Confront in Love

Biblical Truth: When confrontation is necessary to resolve conflict, Christians are to confront in love in order to restore relationships.

Process: Matthew 18:15-17.

[15]  “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. [16]  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. [17]  And 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-gatherer.    [NASU]

The procedure for dealing with sin is both sensible and clear, as Jesus states it. It involves three steps. (1) Go and talk to the person who has sinned against you, attempting to show him his fault. He ought to listen and correct the fault. If he does, that is the end of the matter: you have won your brother [15]. (2) If talking about it does not achieve a correction and reconciliation, go again, this time taking one or two others with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed [16]. This is a clear reference to the primary legal statute of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 19:15. (3) Bring the matter before the church. If the offending brother still does not respond, he is to be treated as a Gentile and a tax gatherer [17]. It is obvious from the way Jesus develops these points that a number of important principles are involved. First, upright conduct matters; sin must be dealt with. Second, discipline is to be kept as private as possible, involving as few people as possible. If it can be worked out between two individuals, that is best. Third, the purpose of these steps is the restoration of the offender. We sometimes say that the purpose of discipline is restorative, not retributive. That is correct. Further, the final step is a function of the church, which means that it should be an official action.

Principle: Galatians 5:13-15.

[13]  For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. [14]  For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [15]  But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.    [NASU]

What sort of freedom is Christian freedom? Primarily it is a freedom of conscience. According to the Christian gospel no man is truly free until Jesus Christ has rid him of the burden of his guilt. And Paul tells the Galatians that they had been called to this freedom. Our Christian life began not with our decision to follow Christ but with God’s call to us to do so. He took the initiative in His grace while we were still in rebellion and sin. If we are Christians, it is not through any merit of our own, but through the gracious calling of God. Called to freedom is what it means to be a Christian. What are the implications of Christian freedom? In brief, it is freedom from the awful bondage of having to merit the favor of God; it is not freedom from all controls.

[13a]  Christian freedom is not freedom to indulge the flesh. The flesh here refers to our fallen human nature. The Greek word here translated opportunity is used in military contexts for a place from which an offensive is launched, a base of operations. It therefore means a vantage-ground, and so an opportunity or pretext. Thus our freedom in Christ is not to be used as a pretext for self-indulgence. Christian freedom is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. It is an unrestricted liberty of approach to God as His children, not an unrestricted liberty to wallow in our own selfishness.

[13b, 15]  Christian freedom is not freedom to exploit my neighbor. Christian freedom is freedom to approach God without fear, not freedom to exploit my neighbor without love. Indeed, so far from having liberty to ignore, neglect or abuse our fellow men, we are commanded to love them, and through love to serve them. Christian liberty is service not selfishness. It is a remarkable paradox. For from one point of view Christian freedom is a form of slavery, not slavery to our flesh, but to our neighbor. We are free in relation to God, but slaves in relation to each other. That is the meaning of love. If we love one another we shall serve one another, and if we serve one another we shall not bite and devour one another in malicious talk or action. For biting and devouring are destructive, while love is constructive. Truly to love somebody is not to possess him for myself but to serve him for himself.

[14]  Christian freedom is not freedom to disregard the law. What is the Christian’s relation to the law? Our Christian freedom from the law which Paul emphasizes concerns our relationship to God. It means that our acceptance depends not on our obedience to the law’s demands, but on faith in Jesus Christ who bore the curse of the law when He died. It certainly does not mean that we are free to disregard or disobey the law. On the contrary, although we cannot gain acceptance by keeping the law, yet once we have been accepted we shall keep the law out of love for Him who has accepted us and has given us His Spirit to enable us to keep it. In New Testament terminology, although our justification depends not on the law but on Christ crucified, yet our sanctification consists in the fulfillment of the law.

CONCLUSION. These verses are concerned with the relationship between liberty, license, law and love. This liberty from systems of merit expresses itself in our duty to ourselves, our neighbor and our God. It is freedom not to indulge the flesh, but to control the flesh; freedom not to exploit our neighbor, but to serve our neighbor; freedom not to disregard the law, but to fulfill the law. Everyone who has been truly set free by Jesus Christ expresses his liberty in these three ways, first in self-control, next in loving service of his neighbor, and thirdly in obedience to the law of his God.

Purposes: Galatians 6:1-5.

