Biblical Reconciliation: The First Step

Joshua 22:10–12 (ESV)
"And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size. And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.” And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them."

In this passage of Scripture, the Israelites west of the Jordan became concerned by the building of an altar by the 2 ½ tribes who settled in the lands on the east of the Jordan river. Their first thought was that by erecting a different altar, this group was quickly turning to idol worship and apostasy.

It is likely the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:1-26) was still fresh in their minds and how God punished the entire nation for the sins of one man. Fearing the worst, the offended party headed out on a 50+ mile journey to confront their brothers. Upon hearing the reasoning from the representatives of the eastern tribes, Phineas, who led the charge, was satisfied so that the two sides were reconciled (Joshua 22:30-31).

This incident provides a template for how those in Christ are to confront a brother in sin. First, we must care enough to confront a brother or sister who appears to be straying into sin, gathering as many facts as possible before confronting, reporting those facts accurately, acknowledging misunderstanding when it exists, and celebrating when one suspected of wrongdoing is exonerated. Notice how Phineas, while deeply concerned, did not jump to conclusions and allowed the offending party an opportunity to explain.

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus provides the model for church discipline, whose first step is identical to our study verse from Joshua. Remember, church discipline is not intended to get rid of anybody; the whole concern should be to bring about reconciliation. And just how Phineas modeled a tempered response, so should we in our own reconciliation efforts.

Notice in v. 15, the commandment is for the one offended to go to the brother who sinned. We are not to wait for that individual to recognize their error and for them to come to us. By taking the initiative in this manner we likely solve many differences, but unfortunately does not occur too often. We are to confront, but not with the purpose of retribution, anger, or spitefulness. Quite often, the offender may not even realize there is an issue.

Further, notice it says to do so in private. This is not meant to be a show in front of an audience where you immediately place the other person on the defensive, nor are you to first advertise this to the church or your neighbors. Talk just between the two of you.

Also remember reproof requires meekness and humility. Recognize the type of relationship before confronting, as Nathan did with David (2 Samuel 12:1-12). He was able to reprove the king, in spite of the authority that had been given to him as king.

Every believer in Jesus Christ has the right to be disciplined. It is not a judgment of a person’s heart—for God alone looks at a person’s heart—but rather a functional judgment sanctioned in Scripture (see 1 Corinthians 5:11-13).