15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
This afternoon, we will be dealing with a topic that we have only discussed in our bible studies. Its normally brought about in a form of a question. But I don’t think that I have preached on this topic before. I know that not everyone here gets to attend our studies simply because of work schedule. So, this afternoon we will have a study on this topic, and not so much of sermon, so that we can get the full understanding of these verses.
Who is responsible? Who’s guilty? Who decides the fate of the guilty? How much proof do I need to confront a brother or sister? Are we suppose to kick them out, and never see them again? Do these questions sound familiar to you? Are they running around in your mind right now? Well, if so, lets let the word of God give us clarity on this topic, shall we.
In our lives there are a lot of things we don’t like to do. Yet, we have to do them because we are the only ones uniquely qualified to do that particular task. The same is true with Church Discipline. No one really likes going through the process. In all my years, I have witnessed church discipline twice. And let me tell you, in both cases, no left the church happy, or joyful in what was witnessed.
Of course, how could anyone be joyful after such event? We are dealing with friends and in some cases even relatives who have fallen, and yet the Scriptures state that we as Christians are the only ones who can use this extreme measure, in an attempt to restore them back to their relationship with the Lord.
Yet this is exactly the position that as a Christian we find ourselves in. As a Christian our lives are not our own anymore (2 Cor. 5:14-15; Gal. 2:20)
2 Corinthians 5:14-15
14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
And of course, a verse we are all familiar with…
20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
These passages tell us that as Christians our lives are no longer ours to live as we chose. We live our lives according to the Word of God and that Word includes accepting the responsibility and accountability to administer Church Discipline should it be needed.
If we look closely at the Matthew passage, four different groups of people are established, therefore I would suggest to you today that burdens of accountability and responsibility fall on all four!
1. The individual Christian in the Church (Verse 15)
2. The fallen brother or sister (Verses 15-18)
3. The witnesses (Verse 16)
4. The Church congregation. (Verse 17)
We will also see that ultimately as a Church we will stand accountable and responsible to God for our actions in attempting to restore a fallen brother or sister.
1: THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN IN THE CHURCH.
Jesus addresses the individual concerning Church Discipline in verse 15.
15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
It tells us that if a brother sins against you, it is your responsibility to go to the brother or sister and attempt to make it right. Don’t run to your church leaders, or members of the church on this matter. The command is “YOU”. There is much to look at before we get to this stage. We must also realize that as a member of a congregation, we also have the responsibility to make sure that the process is done in a just and biblical manner, with restoration the ultimate goal.
We must consider our own walk with the Lord. We need to make sure that our Christian walk measures up to Biblical standards. Now, no one can do this perfectly, we will always have sin in our lives that we need to confess, repent of, and make right. This is what Jesus is referring to in Matthew 7:1-6.
7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Jesus is instructing us first to make sure that our lives are in order, to remove the plank in our own eye, before we attempt to remove the speck in our brothers. We must examine the fault and seriously consider whether it is of such stature to warrant going to a brother. In many cases the offender doesn’t even realize an offence has been committed.
But note this very carefully. You can only choose this option when you are the offended party and no others are involved. You may also choose to do this, only if it does not cause your brother to fall deeper into sin. You are your brother’s keeper. If our silence is going to lead the brother or sister to fall deeper into sin, then we must confront the situation.
This would include anything that could present potential harm, either physically or spiritually to the offender. Our motivations have to be again… be for the best interests of the offending person. Just as the advertisement that says "Good friends don’t let friends drink and drive", so to "good Christian brothers and sisters, don’t allow other Christian brothers or sisters fall into sin."
We must realize that sin is like an Octopus in that it has tentacles that go in many directions. Unconfronted sin in the church can be like this, that it can have consequences on many people in the church. As individuals we have the responsibility to make sure that… should the situation arise where discipline is needed, that the proper biblical method is followed. We must be sure of the truth. Our testimony must be eye witness, not taken from a second person’s account.
The individual in the church shares the responsibility of making sure that church discipline is carried out in a positive way, with the end goals of restoration and forgiveness. Church discipline is by it’s biblical nature designed by Jesus to be positive, and so must our intentions be. It was never designed to eliminate a problem by eliminating the person.
