Matthew 18:15-17 provides the “ground rules” for the resolution of conflicts between Christians. It applies to peer relationships, not sexual abuse or other offenses that fall in the category of criminal law. Although this is a brief passage of Scripture, it is more than a simple formula. It needs to be obeyed in the spirit of wisdom and compassion that should mark all Christian relationships. The purpose of any confrontation is spiritual healing and restoration of relationship, not revenge.
As verse 15 states, the first step in resolving a damaged relationship is for the one who feels sinned against to confidentially confront the one who has committed the offense. Unfortunately, this first private step is often overlooked. Instead of taking the initiative to personally speak with the one who has offended us, we are inclined to look for allies by sharing our side of the issue with uninvolved people. This failure to face our offender in person allows the offender to go unconfronted, and it increases the distance and distrust between him and us.
If the offending brother or sister does not accept our correction, that is not the end of the matter. It then becomes appropriate to involve two or three other people as witnesses to our problem. While continuing to protect confidentiality, these witnesses are to join us in a second attempt at confrontation and reconciliation.
If the one who has harmed us expresses no repentance or change of heart, even after this confrontation with two or three witnesses, the authority of the whole church is required. Jesus declared:
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector (Matthew 18:17).
This means that if the offending party will not accept the authority of the church, we are no longer to fellowship with this person as a brother or sister in Christ. Instead we are to love him or her in the way Jesus loved tax collectors and public sinners who desperately needed spiritual conversion.