One day, a friend of ours asked about dealing with a brother or sister in Christ who seemed completely apathetic to following Jesus. That led to a good discussion and some good advice from others, but it also led to a good discussion between my wife Margaret and myself.
As Margaret and I were talking about this subject, I remembered something that I had noticed earlier. When Jesus talked about dealing with a brother or sister who “sins against you,” those listening to him responded differently to the way that people today often respond to that same teaching.
What am I talking about? Well, start with this familiar passage:
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:15-20 ESV)
Upon hearing or studying this passage, I’ve heard people respond with many questions, such as:
* Is this only for when a person sins directly again you, or is it also for someone who sins in general?
* Who should the one or two others be?
* What does it mean to “tell it to the church”? Who tells and when?
* What does it mean to treat the person “as a Gentile and a tax collector”?
* What does it mean to bind and loose?
* When Jesus says “where two or three are gathered,” is he only talking about “church discipline” or is he defining the church?
But, if we keep reading, we find that Jesus’ first audience responded quite differently:
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?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)
Peter recognized something that we often miss: Jesus’ statements were about relationships. When faced with the potential of breaking a relationship, most people will ask for forgiveness (even if they don’t really mean it). Peter recognized this, and wondered how many times he would have to forgive this brother who continued to sin against him.
How did Jesus respond? Keep on going to them, and keep on forgiving them.
I think there are other examples, too. But, to me, this is an obvious example of Jesus’ listeners responding to him differently than we often respond to him. Perhaps their focus (and Jesus’ focus) was different than our focus as well.