We arrive at the passage that is mostly used when people talk about church discipline. Doubtless church discipline is a proper application of the text, but a proper explanation is required before such an application can be made. Jesus has taught that the Father does not will to lose any of His adopted children. He has instructed His disciples not to despise anyone who is being saved by grace through faith, no matter their sin. Only after the first slice of bread has been laid for our sin sandwich, the slice explaining God’s grace and will that none of His children be lost, that we can talk about sin—which has not been in view until the current passage.
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 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 have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
The prognosis (v. 15)
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
Matthew has not finished the current sequence. When Matthew finishes one sequence and starts another, he uses language like what we will see in Chapter 19, verse 1, “When Jesus had finished these words…” As we consider what sin is and what it means to show our brothers sin to them, we must keep in mind the entire conversation Jesus has had with His disciples up to this point about stumbling blocks, the ones through whom stumbling blocks will necessarily come, and lost sheep.
First, He teaches, “If your brother sins…” Who are the brothers of the disciples? In the context of this discourse, they are those who have been adopted as children of God along with the disciples. Jesus is referring to His eschatological family. Whatever follows deals specifically with the relationships between individuals in Christ’s church, not between people who are in Christ and people who are not (cf. 1 Corinthians 5). Second, we see the word “if.” We only need address sin, whatever is meant by sin in this context, if there has actually been sin. There are many occasions on which well meaning Christians call something sin that is not. Third, what is sin, and what type of sin do you think is in view of this text? For instance, if you borrow a pen and accidentally walk off with it, which is theft, do we need to start the process of church discipline? If you are having a bad day and throws a little temper tantrum, do I need to pull you aside and show you the error of your ways? Is Jesus really that concerned about trivial matters or sin that is not normative? Is Jesus not aware that He has already promised to be retrieving and sanctifying His own people?
What is sin? What kind of sin is in view? Look at the motivation. Pointing out this type of sin leads to unity, the winning of a brother. Success means the wayward sheep returns to the fold. This act is one of multiplication, not division. The sin in view here isn’t every little venial sin a person can commit, but those sins that cause division, or stumbling. Look at verse 7. Remember, stumbling is not the same as sin. Stumbling is when the adopted children of God live like strangers, according to the legalistic ways of the world. Then, there are those through whom stumbling comes, those who bring division to God’s church because they despise those who live by grace through faith instead of by their works (cf. v. 10). In the same sequence, Jesus instructs, “If your brother sins,” by being the one through whom stumbling blocks come, bringing division and scattering sheep, “go and show him his fault in private.” Sadly, there are those who do not read this passage in its context. They use it to justify everything they feel they need to correct in others. Because they have ignored the context of this passage, they cause division by trying to correct every venial sin. They become the ones through whom stumbling blocks come. Please don’t misread what I am arguing. This passage does not devalue accountability or negate the importance of the personal pursuit of holiness (cf. 7:1-6). Matthew, writing to Jews enveloped in the legalistic cultural religion of their time, majors on anti-legalism (not antinomianism) in His Gospel. If this were not the case, verses 21 and 22 would be nonsensical. There, Peter will misunderstand again, assume that Jesus is talking about venial sins against himself, and ask how often he should forgive the one who sins against him personally. Jesus’s answer, there, indicates that he should simply forgive unconditionally without holding the wrong against his brother. The sin in view here is not the kind of sin Peter refers to later because Jesus instructs his disciples to respond to those different types of sins in to very different ways. Verse 15 does not say, “If your brother sins against you…” Some translations will include “against you,” but those words were likely later scribal editions to verse 15 because they are not present in the earliest and best manuscripts. Peter, though, will talk about sin “against me.”
So, my congregants don’t have to worry about me coming over to their houses because I’m not looking to point out every little thing they are doing that dishonors God. I trust that the Holy Spirit is sanctifying His people through the proclamation of His word—the faithful expository teaching of Scripture. I am a pastor is not a principle. We only have to go to someone we believe to be fellow child of God by grace and reveal his or her fault in private if stumbling blocks are coming through him or her, if he of she is causing the adopted children of God to stumble—causing division or a falling away. In fact, we must do so for the sake of the church. If the person through whom the stumbling block is coming listens, we have won that person. In my experience, people respond in one of two ways once we point out that they are causing division. They either forsake the church or repent. This step is usually where the process ends. The local church experiences continued unity, happiness, and joy as a result. Our motivation remains to win even those through whom stumbling blocks come to the Gospel of grace. Without proper church discipline, there is constant tension and disunity within the body—which is detrimental to the spiritual health of the congregants.
