Let me a say a word, at this point, about something that I had not considered. Jesus commands that the one sinned against or the one who knows of the sin go to the sinner alone and explain to him the error of his ways. We might make the assumption that this is a one-time event and not a process; however, where does Jesus say this? Is it not reasonable to assume that it may take more than one visit for the sinner to comprehend his wrong and come to repentance? Is it not worth a few visits, if necessary, to win back the brother? Somehow, we have gotten the idea that if the brother does not repent on the spot in that first visit; we go right to the second phase. Consider for yourself whether this idea is true.
What if the brother will not listen to you when you, alone, have approached him directly? Jesus speaks to that possibility. If the brother will not listen to you, take witnesses to him. It is only at this point that others outside the situation are to become involved. When the possibility of a private restoration has been exhausted, bring witnesses. I know there is a debate about what the witnesses should be. The term, witness, as we think of it, often means one who has seen something with his own eyes. This sense cannot be the sense here. These witnesses could not have seen the sin. If so, it would not be a private matter but a public one. I believe the witnesses are specifically to serve the function of helping to convince the brother of his sin. If this matter is simply a dispute about hurt feelings or some such thing, then it becomes a matter to be judged by the wise among the brethren as in 1 Corinthians 6. Jesus is not addressing a difference of opinion here but a matter of sin. The witnesses are to serve to reaffirm the brother’s need for repentance.
In that sense, they are not to serve as objective mediators who have been brought in blind. The one who is going to the sinning brother must choose the witnesses, hopefully for their spiritual maturity and knowledge, inform them of the brother’s sin, and make sure they have the backbone to do what is necessary to help the brother to see his guilt.
Jesus is not dealing, here, with those situations where a brother brings a frivolous accusation. He is giving guidance on what to do when a brother actually transgresses. The point of bringing the witnesses, then, is to establish or confirm the matter. They are there to witness the telling to him of his fault, to make sure that it is done appropriately, and to help the brother to understand that he has done wrong and must repent. They also serve as witnesses to his repentance, if he listens. Again, there is no question, here, but that the goal of this second visit is like unto the first, the restoration of the brother. If he repents, praise God! Again, is this a one-time event, or can it take more than one visit? What if he refuses the bringing of witnesses? Such is the same as not hearing them, and the matter must then be taken to the next step.
Jesus anticipates the brother’s not listening to the witnesses. If he does not hear the witnesses, then and only then, the matter is to be brought before any outside organization. Obviously not. Before the elders. No. Before the men of the business meeting. No. Jesus clearly says, then and only then, bring it before the “church.” It is my personal opinion that the word “church” here is an unfortunate translation. When most people think of church, if they have a proper concept of what that word entails, they will think of the universal body or the gathering of the saints. Jesus, however, was not talking to saints/Christians. He was talking to Israelites under the Mosaic Law. Yes, He was introducing them to concepts of the new covenant, but He was still not talking to Christians. The “church” had not come into existence universally or locally. So, where is this brother-in-sin to be brought? He is to be brought before the assembly just as the manslayer in Joshua 20:5-6. In Jesus’ lifetime, the man could be brought before the assembly in the temple/synagogue. Once the church came into existence, the man would be brought before the assembly of the local saints.
Some say this is a process separate from the first day of the week assembly, a congregational meeting, but I see no necessary inference for this. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul says that the man who had his father’s wife was to be put out from among them. It makes sense that he could only be put out from among them when there was a “them” to be among. So, Paul says in verses 4 and 5, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” When would they have been gathered together? On the first day of the week. See 1 Corinthians 11:17 ff.
So, the brother who sinned, who would not listen to the one who knew his sin or against whom he had sinned, who would not listen to witnesses, is now to be brought before the assembly of the brethren. Imagine the situation if this is to be a fact-finding, open mediation. Disorder and a poor use of the time of assembly. By this point, the matter is already established as fact. The brother has sinned. He has not listened to the pleas to repent. There is no doubt or need for further discussion. The plea to repent is now made to him by the entire local body of assembled saints. If he repents, praise God! I suppose I would have to ask, how many times is he to be brought before the assembly? Likely just one time since this is no longer an on-going persuasive effort.