When do we get to stop trying? | Matthew 18:15-17

refuses to listen
refuses to listen

How do I, as a Christian, play a part in the redemption of the Lost Sheep? What can I do to help bring them back to the fold?

15 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

Jesus had just finished telling the parable of the Lost Sheep, a parable which finished with this statement:

In the same way, it is not My heavenly Father's will that even one of these little ones should perish.

Remembering that this whole teaching, from Matthew 18:3-35, is in response to the question that the disciples asked Jesus; "Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?", let's move on.

Usually when there is a parable being used to teach a concept it is followed with the explanation of the concept. In this case Jesus does that very thing. He now explains the process for dealing with "a lost sheep", or, as we see it explained, a fellow believer.

What are the steps in the process?

The steps escalate as time goes on and they are all contingent upon the "sheep" remaining lost. At any point in the process if the believer realizes his lost state (confession) and seeks to return to the fold, he or she does not need the next step. So let's look at each step individually, and then as a whole process.

Step 1:"If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. " Matthew 18:15

Step one is a one-to-one moment. Both sides of the equation are involved and the side, or person, that is first moving is the person that was wronged. This is important. If you have been wronged or if someone has sinned against you, Jesus' counsel is for you to do something. You don't sit and wait for the person that has offended you to come to you, you go to them. You move first.

Next, let's look at the statement "...go privately.." This implies that we do not announce the offense to other people. This is another thing that the offended must do. Why do you think Jesus included this in the process? Going privately indicates that the offended should not speak of the offense to anyone else before speaking to the offender. If we do not attempt to clear up the problem before speaking of it to others, gossip could rear it's ugly head. After all, the offense could be a simple misunderstanding; but if we trumpet the felt offense to others before even understanding the other side, we have committed our own sin of false accusation. So going privately protects us from committing our own sin.

"...point out the offense..." This simply means, let the offender know what you felt the offense was. At this point we may just be dealing with feelings. Do we have irrefutable proof of the offense; or are we just going by how the offense made us feel? Often in my own life, I have reacted to how something made me feel (hurt, scared, angry) and I never bothered to go beyond my feelings and look at the facts.

"If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back." Step one ends with the possibility of reconciliation. Reconciliation has two moving parts, but now the one doing the moving is the person who has committed the offense. With reconciliation the first thing the offender does is listen.

"If the other person listens..."

Woman listening
Woman listening

At this stage they may not even be aware that they have offended, or there may still be some misunderstanding that is causing the issue. Listening allows for clarification to do it's work. Defensiveness, a "wall building" reaction to being accused of something, shuts up the ears and hinders the process. Telling the sheep to listen is good counsel from Jesus.

All throughout this process the goal must be kept in mind. What is the goal? RECONCILIATION! This is all about bringing the lost sheep back into the safety and protection of the fold. It is never about punishing the sheep for wandering away.

"...and confesses it,..." There is also a second action that needs to come from the offender. They should confess the offense. What does it mean to confess?



verb (used with object)

1. - to acknowledge or avow (a fault, crime, misdeed, weakness,etc.) by way of revelation.
2. - to own or admit as true: I must confess that I haven't read the book.
3. - to declare or acknowledge (one's sins), especially to God.

Some versions of the Bible do not add in the confess portion of this verse. This would seem to imply that real listening (not just hearing) has been done by the offender and they acknowledge the offense. If this happens it is now a time of celebration! We must be careful to not consider this a personal victory of self righteousness, but a celebration of gaining back a brother in Jesus. Something was lost, and now it is found! Reconciliation has been accomplished; and it could never have happened if we did it our own way or if we skipped this important step.Reconciliation back into God's family is the goal. This is God's goal with all of humanity; though some will not listen. When we approach this process as Jesus instructs we are involved in the redemption and reconciliation process that God has been using for thousands of years. Is that not amazing? How very important that we make sure we get it right...

Because of the length of this study, though it is only 3 verses long, I am going to break this up into 3 parts. Please don't miss the follow up studies as I am excited to see what the Holy Spirit has to share with us as we move forward.


Dear Lord,

I thank You so much that You are all about repairing the lost relationship between You and sinful man. Lord, thank You so much for never leaving my side. Thank You for bringing me through the low points and for hearing my cry to never leave me. Thank You for this journey. Thank You for all that You provide in my life. Please be with our church family and continue to help us to grow in Your strength. Please be with my children and keep them safe in this dangerous world we live in. Thank You for your promise that You will always be working to bring them back and reconcile them to You. I love You Lord. Amen.