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The Matter of Holiness, Harmony, and Honesty

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(10/27) A friend of mine was a Lutheran Pastor for a long time. In the Lutheran tradition, he began every service by saying, "The Peace of God be with you all." And the congregation would respond in unison, "And with you also." He did this for years until one Sunday, the sound system wasnít working well and before he began he said loud enough for everyone to hear, "Something is wrong with this stupid thing." And the congregation said in unison, "And with you also."

I. Conflict is Inevitable - Someone once said that the only things in life that are absolutely certain, are death and taxes. But I believe that we could add one more thing to that list and that is interpersonal conflict. For whatever reason, our Creator had, He created all of us as complete individuals. Though we all bear the image of the God, like snowflakes, no two of us are exactly alike. Our DNA, our fingerprints, lip prints, retinaís, and our personalities are all different. In Menís Fraternity we were reminded of the four basic personalities; the Sanguine, the Choleric, the Melancholy, and the Phlegmatic. One is more Peaceful, One is more Perfect, One is more Powerful, and one is more Popular. Plus, throw in the fact that in many marriages, opposites were attracted to each other, and add, that every human being redeemed or not still carries around a selfish, self-centered sin nature and guess what? Conflicts are inevitable.

Conflicts, are in the body of Christ as the books of Acts, 1 Cor.. Galatians, and Philippians demonstrate. And, as these 12 demonstrated when they argued about who is #1. Leslie Flynn, in his book Great Church Fights, recorded this little saying, "To live above with saints we love. O that will be glory. But to live below with saints we know, well thatís a different story."

Conflicts began in Eden when Adam and Eve, disobeyed God. Then we see, the first major recorded conflict among humans, when Cain in anger and hatred towards God and his brother Abel, cut his brotherís throat. Someone once said that humans are like two porcupines on a cold winter night. They know that they would be warmer if they were closer, but the closer they try to get to each other the more they hurt each other. Yet, somehow we always seem to have more little porcupines donít we? As long as there are people in a fallen world, there will be conflicts and even among the redeemed.

Yet, it is Godís desire that we have harmony and peace among ourselves and with Him. Verses 10-14 remind us that just like a shepherd cares about all his sheep and when one goes astray, He willingly leaves the flock to find that stray, so God cares about everyone, even the stray. Did he not seek out Adam after Adam sinned and did He not provide for Adamís restoration? The consequences would remain, but God sought reconciliation despite the fact that it was Adamís fault. And did He not seek out Cain and attempt to steer Cain back to the right path before he made the wrong decision?

Do you know that whatever else, you may think about Christmas and the birth of Jesus, the bottom line is Christmas was, a search and rescue, or a seek and restore mission. Though we donít usually look to these verses at Christmas, 2 Cor. 5:17-21, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christís behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." It was us that rebelled and sinned against God, yet it was God that came looking for us and was willing to humble Himself, though He never sinned, and do the unthinkable (die a cruel death as a substitute for our penalty) in order to establish or re-establish a relationship between us and Himself. Is that an awesome and humbling thought or what? Christmas and Easter are all about God wanting the world or as many as possible in the world to be repentant, and reconciled to a right relationship with Him.

Now, let me remind you of something that we have discussed before. The church is a special, unique, group of people who are bonded together by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of continuing the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He saved us and brought us together in a body so that we, not me, but we could continue the work of Jesus as His ambassadors. And one of the primary things Jesus was about was to seek and to rescue the lost AND the stray. That is, both those who donít know Jesus and those who have, "wondered off the right road, they have gotten off that narrow path, chased the butterflies, or looked for greener grass, or temporary pleasures," etc. These are, we would say, Back-Sliders. One of our goals, our jobs, our duties, and our responsibilities is to provide for and encourage reconciliation of people with God and His church. No one is exempt. It is our responsibility because that was Jesusí purpose and now it is ours.

