Winning Your Brother
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you,
you have won your brother.” -Jesus, in Matthew 18:15
I’ve always loved the wording of Jesus in this passage. For one thing, Jesus says that we should go directly talk to the person who has sinned, one on one. We keep the matter as private as possible, and only make it as public as it needs to be to bring repentance (as verses 16-17 show). We sadly get that backwards oftentimes, telling it to everyone else first, and maybe after the gossip has spread, we’ll actually get around to discussing the matter with the person who sinned. Jesus has a different command: go to him first, and talk about it. So that’s the first challenging lesson here: we need more Christians who care enough to talk to those who have sin in their life.
But a second lesson is the one I want us to think about a little more. When we go talk about the matter with our brother, I love the goal of the discussion given by Jesus: to win your brother.
Notice that the goal is not to win the argument. Or to win a confession. Or to win the perception that our goodness is better than theirs. The goal is to win…your brother.
It reminds me that when there is sin in a fellow Christian’s life, that sin jeopardizes their soul, and I risk losing that brother to the control of sin and the reality of hell. It is no time for games; the stakes are too high. If I love souls the way God does, and remember that one soul is worth more than the whole world (Matt. 16:26), I will want more than anything to bring them back to God, His church, and forgiveness. So that’s what I’m trying to do when I approach a fellow Christian about a sin: I must genuinely want their status as a spiritual “brother” restored.
And if our goal is genuinely to win our brother, I believe that will affect our tone and our attitude in the discussion. When I want our relationship to be restored, I will speak with humility. I will speak as someone who truly wants what is best for them. I will speak in a way that encourages and even expects a better spiritual future for them. I will let them know that I want to help them get this sin out of their life if there is any way I can help. There will be love and friendship in every word.
But if I’m trying to just win an argument or a confession, do you think my tone will be different? I think it will. Without even knowing it, my voice may exude an attitude of self-righteousness, of harsh criticism, of looking down at someone. My voice may even get louder if they dare to disagree with me, because after all they are the bad guy and I am the good guy. My goal affects my tone.
Somewhere along the way I heard a good definition of tact: “to make a point without making an enemy.” I like that. It is easy to make an enemy by saying something in a rude, holier-than-thou tone. But if I am approaching someone with a golden-rule attitude, speaking to them the way I would want to be spoken to, making a point without making an enemy shouldn’t really be too difficult. I simply ask myself: how would I want to be spoken to if I were in their situation? A golden-rule approach should come naturally from a desire to win my brother back to the relationship that could be lost.
Is there someone we know in our life that has sin? Maybe even someone who has sinned against us personally? Let’s have the Christ-like courage to go speak with them. But let’s do it the right way, with the right goal that will then produce the right tone. If we can avoid putting up walls with our attitude, and simply speak the loving truth of repentance and hope, we may be blessed to win something far more valuable than an argument. We may be blessed to win our brother. And that’s what Jesus wants.