In Matthew 18, Jesus gives clear instruction on dealing with the person who has sinned against you.
First… go to them privately. Rebuke them. If they repent, forgive them. The relationship is restored.
Second… if they don’t listen, take one or two people with you. Let them offer their counsel and encouragement. If the one who has sinned against you won’t listen to them, those you brought are now your witnesses.
Third… if they will not listen to you or your witnesses, you must bring it to the Church. Does Jesus mean we should bring the matter before the whole church, or just the leadership of the church? Because Jesus says “if he will not listen to the Church,” it appears at the very least that leadership (elders) is speaking on behalf of the Church as a whole.
Fourth… if they don’t listen to the Church either, they are to be treated as an unbeliever. But what does that mean? Unlike our churches where we welcome unbelievers into worship to be exposed to the gospel, in the Jewish context heathens or known sinners were not allowed into the Temple or synagogue without first confessing their sin and being made clean. The sabbath was to be kept holy. Jews had rituals they went through to assure they were pure before the Lord. Ritual baths. Dietary rituals. Recited prayers.
How do we apply this today? What does treating an unrepentant Christian as a heathen look like for us? To apply Jesus’ intent, they would be asked to leave the church. They would not be allowed to participate in worship.
Jesus takes sin and broken relationships seriously. He adds spiritual weight and authority to these decisions when He says, “Truly I say to you, whatever things you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven. And whatever things you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.” Your decision in this matter is binding. It holds weight. You have the spiritual authority to do this.
It’s in this context that Jesus says, “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on the earth concerning anything, whatever they might ask, it will be done to them by My Father Who is in Heaven. For where there are two or three gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them.”
We often read or hear these verses and take them to refer to the power that we have when we pray together, that God’s presence is promised when two or three gather in His name.
That’s not what Jesus was saying. Jesus was speaking about confronting a believer who has sinned and who has refused to repent. With the godly counsel and agreement of two or three witnesses, we have established that this person is unrepentant. Then we can be confident that Jesus stands with us in our decision.
But Jesus is not finished. He then tells Peter and the others that when your brother sins against you, forgive him. Not just once. Not just seven times. But seventy times seven.
While we should be prepared to forgive someone regardless of whether they ask forgiveness or not, Jesus here is speaking specifically about when we are asked to forgive. He tells the parable of a king who is owed a great sum of money by a servant who pleads for the king’s mercy.
Even when the sin against us is great, causing deep pain, forgiveness is not only necessary. It’s possible. Because we’ve been forgiven, we can forgive… and forgive… and forgive… and forgive…
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