The process (v. 16-17)
But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 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.
Isn’t it good to know that you won’t be brought on trial before the church if you tell a little white lie, get a little annoyed with someone, exceed the speed limit, or skip church? If our divisive brother does not listen to us privately and personally, then we take one or two others with us so every fact may be confirmed.
Why one or two others? What sort of facts need to be confirmed? According to the Law, no accusation could be offered against anyone by only one person in the civil court. Let’s look together:
You shall not move your neighbor’s boundary mark, which the ancestors have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess. A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot (Deuteronomy 19:14-21).
The Law Jesus quotes deals specifically with land disputes and malicious intent and reflects Jesus’s teaching point-for-point. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 19 because he is talking about those who cause division. There were to be one or two additional unbiased witnesses in order to fact-check the claims being made. If the claims a confirmed or any malicious intent is discovered by the unbiased witnesses, and there is not repentance, then the case is brought before the congregation like the Law instructs. If there is still no repentance, that brother proves to not be a brother and is to be to us as an unbeliever. Why? That person has chosen to be the one through whom stumbling blocks come. How do we treat unbelievers? Matthew says, “like a Gentile and a tax-collector,” two groups shunned by the Jews. We no longer associate with them as if they were brothers. We no longer accept them in the fellowship of believers. Though they cannot be a member, we share the Gospel with them again. They can attend if they want, but they are not part of the family. If they are truly an adopted child, God will bring them to repentance and back into His fold, the covenant community. He is not willing that they perish if they truly belong to Him.
The promise (v. 18-20)
Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
Jesus reminds the apostles of His promise from Chapter 16, verse 19. Jesus’s promise is given with regard to the testimony of the apostles—the twelve in Matthew 10 and Peter particularly here in Matthew 16. Those who believe the apostles’ testimony, Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, and believe on earth shall have also been bound in heaven. Those who do not believe the testimony of the apostles, Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, on the earth shall have been loosed in Heaven. “Shall have been” is a perfect, passive, singular phrase. Here, the Greek captures what the English cannot. This bounding or loosing Matthew refers to happens from eternity (perfect). It happens to people; People don’t willfully affect their salvation (passive). It happens to individuals (singular). People are not bound in Heaven because they have believed the apostles’ testimony. People are not loosed in Heaven because they have rejected the apostles’ testimony. God is not so responsive. The idea, here, is what we usually refer to as either predestination or reprobation, though “predestination” doesn’t quite capture God’s election of His saints and is a tad misleading because God doesn’t bound us from before our believing the apostles’ testimony. Instead, the saints “have been bound” by the Father who is timeless and eternal. We don’t have the syntax we need in the English language to convey the idea. That is what we mean by predestination.
Applied particularly to discipline in the covenant community, then, those through whom division comes who leave the covenant community as a result of biblical discipline do so because they have not been bound in heaven. Discipline sifts the wheat from the weeds.
Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
Jesus says, “Again I say to you,” meaning He is referring to something He said previously. In this case, the Law’s requirement for two witnesses when facts in a dispute are being considered. What might two witnesses ask for? They may ask for discernment, availability of evidence, or for God to work in the hearts of those they are judging for the good of the church body. The Father will do what they ask for the good, unity, and sanctification of His church. God does not promise to unequivocally give any two people anything they agree to ask for. Where two or three have gathered in Christ’s name for the purpose of discipline, to unify and sanctify the church body, Christ is there in their midst—He does not leave His people to this grave work on their own. He is there in their midst for the good of His church.
This instruction was given particularly to the apostles. Jesus’s statement about binding and loosing was true particularly for the office of the apostles. This responsibility is one that was explicitly handed down to the elders, yes plural, of the church (cf. 2 Peter 5:1-4). In fact, this is how Peter defines shepherding—practicing oversight of this kind to maintain unity and sanctify the congregation. That is why the church needs a body of elders and not merely one pastor. For, the elders keep one another from becoming those through which stumbling blocks come.
God's Regret – 1 Samuel: Andrew Paul Cannon Sermons
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