When faced with obstacles in our growth in Christlikeness, God has given us five “circles of help” to enable us to grow in godliness.
Circle #1: We are to discipline ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). Here at TCC, we continually urge you to discipline yourselves for godliness. Our membership application makes it clear that each believer must take primary responsibility for his own spiritual development. But sometimes, we need help from others. God has given us other believers to help us grow in godliness (Matthew 18:15).
Circle #2: If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother (Matthew 18:15). Every week, TCCers observe things that do not honor Christ in each others’ lives. Many times we don’t involve ourselves; we don’t know what to say, or we mistakenly think it’s being judgmental. But sometimes we get it right; we involve ourselves as we ought—going to them humbly, assuming the best, asking questions, and willing to help even when our worst suspicions are confirmed (Galatians 6:1). Restoration is the goal. This isn’t judgmentalism; it is love. So, when a believer continues to refuse the appeals of two or three brothers or sisters over a long period of time, we come to the third circle.
Circle #3: “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” (Matthew 18:16). Notice that the goal is to uncover the truth of the situation: “that every fact may be confirmed.” It’s no longer my opinion vs. your opinion. There are two sides to every story, and maybe things aren’t what they appeared to be at first glance. Or, maybe they are. So when self- discipline and one-on-one approaches have failed, you bring in one or two others. How many of us have ever had someone take the costly, thankless step of sitting down with the two of you, listening to both sides, asking a bunch of questions, praying for wisdom, and having the goal be righteous reconciliation rather than “winning”? How many of us have folks in our lives who’ll say, “Bob, I think Sue’s got a point there. That’s not how your Lord would have you speak to the kids.” This is why I say that the church is marvelous and not just messy! You don’t find this anywhere else. The “messy” part is—because we’re sinners living in a sinful world. We do have conflicts, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. But the marvelous, costly love of involving ourselves in the hassle of helping others get along? The gospel is about reconciliation; first vertically, between sinners and God, and then horizontally, between brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s marvelous!
There are two more “circles of help,” but they are only applied by the elders and pastors of a church. Although they are levels of help you’ll never initiate, you need to be aware of them so that you won’t be shocked or confused when they’re necessary. Here’s the fourth circle of help. So, when a believer continues to refuse the appeals of two or three brothers or sisters over a long period of time, we come to the fourth circle.
Circle #4: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17a). The goal of telling it to the church is the same as the previous levels of help: the restoration of a straying believer. What does “telling it to the church” look like? First Corinthians 5 gives such an example. Paul was informed that a believer in Corinth was sexually involved with his step-mother! As bad as that was, some folks in the church knew about it and did nothing. Paul was as appalled by their acceptance of this as he was of the immorality. Evidently, those who did try to help were unsuccessful. So Paul informed the whole church, and called upon them to help all those involved to repent. If that wasn’t sufficient, God has provided one final circle of help.
Circle #5: “…and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17b). Paul said that if a person does not respond even to churchwide appeals to repent, then the church is to conclude that he probably isn’t even a believer. At that point, they would assume that he was a non-believer—a “Gentile or a tax collector” in biblical terms—and therefore their appeals would take the form of evangelism rather than that of calling a wandering brother back to the purity of the Christian life.
The church is messy because it is full of flawed, sinful people such as me and you, and we won’t be glorified until we’re with the Lord. But the church also is marvelous, because it has the only message and power sufficient to sanctify us. You’ll be glad to hear that circles four and five worked in the Corinthian church. Look what 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 says: The man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me… Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him. As painful as these circles of help can be in the application, look at that—the goal is restoration…and it worked! That’s marvelous!
Application / Challenge
- Build quality connections with your church family.
- Commit to resolving conflict biblically. Go to them privately with the goal of restoration. Involve your spiritual leaders as necessary. Get free biblical counseling through TCC Counseling.
- If you’re a leader here, take advantage of TCC’s opportunities to become equipped for ministry.
Life in the Father’s House: A Member’s Guide to the Local Church by Wayne Mack and Dave Swavely: