4th May 2023
Read (Matthew 18v15-20)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
How should the Christian handle conflict? If only we had an answer to this thorny question! Well...we do. Matthew 18v15-20 is rarely practiced in the Christian church but how united would we be if we took the Lord's teaching seriously?
Jesus said if your brother sins against you then you have no grounds to ignore him, gossip about him or write him out of your life completely. Instead you are to go to your brother and tell him his fault privately (v15). In such an instance the accuser is to come with the humility which should always mark the children of Christ. Furthermore the accused should be willing to humbly listen and by the grace of God, the issue will be resolved and the relationship restored (v15b).
However if the humble accuser is not listened to then he is to try again with the help of others. Two or three witnesses are to sit down with the accuser and the accused in an attempt to establish the truth (v16). This is the Biblical standard for truth as we see in Deuteronomy 19v15. Indeed in Revelation 11 the church is portrayed as "two witnesses". Many have tried to identify these two witnesses but the simple explanation is that the church is a truthful body, she is the "two witnesses".
Once more by the grace of God the situation should result in repentance and restoration. But if the private approach and the support of witnesses has failed, the accuser is to tell the problem to the church (v17). What this looks like in your fellowship may be different from mine but in Presbyterian circles the case should be brought to the elders. Indeed it can go from there to Presbytery and finally to the Judicial Commission. We are not perfect but we believe this structure allows allegations to be heard by various church courts and God willing will result in repentance and restoration.
But what if none of this works? Let me stress again that the goal is always repentance and restoration but if the accused will not listen to you, the witnesses or the church then he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (v17). Christ's disciples would have got this imagery instantly. The unrepentant accused is to be denied fellowship. That's shocking isn't it? We never do this in the modern church but whilst we should never take these decisions lightly, the Lord teaches us how we are to address an unrepentant sinner who refuses to heed any and all correction.
When we reach this tragic point is the sinner in question beyond hope? No. By the grace of God and work of the Spirit we trust and pray that the accused will see his error, repent and be restored. However if repentance and restoration never comes, Jesus tells His church that they are to be resolute in the face of wilful rebellion.
Some might ask “who do we think we are to make such decisions”? It is a serious question - where does the church get her authority? Jesus tells us that the church derives her authority from heaven itself. Whenever we take seriously the work of conflict resolution seeking the guidance of God, the Lord says whatever decisions we reach on earth shall be “bound in heaven” and whatever we loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (v18).
We are not working to change God’s mind and we are not forcing Him into ratifying an incorrect decision, rather as the church is led by the Holy Spirit, our decisions on such matters will match what has already been decided in glory. When the accused and the accuser come to agree, Jesus says “it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (v19).
Here is the authority of the church and the seriousness with which we should take the road to restoration. When we disagree there is a path laid out by Jesus which leads to unity. We don’t walk it very much - we’re too proud and too stubborn, but Jesus promises that when we engage with the difficult work of church discipline He is there in the midst of us (v20). Perhaps it is time to take Him at His word?
Q37 What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death? The souls of believers are, at their death, made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves until the resurrection.