In an increasing secular society the church is faced with either capitulating to what the culture deems “moral” thereby defining what “missing the mark” entails. People can define what is right or wrong for themselves, just as Christians can define, based on Scripture what is right and wrong in the Christian ethic. This divide, between culture and Christianity, will continue to increase and God’s people must understand how to navigate their faith in the Christian context in a post-Christian society.
These verses of Christ inform us how to deal with sin in our community of faith, meaning “what do we do when Christians walk according to a cultural ethic that is opposed to the ethics of Christ”?
First, be on your guard means to be watchful, to watch out for your own life and for those in the Christian faith around you. Don’t ignore or turn away from areas where you or others are missing it.
Second, if a brother or sister in Christ misses the mark, “sins”, Christ instructs us to go to them and rebuke them. Matthew 18:15-17 gives us guidance about the process that this takes place (see below). This idea of “rebuke” is not a harsh word. It actually is connected to the value of the person. Meaning you connect what someone has done to their value. Another way of saying it, “you’re better than this.” Meaning, you have more value than what you just did. Our sin often undervalues us and “rebuking” is raising the value back up to its proper place.
Third, if the brother or sister turns away from that sin because of your rebuke, changes their mind, opens up to your rebuke, then forgive them. Don’t hold it over them. Don’t make them do penance. And don’t bring it back up later. They need to move on and so do you. My mom used to tell “forgive and forget”; that’s the idea here. If they don’t repent then use Matthew 18:15-17 as a guide.
This is tough stuff to be certain. Our temptation is to let each other live however and try to encourage people even when they do miss it. I’m all for encouraging, but we also need to properly and with grace be on guard for ourselves and for each other and hold each other to a higher value of life and integrity. As we live this out in love others will see and know that we are Christ followers with a distinct ethos that governs our lives and our community of faith.
(Below is the study of the words I did if interested.)
The word “sin” here is the Greek word hamartano, which means to miss the mark.
The word “rebuke” here is the Greek word epitimao, which means to mete out due measure. This word is interesting because it is connected to the value of the person bring rebuked, connected both to who they are and what they did to deserve the rebuke.
The word “repent” is the Greek word metanoeo and means, to change one’s mind or purpose.
The word “forgive” is the Greek word aphiemi, which means to send away, leave alone, or permit. It denotes “to remit or forgive”. This word signifies the remission of the punishment due to sinful conduct, the deliverance of the sinner from the penalty, and it involves the complete removal of the cause of offense; such remission is based upon the sacrifice of Christ.
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 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. 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.