"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. - Matthew 18: 15-17 (ESV)
There are many Bible verses that people routinely misunderstand. Some of that is from poor discipling but another culprit is often times a verse is taught wrong so many times, that it almost becomes reflexive to believe the false usage as true. This is the same phenomena known as the great lie. If you simply say something over and over again, people start to accept it as truth without questioning. For example, people misuse the "judge not" verses all the time to excuse sin or even their favorite false teacher. Meanwhile those verses have very little to do with judgment as God has clearly instructed us we are to judge with righteous judgment. Those verses actually deal with hypocrisy, a topic Jesus was always concerned about. Then you have the infamous third chapter of the most misunderstood Prophet, Malachi. Pastors have been misusing this entire chapter forever in order to pretend tithing is still required. Never mind that the Book of Malachi is actually written to the priests and not the people. Never mind it was the priests who were robbing God. Never mind that Galatians 5 makes it abundantly clear that tithing was nailed to the cross. We could go on and on with similar examples but today let's take a look at the key verses, often misused to protect wolves who are making merchandise of the sheep of the Lord.
One of the most frustrating things about running a discernment ministry is the push back from people who claim Christ as Lord and Savior but seemingly do not care that wolves are attacking His sheep. I have seen the most bizarre excuse making to allow false teaching coming from the brethren, not the world. The world seems to get it. They can look at a Joel Osteen and see a motivational speaker. They can look at a Kenneth Copeland and see a charlatan. They can look at a Heidi Baker and see someone four Gospels short of a New Testament. But believers? They have made Copeland a millionaire 500 times over. They defend Joel Osteen as if he were related to them. They even defend "Shaka Baba" Baker as being filled with the Holy Spirit when it is clearly a demonic spirit she traffics in. Amidst these defenses of the indefensible is the usual refrain -- "did you try to tell them their fault in private as instructed in Matthew 18." So let us reason together and examine why this defense is a fragile as a clay pot, as God would say.
First of all, the key verses today are dealing with matters of personal sin. When your brother or sister sins against you personally. It maps out the process of reconciliation between brethren that also holds each other accountable. Someone who is engaging in false teaching or is a false prophet is not sinning against me personally. They are in fact sinning against the body of Christ and the Bible outlines much different procedures for dealing with them:
He (preachers/elders) must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. -- Titus 1: 9 (ESV)
These verses are not a suggestion for ministers; it is a requirement. Yes our primary responsibility is to teach correct doctrine but an equal responsibility is to rebuke those that do not. It is not enough to preach but we must also correct. The Bible says that every Word from God is good for correction as well as teaching so that all Christians are equipped for every good work. Instead it seems most Christians are prepared to excuse every bad work. The second false scriptural argument used by wolf defenders is the notion about sowing discord. They are quick to point out the Proverbs verses detailing the seven things the Lord hates but they make a fundamental error in applying it to people who correctly point out false teaching. The fact is that warnings against false teachings is one of the most discussed topics in the New Testament so to dismiss that by using one line in a Proverb is extremely poor exegesis. Not to mention that the Bible makes it crystal clear who actually sows discord:
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. - Romans 16: 17 (ESV)
So yes, God hates those who sow discord amongst the brethren and those people are the false teachers themselves! It makes sense if you just apply logic to it as well. The Word of God is likened to good seed in the Bible. A faithful pastor is sowing good seeds about the kingdom of heaven. The Holy Spirit then uses those planted seeds to draw people to God. Thus people who sow false seeds are sowing against the Word. They are sowing discord amongst the brethren, trying to lead them away from the good seed.
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away disciples after them. - Acts 20: 29-30 (ESV)
They try to draw followers to themselves. The Bible says you are either gathering for Christ or by definition you are scattering people away from Him. Again, using seed terminology to drive home the point, there are faithful sowers and sowers of discord. They are in opposition to each other. One sows the Word of God, true to the Bible and the other sows falsely, against what the Word says.
Lastly however, people misuse these Matthew 18 verses because they confuse wolves with sheep. Verse 15 clearly says when a brother sins against you. Besides the personal nature of these verses it is also clear that we do not treat goats and wolves as we would sheep. We of course want to show the love of Christ to the lost but that does not mean we treat them as we would family. Even Jesus makes this clear:
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." -- Matthew 12: 46-50 (ESV)
When it comes to wolves the delineation should be even sharper. The failed starting point for misusing these Matthew verses to defend false teachers is the assumption that they are brethren. They are not. I know this is a hard teaching for many who like the ear scratching but we must understand this today. Joel Osteen, as likable as he may be on a carnal level, is not my brother in Christ. He is a wolf of the highest order leading untold millions to hell. He may not know it. He may not realize it. He may not intend it. None of that matters. Joseph Prince is not a brother in Christ. He is the most dangerous wolf alive today, spreading a heresy so vile as to wipe out the foundational teachings of God to His creation man. And you can line them all up down the line. Copeland, Meyer, Murdock, Hinn, Warren, Houston, and the list just goes on and on. But preacher, they can't all be wolves! Why not? The bible promises a gr eat end times falling away and it is well underway inside the very church that bears His name. Narrow is the path that leads to eternal life and broad is the path that leadeth to destruction. The path is broad for a reason. There are a lot of people on it!
Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to treat wolves as we would sheep. The true shepherd carries a rod with him for a reason. There is a reason the rod gives comfort to the Psalmist in Psalm 23. The shepherd uses it to beat away the wolves that seek to devour the sheep. We should not be in the business of petting the wolves, playing with the wolves or singing Kumbaya with them. We should be brandishing the rod of the shepherd and beating them away. Your brother sins against you? Follow Matthew 18. Someone tries to sow discord amongst the brethren by teaching falsely? Scream wolf from the mountaintops and protect the sheep of the Lord.