II. The Context Ė Our Lord still has the toddler by Him and has told us the need for humility and a converted heart. He has warned us about the dangerous destiny of the un-redeemed in hell. He has told us that it is His purpose to seek and restore the lost, and He has told us that offences and conflicts will happen. Now He will tell us what to do. Letís look at our Words in Red. Matthew 18:15-20 says, "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 Ďby the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.í 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.19 "Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."

III. The Concern.

A. Holiness - It is necessary to pause for a second and be reminded that while Grace is wonderful, it is not to be taken for granted. Neither is our Christian freedom. We must remember that God wants His bride, His body, His Church to be Holy. What He wanted for Israel in Lev. 11:44, He repeats in 1 Peter 1:14-18, "as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each oneís work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers," Sin in any of our lives affects all of our lives. It affects our testimony as a church and our testimony for Christ. It destroys relationships and damages our efforts to reach the world, and leave a positive impact for Christ while we are here. We cannot correct the sins of the lost world but we are to seek and restore brothers or sisters who have sinned. We are not to ignore their sins, because of our love, that was the problem with the Corinthian Church in 1 Cor. 5 and the man in an immoral relationship with his fatherís wife. Neither are we to hide behind the "Donít judge," rule.

B. Harmony / Unity Ė Jesus also wants His church to be in Harmony. Our unity is essential to our witness. A church with Christians fighting or at odds is a terrible witness. He said our unity would be essential to our witness in John 17:21. He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," and Paul said that we are to dwell together as much as is possible in peace (Romans 12). In Eph. 4:1-3, He said, "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Sin in any believerís life and conflict within the church disrupts the harmony and tarnishes the holiness that our Lord wants in His Church, for His bride.

IV. The Confrontation- As soon as a sin or conflict is evident, whether you are the offender or the offended or are aware of the problem. The responsibility is to go to that person. In Matthew 5 our Lord has told us that if we know we have offended someone, we are to stop worship and go and seek forgiveness. Here in Ch. 18, He tells us that if someone sins against us or our Lord and His Church we are to go and confront that person. This is every Christianís responsibility. I know that we live in a time when no one wants to get involved. We want to mind our own business. We donít want to be judge. But this is His business and we are His ambassadors. This person or persons are now the stray and lost sheep that He wants to be found and restored to the flock. And he wants you to seek them. But before you do. There are preparations to make, conditions to apply. Paul reminds us of them in Galatians 6:1-3, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one anotherís burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself."

V. The Conditions

A. Make sure you are Walking in the Spirit. That you are listening to and following the ways of God and His word and not the anger, frustration, or desire of your flesh. Make sure that you pray for Godís will and Godís way and not your own. Make sure that you pray for Godís power and not rely on your flesh or respond with your own emotions. You who are Spiritual follows Paulís teachings in Gal. 5:14-26 about walking in the spirit and not the flesh.

B. Remember the Personal Privacy. (Matt. 18:15) This is not for Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, telephone, emails, etc. This is not a social networking, gossip, prayer requesting thing. This is a dignity, and love and grace thing for the glory of God. Alone means alone, private, one on one, over coffee, lunch, a visit, or whatever. You need to look him or her in the eye, and show your love and concern. And if it can be resolved privately, dignity and honor are maintained.

C. Make sure the Log is out of your eye (Gal. 6:1; Matt. 7:5). Itís always a fruitless and embarrassing thing to confront someone and they can legitimately say, "What about what you are doing?"

D. Remember your Humanity- Ever man and woman still possesses a sin nature and is just one bad decision or response away from conflict.

E. Remember Grace. A 16th century English Pastor named John Bradford is credited as the person who first said, as he watched some criminals being lead to the gallows, "There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford." It was grace that rescued us from our selfishness and self Ėcenteredness (cp. 1 Cor. 10:12-13)

F. Remember Humility Ė (Gal. 6:3)-This is not a time for pride, being holier than thou, or for condemnation. There ought to be a sadness, this is not an, "Iím right, you are wrong, admit it," thing. This is desire for unity, harmony, reconciliation and holiness in the church.

G. Remember the Golden Rule. (Gal. 6:2; cp. 5:14) How would you want someone to come to you? To talk to you? To care for you? Private! Gracious! Lev. 19: 17 ĎYou shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord."

