If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. Matthew 18:15

Being an addict in recovery myself, and working with other addicts, I’ve had opportunity to be on both sides of an intervention. It’s a painful undertaking and is generally something everyone wishes to avoid. Unfortunately, though, it’s often necessary when a loved one refuses to acknowledge or address a growing problem. This is one of the most common questions I get. What do I do about the addict in my life?

Jesus, in today’s passage, explains what we do when a brother has engaged in hurtful, destructive behavior. Though this passage isn’t specifically about addiction, Jesus is describing the right way to perform what sounds very much like an intervention.

In the passage, Jesus says that the one who is offended by the destructive behavior bears some responsibility to confront the transgressor. Jesus insists on discretion – going alone – at first. If the brother repents and abandons his ways, then all is well. If, however, he refuses to listen, then the one doing the intervening must recruit two or three trusted individuals to repeat the effort. If the offender still refuses change, then the situation is taken public, to the church. If he continues down his destructive path, then boundaries are established, and the wrongdoer is left to travel down his path alone.

We are not responsible for the destructive behavior of the addict, but whether we like it or not, we do have some responsibility to act rightly when someone close to us engages in destructive behavior. Jesus says we must do what we can to confront the brother appropriately. Then, when we’ve done so with no results, we must engage in tough love. Jesus doesn’t say whether it’s punitive or whether it’s to protect ourselves (or both), but when someone refuses to repent, we must radically change our relationship with him. This doesn’t mean we stop loving him, but we do disengage from our previous intimate relationship.

This is hard, which is why we are so bad at doing it right. Usually, we either ignore a problem or we blow up in frustration. Jesus, however, says there is a right way to intervene. We’re not responsible for the addict’s behavior. We can’t find recovery or faith for anyone else. We’re only responsible to follow Christ ourselves. Then, we must leave the results up to him.

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