April 14, 2021

When There Is No Repentance


If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17

The Bible has fantastic advice about conflict resolution. First, directly approach someone who has wrongfully harmed you and try to seek restoration. If that doesn’t work, ask a third person, ideally a more mature fellow Jesus-follower, to act as a mediator and witness to your second shot at resolution. If neither of these options brings confession and forgiveness, the church is to treat the wrong doer as a “pagan or tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).

Here’s the back story:  In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were often Jews employed by the Roman government. These Jewish tax collectors were hated, because they were known for extorting their own people for personal gain.  Jesus encountered a tax collector named Zacchaeus, who was called a “sinner.” Zacchaeus was sinning but he was transformed by his encounter with Jesus. Jesus remarked, “salvation has come to this house…for [I] came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

Tax collectors weren’t inherently more sinful than followers of Jesus. To treat an unrepentant wrongdoer in the church like a pagan means to consider them, not as a monster, but as one who is continuing to choose sin. If you’ve been harmed by someone who is unrepentant, distance from them might be the proper course of action. As the body of Christ, however, we should pray and long for repentance.  To the defector, God says, “If you return, then I will restore you” (Jeremiah 15:19 and Isaiah 31:6).  God longs for and celebrates repentance and restoration.  We should too.

Resource reading: Matthew 18:10-35