[1]  Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. [2]  Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. [3]  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. [4]  But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. [5]  For each one shall bear his own load.    [NASU]

[1]  This is an extremely important verse in understanding the character of congregational discipline in the life of the early church. The word for caught means literally to be “detected, overtaken, surprised.” Because this word appears in the passive voice in this context, it may connote the idea of surprise; someone suddenly entrapped or discovered in an unseemly situation or heinous act. Paul addressed his advice to you who are spiritual. It seems best to understand spiritual as identical with those Christians who walk in the Spirit, are led by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit. Paul was acknowledging the fact that believers can and do sin and fall. While all sin is detestable before God and should be resisted as the plague, certain transgressions are especially hurtful to the fellowship of the church and must be dealt with according to the canons of Christian discipline. Those who are spiritually minded, that is, those whose lives give evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, have a special responsibility to take the initiative in seeking restoration and reconciliation with those who have been caught in such an error.

But how is this to be done? The lapsed brother or sister should be restored with a spirit of gentleness. The word for restore means literally “to put in order,” “to restore to its former condition.” Here in Galatians Paul did not outline a specific procedure of church discipline, but he likely knew and presupposed the one given by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. From Paul’s perspective the purpose of such disciplinary procedures was always remedial and never punitive, even in the drastic case of the immoral brother at Corinth who was to be handed over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus [1 Cor. 5:5]. However, Paul clearly hoped that matters would not deteriorate to that level among the Galatians. For this reason he not only reminded the spiritually minded among them of their responsibility to restore a sinning brother, but he further instructed them in how it should be done. This delicate ministry is to be carried out in all wisdom, humility, and gentleness. Paul was saying that the work of restoration should be done with sensitivity and consideration and with no hint of self-righteous superiority. Furthermore, vigilance and self-examination are prerequisites for the would-be restorer lest he or she fall prey to the same temptation. Thus while Paul was deeply grieved over the loose living and immoral behavior of the Galatian believers, he was equally anxious that the process of corrective church discipline remain free from the kind of conceited cocksureness that is so contrary to the law of love and the fruit of the Spirit.

It is a sign of the spiritual stupor that has befallen the body of Christ that church discipline is seldom if ever raised as a viable concern in evangelical churches today. Historically, the practice of discipline served a twofold function: it aimed at restoring the lapsed brother or sister to full fellowship if possible, and it marked off clearly the boundaries between the church and its surrounding culture. In both of these ways, discipline helped preserve the purity of the church’s witness in the world. The loss of this historic distinctive has resulted in the crisis of spirituality that pervades so much of our church life today. Can we recover a structure of accountability in our congregational life without relapsing into narrow judgmentalism? What are the standards of personal holiness that ought to distinguish a man or woman of God? What are the ethical implications of our corporate decisions? We will not find answers to these questions until we recover that pattern of personal striving and self-examination by which serious Christians endeavor to keep their lives and hearts pleasing to their Lord. When this happens in our individual lives, then we are ready to recover the biblical practice of congregational discipline and to recognize it as one of the essential marks of a true visible church.

[2-3]  The immediate context refers back to the preceding verse and conveys the idea of the spiritually mature bearing with and helping to restore those who have fallen into sin. But burden bearing cannot be restricted to that one situation alone. The word for burden means literally “a heavy weight or stone” someone is required to carry for a long distance. Figuratively it came to mean any oppressive ordeal or hardship that was difficult to bear. We may gather three important truths about practical Christian living from Paul’s injunction to bear one another’s burdens. (1) The Reality of Burdens. All Christians have burdens. Our burdens may differ in size and shape and will vary in kind depending on the providential ordering of our lives. (2) The Myth of Self-sufficiency. We all have burdens, and God does not intend for us to carry them by ourselves in isolation from our brothers and sisters. The myth of self-sufficiency is not a mark of bravery but rather a sign of pride. Paul’s maxim in verse 3 is aimed at this perverted understanding of the self. Such an attitude of conceited self-importance leads to two fundamental failures in relationships: one, the refusal to bear the burdens of others, for that would be a task too menial and deprecating for a person who thinks he is something; the other, the refusal to allow anyone else to help shoulder one’s own burdens since that would be an admission of weakness and need. (3) The Imperative of Mutuality. God has so designed the body of Christ that its members are to be priests to one another, bearing one another’s burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ. Paul’s most extensive elaboration on the theme of Christian mutuality is in his discourse on the body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12. The command to bear one another’s burdens in no way mitigates against the other New Testament imperative to cast all our cares upon Christ, since He cares for us [1 Peter 5:7]. Human friendship, in which we bear one another’s burdens, is part of the purpose of God for His people. So we should not keep our burdens to ourselves, but rather seek a Christian friend who will help to bear them with us.

