Theme: Offenses and Forgiveness
In this week’s lesson we see a man forgiven, but unforgiving
Matthew 18: 1 5-18
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The way we develop character and master godly conduct is one step at a time, and the disciples were learning it—not very fast perhaps but surely. They had asked about being great in Christ’s kingdom and had been taught that greatness begins with humility, like that of a child. They had been taught to avoid sin and were warned about causing another person to sin, especially a new or weak believer. But what if the other person sins against you? The answer to that question was Jesus’ next important lesson.
The remarkable thing about Jesus’ teaching here is that although he had been stressing humility and would teach forgiveness he did not say that sin should just be overlooked. Offenses must be dealt with. His explanation of how they must be dealt with is the classic text for how Christians are to handle discipline problems in the church.
The procedure for dealing with sin is both sensible and clear, as Jesus states it. There are three steps. First, go and talk to the person who has sinned against you, attempting to show him his fault. He ought to listen and correct the fault. If he does, that is the end of the matter: “You have won your brother over” (v. 15).
Second, if talking about it does not achieve a correction and reconciliation, go again, this time taking one or two others with you, “so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two of three witnesses” (v. 16). This is a clear reference to the primary legal statute of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 19:15.
Third, bring the matter before the church. If the offending brother will not respond to that, he is to be treated “as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (v. 17).
It is obvious from the way Jesus develops these points that a number of important principles are involved. One is that upright conduct matters; sin must be dealt with. Again, discipline is to be kept as private as possible with as few people as possible being involved. If it can be worked out between just two individuals, that is best. Still more, the purpose of these steps is the restoration of the offender. We sometimes say that the purpose of discipline is restorative, not retributive. That is correct. Further, the final step is a function of the church, which means that it should be an official action. The word “church” occurs here for only the second time in Matthew’s gospel.
In verse 18 Jesus gives the church the authority to bind and loose that he had given to Peter earlier, which means that verse 18 has bearing on how his earlier words to Peter should be understood. It indicates that the authority that had been given to Peter was not an authority given to him as an individual or in virtue of a special office he might be supposed to hold but to the church as a whole in its official functions.
The final verses of this section seem to be saying that God will do anything two or more Christians agree on earth should be done. But that is not true, and it cannot be the meaning of these statements. Actually, they belong with what was said in the previous verse about the binding and loosing function of the church, and they teach that God recognizes and validates that authority. What is most remarkable, however, is verse 20, because this verse puts Jesus in the role of God. Only God can be in more than one place at the same time and that is what Jesus says of himself. He will be wherever two or three believers gather in his name.
This should be an encouragement for Christian gatherings, for however small our group or however insignificant we may think we are, we can know that the very God of the universe, even Jesus, is present with us. What can be more encouraging or more comforting than that?
How are Christians to deal with sin in the church? What is the purpose of this procedure?
Describe the authority given to Peter.
What does Jesus promise to believers who gather in his name?
Identify the steps in which you are learning godly conduct.
Upright conduct matters; sin must be dealt with.