Two or Three Gathered
In the context of Matthew 18, the discipline chapter, we have the Lord’s teaching on leaving the ninety-nine and pursuing the lost or straying sheep. Jesus has great concern for those who stray and who are lost. As the Good Shepherd, it is His desire to bring them home.
So, when we get to this process of confronting a brother in sin that may eventually lead to excommunication, we need to understand that it is the Lord’s process to bring lost sinners home. Excommunication only occurs after the shepherd of souls has made a gallant attempt at finding a straying sheep and returning him to the fold. It is that recalcitrant sheep who is responsible for being treated like a tax gatherer and a sinner, if it ultimately comes to that. His obstinancy cannot be laid at the feet of Jesus.
If formal church discipline and excommunication is done properly, it is only carried out after repeated admonitions for repentance. If the sinful member will not repent, then eventually the session of elders merely agrees with him or her that they are not a Christian.
Of course, there are cases in which a wayward Christian is not rejecting the faith but simply living in some scandalous sin. Say, they have left their spouse for another, or they will not repent of some other known and ongoing sin.
In these cases, the Church should make it clear that those who practice such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. In these cases the Church does not merely agree with the person that they are an unbeliever but formally declares that such behavior is outside the realm of true Christian fellowship. This is commonly called the keeping of the keys.
Matt. 18:1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
The prelude to Jesus’s teaching on discipline is that we must become humble learners. We must be converted from our adult hardness of heart to a childlike sensitivity to the leading of the Lord.
Furthermore, we are not to put roadblocks of unbelief in the paths of our children or other believers.
Matt. 18:7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
Keep in mind that there was a little child in their midst. Jesus is talking about stumbling your children through sinful behavior. He is saying that you must go to great extents to make sure this does not happen.
12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
Jesus continues to warn about stumbling children and believers. He goes on to say that we must go to extreme measures to root out sin in our lives so that we do not stumble into disobedience and unbelief and so that we do not cause others to stumble. Whatever things causes us to stumble, we must resist and put away from us. The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life. He is talking about mortifying the flesh, puttind to death the deeds of the flesh. Instead of doing this, some Christians feed the flesh, sometimes even using God’s grace as an excuse to do so. They say, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds more, so I am going to sin because God will forgive me.” It is true that God’s grace is bigger and more abundant than sin but a believer who thinks that he can sin with impunity while testing the Lord’s grace and patience, is already in self-deception and is in danger of being completely lost into sin.
Just as we should go to extreme measures to resist sin in our lives, so will the faithful shepherd go to extreme measures to seek that which is lost and gone astray. Jesus did so with us and we ought to do so with our brothers and sisters. But when the faithful shepherd goes to look for that one lost sheep, he leaves the 99 safely in the sheepfold. They are also secure. He does not put them at risk to rescue the one. He has already secured them so that he can search for the lost.
This is the prelude to the discipline passage. The discipline passage is an example of how the good shepherd goes out of his way to rescues the one. He goes with one. He goes with two. He brings in the elders. He summons the whole church. And not until his extreme efforts are exhausted does he declare the lost sheep completely lost.
The Process of Formal Church Discipline
Matt. 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
The first step is personal informal admonishment. We sometimes call this accountability. If your brother sins against you or sins in such a way that you want to address it, then you are required by Scripture to go to him privately and call him to account.
The goal of the confrontation is not to win the contest over your brother but to win your brother. Reconciliation and restoration is the aim of discipline.
1. Be Spiritual- Gal. 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
2. Impetus on Offended Party- We always want the offender to recognize his sins and come to us in confession and repentance. I would say that this is especially true in marriage. An offended spouse stays offended because the offender never fesses up. So, the offended one feels justified in staying offended.
The first problem with this is that it is unbiblical. The second problem is that it does not work. The one committing the offense may not know that they have done so. They may simply think they are in the right and therefore not feel motivated to get things straight. Also, they may simply be resistant to the Spirit’s leading because they are in the wrong. God gets to determine how these things work. If the offended parties would do their jobs of confronting sin, then it would make for many more occasions for the growth of the offender. If he is godly, then he will attempt to stop offending and maybe he will gain some understanding of how his behavior is offensive. But confronting his sins will bring the situation to light for sure.
Love does cover a multitude of sins. How do you know the difference? Easy, are you offended? Do you still remember the offense against them? Then you have not let love cover it and you have not forgiven. You need to do one of them now. My experience has shown that if you will confront, then the issues will decrease AND you will be less sensitive because some of the sins are confessed and repented of. Both are good options for more peace.
Matthew Henry-“Let us apply this to scandalous sins…Christ, having taught us to indulge the weakness of our brethren, here cautions us not to indulge their wickedness...”
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
If your brother fails to hear you, then you can take one or two more. This fulfills the biblical law for witnesses. You now have two or three. It is assumed that any right thinking humble man would heed the counsel of two or three witnesses. He should be thinking that they now have enough witnesses to accuse me so I should listen to them.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church:
We are still in the realm of discipline here. We have not yet passed into judgment. The purpose of telling it to the church is so that the offender is shamed into confession and repentance. It also affords many more voices to seek out that which is lost. If a sheep is lost in the wilderness, one shepherd has a low chance of finding him. But if two or three go, the chances increase. If the whole church goes, then it is more likely that the sheep will be found. If such a search party cannot find the lost sheep, then it is highly likely that the sheep is dead or that he is hiding out so that he cannot be found.
but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
This final stage of looking for the lost sheep is a pronouncement of judgment. If that lost one simply will not heed all the voices of those that love him and seek his safe return, forgiveness and reconciliation, then the searchers are going to agree with him. Yes, he is lost and we simply cannot find him. Or, we found him and we all called out to him and pleaded for him to return with us, but he would not. Such a one is to be considered completely outside the church and lost in their sin.
18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
This is an often misquoted passage. It is usually quoted in a positive sense that the Lord’s Spirit dwells with God’s people whenever two or three of them gather in His name. It may even be used as an encouragement to corporate worship because at least two are gathered in the name of the Lord. But that is not the context of this verse.
It harkens back to the testimony of the law. Two or three witnesses are required in order to condemn someone of a capital crime, a crime punishable by death. He is saying that to put someone out of the church and count them as a publican and a heathen is tantamount to pronouncing the death penalty. This person who was lost is now considered dead to us. And Jesus says this sort of authority binds not only on Earth but also in Heaven. That is, if the judgment and sentence is righteous, then God honors what we have done on Earth, in Heaven.
Now, there is not only binding but also loosing. And the goal of discipline is that the disciplined one will come to his senses and repent. When he does so, we can loose that which we have bound and the Lord will honor that as well.
Matt. 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Peter’s question is a good one. If we keep rescuing that sheep and he keeps getting lost, when will we give up on him? Jesus’s answer is essentially that He does not give up on us, therefore, we should not give up on anyone who will repent.
It is also true that there must be fruit in keeping with repentance. If our brother seeks our forgiveness, then we forgive but it is good and right for us to expect him to change his behavior. He cannot expect our forgiveness while at the same time continuing in the very sin he is seeking forgiveness for.
23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
So, we are to see that the purpose of discipline is so that those who are wayward would be brought back into the sheepfold. If the shepherd is successful in bringing the wayward sheep back, then those in the sheepfold are required to rejoice and forgive. If they remain indignant and will not forgive, then they show that they are not of the Spirit of Christ and in danger of being cast out themselves.
This is a very practical passage for daily living and daily discipline. Be humble towards God’s Spirit, receiving instruction and discipline as your faithful children do. If your brother comes to you and points out your sin, then listen to him and repent. If you confront someone and they repent, then quickly and gladly forgive them.