“And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. “Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.”
I am having a The Princess Bride-esque moment. You keep saying that verse-I don’t think it means what you think it means. Beating the proverbial dead horse; CONTEXT IS KING. But where are my manners? Welcome, thanks for reading. You could be reading any blog and you chose to read mine–thank you. I hope that you are blessed by it but more importantly that it inspires you to read the Bible for all it’s worth. I don’t necessarily write to teach doctrine but to demonstrate how to mine for gold.
To those who are new and review for the returning, we keep the Bible caged by our culture, traditions, presuppositions and preconceived notions. We need to unlock the caged Scripture. Here, we use a hermeneutical tool called the CAGED method. It’s an acronym for Context, Author’s Aspirations, Genre, Examples and Divide Rightly the Word of Truth.
Let’s look at the context–the greater context. Jesus is answering a question from his disciples–“Who then is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus responded by holding up a small child and saying, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus continues to explain using metaphors and similes about little children and lost sheep. Within the same contex we read today’s text.
There is a sublime string that is woven into the context. Everything Jesus says, is building on a foundation that he laid in Genesis 2, and continued to build through the law and the prophets. That is the macro string that Matthew weaves into his gospel, that of, Jesus as the true Israel. Every step of Jesus mirrors that of the nation Israel, from Egypt to baptism and wilderness to the promised land, everything that Israel failed to do, Jesus does to perfection, figuratively speaking.
The micro string in today’s text is that of the follower of Christ who must humble himself as a child, if wandering, Jesus looks for him. And if found, there is much rejoicing. With that context in mind, we read today’s text. “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”
We see another metaphorical shift from child to sheep, back to child and now, to brother. Most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers understand that Jesus is not referring to one’s literal, flesh and blood brother. They understand that this is a metaphor. But I am not sure that they quite grasp the picture as it is painted by Jesus. They see a microcosm of the metaphorical meaning but fall short in considering the entire context. That of the humble disciple who is wholly reliant upon Jesus. They don’t consider the parable of the lost sheep. They ignore the micro sublime string.
The complete context clarifies that Jesus is now comparing the one, who is part of the 99 remaining sheep, searching for the one that wandered away, the sheep that has strayed. Do you see that? The “brother” is the lost sheep. I probably shouldn’t use the term “lost sheep” because Jesus doesn’t. It’s one of those idiotic idioms that we use based on tradition and not context. We know that the sheep is not lost but wandering, we’ll get back to this. He has left the other 99 from the flock and walked away.
We know from the context that this sheep, this child, this brother, sins. His specific sin is not revealed but it is a sin which has caused him to stray from the flock. The context is clear, the brother sins significantly enough for him to walk away from the flock. He didn’t simply say a bad word, tell a tall tale or eat meat sacrificed to idols. He has committed an egregious sin, he has left the flock. More on this later.
I have been there, twice. I can assure you that there is rarely one single, solitary sin that can cause one to stumble away, much less, run away from the flock. It is usually a pattern of sins, at least it was with me. Sheep don’t usually simply leave. They are tempted by the greener grass. And when that doesn’t satisfy, the sheep will search for even greener grass and before long, he is out of sight of the flock.
“And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Looking back, this verse created this blog, though all parties involved were unaware of it at the time. I was a wandering, wayward sheep, a prodigal son. But here’s my story. A meeting at church (which I rarely attended), over some fairly serious events, erupted with me jumping on a pew, screaming some stuff and walking out the door, for the second time. I was done with the church forever, or so I thought. I had left the church before but this time was the last time, I was going to live my life my way because the church couldn’t get out of its own way, in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, the church had very grave issues, but so did I.
But while working on one of the deacon’s house, he asked me, “what did you think about the meeting? What did I think? I ran off screaming, wasn’t that enough for him to know what I thought? Apparently he didn’t know that was me, with everything else that was happening, he simply didn’t make the connection. Over the next few days he kept questioning me and challenging my answers. Not as to whether they were right or wrong but as to how I arrived at those answers. He, while under significant stress, from the situation at the church and from situations at work, began to make me a disciple. You see, he was under such stress that he literally had a changed mind. He didn’t, and I didn’t, realize we were fulfilling Matthew 18. In private, he challenged me, rebuked me, put me in my place and won me back to the flock of which I swore I would never return. In public, I began answering his questions in the form of what he would call, “missives.” He is not only responsible for this blog but for the title as well. While responding to his challenges and questions, I would write little missives, looking for the context of the Bible, to answer his questions and I would send them to anyone willing to read them. As for the flock, within a year I was a youth group leader, trustee, praise-band member, food pantry “chairman of the board” (which is a joke but true, according to some paperwork), and responsible for coordinating a new roof for the church building.
How? Matthew 18. Niether of us were dogmatically doing Matthew 18. To the contrary. I was so angry that I had to completely let go and let Jesus do that which he does–humbling, then restoring. Faith like a Boss, emptied like a child. In the same way, my one out of 99, we’ll anonymously call him, “John,” because it’s fairly common and easy to remember, was under such incredible pressure and stress. We both lost large parts of ourselves during this time (humbled like children). I thought I knew it all but it was proven that I knew very little. We were both reduced to little children. I had wandered away like a sheep and he rescued me. Him being “John,” representetive of Jesus. I don’t want to underplay the seriousness of the situation, “John” and his wife went through terrible trials during this time as did many people in the church, but they had it the worst. I also don’t want to dwell on the trials but to remember what led me to return to the flock–a humbled man, seeking the sinning sheep, just like Jesus said to do. “John” privately rebuked me and won me back to the flock. He didn’t have to take it any further than that.
