& Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ The Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 20 Jan 2013
18:15 Now, if your brother happens to
sin in regards to you, go on and lay out a case to him – between you and him
If he happens to heed you, you gained your brother.
18:16 But if he doesn’t take heed, bring
along with you one or two more, in order that upon the testimony of two
witnesses (or three) every statement may be established.
18:17 But if he disregards them, talk to
And then if he disregards the church, let him be to you like the Gentile and
18:18 Really I’m telling y’all,
whatever things you might bind upon the earth will be so, having been bound in
heaven, and whatever things you might release upon the earth will be so, having
been released in heaven.
18:19 Again, really I’m telling y’all
that if two of you happen to consent upon the earth concerning any matter,
whatever they may request will happen for them alongside my Father in the
18:20 For where two or three are who
have been gathered into MY name,
I am there in the midst of them.
Jesus begins with 5 Conditional clauses (and ends the paragraph with a
6th conditional), each of which might be the case or might not be
the case (ean + subjunctive verb
in the protasis of each). In the case of the first 5 “if” clauses, we hope, in
ascending order, that these will NOT be the case in our personal and church
relationships, but these ascending instructions give us rails to run on for due
process if there is a problem in the church, a pattern from Jesus himself as to
how to address sin and conflict and how to achieve the desired result of a true
condition of agreeing with one another (in the last “if” clause in v.19).
18:15 Now, if your brother happens to sin in regards to you,
go on and lay out a case to him – between you and him alone.
If he happens to heed you, you gained your brother.
δε ‘αμαρτηση εις
μεταξυ σου και
Εαν σου ακουση
- First, elegxon – “show/tell him his fault”
in most English translations.
with a rod in 2 Sam 7:14, and through sickness in 2 Chron
26:20, but in most other cases throughout the Bible it is done through speech.
- Used throughout the
book of Job in a forensic sense of being a prosecutor in
court laying out his case against the accused, but it’s also used to
describe a judge inflicting a sentence.
However, unless you have been appointed as a judge, you must not act as
your brother’s judge, you can only lay out your case to him privately. Simply explain how you have been hurt by what
he or she has done and how that breaks God’s law.
- Cf. Leviticus
19:17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any
wise rebuke thy neighbour, so thou shalt not bear sin on his
account. (Brenton) If another person
has sinned against you or offended or wronged you in a significant way
that you can’t overlook, God commands you not to get bitter and angry at
him or her for years just waiting for them to apologize. Instead God
commands us to go work it out and seek a resolution.
- But even that needs to be done with wisdom. There are some people
who shouldn’t be bothered, so choose your battles wisely. Proverbs
9:8 “Rebuke not evil men, lest they should hate thee: rebuke
a wise man, and he will love thee. (Brenton)
- However, sometimes
God calls His servants to rebuke an evil man, just as John the Baptizer “reproved”
Herod for stealing his brother’s wife (Luke 3:19). John did the right
thing, even though it cost his life.
is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince someone that they have done
wrong: John 16:8 “And He, [the Holy Spirit] when He
comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and
– Convicting of sin is the Holy
in 2 Tim 4:2, we see that pointing out sin can be done through preaching
the word of God, but it should be done very patiently.
- Finally, in Rev.
3:19, God says, “As for me, whoever I happen to love, I am reproving…”
If God points out sin in those He
loves, whatever reproof we do must be done with a motivation of love,
hoping for that brother or sister to be freed from sin which harms them,
not desire to hurt them.
- But whatever you do,
do it “privatelyNAS/ between you and him alone”
- To acknowledge
fault for sin takes a lot of humility, but it takes way more humility to
acknowledge fault in front of an audience.
- Doing this
one-on-one is partly motivated by a desire to make it as easy as possible
for him or her to be made right again.
- Now there are some
sins which are so public, that you have to deal with them publicly right
away. You can skip the private step with a mass murderer – lots of people
have been hurt and he knows it; it’s all over the news, and if all he did
was offer a private apology everyone would consider it an injustice.
- But Jesus is
considering a case which could be smoothed over privately.
- The best thing that
can happen is that he “hears” you, that is, he accepts that he did wrong
to you and he does what needs to be done to make it right.
- In that case, you have “won over/gained” this person as
a friend. He
or she will appreciate the love and care you showed to them in doing so,
and they will become an ally – so much more than just a “friend” on
Facebook or a contact “Linked In” to your “Circle.”