2: THE FALLEN BROTHER OR SISTER
The fallen brother or sister has several responsibilities in the process of Church Discipline. Some of these are obvious, while others fall by the wayside during the emotion of the process. The first responsibility of the Christian is always to be open to correction. Keep in mind that not everyone in a church knows all of Gods command.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In saying this, I realize that the levels of correction will be different. It’s one thing to deal with the sin of slander or gossip, it’s another thing to deal with the sin of adultery, or murder. Some people simply may not be aware that they are offending someone or may need to be shown better ways of dealing with situations and the correction is complete. The unique thing that happens here is that when sins such as jealousy, envy, gossip, and so on, are dealt with successfully on a private basis, the restoration is complete. A brother or sister restored privately according to Matthew 18:15.
In other situations it may be more difficult to remain open to correction. While all sin has consequences, some may be easier to bear than others. If I murder someone for example, I not only effect my life as I spend the rest of it in prison, but I also affect the lives of my family and the victim’s family. My sin affects the church as people are angered, hurt and confused.
I believe a big part of the reason for this is the fact that it involves a conscious choice on the part of the offender to participate in sin. The action is known to be wrong, and yet the choice is made to participate anyway. Consider Adam and Eve, the temptation was presented, and the choice was made. From that point on humanity became aware of several emotions that they had not experienced before. The emotions of sin, embarrassment, inner pain, stress, disappointment, and a host of others. Temptation is always seeded in our mind, and when we nurture it, will always give as its fruit…Sin.
15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
In situations like this there is often a lack of openness. The person chooses not to accept the correction of the church, and in many cases leaves the church. In cases like this discipline, absence is the only recourse. Although the person is not there, the church acts and the individual is brought face to face. The individual must confess the sin & ask to receive forgiveness. Remember this verse from last week?
2 Samuel 12:13
13 So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
There must be signs of repentance on the part of the fallen believer. All known sin is to be confessed. If we truly understand that we have wronged someone then our hearts should be convicted until we confess our wrong. But understand this, while our confession is in some cases public, our confession is only to God.
We may seek forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation from the church for the way the sin effected the church, but confession and repentance is made only to God.
The fallen believer must accept accountability and responsibility for their action. The type of sin involving Church Discipline of any form, always involves others. It can range anywhere from one person to the entire church. The offender must make a statement accepting responsibility for his or her action and allow themselves to be held accountable to the church during the process of restoration. The offender also accepts accountability for the consequences that arise as a result of his or her sin.
3: THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE WITNESSES.
This follows the Old Testament teaching of Deuteronomy 19:15
15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
According to the law, testimony in criminal cases had to be supported as the penalty involved was usually death. The testimony of the witnesses would be taken separately, and if after investigation the accused was found guilty, then the witnesses would take part in the execution. If the witnesses were found to be false, then they would receive the same penalty that they tried to have inflicted on the person they accused. Thus the testimony of witnesses is always in support of the truth, not an individual.
That is why Matthew 7:1-2 holds truth! And commanded.
7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
The responsibility of the witnesses is straightforward. Matthew 18:16
16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
The responsibility of the witnesses is to "establish the matter", or "to bring back a factual account of the confrontation. They are to serve to verify both the position of the offender as well as that of the person offended. They are to bring testimony as to the spirituality of the confrontation, and the attitude of the characters involved.
4: THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCH.
This aspect of Church Discipline, found in Matthew 18:17
17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
Okay, now we get to hardest part of this message. Keep in mind, the first step is one on one. The goal is to restore. Second step, bringing witnesses, same goal to restore. Now the church will be involved, same goal, to RESTORE!!!
Matthew 18:17 is without a doubt the hardest for us to act on. We aren’t just dealing with people here, but with friends and relatives. We are dealing with people we care for deeply. For the church to have to resort to this extreme measure of Church Discipline our hearts should be breaking and there should be sleepless nights spent in prayer asking for the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In dealing with the responsibility of the church we need to keep in mind that the ultimate goal is restoration of the fallen member. Anything that is done, including the suspension of church membership, must be done with restoration in mind. This leads us then to the responsibilities of the church.
