15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” — Matthew 18:15-20
Throw the Bum Out… Not So Fast…
by Dick Tunney
The church is Christ’s living, breathing representation of His Kingdom here on earth. The church is made up of broken vessels who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. There are no two ways around it—because of the Fall, we are imperfect creatures in need of a Savior. Today’s text, probably the most prominent biblical text on the subject of church discipline, speaks loudly to the divisive brother and the larger church body. It gives us a process for how the church should function when an unrepentant brother potentially exposes the condition of his heart as being in Christ or not in Christ. Let’s dig in:
Matthew (a former tax collector) writes, “If there is one who sins against you, speak to him kindly in private to rebuke him.” The Greek uses stronger language—“convict him of his fault.” In other words, impress it on him in language he will understand—not with words of anger, but still being forthright and straightforward. We now see that if this brother grasps his offense, “You have won your brother.”
You know the process moving forward. If he’s unrepentant, take a couple friends with you, and if he’s still resistant, then tell it to the entire church body. After the third pass at the problem, Matthew instructs the early church, “Let him be to you as a heathen man and a publican” (NASB). Publicans in the New Testament were people of abandoned character (Barnes). This means the Jews of that day were to have no contact with him, disowning him as a Christian brother and treating him as if he was not connected to the church.
One commentator reflects, “This is the only way of kindness. This is the only way to preserve peace and purity in the church.” Titus 3:10, 11 (NIV) says, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” So, throw the bum out, right? Uh, not so fast.
Another commentator strongly suggests that this process should be read and done in light of the previous verses in Matthew 18:10-14. This is the very familiar Parable of the Lost Sheep, in which the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep safely on the hills to pursue the one that wandered off. Viewed through this lens, the confrontation of a divisive brother is to be done for the good of his soul.
If, after the entire process, he is actually removed from the church, he immediately becomes a candidate for evangelism. The ultimate goal here is not to get rid of one among us who may be a detriment to the ongoing life and ministry of God’s church. No, the goal is the restoration of his soul to Christ. There can be nothing more satisfying in the life of a congregation than that one lost sheep is returned and restored to the flock, which can only be done by the Good Shepherd Himself.
- Undoubtedly right now there is a name surfacing in your mind of one among you who may be divisive, belligerent or just mean-spirited. Take a moment and pray for him/her and ask God not only to show him/her their sin, but also ask God to give you a proper attitude and demeanor toward this person.
- When delving into the area of church discipline, be sure to read verses 15-20 through the lens of verses 10-14. Isn’t it amazing how God weaves His Word together to give us proper instruction with proper perspective?
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.