After following the procedure in Matt 18:15-20 and 1 Cor 5, if a believer refuses to repent, how long should it be before one reconciles with the believer that is living in sin? What would this reconciliation, if allowed, look like? Association casually but not fellowship?
ESV - 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
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Both of the examples cited deal with church discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5 the answer was to prevent the person from fellowshipping as part of the church until they showed signs of repentance and could be accepted back into the church fellowship. In Matthew 18, we are to treat them like 'a gentile and tax collector'. This, from a Jewish perspective, would probably have meant to have minimal contact with them, even on a personal level. From a Christian perspective it would mean to love them, even though we cannot condone the sin, and minister God's grace to them as we have the opportunity. Part of the question would be whether we are affected directly by their continuing sin or it is something that we know is happening in their lives. Another part will be how deep the relationship is with that person and on what level we interact with them. Our (generic) response should be to tell them that what they are doing is wrong and that we cannot continue in the level of fellowship that we had with them before, forgive them, however difficult that may be, and continue to love them, pray for them and remain open to them for when they do repent. They are born again, do have eternal life, and God will be ministering to them also, which in itself may provoke more extreme reactions than might be expected (e.g. Saul) from the situation. So, the more anti they are the less interaction you have with them and leave them to God, and the less anti they are the opportunities to minster to them will increase. Most people will not reach the level of apostasy (Hebrews 6), but if they do reach that stage then they are irreconcilable to God and we should have no further contact with them.
It is difficult to prescribe a period within which to resolve a conflict. The Bible commands us to uphold the weak and bear one another's burdens and to demonstrate forbearance for the weak in faith (1Thess. 5:14-15). We can borrow from Paul's principles in 1Corinthians 10 where he gives useful guidelines in dealing with our weaker brother. Spiritual conflicts will arise from time to time in every church community and indeed a biblical solution is always the best way out. If a believer refuses to accept or admit their offence or offences after having been carefully and respectfully brought to his attention and after due biblical diligence has been employed in the arbitration of the dispute in line with Matthew 18:15-20, the Bible provides that such a believer is to be treated as a publican or sinner. This suggests that he would be treated in a worse manner than an excommunicated believer until such time that he comes to his senses. The question then comes: how should the offended believer relate to the offender? This will largely depend on the nature of the offense in question and it's moral implications. Some offenses may require that the victim keeps away from the offender for a period of time. The Bible teaches that we ought to forgive one another even as God in Christ forgave us (Matthew 6:5-15). This implies that the offended believer should demonstrate love and goodwill to the offender. However, it is important to appreciate that the nature and gravity of the offense should invite appropriate responses. Here are some suggested approaches going forward: 1) If for example the offender committed a grave offense such as bearing false witness against another and refuses to repent even after due process has proved his claims to be false, this borders on a serious spiritual problem that may raise doubts about the spiritual integrity of the offender. The offended believer should allow the matter to remain in the hands of spiritual leaders. 2) If the offence is of a minor nature and the offender is young in faith, it may be best to forgive and move on because God will eventually reveal to them the truth and convict them. 3) Pray for the offender that God may open his eyes to the gravity of his sin. 4) Ask for grace to forgive and to remain collected despite the pain or aggrievement. 5) Show them that you have no grudge against them beside the issue at hand. Do not show open prejudice or hate feelings. 6) Refer the matter to another mature believer to continue to attempt a resolution over the matter and to provide spiritual counsel to the offender. 7) If no solution is found move on and leave the matter to God. The Bible teaches that we should not repay evil with evil and that vengeance belongs to God.
Paul gives us the answer to 1 Corinthians 5 in his second epistle. "1 For I made up my mind u not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, w for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For x I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. Now y if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure - not to put it too severely - to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might d test you and know e whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for f we are not ignorant of his designs." (2 Corinthians 2:1-11) Paul, in no uncertain terms condemned the incestuous relationship in 1 Corinthians 5. However, in his second letter we see that the offender had apparently grieved deeply for his sin. Paul now writes to the Corinthian believers telling them to stop ostracizing the brother so that he wouldn't be overwhelmed with anguish and suffering but to welcome him back into the fellowship. We should all be so loving and forgiving. The purpose and principle is restoration, not destruction. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)
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