H. Remember Honesty-(Matt. 18:15) Tell him or her the fault, the offense, how it hurts them, you, the body, and especially the Lord Jesus and His Church. Donít attack the person, talk about the problem and its ramifications, not the character of the person.

I. Remember the Goal. (Gal. 6:1, Matthew 18:15) Its restoration, reconciliation, righteousness, and reunion. The goal is not a personal victory. Itís not to beat up a sinner. The goal is the Lordís sheep restored. Thatís what Paul did with Peter in Galatians 2. He got in Peterís face, but Peter knew Paul was right and it deepened their friendship (see 2 Peter 3:15 where Peter calls Paul his beloved brother) Proverbs 27:6 says, Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

VI. The Additional Confrontations (if necessary) But what ifÖ.? What if they donít think they had sinned? What if they donít repent and seek forgiveness? What if they think you are wrong, out of line, judgmental, or holier than thou?

A. Then our Lord says, that we should in accordance with Deut. 19:15 try again but with help, "One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. These can be allies but they donít have to be. They simply need to be honest people who can verify what has been said and done so that all will know that the matter was handled appropriately.

B. If they still donít repent, and seek restoration, if the matter is one in which the church is affected then the matter is to be brought before the church. Here I believe that this refers to the leadership, the elders, and with the witnesses report, the issue is presented. I believe the context implies that the church leadership then seeks to encourage with all the conditions we stated earlier, the person to repent and be restored to fellowship in the church.

C. If there is refusal to repent and be restored the person is be treated as a non-believer (heathen) and a tax collector, one who has betrayed his own people. In this case, fellowship with the man in the body is stopped. Not altogether, but the public worship and teaching times are off limits until the man repents. The body should however, just they would to any non-believer keep seeking to encourage the person to be restored. Apparently this worked in Corinth, and perhaps with the man with the immoral relationship with his family, as Paul in 2 Cor. 7 talks about the manís repentance and time for restoration.

D. This is hard. Church discipline is a difficult thing. Difficult for a body to do or even want to do. Difficult because, there are so many churches that it is easy to break fellowship with one and join another. The automobile makes it possible to travel many miles in a short time and avoid confrontations. Before the car, and TV, most people went to church in a buggy, wagon, horseback, or they walked to a local church in the community where they lived. People are not as connected with community as they once were. But never the less this is the plan and the purpose of God, and Holiness, and Harmony are still the goals.

VII. The Confusing Verses (18:18-20) "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. 19 "Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." Many people use this as a justification or support for a small prayer meeting. But while prayer may be involved, this is not about a prayer meeting. Jesus is wherever any Christian is. Not just where two or three are. Nor, and please forgive me, is this about binding Satan or the evil spirits somehow. Neither of these are in the context. This is about seeking the stray, forgiving the repentant, or disciplining the unrepentant. The context implies that the church leadership, in the matters of discipline, are representing Jesus as His physical representative. The 2 or 3 is still referring to the Deut. 19:15 passage. The Church leadership are doing Jesusí business on His behalf. If they agree that the person is unrepentant and therefore under His discipline, they can speak on Jesusí behalf and bind or discipline that person by removing him or her from the church until repentance takes place. If they agree that the person has repented and sought restoration and forgiveness, they can on the Lordís behalf, declare that he or she is forgiven and loosed from the debt or responsibility and be assured that this is the decree of God.

VIII. The Summary, Folks God is serious. Holiness in Godís children and Harmony among Godís people is a Major Goal of the Lord God. If more people would follow this model of conflict resolution both in their personal lives and in church we would have fewer church problems and the reputation of the church would be greater. This is not saying that we should all be deputized as Church Police, but we all should be involved in seeking restore a fallen or straying brother and sister to a right relationship with God, His church, and friends. Godís business is our business.

Do you know someone that you should go and talk to? Remember the conditions and then go with grace to seek a brother or sisters return to their Father and the family.

Next week, The Matter of Heart Ė Given Forgiveness

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman