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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 7, 2016
God’s Correction of His Children
Turn again to Matthew 18. This section of Scripture began with the disciples arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus corrected them by having a child come stand with Him as an illustration of what was necessary to even enter the kingdom. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. They would not even enter the kingdom, much less be the greatest in it, unless they came with the humility and trust of a child (Matthew 18:1-4). (See: Who’s the Greatest?)
Throughout the rest of the chapter the child continues to stand with Jesus as the practical illustration of both what they needed to be like and God’s relationship to those that belong to Him. God so identifies Himself with those He adopts into His family that to receive any Christian, regardless of their standing or prestige, is to receive Him (Matthew 18: 5). God is also very protective of those that belong to Him and His wrath on those who would cause one of them to stumble into sin is great (Matthew 18:6).
Jesus continues on to give a stern warning to those what would be stumbling blocks. It would be better to die a gruesome death of being cast into the sea with a millstone around your neck than cause someone else to stumble. Jesus uses hyperbole in verses 8-9 to illustrate the seriousness with which everyone needs to have to keep from stumbling. He is not demanding that you actually cut off your physical hand or foot or pluck out your eye because even if you did those things, your other hand, foot or eye would cause you to stumble. He is making a dramatic statement that you need to take radical action and get rid of the stumbling blocks in your life. Humble yourself and admit where you are weak and then protect yourself by fleeing from the area of temptation. Break off relationships that are a bad influence on you. Get rid of and do not purchase items that tempt you. Sin brings eternal consequences. For the non-Christian, it will be condemnation to Hell. For the Christian, it will be the loss of reward. (See: God’s Care for His Children, Part 1)
In verse 10 Jesus gives an additional warning about why it is so important not to cause one of God’s children to stumble – their angels are standing ready in heaven to carry out God’s will concerning them. Those who would be stumbling blocks will have to contend with angels. That is an encouragement to those who are Christians. God has assigned angels to us and they are ready to carry out His will for our good and protection.
Jesus continues on in Matthew 18:12-14 using the analogy of a shepherd to explain the Father’s care for His children. Just as a shepherd knows his sheep and will search for one that strays, so God will search out one of His children that has strayed. There is much rejoicing over a found sheep, but it must be noted that Jesus does not state this as a certainty. Why? God is both omniscient and omnipotent so the potential for finding the one that strays is not conditional because of any lack in Him, and verse 14 states directly that it is not the will of the Father for any one of His little ones to perish.
Jesus states this as an uncertainty because not all sheep that mingle with His flock are His. As Jesus pointed out in His parable in Matthew 13:24-30, there are tares among the wheat. Jesus also said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus’ sheep may stumble and go astray, and like Adam in Genesis 3, they may try to hide when they sin, but also like Adam, they will answer when God calls. Those who stray and will not respond to God’s call to them are those that do not belong to Him. These are those spoken of in 1 John 2:19, “they went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they are not of us.” (See: God’s Care for His Children, Part 2)
There may be rejoicing when a sheep that has strayed is found, but that does not mean there is not correction of the sheep. Jesus explains in verses 15-20 one of the means by which God seeks out His sheep and corrects them.
God Corrects His Children – Matt. 18:15-17; Hebr. 11:4-13
This section of Scripture is often given the heading “Church Discipline” or the “Steps of Church Discipline” because that is what the verses explain. However, like so many other passages, this verse is usually taken out of its context and wrong conclusions are made about it. The most common one combines with current politically correct social mores and finds such discipline to be harsh and incompatible with its claim of love and tolerance. The result is that very few churches follow the instructions Jesus gives in the passage and they pat themselves on the back claiming to be loving. This is a very serious error and will prove to be the opposite of what is claimed.
Such rejection of Jesus’ instructions is a demonstration of pride and arrogance which is the opposite of the child-like nature Jesus said is necessary to even enter His kingdom which is the beginning of the context for this passage. The immediate context is the Father’s care for His children, and correction of children is a parental act of love. Hebrews 12:4-11 quotes extensively from the Old Testament Scriptures in making this point clear.