- When I worked for a
parachurch agency in Denver, a friend from church overheard me say that
parachurch ministers were like the prophets in the Bible. Well, this sent
up red flags in his mind. “The prophets spoke directly with God and wrote
the Bible and did miracles. Nate must be off the deep end to call himself
a prophet. I’d better go talk to that boy.” So Joel asked me to meet him
for lunch, and he laid out his case to me. It meant a lot to me that he
cared enough about me as a friend to worry about my theology. Through his
critique, I was able to develop my idea by limiting it to the form of
government used by the schools of the prophets in the Bible and the form
of government used by modern parachurch agencies, and we were able to come
to agreement. To this day, I know that Joel is a real friend. In fact,
just last year, he drove 3 hours out of his way to pick me up while I was
on a layover at the Denver airport, just so I could visit his home for one
hour. He won a friend. But it doesn’t
always happen that way:
18:16 But if he doesn’t take heed, bring along with you one
or two more in order that upon the testimony of two witnesses (or three) every
statement may be established.
Εαν δε μη ακουση
σου ετι ‘ενα η
δυο ‘ινα επι στοματος
δυο μαρτυρων η
- You can often tell
when someone is not listening… they clench their fists, write a flame
email in all caps, or change the subject to something irrelevant to the
issue you raised.
- That’s when you’ve
got to decide whether it would be strategic to take this to the next
level. Sometimes it’s worth dropping it, but if this is a brother or
sister you’re going to see every week in church, and the issue is important,
you might not be able to drop it.
- Here Jesus
quotes from the Law of Moses, slightly-abbreviated from the Septuagint: Deut.
19:15 “One witness shall not stand to testify against a man for any
iniquity, or for any fault, or for any sin which he may commit; by the
mouth of two witnesses, or by the mouth of three witnesses, shall every
word be established.” (Brenton) – This
is courtroom language.
- One application of
this is that if you can’t get two other people to go with you, you might
want to consider dropping it altogether. Part of having two
witnesses is to establish that your statements are a true representation
of what happened. If you can’t get two people to agree with you on it,
then it’s possible you have a distorted understanding of what happened,
and the person you are trying to accuse might not be quite the sinner you
thought he or she was!
- Sometimes we
misunderstand each other, though. Sometimes we find it hard to believe what
somebody is saying. Sometimes we just don’t realize how important a
problem is. Taking along witnesses can hopefully make the other party take
the matter more seriously and may help convince him if he was
initially skeptical of what you were saying.
- But so far, you’ve
only talked to the offender and only one or two other people. Publicly
exposing other people’s sin which only affected you is the wrong first
step. Only after you’ve tried to reason with them multiple times and
brought multiple witnesses might it be appropriate to air the matter
before a larger audience – but even then not before the whole world, just before
18:17 But if he disregards them, talk to the church.
And then if he disregards the church, let him be to you like the Gentile and
αυτων ειπε τη
Εαν δε και της
σοι ‘ωσπερ ‘ο
εθνικος και ‘ο
Greek word for “Neglect to hearKJV/refuses to listen” is a
compound of the verb “to hear” plus the preposition “along.”
- We have a saying
nowadays, “In one ear and out the other.” That’s the idea.
counsel falls on deaf ears. He will not heed them, rather he disregards
- Now, what does it
mean, “tell it to the church?”
- Make an
announcement on Sunday morning? “The ladies’ auxillary has decided that
Pastor Wilson sinned against them by not including them in the budget
process this year, so we just wanted to let everybody in the church know
- Put it on
your blog or Facebook page? “Henry spilled his coffee on me, and that wasn’t
nice.” You might could get people
talking about it, but I doubt much of anything would come of it, except maybe
somebody leaving in a huff.
- If we look at the
context of this passage with its judicial proceedings with witnesses and divine approval of human
bindings and loosings, and of the worst-case scenario of that person
being treated like a Gentile, it becomes clear that we’re
reading about some kind of formal process of instituting church
discipline against a person, and that naturally will be done
through the leadership of the church. Thus it starts with
contacting the elders of the church, and the elders will need to
make decisions regarding how to handle it, and they will lead the
congregation in the implementation of those decisions. At some point, the
elders may need to talk with people in the church and eventually make a
general announcement to the whole church.
- 1 Timothy
5:20 “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so
that the rest also will be fearful of
sinning.” (NASB) The command to give a rebuke is 2nd
person Singular in Greek, addressed to Timothy as a singular elder/overseer,
not to everybody in the congregation. Let
a church leader tell it to the church.
