Matthew 18:15-20, The Call to Deal with Sin.
General Idea: While the disciples were acting like dumb sheep by arguing and inviting sin, Jesus continues His retort and switches the focus from warning about sin to dealing with it. After calling us to deal with personal sin in a decisive and firm way, He turns our attention to others. How does our Lord call us to deal with the sin in others? With truthfulness and love (Eph. 4:15)! The quintessential way to develop and maintain growing and healthy relationships is the understanding and application of love-not what we think love is; rather, what God says love is! When we resist or refuse to deal with others in love, and remove sin, we escalate the problem and dysfunction (Matt. 5:21-26). We destroy our relationships and the opportunities for Him to use us. When we humble ourselves before the Lord, we facilitate the good character the Church is supposed to emulate; then, we become more harmonious to His call and to others.
1. Sins against you refers to an offence against God's precepts that affect you, such as theft, false actions, and gossip. Jesus sets up for His Church a three step process for dealing with conflict and sin.
a. The main goals are repentance, and protecting the community from harm.
b. This procedure was to keep gossip away, protect the innocent and the public, and bestow God's forgiveness.
c. Him alone. This means we are never to gossip or bring others into an argument. It is to be settled; but, if it cannot be settled, then another person is brought in. Discretion and Confidentiality was and is essential! We need to be objective and speak to the person directly, not go to or though someone else.
d. Tell him alone. It was Jewish custom to privately rebuff a person who sinned against you. To publicly shame someone was considered sin, unless they were unrepentant.
e. To gracefully receive a criticism was an act of spiritual maturity (Dead Sea Scrolls).
f. It is imperative to point out that the context in this passage is in the parameters of mercy and forgiveness! Church discipline must always be handled quickly and with mercy and forgiveness (Ezekiel 33:7-9)
g. We are to offer hope that the person will be restored; we are not to continually rebuff him or her. The only time forgiveness and mercy are not offered is after they are offered and then refused by the person who is unresponsive and unrepentant. Once the person repents, we are obligated to forgive, just as Christ forgave us.
h. When you have firsthand information or some reasonable proof that a sin has been committed and/or a conflict needs to be reconciled, then it is the call of the church to deal with it (Luke 17:3)
2. If he will not hear. This is the person who is not listening verses the person who realizes his or her error. We are to respond in community with others who are mature, spiritual, and clear minded (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6-7; 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28).
a. If he refuses to hear them, that is, continues not to heed what is just and right, or to turn from sin. This is the person who is so ingrained in his or her sin that they do not want help, and they will bring down all those around them. They are a clear and present danger to the community and to themselves.
b. Church means an assembly or community of Believers. It is not a building, but the group of people who make up the assembly (Duet. 19:15).
i. Synagogues, in Jesus' time, also served as community centers for prayer, social gatherings, and a place to hang out.
ii. To be removed from the Synagogue was to be cut off from the community.
iii. In Jesus' time, Discipline in a Synagogue could mean anything from a public rebuff to a beating; however, most offenders were removed, excommunicated from the community.
c. Pagans were considered reprobates (Rom. 1: 21-23), and a good Jew would have nothing to do with them.
d. Tax collectors were agents of the invading and oppressive government, who lied and stole from their fellow Jews. Such people were already put out of the Synagogue and treated with contempt.
e. Warning a person of pending action of the Leaders to rebuff them was an act of mercy; and, if they did not heed, it was a confirmation that they deserved the excommunication (Duet. 25:8; 1 Cor. 11:30).
f. When one is cut off from a church, it means we are to have nothing to do with the person or persons in social situations, either (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Thess. 3:6; 14-15; Titus 3:10).
g. Paul reaffirms the process of dealing with sin (1 Cor. 5:1-12; 1 Tim. 1:20; 5:20).
h. God calls us to confess our sins to one another and to Him. Confessing sins is mandated and is the essential aspect of forgiveness and of resolving conflict (James 5:16).
3. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Bind normally referred to being imprisoned or tied to a job or situation; loosed referred to being freed from the binding. Here, the context is judicial, and thus refers to being judged and condemned, and either loosed or exonerated.
a. In Judaism, the high court acted as God's representatives, and most rabbis taught that they acted in God's place and had His authority to give out judgments which God had already decreed. So, a God-fearing Jew would be devastated by a court action; a reprobate would not care.
b. Two or three continues to refer to the number of witness is verse 16.
c. It will be done for them. Jesus is possibly quoting the prayer of "Execration" given by the priests as a person is excommunicated.
d. Jesus' goal was that the person should repent. These are the stages of offering mercy and forgiveness until all options are exhausted, and the person still refuses to acknowledge his or her sin or admit responsibility (1 John 5:16).
e. In the OT, the witnesses were to exercise judgment and punishment (Duet. 17:7). This also prevented false accusations, as it is one thing to accuse someone but still another to stone him or her, if they were not guilty, while living in a close community next to their relatives. In verses 19 and 20, Jesus turns around the call to retribution, and calls us to first and foremost pray!
f. In Jewish thinking, when two or three were gathered to study the law, God's presence would be there. Jesus is using this superstition to a further call to community and prayer. The minimum number of people required to establishing or continuing a Synagogue and rabbi was ten males.
g. Jesus is confirming the omnipresence of God.
h. It is important to realize that not all conflict is sin. Although most conflict can and will lead to sin, it is not always a sin problem.
We are called to restore him gently (Galatians 6:1-5).We are to take seriously the call to be responsible for one another in love and care. When we help one another, even in the midst of conflict, by pointing out sin and wrong doing, we are helping that person. We need to take seriously the call that our Lord gave us, that we are positioned to be peacemakers and help in the restoration process of all humankind, using everything from evangelism to conflict management.
Our own motive must be the restoration of God's people from sin; we are not to do the work of the Holy Spirit, but we are to heed our call of being constructive and providing solutions, not more strife. Our call is to extol people, that is, to come alongside them with comfort and help. We are to help one another grow in relationships with God and with one another. And, with this motive in mind, we are to sheepdog people onto the right path when they veer off, as a loving parent does with a child.
Conflict is not always something evil or bad. We must remember that God will allow all things to work for good for His glory. Sometimes, a church can split and then there are two and so forth, and is a way of church planting. That is why there are so many Denominations. Sometimes, conflict draws people together for a cause and perspective. Conflict can open opportunities and communities and bring them together; but, we are not to cause conflict for this effect. Well-managed conflict can be healthy and inspire spiritual growth for the church and for people. When a person sins and is disciplined, and then comes out of it with repentance, he or she grows and become more effective for Christ versus if there was no discipline and the person kept on sinning.
1. If you have children, how do you resolve their conflicts? Can you think of an example of a conflict that was resolved and all parties felt good?
2. Why does Jesus take the time to tell us how to effectively deal with sin and conflict?
3. What if there was no mention in Scripture on how to deal with conflict; can there be a better plan?
4. Why is the application of love so important in maintaining growing, healthy relationships, and resolving disputes? What happens when love is absent?
5. What happens when we, as a church, decide to ignore or fail to remove sin?
6. How does a sin against God's precepts affect you?
7. How do repentance and the refusal to repent affect the church and community?
8. Why does God call us to exercise mercy and forgiveness when dealing with Sin and Church discipline? How does mercy and forgiveness affect a person's sin and his or her repentance? How would it affect you?
9. What are some of the motivations and reasons why you or any particular person would not repent when confronted with sin or wrong doing?
10. How would you define the word Church? What does Church mean to you as an expression? What should it mean?
11. Read James 5:16: Why does God call us to confess our sins to one another and to Him? Why do so few Christians heed this call? How have you practiced this call?
12. How is confessing sins an essential aspect to forgiveness and resolving conflict?
13. Do you see in this passage the stages of offering mercy and forgiveness until all options are sought? How does it make you feel that God takes His time to deal with us with love and care? How can you communicate this to others?
14. How does it make you feel when someone who is clearly in the wrong refuses to acknowledge his or her sin or admit responsibility? When have you done this to someone else, and how do you think they felt?
15. Do you think today if we allowed the victims and witnesses to crime or wrong doing exercise the judgment and punishment, it would prevent false accusations or reduce such occurrences?
16. What happens to conflict and sin when the church is focused on community and prayer?
17. Have you ever seen conflict draw people together for a cause, or perhaps create opportunities and communities to bring people together? How so?
18. What happens in the life of the church when our motives for the restoration of God's people from sin are skewed? What are some examples of skewing this motive?
19. We are to take seriously the call to be responsible for one another in love and care. What can your church do to exercise this call better? What would happen in your church if the leaders took this call seriously?
20. What would your personal life and church life be like if you put greater effort to extol people, that is, to come along side of them with comfort and help? How can you make this so?
© 2004, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org