4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “my son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; 6 for those whom the lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Matthew 18:15-17 is Jesus’ instructions for His church on how to be involved in the Father’s correction of His children. With that as its context, follow along as I read and then we will examine each step.
15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “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. 17 “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.
The instructions are straightforward and simple in context, but it is important to point out two important aspects of it from the beginning. First, the purpose of discipline is to win the erring brother. Second, this only escalates due to stubbornness and lack of repentance.
The Steps of Church Discipline – Matthew 18:15-17
1. Verse 15: “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” The individual in sin is confronted by another Christian with the goal of reconciliation and restoration. If the individual does repent, then it goes no farther and no one else needs to know. This is repeated thought the New Testament in the many commands for Christians to admonish one another (Romans 15:14; Colossians 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:15). Galatians 6:1-4 is an expansion of this command which includes the manner and attitude for such admonishment. 1 “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.”
Notice again that the goal is restoration, and note as well that this is to be approached with a humble attitude. The church is not to have some sort of spiritual police force examining others to ensure compliance with the law. The church is to be a community of brothers and sisters that actually love each other and care enough to correct and then bear the burden of helping back up a brother that stumbled. It is to be carried out after self examination because that has the needed reminder of your own weaknesses so that you are both humble in your approach and cautious of stumbling yourself.
In this scenario you see something in a brother that needs to be corrected. The potential is that this could be any sin, but since both Proverbs 10:12 and 1 Peter 4:8 tell us that love covers a multitude of sins, this is not referring to the minor irritations of life that can either be overlooked, the true definition of tolerance, or handled with a gentle admonishment such as caution or request for a more righteous action. There are many things we do that are in fact sinful because they arise out of pride and selfishness instead of seeking God’s glory, and they may even be mildly irritating, but the are relatively minor. They can be tolerated.
If the sin is more serious so that it is causing a conflict in the relationship or is an obvious blight on the glory of Christ, then something must be said. However, even then what was considered to be a sin may in fact be a misunderstanding or an honest difference of opinion about what is right. Talking about it privately allows for correction of misunderstandings and tolerance for differences of opinion. Even if you do in fact see a better way, there can be tolerance and nothing needs to escalate unless it is a Biblically defined sin that is obvious or continuing. Or viewed from another angle, if what you see requires repentance, then you need to talk with them about it. If it does not, then you could mention it but you don’t have to do so.
The parallel scenario in Matthew 5:23-25 gives us some insight into this. In that passage you become aware that a brother sees something in you that needs to be corrected. Putting both of these scenarios together, the reality is that both parties to a conflict have responsibilities in trying to resolve sin issues. However, the Matthew 5 passage is specific that this is serious enough that the opponent is seeking the aide of a judge to resolve the conflict.
Combining the principles of these passages we find that while any sin has the potential of escalating through the steps of church discipline, not all issues require direct confrontation. There is a lot of room for tolerance generated by genuine love and for minor issues to be handled by gentle admonishment. However, in our society which views tolerance as a supreme virtue, which it most certainly is not, there is a great danger of overlooking things in the name of love when the real reason is either indifference, the opposite of love, or fear of involvement. These passages also makes clear that obvious sin must be confronted in the effort to win a brother back. You only go to step two if the individual is stubborn.
2. Verse 16: “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 you cannot resolve the issue in private, then you confront the individual in sin with two or three other Christian brothers or sisters present with the following goals. A). Bring about reconciliation and restoration. B). Establish the facts. I have been involved in many of these situations and the vast majority of the time having other people there as witnesses helps to mediate the situation, and misunderstandings, the most frequent cause of interpersonal conflicts between believers, are cleared up and resolved.
