RESOLVING A TRESPASS
Matt 18:15-17 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
This seems to be an aversion to Jesus' teachings in verses prior to the lesson text. However, there is a very good coordination of thought between them. Having been taught the devastating nature of offending others, especially those that are weak in faith to God and His plan of eternal salvation, Jesus now turns to a lesson on resolving offenses, or trespasses against oneself. Injuries to men or women from other fellow human beings come in many different forms. They can result from gossip and false witnessing, from slander, stealing, adultery, physical harm, and other forms of trespassing one's physical and spiritual rights. At times the party offending another does not realize that a sinful trespass was committed. At other times, the person that professes to have been offended simply misunderstands the rightful acts of another and, in error, assumes them to be a trespass against him or herself. Although the church of Christ did not come into being until the Day of Pentecost after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus back into heaven, the method of resolving a trespass among brethren within the church was established on this day by this direct commandment of our Savior.
Although the lesson text gives consideration to brothers within the body of Christ, the same action would be necessary to resolve trespasses among sisters, or between brothers and sisters, in Christ. Identifying one as a brother, sister, or a group of people as brethren comes from the "family" that makes up a religious body, especially those that are members of the body of Christ. They have this relationship because, by their positive response to God's invitation to become a member of this church, they become reconciled to God - He becomes their Heavenly Father, and they become His children, brothers and sisters of Jesus, and fellow heirs of the hope of eternal life with the Son of God, Christ, the Savior.
As our Heavenly Father, God desires all of His children to be happy and at peace with one another. Now assuming there is a "trespass," or what is perceived to be an offense between members of this family of God, Jesus gives us this commanding advise on the righteous manner in which such contentious strife is to be resolved in the sight of our Heavenly Father. First of all, before any feeling of resentment, grudge, or malice develops, we are to go to that offending brother alone for reconcilement. We are to go to him alone, without airing the offence with any other person. The fault is to be calmly and forthrightly discussed between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, that is recognize his error, clearly explain the nature of the misunderstanding, and make amends for any wrongs, thou hast gained thy brother.
If this should fail, one must then take two or three fellow brethren with you and confront the offending brother once again, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. Naturally these brethren should be open minded and as acceptable as possible to both parties. By fully addressing the trespass, difference of opinion, or fault in the presence of these witnesses, they should, attempt to mediate the problem, but impartially judge your complaint, and the reply of the other party, as just or not. These witnessing brethren should also note if the attempt to reconcile the matter was made in brotherly love.
After this, if the trespass remains unreconciled, the offended brother must tell it to the church. Whether "the church," as it is used here, means the entire congregation or the elders who represent it, is not fully revealed. Since it seems that the whole congregation would have difficulty confronting the offending party, the elders appear to be meant in this, and similar instances. If there can be no resolution to the problem by this action, it would then be the duty of the elders to bring the unresolved trespass before the congressional membership, and, after identifying the unrepentant brother, he is to be sternly admonished, and, if deemed necessary, he must be viewed as an heathen man and a publican. That is, he must be excluded from the church, and, until just reconciliation has been made, he must no longer be regarded as a Christian brother.