If a Brother Sins Against You… Lessons from Matthew 18:15-22

(ESV: English Standard Version)


(Mat 18:15)

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.


Three reasons to administer church discipline:


1.      Personal offense - When a brother sins against another brother (Mat_18:15-22).

2.      Divisiveness - When a brother sins against many brethren and cause them to sin against others (Tit_3:9-11).

3.      Unrepentant sinning - 1Co_5:11-13 - stay away from unrepentant brethren


Jesus instructs us in this passage how we should handle the situation when someone sins against you personally.




1.      Be very careful to not manipulate this Scripture (use this disciplinary process) to satisfy an attitude your nursing because of the offense.

2.      Mat_7:1-5 talks about displaced judgment. Remember God will judge you based on how you judge others.

3.      Remember the whole point here is to restore the sinful person. Restore them to fellowship and peace. You should not look to take vengeance or cause your brother to sin or others to sin against him.

4.      Make sure you are totally innocent in this matter between you two before you administer such discipline on your brother.


To "sin against you" means:


1.      Damage to your person: When a brother speaks reckless words against you to your face; assassination of character - defamation of character - saying something about you that is not true to your face. If the brother defamed you before others that is divisiveness, which requires a different way of discipline (Tit_3:9-11).

2.      Physical harm: If a brother deliberately causes you physical harm, directly or by some indirect action and some willful planning on their part. This can come in a variety of ways: bodily harm, loss of work or wages or loss of health.

3.      Damage to your property: If a brother deliberately causes damage to your property, directly or indirectly; or causes your property to become lost or stolen.


What not to do:


1.      Gossip to others about what they did to you - Spreading slander

2.      Cop an attitude and treat him harshly

3.      Cop an attitude and ignore him, treating them as a tax collector or heathen (pagan, unbeliever)

4.      Don't do anything that will harm your brother

5.      Don't do anything that would cause others to sin against your brother


What to do:


In private you need to confront him about the offense if you are totally innocent in the matter. If you incited the brother then you were the first one to sin and you need to confess and repent before him and restore the relationship. You need to show him his fault (elegcho: rebuke, convict, reprove him). The rebuke needs to be gently done, not in anger, for man's anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God (Jam_1:20). In 1Ti_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 (2Ki_5:12-14). Treat older men as fathers and older women as mothers and younger men as brothers. In other words, when you go show your brother's fault you are to do it in a manner glorifying to God, as a loving family. 1Co_13:4-8 shows us the manner in which we are to rebuke: patiently, kindly, not easily angered, etc. We can understand what it is to love rightly because it is someone we can and have experienced through the love of God. We are not talking about the characteristics of God that are beyond our reach like omnipotence and omnipresence, but about love which is a requirement of Christian life.


Lev_19:16-18 teaches this concept and expands upon what to do or not to do:


·        Don't hate your brother in your heart

·        Don't invite others into the problem at this level - Don't slander

·        Don't cause your brother to sin

·        Don't cop an attitude - bear a grudge

·        Don't be vengeful


·        Love your brother

·        Reason honestly with him

·        Pray to the Lord for wisdom and humility that you may win your brother over


If you didn't win your brother over, then at least you know you did what pleases the Lord and as far as it was up to you, you were at peace (Rom_12:18). If the brother listens you won him over and did the work of God in love. There is no need to bring the matter up again, especially to others. They need not to know what happened. If your brother didn't listen and you are innocent in the matter, then it is time for the next level of discipline to be applied.


(Mat 18:16)

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.


Now it is time to bring in one or two witnesses. Don't bring in just anybody, but an influential and authoritative person in that person's life. He needs to be a mature and authoritative brother. Two brothers at the most. Remember the goal is to restore the sinful brother, not to judge or intimidate him. The goal is to plead and intercede on his behalf before God's throne.


It is also good for that mature person to hear the case to determine if the accusation is valid or if the offense is valid. Perhaps the offended brother was too strict or judgmental; perhaps they should have overlooked that offense. The witnesses are there to establish the charges and scrutinize the evidence.


(Mat 18:17)

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.


If the brother still refuses to listen and heed the witnesses’ advice then the last step of discipline is to bring it up to the church. This is done in a public setting where the whole church will listen to the case. Only the mature brethren will be encouraged to advise this person and entreat them to repent (Gal_6:1). The whole church hears it, but only the spiritually mature should speak and entreat the unrepentant brother to humbly take corrective action in his life.


If the brother refuses to listen to the church, then all the church should treat the brother as a tax collector or a Gentile. How do you treat a Gentile (heathen, sinner, unbeliever)? When you see them you continue to entreat them to repent and come back to Jesus. You don't engage in small talk or pretend things are going well. Continue to let them know there is an unresolved sin in their life that puts them in imminent danger of losing their salvation. The goal is to bring reconciliation by action - the only words are to entreat them to repent, but our actions in how we treat them need to be the motivation to turn them to Heaven, since we are showing him what has happened in Heaven. This ought to cause them to feel shame or embarrassment.


To treat them as a tax collector means to be business like. Not friendly or smiley but very business like since you don't fraternize with tax collectors. Don't invite them over for dinner or to fellowship at your house. 2Th_3:14-15 is very clear on this as is 1Co_5:11-13. As you can see from these verses, certain sins that remain unrepented of warrant expulsion from the church. As far as others whose expulsion is not immediately warranted, we need to take notice of them if they are disobedient to the Word of God. Don't mix with them is what the verse says. You would greatly harm their salvation if you ignore the discipline of God. The purpose is to make hem feel ashamed of their sin and encourage them to repent. Don't invite fallen brethren or disobedient brethren into your homes for fellowship or to other church meetings. If they come on their own accord to our Sunday assembly or other public assemblies then entreat them to repent if you are spiritually mature.


(Mat 18:18)

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.


Whatever action the church does as a whole God will accept. Church discipline is an earthly representation of what has already taken place in Heaven; in the same way marriage is a physical representation of Jesus' relationship with the church.


(Mat 18:19)

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.


This shows that what the majority of the church agrees to in keeping with the will of God, the Lord will grant them what they ask. Prayer is powerful! This is why we ask the church for prayers! Believe the Lord is listening and eager to act on your behalf especially when it is something God Himself wants to accomplish - like the salvation of souls!


(Mat 18:20)

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."


Jesus is there with the two or three witnesses. Whenever Christians get together by God's authority to glorify God, Jesus is right there approving and helping you win your brother/sister over. Your purpose needs to be to glorify God, not to spite or because you have a bad attitude. Whatever you do needs to be done in love.


(Mat 18:21)

Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"


This verse proves that Jesus is still talking about how to handle personal offenses. If someone sins against you an attitude of forgiveness needs to prevail instead of getting offended. There are no limits to forgiving someone for what he does against you as long as the person repents of it (Luk_17:3-5).


(Mat 18:22)

Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.