Addressing Sin: No Third Option

The Bible has much to say about rebuke and correction. Some of this material seems paradoxical. Consider the following two verses:

1. A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression. (Proverbs 19:11)

2. And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Matthew 18:15)

When someone sins against us, how should we respond? These verses provide us with  antithetical alternatives. On the one hand, we might take the Proverbs route and overlook the offense. On the other hand, we might take the Jesus route and privately rebuke the offender. So which route should we take? What's the right course of action?

Well, it depends. The principles set forth in these verses are complimentary, not contradictory.

There are plenty of times to take take the Proverbs route; to overlook the sins of others. Every sin is terrible, but not every sin merits a response. Married people know this. Patience, forbearance and longsuffering are prerequisites for relational sanity. The flesh is not easily defeated, and growth is arduous. We shouldn't be shocked when people (and particularly those close to us) continue sinning the same old sins. If we truly love people, we will let some things go. After all, "love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8)

Other times, we will need to take the Jesus route. Some sins require a response. If we truly love people, we will speak hard words to them (cf. Proverbs 27:5-6). But when should we speak such words? There's no obvious answer. Wisdom is needed. In general, I'd say rebuke is necessary in cases of outward, serious, and unrepentant sin.

Before I rebuke someone, I like to ask the following questions:

  • "Have I detected a pattern of sin in this person's life?"
  • "Do I detect the same pattern in my life?"
  • "Is the person aware of this pattern?"
  • "Does he/she care?"
  • "What effects is his/her sin having on others?"
  • "Is his/her sin bringing public disrepute upon Christ or his bride?"

These questions help me determine if a rebuke is necessary, and, if so, what kind would be appropriate.

There are times to overlook sin. There are times to address sin. According to Scripture, these are the options. And they are the only two options. Unfortunately, many people believe there's a third option; harboring resentment. Some refuse to address offenses, yet treat their offenders with contempt. This isn't permissible. Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:5). Resentment demands that we keep such a record. We cannot act in love towards those we perpetually resent.

So the next time you detect sin in a fellow believer's life, ask yourself,

"do I need to overlook it, or address it."

If you choose the former, resolve never to think on that sin again. Don't allow it to color the way you view that person. Do not take it into account.

If you choose the latter, address the issue quickly. Paul says we shouldn't let the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4:26). He's not saying, "calm down before sunset." He's saying, "address the cause of your anger as soon as possible." When we fail to address grievances, our anger metastasizes, and Satan gains a foothold over us (Ephesians 4:27).

Overlook, or address. Pray for wisdom. Make a decision. And don't entertain the "third option."