I think most all church members are familiar with the story of the prophet Nathan confronting David after David’s sin with Bathsheba. (2 Sam. 12:1-7a) We know God sent Nathan to David. We know the story that Nathan told David about the rich man who stole the pet ewe from his poor neighbor rather than taking from his own multitudinous flock to feed his visitor. We know how David, in righteous anger, declared that rich man worthy of death and passed the sentence that the man would repay his poor neighbor fourfold. We know how Nathan then looked in David’s eye and said, “Thou art the man!” My question is, how excited do you think Nathan was to get out of bed that morning?
Think about who David was at the time that Nathan confronted him. He was the warrior hero of the nation and the scourge of all the surrounding nations. When David took over as king, Israel was in sad shape. The entire coastline and all the coastal plains were occupied by the Philistines, the Canaanites, and the Phoenicians. Syria had taken over most of what should have been Israel’s land north of the Sea of Galilee, and Moab, Ammon, and Edom occupied Trans-Jordan and large parts of Southern Israel. The Israelites occupied only the mountainous interior and were subject to constant raids by their neighbors. When David first became king (of Judah only for the first seven years) it seems that the Philistines considered him a vassal king. Then David defeated the Canaanites, the Moabites and Edomites. He conquered the then existing two Syrian kingdoms. He pushed the Philistines back into their five base cities and denied them any further expansion. David also received tribute from the Phoenicians (Tyre & Sidon) and the kingdom of Hamath. At the time of his sin with Bathsheba, David was completing his last major conquest (Ammon) which would ensure his kingdom’s security. He was at this time just over 50 years old. He was the revered hero of his nation. He had also already murdered Uriah to keep the secret of his sin with Bathsheba. So, do you think Nathan was at all worried about confronting him? If David had truly broken with God, Nathan likely wouldn’t survive the day. I think I’d be nervous.
While it is unlikely that we will ever have to confront a warlord about his adultery and murder, we are commanded to correct erring brothers: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1) This obligation often makes us uncomfortable because we are nervous about how the brother or sister might react. Sometimes we avoid this duty because we don’t want to deal with the drama that might result. Maybe we are afraid this person won’t be our friend anymore. They will yell at us, hurt OUR feelings, and then things will be awkward forever after that. Regardless of all that, which are legitimate fears, the Bible makes it clear that confronting erring brothers is an obligation placed upon us by God. Rom. 15:14, 1 Thess. 5:14 and 2 Thess. 3:15 all show that part of our duty as Christians is to admonish one another.
Our obligation goes beyond just “getting on” each other. Among other passages, 1 Thess. 5:11 and Heb. 3:13 teach us that we should be exhorting each other. Heb. 10:24-25 tells us that the whole reason we are to attend church services is to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”. We should be thinking about each other and trying to find the best ways to encourage each other as we work our way to Heaven. And, as needed, we should be admonishing and confronting each other about sins we might become caught up in.
One other reason we shy away from this uncomfortable duty is the fear that if the erring brother is offended, he might leave the church. While that would be sad, if the brother is so caught up in his sin that he won’t repent, he needs to be removed from the church anyway. Paul discusses this exact scenario in 1 Cor. 5: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (vs. 7-8) Just as God commanded Nathan to go to David, we are to go to our erring brethren and do our best to bring them back to the fold.
The other side of this story is, of course, David’s reaction. He didn’t become angry. He didn’t act affronted. He didn’t try to lie or cover it up. In 2 Sam. 12:13, he admitted his guilt. We know from other passages, notably Ps. 51, that this wasn’t a bare admittance of guilt, but the beginning of a true and deep repentance. Just as we can learn something from Nathan’s courage in confronting David about his sin, we can learn from David how to handle it if we are ever on the receiving end of the admonishment. The natural reaction to having a brother tell us he thinks we are in sin might be, “How dare you accuse me?!” But this should not be the reaction of a Christian whose primary motivation is to please God.
While the conversation will probably catch us off guard, and our first reaction might be to deny, these opportunities are the perfect chance to check up on ourselves. After all, 2 Cor. 13:5 does teach us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” If your brother comes to you with a concern, think about it. Examine yourself and test yourself out. Your brother might be wrong. He might have misunderstood. He might even have poor motives in telling you. Weighed against the possibility of losing your eternal soul, however, none of that matters much. Consider carefully whatever he or she said to make sure you are still in the faith. After all, we are to “. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). If, upon contemplation, you discover that your brother is right and you are erring, repent and fix it. If you realize that your brother made a mistake in admonishing you, thank him for his concern. After all, it wasn’t easy for him to confront you. He was likely just as nervous, uncomfortable, and even scared as you would be if you were to have to confront him. He loved you enough to overcome that fear and come to you anyway. That kind of love is precious.
Like Nathan, we have obligations to confront erring brethren. Like David, we should listen, consider the admonishment, and if sinning, we need to admit it, repent, and move forward. In all this, our love for each other and for God should be the over-riding motivation.