“Emmanuel’s Restoration” – Matthew 18:15-20

February 14th,  2016

Matthew 18:15-20

“Emmanuel’s Restoration”

Auxiliary Text: Leviticus 19:15-18

Call to Worship from: Psalm 133


Service Orientation:  So many times the body of Christ is needlessly fractured or embarrassed because of offenses.  Jesus wants us to know how to righteously deal with offenses so we don’t become a obstacles for others to enter the Kingdom of God.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. — Ephesians 4:3


Background Information:

  • It is with the church’s responsibility to keep itself pure that Jesus deals in Mt 18:15-20. He is still teaching about the childlikeness of believers, illustrated by the young child He had called to Himself and set before the Twelve (v. 2).  He had declared that a person enters and is considered great in the kingdom by becoming like a little child (vv. 3-4) and that, once in the kingdom, believers are to be protected like little children (vv. 5-9) and cared for like little children (vv. 10-14).  He now declares that they must also be disciplined like little children.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 126)
  • Discipline is not simply the responsibility of church officials but of every member. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 128)
  • (v. 17) The same three-step procedure is found in the Qumran legislation (1QS 5.25-6.1). (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 176)
  • (v. 17) Has anyone ever come to you and said, “I feel I must speak the truth to you in love” (see Eph 4:15)? I have learned over the years that when a Christian brother or sister comes to me and says this, I need to be on my guard.  Of course, this may be the prelude to a legitimate complaint about an offense I have given.  If I have sinned against a brother, and he comes to me to make that offense known, it is proper that he should speak truthfully but lovingly to me.  But all too often, when someone tells me he must speak the truth to me in love, an offense has been taken even though I have not given one.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 547)
  • (v. 19) To interpret this verse as promising believers a blank check for anything they might agree to ask God for not only does not fit the context of church discipline but does violence to the rest of Scripture. Such an interpretation is tantamount to magic, in which God is automatically bound to grant the most foolish or sinful request, simply because two of His children conspire to ask Him for it.  The idea flies in the face of God’s sovereignty and completely undercuts the countless scriptural commands for believers’ obedient submission to His will.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 138)


The question to be answered is . . . Why is Jesus including this teaching in the midst of this chapter on Christian relationships?


Answer: You are going to be offended.  What Jesus wants you to know is how to righteously be reconciled with your church family members after an offense.


Have you ever been confronted?  I have a few times, and sadly all but once it was perfectly appropriate.  And every time I have been confronted it has been a humbling experience.  It makes you feel small.  But small, as we learned in the last chapter, is the appropriate size to get into the kingdom as well as to move up in it.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 509)


In a formally constituted church with an appointed leadership it is easy for the “ordinary” disciple to hide behind that authority structure and to leave it all to the official leaders, appealing to Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” with the comfortable assumption that the answer must be No.  But this passage asserts that the answer is Yes.  In a community of “little ones,” each must be concerned about and take responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the other.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 691-2)


The Word for the Day is . . . Reconcile


What does Matthew 18:15-20 tell us about resolving conflicts?:

I-  Minimize the drama, damage and division by keeping the offense just between you and the offender.  (Mt 18:15; see also: 2 Sm 12:1-7; Jn 21:5-22; Gal 2:1-11)


When someone wrongs us, we often do the opposite of what Jesus recommends.  We turn away in hatred or resentment, seek revenge, or engage in gossip.  By contrast, we should go to that person first, as difficult as that may be.  Then we should forgive that person as often as he or she needs it (18:21-22).  This restores relationships.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 359)


Rebuke of a sinning brother should be undertaken as soon as the offense is known, in order to turn the sinning believer from his sin as soon as possible and also to help head off resentment and bitterness by the one offended.  Those destructive emotions are also sins, and they tend to fester as long as a break in relationship remains unresolved.  The longer sin continues, the more difficult it becomes to be forsaken by the sinner and to be forgiven by the one sinned against.  God calls His children always to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven” them (Eph 4:32).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 127)


We are not to make our complaints known to third parties until we first go to those who have wounded us.  That is very hard to do.  If someone wounds me in a significant way, the temptation is enormous for me not to go to the person but to go and seek an alliance with someone else who will back me up and agree with me.  It is human nature to avoid the confrontation and seek support.  But Jesus said we are not to do that.  Such behavior is destructive.  The way to save a relationship is to go to the person who has given offense to explain the problem.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 547-8)


If we feel that someone has wronged us, we should immediately put our complaint into words.  The worst thing that we can do about a wrong is to brood about it.  That is fatal.  It can poison the whole mind and life, until we can think of nothing else but our sense of personal injury.  Any such feeling should be brought out into the open, faced, and stated–and often the very stating of it will show how unimportant and trivial the whole thing is.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 219)


The more a person’s sin is known and discussed by others, no matter how well-meaning they may be, the easier it is for him to become resentful and the harder it may be for repentance and restoration.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 128)