However, that isn’t always the case, notice: “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.” If I had not been won by “John,” he should have gone to one, or a couple more of the 99 and brought my wandering to them. Then they would search for me, rebuking me, calling me back to the flock.
Jesus quotes the Old Testament tutor and Himself by saying, “BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.” This is one of the sublime strings running through the entire Bible. Even in modern day marriage, we require more than one witness.
“And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;” The world church, literally means “gathering,” or; “called out assembly.” They are the flock of the 99 remaining sheep. If the wayward sheep refuses the rebuke of the one of the 99, which represents Christ, and the two or three witnesses, which represent the Godhead, then it is to be taken to the entire flock.
“And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.” Notice the simile. The 99 are now all involved. The entire flock is now seeking the wandering sheep. But if the straying sheep refuses to listen to the 99, “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.” He doesn’t cease to be a sheep but is to be like a goat to them. This is precisely the reason that we shouldn’t use the idiotic idiom of the “lost sheep.” The sheep is sinning and left the flock but he doesn’t become a goat, a gentile or a tax-gatherer, but is to be regarded as one. That is that he will not receive the benefit of being in the flock, although still a sheep. My next missive will help clarify this, Lord willing.
“Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Context, context, context. Let me translate this into the Dixie dialect for clarification. “Truly I say to y’all, whatever y’all shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” Does that help? English doesn’t have a distinction between the singular “you” and the plural. Greek does and this text is in the plural because Jesus is continuing in the context. He is still speaking with reference to the 99, or the church, about the one, either returning to the flock or becoming like a gentile to the 99. And this concept continues.
“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” This is one of the Top Ten verses ripped out of context. Jesus is still speaking about the flock and wayward sheep and said recourse. To me it’s an encouragement to not give up searching for the straying sheep. Think about the following phrases found in this context.
“If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother…and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven…if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.” Clearly the context suggest that the return of the straying sheep is the preferred outcome. There is much rejoicing in the return but none in the sheep staying astray. Nevertheless, what y’all agree to bind on earth, will be bound in heaven.
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” Consider the context; Jesus is confirming what we have suspected. The one of the 99, “John,” and the staying sheep, RussellP, agreed that RussellP had strayed–that’s Jesus. The two or three witnesses, the church are all representetive of Jesus in this metaphor. Jesus is the man who searches for the straying sheep. Jesus is the one still holding the small child telling the disciples to be humble like children. Jesus is the sublime string. Jesus is confirming that he is the shepherd and is with those seeking out the wayward sheep.
Problem; huge problem: this passage is not a license to point fingers. A, that’s ripping it out of context. B, “by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” C, if any sin is to be rebuked, we would never stop rebuking. And most importantly, Peter took what Jesus said out of context and Jesus exposed that–but that will have to wait until next time. Jesus was not being random, he was still speaking within the context.
Most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, commentators and common, every-day, lay-people disagree with me about the context. They teach that if a brother sins against you, Matthew 18 is the prescription for dealing with the situation. I hope that I have shown you that the context demonstrates that this is from a grievous sin that breaks fellowship. If not, think about it pragmatically by looking at the end result. The man is to be expelled from the church and treated like a sinner; not one who sinned, but a sinner. Remember the culture of the time, although Jesus called tax-gatherers, they were absolutely hated. We are supposed to treat with contempt one that sinned? I know, you think that it went through proper channels and he was given 3 chances to repent of the sin and that due process was followed…But that’s next time.
I have witnessed first hand the misunderstanding of Matthew 18. Which in-and-of itself was an abuse of the misunderstanding. That is, one claimed to be following the prescription for dealing with sin in Matthew 18 but–if I could overhear it, it wasn’t in private, was it? I believe that’s what we call an “epic fail” nowadays. If you are angry with someone, because of some sin, Matthew 18 doesn’t suggest that you get to call out the person. The goal is not to rub one’s face in their sin but to lovingly rebuke them so that they will return to full fellowship in the flock–with much rejoicing. Much rejoicing; this particular person didn’t use Matthew 18 with the hope of rejoicing more over the one than the 99–actually, to the contrary. This person used Matthew 18 as a license to try to hurt one that hurt them. I don’t think I have to explain why that is wrong.
I am up against insurmountable odds, I realize this. Jesus says, “if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private.” Please, at least see that the Master of the Metaphor, who within the context of a metaphor, spoke these words. And one last thing to consider. If Matthew 18, that is, five verses in the middle of Matthew 18–sandwiched between parables, is the prescription for dealing with any sin, what about the expository exegesis of examples?
Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, says, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife…In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Where is the due process?
If one skips ahead just a few phrases in 1 Corinthians, one will read words that I live by, if a “brother” sins against me. “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that your brethren.” It is so true. I have done enough wrong in my life to remember that I have nothing against anyone. I would rather be wronged than to create conflict. John writes in his first epistle, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
Matthew 18 maybe the prescription for dealing with a brother who sins against you. It may be a literal explanation sandwiched between two parables. But before you go and point the finger, make sure that their sin is greater than yours. Actually, don’t, rather, rather be wronged. Forgiveness wins Everytime, but that’s next time. If your brother sins egregiously, that he may be wandering from the flock, then it is your responsibility to lovingly rebuke him, and attempt to win your brother, with the hope of much rejoicing.
I am sorry, one last thing that eats away at me; if you will indulge me. If these 5 verses, sandwiched, between parables, are to be taken to literal extremes; If I am wrong claiming that the context dictates a fellowship-breaking sin; If we should ignore the context; If Jesus is writing the prescription for dealing with any sin: explain to me the following: what’s the world record for someone not sinning? If your brother sins? Shouldn’t that read, when?