A sermon with the congregation of St. John's, Storrington, Ontario, September 5, 1993

by Robert Brow (

In every school, factory, school, government office, medical institution, there are people who take advantage of you. The difference in church is that most people are not paid, and they serve voluntarily. That means they can't be fired if they behave badly. It would be nice to think that in a Christian congregation everyone will love one another, and we will have no problems. But we all know that people in church can behave badly and be very hurtful. That is why many give up on church going.

What do we do when things go wrong? Christians are meant to love one another, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, forgive seventy times seven, love enemies. Does that mean we just let others walk all over us?

Let's imagine an example from our cathedral in Kingston. That's to avoid being too personal in case as similar situation might apply to someone here. At St.George's there are some wealthy Christians who belong to the Yacht Club. One of them says to a poorer member "I would like you to take my cruiser for a week's holiday with your wife and kids in the Thousand Islands." The offer is accepted gratefully. But next Saturday the boat is not back in its moorings.

On Sunday the two members of the church meet and the boat owner asks "Did you have a good week on the boat with your kids?" "Oh, yes, we had a wonderful time." So the owner asks "Where is the boat now?" And he is stunned to get the answer "I don't know, that's not my problem."

Now what the owner of the cruiser do? He can't sleep at night thinking "This is a fellow church member, and I loved him enough to lend him my boat for a holiday with his family. Has he disposed of my boat over the border in the United States? Does he intend to keep it for himself?"

The situation could apply to you when you lend someone your car, or a cottage, a fishing boat, a power saw, or a VCR. What do you do?

In the Gospel reading we are told exactly what to do. You don't fuss, shout at the guy, call the police, complain to other people in the church. Jesus says "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If he member listens to you, apologizes, and returns the boat in good condition, you have gained a friend" (Matthew 18:15). The word "alone" is important. You take the first opportunity to talk one on one to the person who has wronged you. Let him or her explain what has happened, and discuss how it can be corrected. Gossiping about the person is always wrong.

If this first approach, by you alone, fails, Jesus says "if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that very word may be confirmed by two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16). This gives the person a second opportunity to settle the matter between church friends.

The fact that witnesses have heard both sides of what has gone wrong may help in settling the situation. Their advice may help the person see what has gone wrong. And if things do eventually end up in court, the witnesses can give the judge the facts needed for a proper court order.

What happens if the person refuses to listen reason? The third step is "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 or a member of the Mafia (Matthew 18:17). The point is that anyone who refuses to settle a grievance within the church family then becomes liable to be dealt with by civil judges.

In one situation Paul was angry that litigation was going on among church members in Corinth. "When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Are you incompetent to judge trivial cases? Can it be that there is no one among you who is wise enough to decide between one believer and another?" (1 Corinthians 6:1-5). Obviously he had learned from Jesus that we first settle grievances in the church community. Christians do not engage in petty litigation. But what happens in serious criminal matters?

In a previous chapter he had explained that a church member who behaves against the laws of the land may have to be handed over to the city magistrates. "You are to hand this person over to Satan (the god of this world) for the destruction (punishment)of the flesh" (1 Corinthians 5:5). In that case the man was committing incest with his father's second wife, which was a criminal offence in Roman courts. Paul even describes a heathen Roman judge as "the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4). In our day child abuse is a criminal offense, and we know we have to hand over a church member who is engaged in this to be dealt with by the police.

The title of this sermon is "Should we get walked over?" The answer is both "Yes" and "Certainly not." On the one hand Christians are to love one another, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, forgive seventy times seven, love enemies. But that does not mean we let enemies rape and kill our children. Nor do we allow the Mafia to peddle drugs in our church. And if a woman has a husband who comes home drunk, wrecks the home, and beats up the children, she can call in church members to talk to him. And if he refuses she has a right to go to a judge, get a court order, child support, and eventually a divorce and half the family property.

Let's hope the Christian who gave his boat for a church member to have a holiday, did get his boat back safely. But if the offender refuses to listen to reason, we respect the right of the owner to call in the police, and clap the fellow in jail. We still love the church member who ends up in jail, we may visit him and welcome him back. But Christians are not wimps, and we don't get walked over.

We might add that God is no wimp, and he doesn't get walked over. When we behave abominably he first talks to us one on one. We can be forgiven and our heart changed by the Holy Spirit. He will probably send one or two others to help us back on track. He uses a church service like this to help us into faith. But if we stubbornly reject the love of God, he assigns wrath consequences. And his consequences are both loving and very tough.

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