- Of course,
at the time Jesus made this statement, there were no formally-operating
Christian churches, so when Jesus said “church,” the disciples would
naturally have understood it in the sense of the O.T. “assembly of the LORD” – the Jewish community
gathered to worship God, which occasionally gathered to decide civil
deformed person was allowed in this assembly, nor any Gentile.
5 provides us with an example of how this Jewish assembly worked in the
context of judging a matter: “Some men came up to
Nehemiah, the governor of the re-established Jewish colony in Jerusalem,
and said, “In order to pay taxes, we have had to borrow money, and now
most of us have had to mortgage our fields and even sell our children as
slaves to the nobles. But the Jewish nobles shouldn’t be doing that to
fellow Jews! Help!” So Nehemiah grieves over this and argues with the
nobles over it, then schedules a great assembly (or church) where he delivers
the following speech: “Why are you selling your brethren? What you’re
doing is not good! Let us now leave off this exaction. Restore to them,
I pray, as at this day, their fields, and their vineyards, and their
olive-yards, and their houses, and bring forth to them corn and wine and
oil...” Then you know what happened? They said, “We will restore, and stop
taxing them and do just as you say.” Then Nehemiah calls in the priests
to provide formal witness and makes the nobles take an oath before God,
and Nehemiah concludes by shaking the dust off of his cloak and saying, “So
may God shake out every man who shall not keep to this word, from his
house, and from his labours, he shall be even thus shaken out, as an
outcast and empty.” Then all the congregation said, “Amen, so be it,” and
they praised the Lord (Nehemiah 5:4-13, Brenton) There’s an example of “talking to the church”about
word “church” is only mentioned one other time in Matthew, and that was
when Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.” This word
“church” does not occur anywhere else in all the gospels, but it begins
to be used to refer to communities of Christians in the book of Acts.
- What does it mean to
let a person “be to you like a heathen/Gentile/pagan/tax-collector”?
- I believe it is a
- The only “church”
the disciples knew was the “assembly of the LORD” which permanently excluded
Gentiles (as long as they were not circumcised), and temporarily excluded
anyone who had been made ceremonially unclean (as was the case with
- I believe that
Jesus was saying that He was building a church that would be the new
assembly of the LORD,
but the persons excluded from this new church assembly would be
those who refused to hear God’s word or to repent of their sin.
Jesus has already welcomed tax-collectors like Matthew and his friends,
as well as Gentiles like the Syro-Phonecian woman and the Greek crowds in
Decapolis into the assembly of His people.
- Those who refuse to
heed Jesus and repent of their sin should not be considered a part of His
church, just as uncircumcised Gentiles and unclean people were not
considered a part of the Jewish order of God’s church.
- In order to uphold
this wish of Jesus, some determination must be made as to who is “in” and
who is “out” of the assembly of His church, and I believe that Jesus in
the next verse authorizes His disciples (and their successors) to make
those church membership determinations under the guidance of the Holy
18:18 Really I’m telling y’all, whatever [things] you might
bind upon the earth will be so, having been bound in heaven, and whatever [things]
you might release upon the earth will be so, having been released in heaven.
Αμην λεγω ‘υμιν ‘οσα εαν δησητε επι της γης εσται δεδεμενα εν [τω]
και ‘οσα εαν λυσητε επι της γης εσται
λελυμενα εν [τω]
- Now Jesus
says to all the disciples what He had said to Peter earlier
about building His church. 16:19 And I
will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens and whoever you
might bind upon the earth will be so, having been bound in the heavens,
and whatever you might release upon the earth will be so, having been
released in the heavens.
(This may be why Jesus starts v. 19 with the word “again.”)
- When we looked at
the Matthew 16:19 passage, we considered the meaning of these words for
“bind” and “loose”, as Bible commentators took three different opinons:
One interpretation was that “binding” and “loosing” is talking
about allowing entry to the kingdom of heaven by preaching (or not
preaching) the Gospel.
books and scrolls would have ties on them to hold them closed, so a
teacher would have to unbind the book or scroll before reading it to the
people, so there may be an allusion to that as well.
- By not calling
people to repent of their sin, we could be shutting off their chance to
repent and get right with God.
A second interpretation is that “binding” and “loosing” has
to do with the legislative
power to rule that certain things are morally good and other things are
- Hence, “to bind”
would mean “to forbid violation of [Biblical] principles… regarding
faith and conduct… and to loose, that is to permit whatever is in
harmony with them.” ~Wm. Hendricksen
The third interpretation is that “binding” and “loosing” had
to do with the judicial power of accepting church members or excommunicating
- This makes the most sense to me here.
