Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
(8/11) Today we’re going to read from Matthew 18:15-20. And as you find that place in your Bible let me begin by saying that I’m always worried to teach from this text, because what some people do is they’ll take this text and they’ll apply it to every single conflict, prayer or event in a church. However, the process that Jesus prescribes here, is not
a process that fits every single situation, this doesn’t apply to all people, times, and circumstances. This is about a particular series of situations where two people have a personal conflict and they’re struggling spiritually because they haven’t experienced reconciliation. Now this could be in your family, this could be in your business, and this could be in our church.
And the Lord Jesus gives us a process by which to deal with conflicts that need to be reconciled in a God honoring way.
So in this series, we have been looking at why Christians wrestle with what it means to be the church, having a vision for the future, and grasping how that applies to us today. And now for some of you, this may be the day you wish you hadn’t come to church, because the Holy Spirit may ask you to deal things you don’t want to deal with or with the
person you don’t want to deal with. But let me just say this. In the Christian life there is a careful balance between hating the sin and loving the sinner. And secondly, when we deal with believers who have open, blatant, unrepentant sin in their lives, we must do it in such a way that it reconciles them to God; and not in such a way that it alienates them from fellowship
You see the point of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18 is not to give us a blueprint for publicly shaming people who rebel against God. The point is to teach us how to restore and to reconcile those who have fallen into temptation. Let's look at it together beginning at verse 15…
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he
refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (NIV).
Now it’s unfortunate, but some take this to be the definition of the church, "Where two or three come together in my name." How many of you have heard that? But that’s not the context. The church is far more than just two or three people getting together. What the Lord is talking about here is two or three people being witnesses to sinful activities so
that there could be peace, unity, and justice in His Church. We find the basis for this in Deuteronomy 19:15, where it tells us,
"One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."
So in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is quoting Scripture and what he’s talking about here, basically, is the size of the proverbial jury.
Now having established that most important basis for the teaching today; let’s consider those involved. Let’s look at...
1. THE PROBLEM
The big question is… did someone actually sin? How many of you have had a conflict, but it wasn’t a sin? You know where they’re annoying you, but they’re not sinning… maybe frustrating, even eccentric, or odd… but they’re not sinning. And so sometimes we just have to overlook an offense. The Bible says it this way, "Watch yourself or you also may be
tempted" (Galatians 6:1). Sometimes we just need to get over ourselves before the offense becomes our own sin.
So did someone actually sin? And by sin, what I’m talking about is violating the Word of God. Does God say it’s a sin? Because if God says it’s a sin and you don’t deal with it, then you are disagreeing with God, and you’re enabling sin rather than calling people to repent of sin, which means you really don’t love them because sin leads to death. And
so if you see somebody who’s sinning and they’re on a path toward destruction, addressing that is really an act of love.
So today we'll look at how you should respond to conflict and the sin in someone else's life. And I'll tell you right up front that the key word throughout this entire message is reconciliation. There's a right way to deal with other people's sin and Jesus shows us how to do it in this passage.
I’d like you to note that Jesus says specifically, "If your brother sins against you..." In other words, if you're not involved, then you should probably keep your nose out of it. Now there are times when it is necessary to correct believers for sins against third parties, but Jesus is not issuing an open-ended invitation to meddle in the lives of
others. We're not called to be busybodies. There is a balance to maintain here and the best thing to remember is that if you're not directly involved with the situation… proceed with caution.
Secondly note that Jesus used the term brother. In other words, this applies to members of the Christian community. Those involved are Christian brothers and sisters. So this is hard, right? If you have an unreconciled relationship, it can be heartbreaking. You may wake up in the morning, thinking about them. Go to bed at night, thinking about them.
Their name shows up in that text, that e-mail, or call on your phone, and you get that knot in your stomach. You have that hard decision: "Do I answer it or do I ignore it? If I ignore them, will they just leave me alone? Can we just pretend like we don’t know each other?
