“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence 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, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
(Matthew 18:15-20 ESV)
Today we come to some verses that have been very misunderstood by Christians. The Catholic Church has taken these verses to conclude that only the church (i.e. The Vatican) can forgive sin. At the other extreme, Charismatics use these verses to claim every possible blessing from God just for the asking. Some use these verses to conclude God can be forced to do things if we approach Him collectively through prayer. None of these views corresponds to what Jesus is saying. We know that from the context.
As we learned during our study of Ephesians, context is extremely important when studying someone else’s words. Jesus has just given instructions on how to handle a brother or sister within the church who is sinning and who may or may not repent of their sin. That is the context from which we need to approach today’s verses. Today’s verses do not start a new topic; they are part of that discourse and should be understood as such.
What Jesus is saying here is that any decision arrived at by the preceding steps by the two or three witnesses or by the church (if discipline goes that far) has the full authority of God behind it. When the church follows God’s pattern for discipline of His children, their decision receives heaven’s approval. Therefore the sinning brother or sister has no further appeal. God has already declared that He will side with the witnesses and/or the church.
Many Christians are not comfortable enforcing discipline in the manner Jesus described over the past couple of days. That is why we seldom, if ever, see it done this way. Instead we fall for Satan’s lies wherein he convinces us that since we’re sinful too we should not be judgmental. But God tells us that any such thinking is wrong. Not only does He want us to confront sin in the manner described, He lets us know that we can be 100% confident that, if we follow His pattern, we are doing the right thing even if Satan makes us feel that it is wrong.
This is so important that Jesus twice uses the phrase “I say to you” emphasizing the authority behind what He has told us. There should be no doubt in our minds that we are doing the right thing. If we have to repeatedly confront a believer who is sinning, God supports us. If we decide we have to ask someone to no longer attend our church because they are living in sin, God supports us.
God designed the universe, including the hearts and minds of men. He knows the best way to do things, including confronting sin within the church. The process Jesus is calling us to follow is a hard one. It is risky and may not go smoothly so we are disinclined to do it. But Jesus promises to be among us throughout the process. Heaven supports us the whole time. When we know that God’s got our back we can approach this, or anything in life, with confidence.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.