Decisions, decisions. God is drawing my attention to both verses 1-4 and verses 5-10. Let’s meditate on verses 1-4.
“Take heed to yourselves.” Take care of yourselves, watch out for yourselves, Jesus says. Why in the world would He say this? What danger is it that lurks in our lives?
The danger is, of course, sin and all that it entails. Jesus is telling us that there are 3 steps to dealing with sin if we are to heed His warning to “Take heed to yourselves.”
The first step of taking heed to yourself and the sin in your midst is to rebuke your brother if he sins against you. This is a scary thing for Christians today because we have been trained to be so fearful of being judgmental that we have become paralyzed. But if we want to honor Jesus, if we want to take heed as He commands, and if we want to live in love as His Body here on earth, then we must be mature and rebuke one another when necessary.
Maybe the problem is with the word “rebuke.” It’s helpful to think of Jesus as commanding us to correct each other. If your brother or sister sins against you, it is your Christian obligation to correct him. Often we draw back from this godly labor of correcting because we are not sure where to draw the line. After all, if we went about trying to police every sin we saw each day, even among Christians, we’d have to give up our day job. So wisdom is always called for.
And yet the commandment stands: rebuke or correct your brother. But remember that the commandment is to correct him if he sins against you. This is a personal thing, and in this case Jesus isn’t talking about arbitrating sins that don’t personally affect you.
Even here, we often don’t correct one another, and this is a tragic and costly mistake. When we refuse to correct each other, then the sin continues. More than this, it spreads.
The second step in taking heed is one that the sinning brother must take: he must repent. This is not something that you can directly control, and so you must wait for your brother. Here, too, we sometimes have the wrong idea, believing that repentance is simply saying you’re sorry. But to God, repentance is metanoia, an actual turning from the sin in intention and action. This waiting for repentance from the sinning brother means that the process of reconciliation is a relationship process: it involves both people.The third step in taking heed is that once the sinning brother has repented, you must forgive. If you have corrected your brother, and if he repents, then you must forgive him. This is the completion of the process of disposing of sin. First you must correct, then he must repent, and then you must forgive.
But what if the brother foolishly commits the same sin tomorrow? If he has truly shown repentance, then forgive again. Sometimes this is hard because sometimes we suspect that a repeat performance indicates that there was no true repentance. Sometimes this is actually true. But what if God placed a limit on the number of times He forgave us for the same bone-headed sin? Maybe you really did repent, only to find that the next day you fell into the same sin again. If it’s true for you, it may be true for your brother.
There is already plenty of motivation for us to enter into the process of reconciliation. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation by our Lord, and it must begin with us, with the sins we have committed and with those committed against us personally. It’s no use talking about the evil out there if we haven’t first removed the planks in our own eye.
But I think that verses 1-2 present another excellent motivation for us to take care of business and take heed to ourselves. The fact is that when we refuse to deal with sin, it is not just ourselves that we hurt: we also hurt others around us. When we don’t defend against sin, then the little ones in our lives, often the children who are covenantally attached to us, also get hurt. Sin, like a cancer, spreads if it is not dealt with aggressively. Here, then, is another application for the being faithful with little things. Deal with the sins in your midst every day so that they do not grow and do more harm.
And so we must take heed to ourselves not only because we are to be Christ’s ministers of reconciliation but also so that we do not become the ones through whom little ones are led astray.
As I tell my children: “Take out the trash every day.” Take out the trash every day through this 3-fold process of correction, repentance, and forgiveness.
Point for Meditation:
Is there someone in your life who you need to correct? Is there someone in your life who you need to forgive? Is there someone in your life with whom you need to reconcile? Take heed, and choose one of these people to deal with today as God intends you to.
Resolution/ Prayer: Lord, thank you for allowing me to participate in Your ministry of reconciliation. In whatever way I am involved in the process of reconciliation, whether as one who is to correct, to repent, or to forgive, help me to take heed today.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson