Reading Time: 5 Minutes
Several years ago, I was sitting on the back row of a courtroom, as one of my friends was about to be sentenced to a long prison term. As testimony was being given, the thought came to my mind, “When you walk on the edge of a cliff, you’re bound to fall off.”
What do you do, when you see one of your friends walking on the edge? How can you help your friend avoid such a situation? Jesus has personal information for you about just what to do.
He said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one” (Matthew 18.15).
If you love your friend enough to confront that person, I’d like you to consider the following.
Almost always confrontation produces anger, denial, strong emotions and the like. When the emotions are high, it is time to listen. Listen and give them your full attention until their emotions calm down a bit.
When the emotions have lessened, it is time to confront the person once again. If anger or other emotions surface, it is a signal that it is time to listen, once again. When the emotions lessen, confrontation can begin once again.
This process may need to be repeated until the person actually hears you or rejects your counsel.
Please note this well. If you genuinely care for your friend, never post anything about the situation on Facebook. Do not use email or text messages for this kind of confrontation. A face-to-face meeting is required to follow Jesus’ instructions.
** Not Listening
Jesus has more advice for you, if your friend does not respond to your counsel. He said, “But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18.16).
There have been times when I have seen a person living such an “on the edge life,” that it was like they standing on railroad tracks with a train breathing down their neck. I have used all of my abilities to inform them that the train is coming and they have responded by saying, “Don’t worry preacher. I’ve got it under control.”
I was in a situation just like the one I have described. Nothing I could say would move a person to make the right decision. One of his friends, who had lived a life similar to his, came into the room. With genuine love, I saw friend plead with his friend to do the right thing. The second friend was effective.
I know that verse 16 has been used by the church as a step in church discipline. However, I think my illustration is a more accurate picture of what Jesus taught. I read R. T. France’s Commentary on Matthew every day to prepare for my articles. France makes a very good argument that what I have presented is right. If this is a new approach to you for understanding this verse, please give it serious thought.
** Still Not Listening
If the friend still refuses to listen, Jesus tells us to not give up. He says, “If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18.17).
This verse has been used as a rational for removing a person from the church. However, I read another understanding from a prayer leader so many years ago that I no longer his name. However, I do remember the concept and I think it fits the spirit of Jesus’ instruction.
What do Gentiles and tax collectors have in common? They are generally thought of sinners in need of a Savior. Your friend, who has refused to listen to your counsel and the pleadings of additional friends, should not be “kicked to the curb.” Your friend is in need of intercessory prayer so the friend’s heart can be conquered by Jesus’ love.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18.18-20).
We have the ability, through prayer, to release our friend from the grasp of their self-centered and willful living. I encourage mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends to pray for their friend who is making horrible choices. Some of my best friends and fellow servants of Jesus are those who were rescued through the prayers of loving people.
Revealing Our Love
At the end of the day, our unwillingness to give up on someone who is “living on the edge” or “standing on the railroad tracks” reveals the nature of our love for that person. Our willingness to continue to pray for that person demonstrates the trust we have in our loving Lord, who came to seek and save those who were lost.
Dear Jesus, thank you for giving us a step-by-step plan to reach our friends and loved ones who are living dangerous lives through their own self-will. Please give us the power to be effective in their lives. Please give us persistence in our efforts to help them experience your love and freedom.