The church has the responsibility to deal with sin in the camp. We have no option on this.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8…
1 Corinthians 5:6-8
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
It tells us that a little yeast or sin infects the whole loaf. As church members you do not have the option, should our church ever have to act in this way, of evading the issue.
The church has the responsibility to make sure that the discipline fits the act, and the attitude of the fallen member. Suspension of membership may not always be needed. Removal of a member from certain offices such as where the offence occurred, and leading positions where they could be seen by young people as role models, may be sufficient. In all cases though a statement of accountability and responsibility must be given by the offender.
The church has the responsibility to pray for the individual.
I would say first pray for the offender. Prayer is everywhere urged in Scripture as a powerful weapon to change people’s thinking and attitudes. Pray that God will grant repentance to the offender, And pray for those who have been hurt by the sin. Other innocent ones are always involved and they are being damaged and hurt, we need to support them and love them in prayer. So, if you cannot do anything else, pray for such a one.
The church has the responsibility not to cut itself off from the offender. Remember the goal is restoration. But then you will run into verses like this…
1 Corinthians 5:11
11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
So which is it? Do I restore or stay away. These are scriptures we are reading here. These are the words of God here! I would suggest to you that the passage here and in Matthew are addressing two different groups of people. The Corinthian church was surrounded by sin and a total separation was needed to maintain the purity of the church.
But Matthew 18:17 is addressing a different type of individual. Jesus says treat them like a pagan or tax collector. How did Jesus treat the pagans and tax collectors. Well we can start by realizing that Jesus appointed a tax collector as one of the twelve disciples. Consider Matthew 9:9-13. Jesus ate and stayed with tax collectors and pagans. Do not allow them the privileges of a believer in that you want to protect them from taking them as unworthy. We all fall short of Gods glory!
Again, everybody need a chance to repent. Now if the individual is guilty of everything that is written in this verse, (POWERPOINT)and after all the steps had been done, and still not willing to listen to the church. Church Discipline is needed. The brother or sister need to be removed from membership. They are still welcome to attend and hopefully by the word God be restored. They will just loose all the benefits of being a church member. If we kick them out, how will they hear Gods words and be restored?
We can no longer pray for this persons well being. We can only pray that they repent and return to the Lord. Keep in mind, that God disciplines those he loves.
“because the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son.”
Urge to repent, to give up the sin, and to give in to the pleadings of the body and of the Spirit of God. Especially, if this is true of people who are friends of the individual and have known him or her for a long period of time. The cooperative effort of many to help the one involved see what he or she has done is a very powerful weapon to turn from evil.
The church has the responsibility to restore and forgive if true repentance is shown, and the plan of restoration is being followed. This is sometimes hard to do, but in the church we are called to do some things that may go against everything our natural nature tells us to do. That is one of the things that sets us apart. After restoration takes place the church also has the responsibility to choose carefully the ministry of the individual. The individual needs to be brought back gradually, avoiding positions of great responsibility until well established in the church again. They need time to just be part of the fellowship again, to just enjoy people caring about them.
The issue of Church Discipline is one that we would all like to avoid, but in some cases cannot.
The ultimate goals of Church Discipline is always the restoration of the individual, the protection of the church with reference to holiness and purity, and dealing with a serious situation in an open manner so that there can be closure to the situation.
We have to have faith in the church to be the church. We are not taking matters to the church for gossip’s sake, nor do we take a matter to the church in the hopes of turning the people against one that has fallen. We turn the matter over to the church in an open forum to make sure that we have conducted a thorough investigation, and that we have lived up to our responsibilities to the fallen individual and to God.
We conduct the matter in open forum to make sure that the church realizes that there is no other option but the action taken. We conduct the matter in open forum to give the church the final say, as Matthew 18:17 states we are to "tell it to the church". We take it to the church for the church’s forgiveness of the individual and once that forgiveness is given, then the church has dealt with that matter and it may never be brought up again.
But the best way to avoid the issue of Church Discipline is to lead our lives walking daily with the Lord. Let Him be our guide, even when life is difficult. We are all vulnerable on our own, and only the power and grace of God can sustain us through this life.
Let us Pray.
Pastor Richard Santos
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