Henry wrote, “The key of discipline… [is the] power to expel and cast
out such as have forfeited their church-membership, that is binding;
refusing to unbelievers the application of gospel promises and the seals
of them; and declaring to such as appear to be in the gall of bitterness
and bond of iniquity, that they have no part or lot in the matter, as
Peter did to Simon Magus, though he had been baptized; and this is a
binding over to the judgment of God. They have a power to restore and to
receive in again, upon their repentance, such as had been thrown out; to
loose those whom they had bound; declaring to them, that, if their
repentance be sincere, the promise of pardon belongs to them…”
- The way the Greek
verb tenses are arranged in this verse with the Perfect participles,
Jesus indicates that God is the initiator of these things,
not the disciples, because the binding and loosing happens in heaven before
it is done on earth.
- Unfortunately, only
the NASB really brings this out in its translation.
- The condition was already
in force in heaven when it was enforced on earth. “You bind? It has
already been bound in heaven.” The church, led by its appointed leaders,
can only legitimately “bind” and “loose” on earth what God has already
decreed as bound and released in His heavenly counsels.
- This means
that receiving members and kicking people out of the church are not some
arbitrary power given to any church leader – to make God do what they
want; the church elders can only receive as members those who demonstrate
by their faith in Christ that they are already members of God’s
kingdom, and elders can only excommunicate those who demonstrate by their
contumacy that they already are not members of God’s kingdom.
- Now, have
church leaders made mistakes in the past in these determinations?
Yes, to be sure. But while leaders who were out of fellowship themselves
with Christ have occasionally confused things on earth, there is
no confusion in heaven, and the judge of all the earth will set
everything right eternally.
18:19 Again, I’m really telling y’all that if two of you upon
the earth happen to consent concerning any matter, whatever they may request
will happen for them alongside my Father in the heavens.
λεγω ‘υμιν ‘οτι
επι της γης
του πατρος μου
του εν ουρανοις
- This word for “agree/consent”
symphwne- (from which we get
the English word “symphony”) is used throughout the Greek O.T. to indicate
a consensus among a group of leaders upon a certain course of civil
action (Genesis 14:3, 2 Kings 12:8, Isaiah 7:2), but in the New Testament, this word refers to a much
wider range of agreements between parties (Luke 5:36, Acts 5:9, and Acts
15:15). Most notably, we will see it used about 17 verses
later to refer to a payment contract between a generous employer and his various
employees hired throughout the day (Matthew 20:2, 13).
- What sort of
agreement is Jesus talking about? The context makes this clear. A problem
of sin between two church members who can’t see eye to eye, has been laid
before the church and its leadership, and the church needs to come to some
kind of consensus as to how to deal with this problem. Jesus says that if
the church and its leaders are walking in agreement with each other, God
the Father will answer their prayers.
- This reminds me of four
similar passages of scripture:
- James 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of
God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be
given to him. (NASB) – What would a group of
church leaders who are judging a difficult interpersonal case be asking
God for? Wisdom, of course, would be one thing, and God’s promise
in the book of James about answering prayers for wisdom fits well with
Jesus’ promise here in Matthew.
- But does this mean that
if these church leaders ask God for permission to worship idols that God
will say, “Oh sure, I said you could ask for anything as long as you
agreed on it!” No, we have to put together what the whole Bible says
about prayer in order to understand promises like this. We have to hold
Matthew 18:19 together with verses like: John 15:7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you,
ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (NASB) – In case it wasn’t already clear from the
context of Matthew, where it says in v.20 that they have “gathered
together in [His] name,” Jesus says explicitly in John 15:7 that God only
answers requests from people whose thinking is already in line with His
look at one more passage about God answering prayer in the context of
judging whether or not a person is a Christian: 1 John
5:12-21 The one who has the Son has the
life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
These things I write to you in order that you may know that you have life
forever--to [you] who are believing in the name of the Son of God. [Here is the criteria for deciding whether or
not a person should be received as a member of the church.] And this is the confidence which we have
before Him, that if we shall request something [for ourselves] according
to His will, He is hearing us. And if we know that He is hearing us – whatever
we may be requesting – we know that we have the items that we had
requested from Him. If someone were to see his brother sinning a sin not
unto death, he will ask and He will give to him life – to the ones who
are sinning a sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I'm saying
that he should ask, [but] not concerning this. All unrighteousness is
sin, yet there is sin not unto death... Dear children, keep yourselves
from the idols. (NAW)
– This passage in 1 John introduces a
second request that a group of church leaders might agree upon in the
process of church discipline, and that is a prayer for God to restore a
brother or sister who has strayed into sin.