[4-5]  These verses must be read together, for they present two diverse aspects of the Christian’s scrutiny and examination before God: the first, the serious self-examination Paul enjoined upon all believers regarding their Christian walk in this present life; the second, the evaluation that will be disclosed by Christ Himself when every believer appears before His judgment seat to give an account of the stewardship of his life.

The word for examine is the word used for the fiery testing of gold so as to determine its purity. This verse has important implications for Christian spirituality, and we do well to heed its message in our own individual lives. First, there is a great difference between introspection and self-examination. True self-examination is not merely taking one’s spiritual pulse beat on a regular basis but rather submitting one’s thoughts, attitudes, and actions to the will of God and the mind of Christ revealed in Scripture. To test or prove something presupposes that there is some external standard or criterion by which the quality or purity of the object under scrutiny can be measured with accuracy. No higher or better standard can be found for this important exercise than the law of Christ Paul had just extolled. This does not mean, of course, that we should not seek the assistance of fellow believers in the process of self-examination. An important part of bearing one another’s burdens is to offer spiritual guidance and friendship to one another, holding each other accountable to the high calling of God in our lives. A second dimension of self-examination has to do with competition and boasting in the Christian life. God does not intend for Christians to compare themselves with other Christians. He wants you to bring your own life before the open pages of His Holy Word. Are you more loving and patient than you were this time last year? How do you gauge your gentleness and self-control, your kindness and faithfulness? No one who honestly brings his or her life before God in this kind of way is going to have any interest in comparing himself to somebody else. This kind of honest scrutiny will issue in confession, not competition, in humility, not in vainglory.

In verse 5, it seems that Paul has contradicted what he just said in verse 2. In 6:2 Paul instructed the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens. Now in 6:5 he said that each one shall bear his own load. This apparent discrepancy is easily resolved when we realize that Paul was using two different words (which the NASU translation brings out) to refer to two disparate situations. The word translated burdens in verse 2 refers to a heavy load, an oppressive weight, which one is expected to carry for a long distance. But the word for load in verse 5 is used elsewhere to refer to a ship’s cargo, a soldier’s knapsack, or a pilgrim’s backpack. Paul places the verb in verse 5 in the future tense to indicate that he was thinking not merely of an individual’s carrying his own weight or bearing his own responsibility here in this life but more particularly the future reckoning that every Christian must make before the judgment seat of Christ. So we are to bear one another’s burden which are too heavy for a man to bear alone, but there is one burden which we cannot share and that is our responsibility to God on the day of judgment. On that day you cannot carry my pack and I cannot carry yours.

First Corinthians 3:10-15 teaches that the second coming of Christ will usher in a distinctive judgment for believers. The purpose of this judgment seat of Christ is not to determine the salvation or damnation of anyone. That matter will have been settled before this great event occurs. On this occasion the Lord of the church will review what every Christian has done with the gift of salvation from the moment of salvation to the end of life. If we have built our lives and ministries out of shoddy materials, this will be made known, and we will suffer loss, though not the loss of eternal salvation. On the other hand, if our life’s work has been erected on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ, we will receive a reward, a crown of righteousness that we may cast at the feet of our Savior along with the rewards of all the saints who have come before us [2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 4:10-11]. On that examination day every believer will have to bear his own load.

Questions for Discussion:

Look at Matthew 18:15-17. What is the Christian’s responsibility concerning discipline? On whom does the responsibility fall for initiating reconciliation between Christians? What safeguards are provided by the Lord to insure a fair hearing before openly breaking fellowship?

In Galatians 5:13-15 what are the three ways in which we express our liberty in Christ? What can we do to grow in each of these three things? How is this obedience to the law different from the obedience that the Judaizers were teaching?

How do we bear one another’s burdens? What is the purpose of the burden bearing? We can only bear one another’s burdens if we are the kind of people who others are willing to come and share their burdens with. What kind of people are these?


The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, James Boice, Baker.

Galatians, Timothy George, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Galatians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.

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