It should never be stimulated and fed in a way as to become a grudge - this is to sin, for "do not let the sun go down on your wrath." Rancour upsets our physical and spiritual health, as well as our relationship with the brethren.
Often the offender isn't aware that he injured or offended the other until he is sought. If the offended doesn't want to seek him, then he should forgive that brother and forget the matter, as the Holy Spirit recommends in the words of Paul: "as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do." Colossians 3:12, 13 (NKJV)
If, on the contrary, the brother who feels he was offended opens his mouth to spread to others his complaint against the offender, or he takes the matter to the church without having first fulfilled the procedure ordained by the Lord, he will be guilty of slander (Colossians 3:8, RSV), even though he might truly have been subject of injustice.
We find what to do to the offended at fault in this case in Galatians 6:1: "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted." It was a mistake, a stumble: the church must correct it, mend it, using gentleness, which is fruit of the Holy Spirit. A reprehension, a counsel given with gentleness are generally enough. Let us be careful not to be tempted the same way ourselves.
There is such a thing as contumacious slander, a personal characteristic which puts into doubt if there was a new birth. When it is manifested, the Bible tells us: "I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is … a reviler, … not even to eat with such a one." (1 Corinthians 5:11), and also "men will be lovers of themselves, … slanderers, … headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" (2 Tim 3:2-5 -NKJV).
In this case it is clear what to do: "do not associate", "do not even to eat with such a one" and "from such people turn away". This becomes necessary so that evil isn't propagated into the assembly, defiling it as a "root of bitterness" (Hebrews 12:15), resulting in complaints and disputes within the people of God (Philippians 2:14). It is a sad fact that we frequently verify: to hear evil of other people is enjoyed more than to hear good, or "the words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body" (Proverbs 26:22).
Finally, let us always comply with the great and principal commandment the Lord left us: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). It was echoed by Paul and Peter: "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another" (Romans 12:10), and "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart" (1 Peter 1:22).
When obeying this commandment, these problems will cease to exist, for the happiness of all those involved.