Do you remember when Jimmy Johnson took over as coach of the Dallas Cowboys? The Cowboys had been on a downward spiral, but within a few years he rebuilt the organization, took them to the Super Bowl, and won. The next year he did it again. After winning his second Super Bowl what did the owner… what did Jerry Jones do? Did he give Jimmy Johnson a
raise? No, he fired him. You see, they had rebuilt the Cowboy dynasty, but they couldn't get along... Texas just wasn't big enough for both of them.
And this serves to remind us that even when things are going well, you're going to find that some people simply rub you the wrong way. Maybe it's nothing specific, but there's something about them that gets under your skin. Or maybe it’s you… maybe it’s you that rubs someone else the wrong way. You might not have anything against this person, but
they've got something against you; and no matter hard you try, they've decided in advance not to like you.
So, what do we do when we have these conflicts? When we’re the one who has offended someone, been offended by someone, or we’re the person in the middle, seeking to give counsel and help in the reconciliation process?
Well the Bible says, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently" (Galatians 6:1).
Did you catch that qualifying phrase, "You who are spiritual"? In other words, if your own life is a mess, you need to stop trying to fix other people's lives and start working on your own. But before you confront someone you need to ask yourself, "Am I where I should be spiritually? Is my heart right? Is my life right?" If the answer is "yes" then go
ahead, but Paul says do it gently.
Secondly, let’s look at...
2. THE PROCESS
Here’s what it says in Proverbs 26:20, "Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down." Now are any of you here campers? You know that if you run out of wood, eventually your fire goes out right? What God is telling us here is that we need to look at conflict like a fire, and the more you gossip about it, the more logs you’re
throwing on that fire.
You know it’s like, "Let me tell you about what so and so did." Another log on the fire. "I’m going to post it on Twitter." Another log on the fire. "I’m going to make this the topic for prayer group this week." Another log on the fire. Next thing you know, it’s an inferno, and so the goal, when there’s conflict, is to not be the one throwing more logs
on the fire, because that’s not restoring one gently.
So here in this passage Jesus gives us four steps to this process of reconciliation.
Step one is in verse 15… "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you."
Now what that means is eyeball-to-eyeball. This excludes texts, emails, phone calls, letters, faxes, teleconferencing, or whatever. You meet face-to-face, just between the two of you. So the way we reconcile without putting logs on the fire is we go talk to them. When you go talk to someone, you’re going to put water on the fire. And Jesus said, "If he
listens to you, you have won your brother over."
So when this happens it remains a private matter. You and the other Christian have resolved the situation and no one else ever needs to know about it. But, what happens when your brother will not listen to you?
Well Jesus tells us... step two is found in verse 16, "But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'"
So let’s say you meet with them and you say, "Okay, here’s the issue." And they say, "You’re out of your mind. I disagree. You’re wrong. And I’m not apologizing, I’m not going to change, and I won’t be repenting."
So, now what we’re talking about is a charge, it’s not just a concern, but a charge. And now things are getting a little more formal. This is where you bring along a few other people, not a lynching mob, but these are mediators… they’re counselors… they’re neutral third parties. These are people of integrity… people who are un-biased… who are
uninvolved… and people whose opinion the other person admires and respects as much as you do. Because, the goal in this step, as in step one, is to resolve the situation without taking it any further. The goal is to bring about reconciliation… reconciliation between you and your brother… and reconciliation between your brother and God. But when step two doesn't work, Jesus
gives a third step to take.
"If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church."
What he’s talking about here is bringing in some godly spiritual authority. This is where it officially transitions from informal to formal. This is where the wife says, "You can’t be married to me and have a girlfriend." This is where the wife says, "You can’t say you’re a Christian dad who beats our kids." This is where the man says, "You can’t be
the Christian mother of our children gambling away all of our money while I’m at work. I love you, but this has to stop."
You see, this is where it becomes formal, maybe leaders in the church, or someone else coming in and saying, "We want to help you. What you’re doing is not right. It’s an offense against God, its breaking people’s hearts, and it’s causing trouble.
Hopefully, at that point, the person acknowledges they need help, they’re restored, everything’s great, there’s reconciliation… we hug… we pray… we’re a family.
But again sometimes they say, "No. I won’t. I’m going to keep committing adultery... I’m going to keep looking at pornography… I’m going to keep getting drunk... I’m going to keep gambling away all our money... I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing."
So if step three doesn't work, there's an even more drastic step to take. And Jesus says, "...if he refuses to listen even to the church," Step number four, "treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector" (v. 17).
Now how did Jesus teach us to treat those sinners… those pagans and tax-collectors? We're to love them right? We're never to stop loving them. We're never to stop offering them God's free gift of forgiveness. His grace is unending. And so we're to make clear to them that the door to reconciliation is always open.
But, do we take spiritual leadership from pagans and tax-collectors? No. Do we let them run ministries? No. Do we let them control the financial decisions of the church? No. Do we let them teach our Bible studies and Sunday school classes? No.
But we do treat them the way Jesus did. We never stop loving them. We never close the door on the possibility of their reconciliation. So the purpose of step four is the same as the purpose of steps one, two and three: to reconcile and to bring the person back into a right relationship with God. And so we've looked at the process of confronting someone
with sin, now thirdly, let's look at...
3. THE PURPOSE
Step one, you meet with the person in private. Step two, you meet with the person with witnesses. Step three, you bring it before the church. Step four, the church if necessary takes action. And the purpose of all these steps is the same: to bring about reconciliation.
Now some people approach step one with step four in mind. They're thinking, "I want to publicly shame this guy for what he did." But that's not the goal. We exist to help people connect with God. That’s our tag line right? Connecting God and Community! So yes, there are moral and ethical standards we must live by. We don’t have an anything goes
attitude to life. We are to be accountable to one another. But when we approach someone about the sin in their life, we approach them the same way we would want to be approached… with an attitude of reconciliation.
And here’s what I mean, confronting someone with sin is not about being a tattle-tale, it's not about proving that you’re better than they are, and neither is it about sweeping the sin under the rug. It's about restoring that person to a right relationship with God and others. It's about helping that person in their own journey toward holiness. It's
about doing what's right for everyone involved. And so, the only way we can effectively do this, is if we ourselves are holy... if we ourselves are right with God… and we’re walking with him in an upright way. Only then can we approach each situation with the purpose of Jesus, with a heart full of love, and a mind set on reconciliation.
How about you this morning? Have you tried to reconcile with that person that the Holy Spirit brought to mind at the beginning of the sermon? Have you tried to reconcile according to Jesus’ process? He tells us, "Here’s how I want you to do it, and if you do it my way, I’m going to be with you… I’ll be involved... "For where two or three come together
in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20).
And what that means is that sometimes, even after following this process, because we’re struggling, because we’re imperfect, everything is still not all right. But our trust is that one day, God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," God who made his light shine in our hearts… God who gave us the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the
face of Christ" will work it all out (2 Corinthians 4:6). You see, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Then we’ll all stand "before the judgment seat of Christ" and ultimately Jesus will be the one who sorts it all out, renders the verdict, and reconciles the relationship (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Now, here’s one more thing and this is important, because before you can think about being reconciled to others, you’ve got to be reconciled to God. You see when we sin, it doesn’t just affect ourselves, not just others, but our sin also affects our relationship with God.
We see this in Genesis chapter 3. Our first parents (Adam and Eve) sin and they’re separated from God and one another. So, in the same way, we’re all sinners by nature and choice. We all sin, and when we do, it separates us from God and one another. So, before we can reconcile with one another, we’ve got to be reconciled to God in Christ.
So, let me ask you, have you reconciled to God the Father through faith in his Son Jesus Christ, acknowledging that you are a sinner, and that sin has separated you from God. And that Jesus has come to live without sin, to die for sin, to be the mediator, the God-man, who comes to reconcile men and women to God?
It’s important, that’s why the Bible says, there’s only "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). You can’t be reconciled to God apart from Christ Jesus, and once you are reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, you now can be reconciled to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Isn’t that wonderful?
And so, on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, I invite you to turn from sin, to trust in him, and to obey his commands as a believer to reconcile those relationships. To whole-heartedly pray as the Lord commanded, "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us" (Luke 11:4). So that we might always "Bear with each other and forgive
whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).
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