One of identifying traits of a Christian is humility. We easily and readily understand the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:3-6, and that in this passage He was addressing the issue of the apparent lack of humility in some of his disciples. The question as recorded in the first verse was “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” While that may seem like an innocuous question, further study shows us that it was not.
In a companion passage found in the ninth chapter of Mark, we can see that some of the disciples were more or less disputing which of them would be considered of higher importance above the others. Jesus sat them down and rebuked them saying, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” (Mk. 9:35). In another lesson about humility given in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the disciples to “…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” So it stands to sound reasoning that there is reward for an humble and servile attitude.
Back in Matthew 18, we follow the thought throughout the chapter. Humility will result in us getting rid of those things in our lives that lead us toward sin. This is not only for our own good, but it is also so that those things can cause us to offend others. Jesus said that offenses would undoubtedly come, and that the world would suffer because of them, but He also proclaimed a woe against those who caused the offense. It then takes very little reasoning for us to understand that we must not offend others, and that we should remove anything from our lives that might lead us to do so.
Humility will result in us removing those things in our lives that lead us toward sin. (Matt. 18:8-9). This is not only for our own good, but it is also so that those things can cause us to offend others. Back in verse seven, Jesus said that offenses would undoubtedly come and that the world would suffer because of them, but He also proclaimed a woe against those who caused the offense. It takes very little reasoning for us to understand that we must not offend others, and that we should purge those things that might lead us to do so.
Every soul is precious, thus we have a tremendous responsibility as Christians to pursue every possible scriptural way to prevent any from perishing. Each one is precious in God’s sight and He is “not willing that any should perish.” (Matt. 18:14; 2 Pet. 3:9). It is in this context that we must consider verses fifteen through eighteen of Matthew chapter eighteen.
While it is easy for us to understand that we are charged with not being the offender toward a fellow Christian (Matt. 18:7-14), it is somewhat perplexing for us to think that we also have a responsibility toward the one who offends us. Jesus says in verse 15 to “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” What? Is Jesus saying that since my brother in Christ mistreated me in some way that now I have to go to him and rebuke him? But he offended me!
Yes, but he might not realize it. He may be under an unusually high amount of stress at his job. His wife or child may be very ill. Perhaps he simply does not care. Regardless of the reason, Jesus said to go and rebuke him. If the brother is as humble as he should be, he will repent and we will have gained back our brother.
If the brother will not hear our rebuke, then Jesus instructs us to go back to the offender, this time taking one or two others with us who witnessed the offense. Under Mosaic Law, two or three witnesses were required to convict an offender. (Deut. 19:15). The precedent was not removed when that covenant ended, as Paul wrote that before an elder can be accused of wrongdoing, there must be “two or three witnesses.” (1 Tim. 5:19). If the offending brother listens to us and the other witness or witnesses, and subsequently repents, we have gained our brother. We have saved a soul from death, hiding a multitude of sins, according to James 5:20.
If the disagreement comes down to our word against the offender’s, as there are no other witnesses, we must drop the issue. We have done our duty by going to him alone. There are without doubt some brethren who are above rebuke both in their own mind and in the minds of others, hence the need for other witnesses.
When we have gone to him and he ignores us or denies the charge, and we have then taken one or two other witnesses with us and he still will not listen, we must take the case before the church. It is the church’s duty to then rebuke him as one body. If he still refuses to repent, Jesus says in verse seventeen, “Let him be as an heathen man and a publican.” He has decided that he will not subject himself to the authority of the church. Therefore, he is to be treated as one who is not a member of the church. The church must do her duty to ensure that he knows that he is no longer a part of her. He is not to be then mistreated, but to be the subject of prayers and good will so that he may one day see the error of his ways and repent.
The authority of the church in this case is binding, here on earth and in heaven, if of course the case is handled correctly and Jesus’ commandments are followed concerning it. It must also be recognized by all other faithful congregations. So it behooves the congregation in question to let it be known to other nearby congregations. Throughout the entire process, we must remember the end goal, and that is to gain our brother. ~B.W.P. published in the Fulton County Gospel News November-December 2015 Edition