As a word of warning, we will find ourselves in sin if we talk about a brother or sister in a way that doesn’t build them up in Christ Jesus (see Eph 4:29-32).  We must zealously guard and protect the character of fellow believers, both for their good and for the glory of Christ.  The more a person’s sin is known and discussed by others, no matter how well-meaning they may be, the easier it is for the one who is in sin to become resentful, and the harder it may be for repentance and restoration to take place.  So don’t fish around with hints to try to find out who knows what.  Go directly to your brother or sister.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 242)


It is a good rule, which should ordinarily be observed among Christians, not to speak of our brethren’s faults to others, till we have first spoken of them to themselves; this would make less reproaching and more reproving; that is, less sin committed, and more duty done.  It will be likely to work upon an offender, when he sees his reprover concerned not only for his salvation, in telling him his fault, but for his reputation in telling him of it privately.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 259)


If I suffer a criminal action, even if it is by another church member, I have every right to call the authorities, because that is the responsibility God has given to them.  So, clearly Jesus was speaking here of offenses that fall short of criminal actions that require the immediate assistance of the authorities.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 547)


Jesus means that the offended brother should in the spirit of brotherly love go and show the sinner his fault, and this not–certainly not most of all–for the purpose of receiving satisfaction for a personal grievance, but rather in the interest of the offender, that he may repent, and may seek and find forgiveness.  Whether the offended brother should make only one personal visit or should go more than once is not stated, and may depend on circumstances.  To spare the honor of the brother who has sinned Jesus adds that such an interview with the offender must take place “while you are alone with him,” literally, “between you and him alone,” that is, privately.  There must be a tête-á-tête, a brotherly “face-to-face” confrontation.  The Dutch and the Germans frequently use an expression which, literally translated into English, is (a meeting) “between four eyes.”  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 699)


American politics thrives on violating this principle.  Politicians, especially when they are running for office love to bring up all sorts of dirt or alleged dirt unexpectedly because it creates drama and damage.


II-  If reconciliation is not forthcoming, increase the number of witnesses until repentance and restoration can be achieved.  (Mt 18:16-17a; see also: Dt 19:15-18; Prv 11:14; 15:22; 18:17; Jn 8:17; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tm 5:19-20; Heb 10:28)


The “two or three” brothers join the first two brothers for two or possibly three reasons:  (1) to protect against a false accusation–brother B is exaggerating or lying about brother A’s offense, (2) to help brother A, if he has been rightly accused, to see his sin as sin, or in other words, to add their voice or reproof so he might repent, and (3) to be public witnesses, if needed, if the matter comes to the attention of the whole church (cf. 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tm 5:19).  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 516)


At its widest, what Jesus was saying was:  “If anyone sins against you, spare no effort to make that person admit the fault, and to get things right again between you.”  Basically, it means that we must never tolerate any situation in which there is a breach of personal relationships between us and another member of the Christian community.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 218)


No church censures bind so fast, but that, upon the sinner’s repentance and reformation, they may and must be loosed again.  Sufficient is the punishment which has attained its end, and the offender must then be forgiven and comforted.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 260)


It has been the custom in our church, upon enacting this third step, to clearly indicate to the congregation that they are to pursue the person aggressively and plead with him to repent before the fourth step becomes necessary.  That crucial and potent procedure often draws the sinner to repentance and obedience.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 133)


III-  If all attempts fail to bring repentance and reconciliation, the offender is to be considered as a pagan and tax collector.  (Mt 18:17b; see also: 1 Cor 5:1-11; 2 Thess 3:14-15; 1 Tm 1:20; Ti 1:13; 3:10; 3 Jn 1:9-10)


If the excommunication is legitimate–if it is based on a sound grasp of the issues and of Scripture–it will not do any good for the excommunicated believer to join another congregation, which may or may not know he is under discipline, and which may not even care.  The offender is still under discipline.  God’s blessing does not rest on him.  God’s Spirit within him is a grieved Spirit.  The offender is vulnerable to Satan.  He cannot escape the binding power of the local church acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 370)


Not as if Jesus despised or would have nothing to do with foreigners and tax-collectors.  As to his attitude toward non-Israelites see 8:11; and toward “publicans” see 9:10-13.  But just as foreigners and tax-collectors who are still unconverted must be considered as being as yet outside the kingdom of God, so also this impenitent person must now be viewed as being in the same class.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 701)


This does not mean making the sin and the refusal to repent public knowledge in the church.  Rather, it means taking the matter to the elders, who have the responsibility for administering discipline in such cases.  The elders typically take a number of steps.  First, they might speak to the other person with biblical counsel.  Next, they might administer a rebuke.  If he still refuses to repent, they might temporarily ban him from participation in the Lord’s Supper, hoping that the loss of access to the Table of the Lord and the grace is contained in it will soften his heart and show him the seriousness of his sin.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 548)


This, in fact, is not an injunction to abandon people; it is a challenge to win them with the love which can touch even the hardest heart.  It is not a statement that some people are hopeless; it is a statement that Jesus Christ has found no one hopeless–and neither must we.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 221)


It’s not that tax collectors or Gentiles can’t become part of the church.  They did, and they do.  But they can’t remain in their unbelief and sin.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 517)


Some suggest that the person not be allowed to participate in any activities of the church.  However, since unbelievers are encouraged to come to the assembly to hear the gospel, it must mean something other than strict removal.  Rather, this is best carried out when the church considers the sinning individual not to be a believer.  Confessing disciples who live with unconfessed sin indicate by their lives that they are not truly members of Jesus’ spiritual family and are not to be allowed to enjoy its fellowship.  They should be treated as unbelievers, with the same compassion and urgency needed to encourage them to repent; they are not to receive the same openness to the inner fellowship of the community that is reserved for fellow disciples.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 619)


After the welcome given to the Gentile’s faith in 8:10-13 (greater than any in Israel) and to Matthew and other tax collectors in 9:9-13, would it not be more natural to take “treat as a Gentile or a tax collector” as an invitation to extend friendship and understanding to the offender?  But that would make nonsense of the sequence of these verses, where every effort has been made to restore fellowship with the offender up to this point, but now their final repudiation of the consensus of the community has made any further accommodation impossible.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 694)


When steps one and two fail, the problem becomes far more serious.  The sin and stubbornness of the erring one now affects the testimony of the local church.  So in the third step, Christian leaders rule.  The local church is here envisioned as a visible body of believers who have a corporate testimony and who are endowed with the power and authority to exercise discipline.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 369)


Jesus was talking here about excommunication, the removal of a person from the fellowship of the church.  In the end, there is only one sin for which a person can be excommunicated–contumacy, which is an obstinate refusal to repent of the sin that involved him in church discipline in the first place.  Excommunication is a very serious matter.  The person is put out of the church and symbolically delivered into the hands of Satan.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 548)


Not to have fellowship or even social contact with the unrepentant brother does not exclude all contact.  When there is opportunity to admonish him and try to call him back, the opportunity should be taken.  In fact, such opportunities should be sought.  But the contact should be for the purpose of admonishment and no other.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 136)


Because of his own stubbornness he has lost his right to church membership, and it has now become the church’s painful duty to make this declaration–in order that even this severe measure of exclusion may, with God’s blessing, result in the man’s conversion (1 Cor 5:5; 2 Thes 3:14, 15).  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 701)


  1. Jesus assures us that disciplinary action done according to His Word, His Spirit and His heart enjoys His authority and His presence. (Mt 18:18-20; see also: Ps 73:24; 82:1; Mt 16:19; Jn 20:22-23; 1 Cor 6:1-11; 2 Cor 2:5ff )


The idea is not that God is compelled to conform to the church’s decisions but that, when the church follows Christ’s pattern for discipline, it conforms its decisions to what God has already done and thereby receives heaven’s approval and authority.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 137)


It should hardly be necessary to add that such a prayer must be in keeping with the characteristics of true prayer which Jesus reveals elsewhere.  It must be the expression of humble, childlike faith (7:11; 17:20; 18:3; cf. 21:22).  It must be marked by sincerity, absence of ulterior motives (6:5), by perseverance (7:7), and by love for all concerned (5:44).  It must be in subjection to God’s sovereign will (6:10b), “not as we will, but as thou wilt” (cf. 26:39).  It must be in Christ’s name (see verse 20; cf. Jn 15:16).  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 702)


The Jews believed that the Shekinah or divine presence rested upon those who were occupied in the study of the law.  Christians are here given the assurance that Christ is present with those who are diligently concerned with understanding His mind and will.  (R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 177)


Jesus is not saying, “Once you’ve got two or three together, count Me in.”  Instead, in this context He’s talking about the difficult work of church discipline when two or three believers are gathered to address a brother or sister living in unrepentant sin.  When we do the tough work of gentle, loving confrontation, we can be assured that Christ’s presence, which is always with us (Mt 28:20), will be especially real and strong in the middle of that situation.  This should give us great confidence.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 246)


Believers have authority to declare that sins are either forgiven or not forgiven when that declaration is based on the teaching of God’s Word.  If a person has received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the church can tell him with perfect confidence that his sins are loosed, that is, forgiven, because he has met God’s condition for forgiveness, namely, trust in His Son.  If, on the other hand, a person refuses to receive Christ as Savior and acknowledge Him as Lord, the church can tell him with equal confidence that his sins are bound, that is not forgiven, because he has not met God’s condition for forgiveness.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 137-8)


Jewish councils required a minimum of three judges to decide regarding minor cases in the local community, assuming that the Shekinah remains with a just court.  Likewise, when two men gathered to discuss the law, the Shekinah was present:  “But if two sit together and words of the Law are spoken between them, the Divine Presence rests between them” (m. Abot 3.2).

But in a striking declaration, Jesus himself assumes the place of the divine presence among his disciples, guaranteeing that when his followers reach a consensus as they ask in prayer for guidance in matters of discipline, his Father in heaven will guide them as they carry it out.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 621)


Both of these verses frequently have been radically misunderstood.  First, simply finding two people on earth who agree on something does not guarantee that God will make it happen.  If that were the case, we could settle all wars, wipe out cancer, and end poverty in a heartbeat.  Remember, Jesus said this in the context of His teaching on church discipline.  He basically was restating verse 18, saying that church discipline carried out according to biblical procedures is recognized in heaven.

Second, Christians often comfort themselves that even though their gatherings for worship, Bible study, prayer, or fellowship are small, if there are just two or three of them, Jesus is with them.  That is certainly true, but again, the context of this verse is church discipline.  Jesus was saying that He is with the leaders of the church to validate their decisions on church discipline, much in the way that Paul said he would be with the Corinthians “in spirit” as they brought discipline against the man who was living in sin (1 Cor 5:3-5).  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 550)


If the matter must go before the church, God is there helping those in agreement to deal with the sinning member as they ought.  Indeed, God may be using the people to “chase down the lost sheep,” so to speak, and bring him or her back “into the fold.”  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 361)


The Lord gives no command without giving the necessary power and authority to obey it.  In these three climaxing verses in Jesus’ instruction about church discipline we learn that, when the Lord’s people sincerely seek to purify His church in His way, they have the energy, approval, and authority both of the Father and of the Son.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 138)


Whoever, after committing a crime, humbly confesses his fault, and entreats the Church to forgive him, is absolved not only by men, but by God himself; and, on the other hand, whoever treats with ridicule the reproofs and threatenings of the Church, if he is condemned by her, the decision which men have given will be ratified in heaven.  If it be objected, that in this way God is made a sort of petty judge, who concurs in the sentence of mortal men, the reply is at hand.  For when Christ maintains the authority of his Church, he does not diminish his own power or that of his Father, but, on the contrary, supports the majesty of his word.  As in the former case (Mt 16:19) he did not intend to confirm indiscriminately every kind of doctrine, but only that which had proceeded out of his mouth, so neither does he say in this place that every kind of decision will be approved and ratified, but only that in which he presides, and that too not only by his Spirit, but by his word.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 358)


He confirms the former statement; for not only will God bestow the spirit of wisdom and prudence on those who ask it, but he will also provide that not one thing which they shall do according to his word shall want its power and effect.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 360)


The final verses of this section seem to say that God will do anything that two or more Christians agree should be done.  But that is not true.  Actually, these verses belong with what was said in the previous verse about the binding and loosing function of the church, and they teach that God recognizes and validates that authority.  What is most remarkable, however, is verse 20, because this verse puts Jesus in the role of God.  Only God can be in more than one place at the same time, and that is what Jesus says of himself.  He will be wherever two or three believers gather in his name.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 392-3)


The church is the instrument of God, who alone can grant forgiveness of sin or consign a person to judgment.  The passive voice of “will have been bound” and “will have been loosed” and the phrase “in heaven” are Semitic circumlocutions for describing God’s actions.  But the church does have the authority to “bind and loose,” that is, to declare the terms under which God either forgives or retains sins (cf. Jn 20:22b-23).  Jesus’ statement assures the church that God in heaven confirms its judgment on a sinning brother.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 620)


You see, when a brother or sister is excommunicated, before they leave (and/or sue) the disciplining church and go to another, they will nearly always reply to the disciplining church, “You’re not God.  Who gives you the right?”  And to that objection our Lord leaves his church verses 18-20, his gentle way of saying to us, “Tell that unrepentant brother to shut it.”  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 517-8)


If you follow my guidelines, if you bend your will to God’s holy, loving, and reproving will, you then get God’s endorsement and empowerment.”  It’s a matter of transference of authority.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 518)


On the basis of the principles which Jesus himself laid down, the NT carefully avoids two extremes into which some in later years have fallen.  On the one hand the extreme of minimizing the office and authority of apostles and elders is guarded against, see Mt 10:1, 40; Acts 15:6; 20:28a; 1 Thess 5:12, 13; 1 Tm 5:17; Heb 13:17.  On the other hand, the extreme of belittling the high standing, in the eyes of God, of the entire congregation, as if it lacked maturity; as if the body of all believers, whether conceived locally (as here in 18:17), denominationally, or universally, had no real “say” in the matters of discipline or otherwise; and as if it were the privilege of the ecclesiastical authorities to rule arrogantly, as so many “little tin gods” (see 1 Pt 5:3 in Phillips’ translation; cf. 3 Jn 9).  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 700)


Certainly not all the wisdom resides in “elders,” “sessions,” “consistories,” “presbyteries,” “classes,” “special” or “general assemblies” or whatever they may be called.  Without in any way shirking their own responsibilities or laying aside their own authority, should not the overseers recognize the entire body of believers (here locally organized) in all important matters?  Is not this the clear meaning of, “Tell the church?”  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 701)


Note in verse 18 and again in verse 19 the combination “earth . . . heaven.”  In both cases there is perfect harmony between that which by a conscientious church is done on earth and that which takes place in heaven, the former action preceding the latter.  According to verse 18 the discipline exercised on earth is answered by Christ’s “Father in heaven.”  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 702)


What are the implications of Jesus’ teaching?


Ron Kraybill, “Tell it to the Church:  How to turn a disagreement into a feud”:


  1. Be sure to develop and maintain a healthy fear of conflict, letting your own feelings build up so you are in an explosive frame of mind.


  1. If you must state your concerns, be as vague and general as possible. Then the other person cannot do anything practical to change the situation.


  1. Assume you know all the facts and you are totally right. The use of a clinching Bible verse is helpful. Speak prophetically for truth and justice; do most of the talking.


  1. With a touch of defiance, announce your willingness to talk with anyone who wishes to discuss the problem with you. But do not take steps to initiate such conversation.


  1. Latch tenaciously onto whatever evidence you can find that shows the other person is merely jealous of you.


  1. Judge the motivation of the other party on any previous experience that showed failure or unkindness. Keep track of any angry words.


  1. If the discussion should, alas, become serious, view the issue as a win/lose struggle. Avoid possible solutions and go for total victory and unconditional surrender. Don’t get too many options on the table.


  1. Pass the buck! If you are about to get cornered into a solution, indicate you are without power to settle; you need your partner, spouse, bank, whatever.



  1. The goal is maintaining, repairing and the restoration of healthy, wholesome, holy, God-honoring relationships. Not the pointing out of sin. (Lv 19:17; Prv 11:30; Mt 5:23-24; Gal 6:1-2; 5:11-17; Eph 4:29-32; Jam 5:19-20; 1 Pt 4:8)


Pharisees look for sin.  We don’t discipline for sin but for a lack of repentance.  — Steve Brown


As the greater part of men are driven by ambition to publish with excessive eagerness the faults of their brethren, Christ seasonably meets this fault by enjoining us to cover the faults of brethren, as far as lies in our power; for those who take pleasure in the disgrace and infamy of brethren are unquestionably carried away by hatred and malice, since, if they were under the influence of charity, they would endeavor to prevent the shame of their brethren.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 352-3)


Smug indifference, not to mention self-righteous contempt, has no part in the life of a spiritual Christian, nor do sentimentality or cowardice that hide behind false humility.  The spiritual Christian neither condemns nor justifies a sinning brother.  His concern is for the holiness and blessing of the offending brother, the purity and integrity of the church, and the honor and glory of God.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 128)


Christ, having taught us to indulge the weakness of our brethren, here cautions us not to indulge their wickedness under pretense of that.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 258)


Now just think of what the quality of life and character must be in a person who would routinely interrupt sacred rituals to pursue reconciliation with a fellow human being.  What kind of thought life, what feeling tones and moods, what habits of body and mind, what kinds of deliberations and choices would you find in such a person?  When you answer these questions, you will have a vision of the true “rightness beyond” that is at home in God’s kingdom of power and love.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 156)


When Peter was intimidated by the Judaizers in Antioch and began to separate himself from Gentile believers, Paul “opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (Gal 2:11).  Peter admitted his sin and repented, and years later he wrote of his “beloved brother Paul” (2 Pt 3:15).  Their deepened friendship no doubt was due in no small measure to Paul’s caring enough to rebuke his fellow apostle and turn him back to the purity of the gospel of grace.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 128)


Christian reproof is an ordinance of Christ for the bringing of sinners to repentance, and must be managed as an ordinance.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 259)


The pastoral purpose of the approach is underlined by the verb “win,” which shows that the concern is not mainly with the safety and/or reputation of the whole community but with the spiritual welfare of the individual.  “Win” suggests that the person was in danger of being lost, and has now been regained; it reflects the preceding image of the shepherd’s delight in getting his sheep back.  For the same verb used of the conversion of outsiders cf. 1 Cor 9:19-22; 1 Pt 3:1.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 692-3)


Christian confrontation helps protect and purify the church, and it helps prevent the spread of sin throughout the Body of Christ.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 511)


Signs you have a judgmental or Slanderous spirit:

1-     When you criticize another they are ALWAYS crushed and destroyed.  You are never able to redeem when you criticize.


2-     If you have a fault finding habit of mind.  You judge before you have all the facts.


3-     You enjoy hearing about other people’s faults.  Why do you enjoy hearing bout the faults or problems of others?  Because you have a judgmental, slanderous spirit.


4-     When you go beyond the facts and impute motives to people all the time.  (Tim Keller message, “Communication”)


  1. Jesus is telling us that we are all sinners and fall far short of God’s plan and design for mankind. We should neither be offended nor surprised when others confront us with our sinfulness. (Prv 3:11-12; 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:15; Mt 7:1-4; Rom 3:23; Heb 12:5-11)


Jesus assumes Christians will sin.  True, he doesn’t say “when” but “if a brother sins,” but the “when” is assumed.  That’s why Jesus is not surprised by Peter’s question in verse 21:  “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?”  Jesus doesn’t reply, “A brother sin?  A brother sin repeatedly?  A brother sin repeatedly against another brother?  I can’t fathom that, Peter.  What are you talking about?”  Our Lord assumes his church will be full of sinners–saved sinners, trying-to-be-more-sanctified sinners, but sinners nonetheless.  This is why the church can pray every Sunday and every day the prayer our Lord taught us to pray:  “Father…forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (see 6:9-13, NLT; Lk 11:4).  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 514)


Lack of discipline is a curse to any church.  There must be rules regarding faith and conduct.  To be sure the church has no right to regiment the life of its members, so that freedom is thrown out of the window, Pharisaism revived, and the Colossian heresy (Col 2:20, 21) repeated.  But there are, after all, certain broad principles, clearly stated in Scripture, and epitomized in such well-known passages as Mt 5:43-45; 10:32, 33; 11:28-30; 16:24, 25; 22:37-40; Jn 13:34; Rom 10:9; 12:1, 2, 21; 13:14; 1 Cor 14:1a, and many, many others; principles which, as it were, summarize the whole of God’s will for man’s life.  It is the privilege and the duty of the church to set forth these principles and to demand that its members strive, with the help of God’s Spirit, to apply them to their everyday living and thinking.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 701)


  1. By acting in a manner less than what Jesus prescribes is to open up the Body of Christ to all sorts of hurt, pain, abuse, division, and needless embarrassment. (Lv 19:15-18; Mt 5:23-24; Lk 17:3; Jn 17:11-12, 20-26; Rom 16:17; Eph 4:3; 1 Pt 4:8)


In the church, believers are to teach, challenge, encourage, admonish, help, and love each other.  But there can be no true fellowship with a believer who refuses the loving guidance of his or her fellow church members.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 361)


Unwillingness to reprove a sinning believer is a form of hatred of him, not loving him enough to warn him of his spiritual danger.  Not to reprove a sinning brother can do him more harm than slandering him.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 129)


Love that tolerates sin is not love at all but worldly and selfish sentimentality.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 129)


No awakening or revival of the church has ever occurred apart from strong preaching of God’s holiness and the corresponding call for believers to forsake sin and return to the Lord’s standards of purity and righteousness.  No church that tolerates known sin in its membership will have spiritual growth or effective evangelism.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 129)


The work of discipline should be undertaken with the greatest care.  Done in the wrong way or in the wrong spirit it can do great damage by fostering self-righteousness and legalism, just as discipline not done at all causes great damage by allowing sin’s influence to spread like leaven.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 137)


If a newly baptized Christian sees an elder in the church sinning, and that elder is not confronted and corrected by the church, then the younger Christian will likely be tempted to similarly sin.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 511)


Today we have torn asunder what God has joined together–love of the sinner and hatred of their sin.  We think love means toleration of sin.  We think open and affirming means anything goes.  But in Scripture love and holiness and discipline walk hand in hand.  Care and confrontation skip along together.  Because God loves us, he disciplines us (see Prv 3:11, 12; cf. Heb 12:5-11).  It’s the loving (not the unloving!) Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep.  The unloving shepherd stays at home; he is either indifferent (“What’s one sheep out of 100?”) or he is lenient (“Oh, sheep will be sheep”).

So, Christians are to confront sinning Christians because we value one straying sheep, we hope for forgiveness and family reconciliation, we know that a little laxity leads to a lot of lapsing (we care about the unity and purity of the church, and the glory of God’s holy name and gospel), and because Christian confrontation is a loving command from the most loving man who ever lived.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 512-3)


When a church member falls into sin, the fellowship as a whole and each of the other members individually suffers loss, because no individual believer in the Body is reproducible.  Each believer is a unique individual and is uniquely gifted.  People go to great lengths to regain material wealth that is lost.  To how much greater lengths should Christians go to regain a spiritual treasure more valuable than any earthly possession?  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 132)


When he commands that the offering, which we intend to present, shall be left at the altar, till we are reconciled to an offended brother, (Mt 5:23), he unquestionably intends, by means of that form of the worship of God which was then in existence and in force, to teach us, that we cannot in a right manner either pray, or offer any thing to God, so long as we are at variance with our brethren.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 356)


“Agree” carries the idea of making a symphony.  When hearts are blended into one in desire and purity of motive by the Holy Spirit, the answer to such prayer is beyond doubt.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 100)


For if any man shall offend against the whole Church, Paul enjoins that he be publicly reproved, so that even elders shall not be spared; for it is in reference to them that he expressly enjoins Timothy, to rebuke them publicly in presence of all, and thus to make them a general example to others, (1 Tm 5:20).  And certainly it would be absurd that he who has committed a public offense, so that the disgrace of it is generally known, should be admonished by individuals; for if a thousand persons are aware of it, he ought to receive a thousand admonitions.  The distinction, therefore, which Christ expressly lays down, ought to be kept in mind, that no man may bring disgrace upon his brother, by rashly, and without necessity, divulging secret offences.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 353)


Church discipline is as popular as a public spanking, and church discipline to some is as repulsive as a public hanging.  For our generation to hear the verdict “Pat Smith has been excommunicated from the church” sound harsh, judgmental, unloving, so against the spirit of the age.  And because that is the case (the sad case of our society and church), I feel the need to begin where Jesus felt no need to begin, to answer the question “why?” before I answer the question “how?”. . .

  1. The value of one straying sheep.
  2. The hope of forgiveness and family reconciliation.
  3. A little laxity leads to a lot of lapsing.
  4. It is a command of Christ. (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 510-11)


  1. Jesus’s protocol for conflict resolution demands that we take inventory of the offense and ask ourselves, “Is this offense as serious as I think (not feel) it is?” (Mt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 6:1-11; 1 Pt 4:8)


This text is not a license for Christians to become litigious, filing suits against their brothers over every simple slight or unhappy experience.  Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that “love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4:8).  This means that I do not need to initiate the process of reconciliation every time my brother or sister annoys me, displeases me, or irritates me in some other minor way.  Minor offenses are to be covered by grace and charity.  If my brother or sister offends me in a minor way, I need to absorb it and not make a big deal out of it.  The sins and offenses that Jesus has in view are the more significant ones.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 546)


Nothing makes a long story short like the arrival of the person you happen to be talking about.


If you wouldn’t write it and sign it, don’t say it.


We’re not talking about bringing the hammer down on someone for each and every sin.  This passage is speaking of a situation where a brother sins directly against you and doesn’t come to you for forgiveness, or he is caught in sin and is refusing to turn from it; in such situations, love him (or her) enough to privately address the sin.  Love him enough not to talk to everyone in the world about it.  Love him enough not to sit back and watch him wander deeper and deeper into sin.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 243)


A church brother, reading these rules, and noticing that if he fails in his private attempt he must then ask one or two others to go with him, will probably ask himself, “Is my case really so serious that I can get one or two other persons of sound judgment to go with me; or am I, perhaps making a mountain out of a mole-hill?”  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 699)


It is also important that we distinguish between an offense given and an offense taken.  I wish we all could master this distinction.  If I insult you, slander you, or lie to you, I certainly give offense to you.  However, you may or may not choose to take offense against me for such things.  Likewise, I may say or do something to you that is not sinful, yet you find it offensive.  In that case, I did not give offense to you, but you chose to take offense.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 547)


The Rabbis had a wise saying: “Judge not alone, for none may judge alone save One [that is, God].”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 220)


Perhaps like me you’ve received a phone call from someone who says, “I want to tell you about so-and-so.”

And I say, “Wait a minute. May I quote you?”

There is usually a long pause.  And then they’ll say, “Well, I’m not sure that would be a good idea.”

Invariably my answer would be, “then I’m not interested in hearing what you have to say.  If you’re not interested in putting your name on it, if you’re not interested in being there when we confront the individual, I’m not interested in listening to what you’ve got to say.”

Gossip and rumor have ruined many a soul, haven’t they?  (Chuck Swindoll)


  1. The church erroneously demonstrates by its resistance to engage in confrontation, rebuke and discipline that sin is no big deal. Which in effect makes the work of Christ on the cross useless and meaningless.  (2 Sm 12:1-7; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 5:1-13)


Belief in a God who is all love and no wrath, all grace and no justice, all forgiveness and no condemnation is idolatry (worship of a false god invented by men), and it inevitably leads to universalism–which, of course, is what many liberal churches have been preaching for generations.  Salvation becomes meaningless, because sin that God overlooks does not need to be forgiven.  Christ’s sacrifice on the cross becomes a travesty, because He gave His life for no redemptive purpose.  Not only that, but it becomes apologetically impossible to explain the common question about why a loving God allows pain, suffering, disease, and tragedy.  Removing God’s holy hatred of sin emasculates the gospel and hinders rather than helps evangelism.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 130)


I think there is some truth to the idea that the church occasionally resorted to torture because its leaders believed that it was better for a person to endure physical pain and thereby be rescued from sin than to suffer an eternity of suffering in hell.  Likewise, one of the reasons we have become so lax in our disciplinary patterns is because we do not take hell seriously enough.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 546)


The church cannot preach and teach a message it does not live and have any integrity before God, or even before the world.  Yet in many churches where there is no tolerance for sin in principle there is much tolerance for it in practice.  And when preaching becomes separated from living, it becomes separated both from integrity and from spiritual and moral effectiveness.  It promotes hypocrisy instead of holiness.  Divorcing biblical teaching from daily living is compromise of the worst sort.  It corrupts the church, grieves the Lord, and dishonors His Word and His name.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 123-4)


The misinterpreted and misapplied statement of Jesus that we should not judge lest we be judged (Mt 7:1) has been used to justify the tolerance of every sort of sin and false teaching.  The ideas that every person’s privacy is essentially to be protected and that each is responsible only to himself have engulfed much of the church.  Under the guise of false love and spurious humility that refuse to hold others to account, many Christians are as dedicated as some unbelievers to the unbiblical notion of “live and let live.”  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 124)


Worship Point:  Worship the God who knows how best to maintain great relationships that encourage, build up and support.  (1 Pt 4:8)


In a consumer relationship you relate to a vendor.  And you have a relationship as long as  the vendor is giving you a product at a good price.  But you are always looking to an upgrade.   And so you say to your vendor, “We have a relationship.  But, you better keep adjusting to me because if you don’t meet my needs, I’m out-a-here because my needs are more important than the relationship.” . . . But a covenant relationship is exactly the opposite. . . . A covenant relationship says, “I will adjust to you because I have made a promise.  And the relationship is more important than my needs.  My needs are less important than the sustenance of the relationship.”

Now if two people get into a relationship, one as a consumer and one as a covenanter; that will be bad for the covenanter; that covenant will be exploited.  (Tim Keller message, “Love and Lust”)


If you get into a covenant relationship . . . you finally have a zone of security, a zone of safety, a place where you can finally be yourself.  You see in a consumer relationship you are always marketing, you are always selling yourself, you’ve got to perform, you’ve got to meet the other person’s need or they’re out.  But in a covenant, in a marriage . . . you can finally have a zone of safety, you can finally get rid of the facades, you can finally let him know, her know about your insecurities.  You can finally be yourself.   (Tim Keller message, “Love and Lust”)


When you are committed to a person in spite of your feelings, deeper feeling grow.  For example:  The other covenant relationship is the relationship between parents and children. . . . In parenting you get very little back, for a long time, and they never catch up.   You give and you give and you never get back.  It is not a consumer relationship at all.  You adjust to them. . . . What is weird is you do it and you are so invested in your children so that even when they in no way act in a lovable way, you love them.  There is a deeper richer kind of feeling because you are invested in them.  And in the same way, if you treat your marriage . . . as a covenant relationship, if you are committed in spite of feelings, deeper feelings grow.   (Tim Keller message, “Love and Lust”)


Gospel Application:  You can only have the emotional, social, and intellectual capital to both face and administer reproof, correction, and discipline when you realize how loved you are in spite of your fallenness and sinfulness.  (Ps 139:23-24)


To the degree that we feel we are on legal or performance relationship with God, to that degree our progress in sanctification is impeded.  A legal mode of thinking gives indwelling sin an advantage, because nothing cuts the nerve of the desire to pursue holiness as much as a sense of guilt.  On the contrary, nothing so motivates us to deal with sin in our lives as does the understanding and application of the two truths that our sins are forgiven and the dominion of sin is broken because of our union with Christ.  (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, 108)


People in a church are like porcupines in a snow storm.


Christ enjoins his disciples to forgive one another, but to do so in such a manner as to endeavor to correct their faults.  It is necessary that this be wisely observed; for nothing is more difficult than to exercise forbearance towards men, and, at the same time, not to neglect the freedom necessary in reproving them.  Almost all lean to the one side or to the other, either to deceive themselves mutually by deadly flatteries, or to pursue with excessive bitterness those whom they ought to cure.  But Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love, which is widely distant from flattery; only he enjoins them to season their admonitions with moderation, lest, by excessive severity and harshness, they discourage the weak.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 352)


Jesus assumes that the individual (second person singular) who personally confronts his brother will do so with true humility (vv. 3-4; cf. Gal 6:1):  if it is hard to accept a rebuke, even a private one, it is harder still to administer one in loving humility.  Behind this verse stands Lv 19:17:  “Do not hate your brother in your heart.  Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.”  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 402)


The apostle Paul exhorted “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal 6:1).  There are many glaring examples of men who fell to the same sins they brazenly tried to expose in others.  “God resists the proud, but gives His grace to the humble” (Jam 4:6).  None of us can stand except by God’s grace.  Whenever we attack or expose the sins or errors of others, having pride that we are not like that, we have insured our own ultimate fall.  This is why many “heresy hunters” become mean-spirited and usually end up doing more damage to the church through causing division than was done by the “heresies” they are trying to confront.  (Rick Joyner, There Were Two Trees in the Garden, 51)


Spiritual Challenge:  Look to Jesus so you can love others enough to confront them in love.  Look to Jesus to accept the reproof, correction and discipline others give to you that may not be lovingly administered.  Look to Jesus and live!  (Col 4:6; 1 Pt 4:8)


The world praises a man to his face, and speaks of his faults behind his back.  Christ does the opposite.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 126)


The church must be “self-policing” with regard to sin.  The horrendous scandals that have tarnished the church recently reflect the abysmal failure of believers to confront sinning leaders and followers.  The world often has had to expose what the church tried to cover up.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 125)


There is no better witness to the world than Christians acting Christianly.  So let us be faithful to Christ’s command to confront.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 519)


Vanstone says, In false love your aim is to use the other person to fulfill your happiness.  Your love is conditional:  You give it only as long as the person is affirming you and meeting your needs.  And it’s nonvulnerable:  You hold back so that you can cut your losses if necessary.  But in true love, your aim is to spend yourself and use yourself for the happiness of the other, because your greatest joy is that person’s joy.  Therefore your affection is unconditional:  You give it regardless of whether your loved one is meeting your needs.  And it’s radically vulnerable:  You spend everything, hold nothing back, give it all away.  Then Vastone says, surprisingly, that our real problem is that nobody is actually fully capable of giving true love.  We want it desperately, but we can’t give it.  He doesn’t say we can’t give any kind of real love at all, but he’s saying that nobody is fully capable of true love.  All of our love is somewhat fake.  How so?  Because we need to be loved like we need air and water.  We can’t live without love.  That means there’s a certain mercenary quality to our relationships.  We look for people whose love would really affirm us.  We invest our love only where we know we’ll get a good return.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 98)



God’s purposes can never be accomplished if we react to our own pain by inflicting pain on others.  Nor can we continue growing as the people of God if we seek vengeance on others.  That spoils our reconciliation, not only with them, but also with God and with ourselves.  To curse our persecutors is surely always more destructive to us than to them.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 229)







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