The verse does not specify who should go along, but wisdom dictates direction in who is chosen. First, this is not a court of inquiry in which two are three witnesses to the crime are necessary to bring conviction before a judge (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15-21). This is an issue of warning a brother who has stumbled into sin and helping him to stop and be restored. If there are others who have also viewed the sin, they can help the stumbling brother recognize his sin as in an intervention. However, this should not be a group of people ganging up on an individual for that practice can easily degenerate into abuse of a victim. That is why Deuteronomy 19 gives warning about malicious witnesses and the need for thorough investigation by the priests and judges. There should be at least one person present as a witness who is wise, impartial and has spiritual maturity (Galatians 6:1) to help mediate in case it is a misunderstanding and not flagrant sin. The extra people are witnesses to what is said and the responses so that truth can be established. They may have do investigation beyond the meeting of the two people in conflict to establish the truth.
In view of the requirements of Galatians 6:1, here at Grace Bible Church, we actually require that as a second part of this second step that if a resolution cannot be reached, then the matter must be brought before the Elders before it can escalate to step three. If the individual does repent any where along the way, then it goes no farther and no one else needs to know. If the person remains stubborn, then it proceeds to step three.
3. Verse 17, “And if he refused to listen to them, tell it to the church . . .” The church is told about the sin of the individual and the church then gets involved to seek to bring about reconciliation and restoration. Caution should be taken in the manner of telling the church. While not all details need to be presented, there must be enough specifics told to clearly establish the sin and the person’s refusal to repent. It is a time for the church to mourn that one of their members is caught in sin. There is no room for self righteousness on anyone’s part. Everyone in the church would then be responsible to at least pray. Those that have a relationship with the individual and those that are led of the Lord would purify their hearts through self examination and then go to that person and seek to restore them. If the person repents, then the church is told and there is much rejoicing by everyone. This step should not be rushed since the people of the church need time to pray and get involved, but neither should this be allowed to drag on for many months. If the person remains stubborn, then the church proceeds to step four.
4. Verse 17b, “. . .and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.” In a real sense, this is simply the church’s recognition of the state of the individual who is no longer walking with Christ properly and refuses to change course. This is done with mourning, but also with a firmness of being true to Scripture. Other issues such as identification of disobedient and keeping the church from sin take preeminence over restoration though the desire for repentance and restoration still remains and is possible. Paul gives an example of this in 2 Corinthians 2:1-11.
The idea of treating the person as a Gentile and tax-gatherer confuses most people. First, this does not mean to ostracize or to shun. There is no room in Christianity for treating other people with that sort of disdain. Jesus commanded us in Matthew 5:44 that we are to love our enemies and pray for even those that persecute us. To treat a person as a Gentile and tax-gatherer is to treat the person as a non-Christian and to refuse to have fellowship with them.
The Gentile was recognized as someone who was outside of God’s family. The person is treated as a non-Christian. You seek to evangelize them for God’s judgement is against all the unrighteous, but because of His great love, He has provided a way of salvation for sinners through the righteousness of Jesus Christ who died for man’s sins on the cross so believers may be clothed in His righteousness and have sin’s bondage broken. If they say they are already saved, you simply point out that their sinful actions and refusal to repent do not indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit and you continue to evangelize. I guarantee that if you continue that, they will not want to be around you because they do not want their sin to be continually pointed out.
Tax-gatherers were considered traitors to the nation since they worked for Rome. They became social outcasts. Our fellowship with one another is based on our fellowship with God. If someone remains stubborn in their sin, their fellowship with God is broken (Psalm 66:18), and therefore no longer a basis for us to have fellowship with them. They cannot fulfill any of the “one another” commands of Scripture, and to walk in their counsel is dangerous because it will be ungodly (Psalm 1). There is no basis for continued socialization with them except to point out their sin and call them to repentance.
The exception to following through each of these steps in order is that public sin must be dealt with publically with public repentance. This will be made more clear at the end of the sermon when I quickly list out additional causes and purposes of church discipline. Other Scriptures calling for this kind of disfellowship include 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Galatians 1:9, Ephesians 5:11-12, Titus 3:10–11 and 2 John 9-11. 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15 gives a good summary of what our actions and attitudes should be: 6 “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. . . 14 “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
Let me add this further warning. Over the fifty plus years I have been a Christian, I have seen quite a few people disciplined by their church. Some churches have done this according to the Scriptures, others have done it poorly and violated the Scriptures to their own detriment. I have also seen many people ignore the discipline and continue to fellowship with the unrepentant sinner, and it has always eventually proved to be to their own harm. You cannot walk in the counsel of the ungodly without getting hurt.
The Authority for Church Discipline – Matthew 18:18-20
As pointed out earlier in Hebrews 12:4-13, God disciplines, reproves and even scourges His legitimate children. Church discipline is one of the ways in which God corrects His children, and it is much more gentle than that described in 1 Corinthians 11: 30 which included physical weakness, sickness and even death. God will escalate discipline of an unrepentant Christian far beyond church discipline.
Jesus explains in Matthew 18:18-20 that God has given the church the authority to correct those who profess to be one of His children. We do not practice church discipline on those who are not Christians.
First, the church has authority to carry out discipline even to its conclusion in disfellowship because Jesus commands it here in Matthew 18:15-17.
Second, the church has the authority to forbid and permit. Jesus stated in Matthew 18:18, “Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The idea of bind or loose, as I pointed out earlier in Matthew 16:19, has nothing to do with Satan & demons. To bind or to loose has to do with “whatever” and not “whoever.” The phrase is a Rabbinic expression meaning forbidding and permitting. The Church has the authority to examine a person’s life and compare it with the Scriptures and then determine whether that person is in sin or not and whether they are repentant or not.
In verse 19 Jesus adds to this idea saying, “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. The context here is church discipline and you must be careful not to take this verse out of its context and try to apply it to something else as is so often done. This not some sort of extra promise that God has to give you what you ask for if you get at least one other person to agree with you in prayer. In its context here, this is same thought as in John 20:23 where Jesus tells His disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, there sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
In verse 20 Jesus adds that He will be in the midst of those making such judgments about those who are caught in sin. “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” Again, the context here is church discipline, so it is about Jesus’ participation in the discipline of His wayward sheep through His church and not a verse about Christian fellowship. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” and His promise is recorded in Hebrews 15:5, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” In addition, Jesus has sent to Holy Spirit to indwell every believer. Jesus’ presence does not come and go depending on whether you have enough people gathered together in His name. I can be confident that Jesus is with me and that He hears my prayers as I pray according to His will whether there are other Christians with me or not.
Other Causes and Purposes for Church Discipline
In the interest of time, I am only going to list out some of the other causes and purposes of Church Discipline. We have an extensive section in our Church Constitution and a Church Discipline Policy paper available in the back of the church on this subject. If you want to have an even better understanding of the Lord’s correction of His children, please pick up a copy of those and do your own study by looking up the verses listed. That is the way to develop a conviction about what God has said.
The cause of all church discipline is disobedience to God’s Word. Discipline that goes beyond private rebuke does so because of either unrepentance or the public nature of the sin (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5; 1 Timothy 5:19-20; 1 John 2:18-19). Any sin has the potential of working its way through the steps of Matthew 18:15-17. The more common serious matters that tend to result in church discipline include: 1). Doctrinal deviation or heresy (Titus 3:9; Romans 16:17-18; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; 2 John 1:10; 2 Peter 2:1-2; 1 Timothy 6:3-5); 2). Immoral conduct such as those listed in Romans 1: 24-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which includes all sexual perversions; 3). Sowing discord or causing division (Proverbs 6:19; Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10-11); and 4). Living in a disorderly manner (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Jude).
The ultimate reasons for all church discipline is for the glory of God and the holiness of the individual. The main reason we have talked about this morning is to bring about reconciliation and restoration of the one in sin to fellowship through conviction of sin leading to repentance (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; James 5:19-20; 2 Corinthians 7:8-13). An additional reason included in this is to teach the individual in sin about God and His commands of how He wants Christians to live (Hebrews 12:5-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Titus 1:13).
When God’s chastening becomes public whether through His direct exposure and intervention in it or by the final steps of church discipline, there are four additional reasons for it that are given in the Scriptures. First, to keep the church from sin (1 Corinthians 5:2,6-7; Galatians 5:7-10; 2 Timothy 2:14-18). Second, to identify those who are disobedient (Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). Third, to remove the unrepentant from the fellowship of the church (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14; Titus 3:10-11). Fourth, to promote the proper fear of God (Acts 5:13-14).
While fear of church discipline and its possible consequences often causes people to shy away from it or reject it, it is the Lord’s command and actually something we should embrace for ourselves and other believers as good. God chastens those He loves, and those without His chastening are proved to be illegitimate. Those who are truly God’s children will be like King David. They may be resistant for awhile (Psalm 32), but they will eventually embrace it and be grateful for it as it restores their relationship with God and enables them to again glorify Him properly (Psalm 51). They will become more humble and more godly. Those who are not God’s children will be proud and resist and reject it if it is applied to them. They will leave behind them a trail of broken relationships with Christians and ungodliness. What does the trail of your life reveal about you?
Sermon Notes: God’s Correction of His Children
This passage began as a correction to the disciples _______- they needed to humble and trusting like a child
God identifies with His children and is ______________of them – Matthew 18:5-6
You need to take _____________action to get rid of stumbling blocks in your life – Matthew 18:8-9
God has assigned ____________to watch over His children / believers – Matthew 18:10
God is a shepherd who watches over His sheep and goes after those that __________- Matthew 18:12-14
A passage is ______________by interpreting it out of its context or according to human philosophies
Rejection of Jesus’ instructions is a demonstration of pride and arrogance – the opposite of being _________
Matthew 18:15-17 – Jesus’ instructions on how to be involved in the Father’s ____________of His children
The purpose of church discipline is to _________a sinning brother, and it only escalates due to stubbornness
The Steps of Church Discipline – Matthew 18:15-17
1) Go and reprove _________. Galatians 6:1-4 expands on the proper manner and attitude of admonishment
The church is a community of believers that love each other enough to ______& bear one another’s burdens
Sin that causes conflict must be _________________- but beware it could just be a misunderstanding
Genuine ___________gives a lot of room for tolerance, but obvious sin must be confronted
2) Matthew 18:16 – Go with two or three ____________to try and establish the truth
This is __________________of inquiry before a judge as in Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15-21
This is a warning to a stumbling brother and ___________to get him up and assist him with his burden
There should be at least one wise, impartial and ______________mature person to mediate (Gal. 6:1)
3) Matthew 18:17a – The __________is told so that they can get involved or at least pray
Adequate _____________is given for the church to act, but the situation is not allowed to drag on
4) Matthew 17b – Recognition that the person is no longer walking with Christ properly & _______to repent
This is not ostracizing or _______________- Matthew 5:44
To treat as a Gentile is to treat as a _____________- continually give them the gospel
To great as a tax-gatherer is to _________________________with them – there is no longer a basis for it
The exception to going through each step is that ____________sins must be dealt with publically
Continuing to fellowship with an unrepentant sinner will eventually prove to be ______________to you
The Authority for Church Discipline – Matthew 18:18-20
Jesus __________________church discipline to be carried out – Matthew 18:15-17
Matthew 18:18 – the church has the authority to __________or permit
Matthew 18:20 – the church has authority because Jesus is present in the ________________
Other Causes for Church Discipline
4). Living in a ______________ manner (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Jude).
Other Reasons for Church Discipline beyond restoration through repentance:
*To ____________the proper fear of God (Acts 5:13-14)
Embrace God’s discipline for He chastens those He _________
Illegitimate children will be proud, resist and reject leaving a trail of ________relationships and ungodliness
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the word “discipline” is used. Talk with your parents how discipline is a sign of love.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon. Set the context: explain Matthew 18:1-14. Why does God correct His children? What is the purpose of church discipline? Why does it escalate? Explain each step of church discipline in Matt. 18:15-17. What kinds of sin can cause this to happen? What kind of people should be the witnesses in step two. What does it mean to treat someone as a Gentile and tax-gatherer? What other Scriptures address discipline of professing Christians? What is the authority for the church to carry out discipline? What are some of the causes for discipline? List additional reasons for it beyond reconciliation.
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