- That’s exactly what
Paul the Apostle did with the man who married his father’s wife back in 1
Cor. 5. Paul judged that to be against God’s law and said, “Remove this
wicked man from among yourselves,” which was an act of church discipline,
to “deliver him over to Satan,” for the world outside the church lies
under Satan (1 John 5:19). Paul explained in 1 Cor. 5:5 that the purpose
of this excommunication from the church was in order that this sinner
might get saved. And indeed, it appears from 2 Cor. 2:6ff, that
the man did indeed repent of his sin and was welcomed back into the
church. That is the goal of church discipline, and that is the
kind of thing we pray God will do through church discipline.
- “The assurance is
given that even though at a certain place the fellowship of believers
consists of only two person[s], even these two, when in agreement with
each other, can definitely figure on the guidance for which they have made
request.” ~Wm. Hendricksen
- Let me also
comment on the last set of prepositional phrases, “by/of/alongside my
Father in the heavens.” The first preposition, which, in Greek, is “para” (from which we get the English
word “parallel”), has to do with being “beside” something else.
I think the shade of meaning of this particular verse is that prayers
which are lined up with God’s will bring resources into earthly reality
which already existed in God’s heavenly presence:
- That which was
beside the Father could be the answer to the prayer, as in these resources
of wisdom and grace that we pray for have been sitting beside the throne
of God in heaven all along, and when we ask for them, He takes them from
beside Himself and puts them into being for us on earth. I think that is
why the KJV translation of this verse is, “it shall be done for them of
[as in ‘out of’] my Father.” In a very real sense, this is what God the
Father does with the Holy Spirit who came from beside Him and who
knows His thoughts and can reveal them to us and who can convict sinners
and give them repentant hearts. These are the things we ask for of
parties in the church discipline process, and God sends His Spirit from
His side in heaven to do these very things.
- Another possibility
is that this phrase “beside my Father” actually refers to “the two of you”
not the “requests.” As in, “whatever they ask will be done for those
persons who walk alongside my Father and are praying in accordance
with His will.” The word “them” is a much closer antecedent in the Greek
sentence, and it matches John 15:7 “If you abide in me and my
words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done.” (NASB)
- Jesus concludes with
a reason why whatever they ask will be done:
18:20 For where two or three are [who] have been gathered
into MY name, I am there in the midst of them.
οὗ γαρ εισιν δυο η τρεις συνηγμενοι εις το εμον ονομα εκει ειμι εν μεσω αυτων
- Usually this verse is used to make people feel
better about a low turnout at a prayer meeting, but remember the context:
this reassurance is given by Jesus to encourage His disciples that when
they have to make the hard call of saying that someone should be put out
of the church, that Jesus will be with them to ensure that they have the
wisdom and grace they need to make that call.
- Furthermore, it is the right thing to do to put out
bold-faced and unrepentant sinners from the assembly because Jesus is holy,
and He is there wherever the church is gathered. It would be an affront to
His holy presence for us to just accept sin in the church.
- This verse continues
the theme of “in” vs. “out” – those who do not believe in Jesus’ name and
those who have been excommunicated are “out” of the assembly of the church
and out of the presence of Jesus, but those who gather in His name are
“in” the assembly of the church and Jesus is “in” their midst.
- Of course, this does
not mean that sinners cannot be in His presence. In that case, none of us
could stand in the assembly of the righteous, for we are all sinners! But
thanks to Jesus, who died on the cross to pay for our sins, those who repent
and ask Him to forgive their sins will be forgiven and counted righteous
so they can be in the holy presence of the Lord.
130:3-8 “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O
Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be
feared… O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD [Jesus] there is
lovingkindness, And with Him is abundant redemption.” And He
will redeem [His people] From all [their] iniquities.” (NASB)
- 1 Cor. 6: 9. “Or
have y’all not known that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the immoral nor idol-worshippers, nor
adulterers, nor gays nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor
drunkards nor abusers nor graspers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of y’all, but you washed yourselves, but you were made holy, but you
were made righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit
of our God.” (NAW)
- So, “whoever either neglects the sacred
assemblies or separates himself from his brethren and is slothful in
cultivating unity demonstrates by this fact that he cares nothing for
Christ’s presence.” ~Calvin
- But those who gather in the name of Jesus Christ,
trusting that He died to pay the price for their sin and rose to make sure
we would be accounted righteous before God, can be confident that Jesus is
indeed Immanuel - “God with us.”