Dealing with Sin in the Church, Part 1 (Matthew Sermon 85 of 151)
January 25, 2009 | Andrew Davis
Church Membership, Church Government (Polity)
The Central Attribute and Calling of God: Holiness
God’s Most Noteworthy Attribute: Holiness
I've often wondered what it would have been like to be with Isaiah - really better, to see with Isaiah, what he saw when he was called to be a prophet and how the Lord revealed to Isaiah his nature. How he showed him his glory, and how Isaiah saw the radiant, shining holiness of Almighty God, and how he saw him high and lifted up on a throne, and how the seraphim were flying around and covering their faces, and how as they called to one another they called this fascinating chant: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.”
And how then the apostle John, so many centuries later, had a similar vision of heaven and the elders and the four living creatures constantly falling down before the throne and it says in Revelation, 4:8, “Day and night, they never stopped saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.’” And therefore, I have concluded that God's most significant or noteworthy attribute, which he first and foremost, wants to present to the human race is his holiness, that we would understand his holiness.
Now, I do not make distinctions in the attributes of God and say this one is more important than that one or they're divided in any way at all. I think all of God's attributes are perfectly one with another, there's no contradiction within himself between God's justice and his mercy or his righteousness and his wrath and his tender loving kindness to us and grace. They all are perfectly harmonized within himself and yet he states twice “Holy, holy, holy,” and then “Holy, holy, holy.” This is the central lesson it seems, to the sinful human race and therefore I say that God's most noteworthy attribute to us as sinners is his holiness.
Jonathan Edwards in his personal narrative said this, speaking about a change that's happened in his own heart, this is what he said: “God has appeared to me, a glorious and lovely being chiefly on account of his holiness. The holiness of God has always appeared to me the most lovely, of all of his attributes.” Jonathan Edward saw beauty in God's holiness, attractiveness, a winsome beauty in his holiness. So therefore God's most noteworthy attribute, his holiness.
Our Greatest Possible Happiness: Holiness
And I would say connected with that our greatest possible happiness is our holiness. Again, Edward said this: “Holiness, as I then wrote down some of my contemplations on it, appeared to me to be of a sweet, pleasant, charming, serene, calm nature, which brought an inexpressible purity, a brightness, peacefulness, and ravishment to the soul. In other words, that it made the soul like a field or garden of God, with all manner of pleasant flowers, all pleasant, delightful, and undisturbed: enjoying a sweet calm and the gentle vivifying beams of the sun.” In other words, he was happiest when he was holiest and that holiness makes us happy, deeply, richly, purely happy.
Have you ever had moments like that in Christ? Little foretastes of heavenly joy, maybe tears might even come to your eyes a sense of the brightness in the presence of God, of the fact that he has loved you with an everlasting love and that you're completely safe in his presence, and that your sin has been completely paid for through the blood of Christ. And really at that moment there's nothing to be done, But just to praise him and to worship him and just be happy in him. What a sweet foretaste of heaven that is and I tell you that holiness is at the center of that experience. You wanna be happy, then be holy. And without holiness, you cannot be happy.
The Characteristic Attribute of that Heaven to Which We Are Going: Holiness
Therefore, I say thirdly, that the characteristic attribute of that heaven to which we are going is holiness. Fifteen times the word holy is used in the book of Revelation, the last six refer to the holiness of the people of God and/or that place to which we are going. Revelation 21:2, “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven as a bride beautifully prepared for her husband dressed for her husband.”
Again Jonathan Edwards said this: “The heaven I desired was a heaven of holiness to be with God and to spend my eternity in divine love, and holy communion with Christ. My mind was very much taken up with contemplations on heaven and the enjoyments there; and living there in perfect holiness, humility, and love: And it used at that time to appear a greater part of the happiness of heaven that there the saints at last could fully express their love to Christ.”
God’s Prevailing Call over the Church: Holiness
The heaven we're going to is a heaven of holiness friends, therefore fourthly, God's prevailing call over the church right now is a call of holiness, for he says in Leviticus 19:2, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy, because, I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” That is God's call to First Baptist Church and to every single member of it.
Holiness means being set apart, especially as created beings. Set apart unto God as his special and precious possession, over which he is greatly delighted. Especially, I think, set apart from the world of darkness and wickedness and sin that characterizes this present world age. Set apart from that defilement unto God, pure and holy.
Now, as I studied the word holy, it's first used in the Bible in Genesis 2:3, where it says that God set apart the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he finished from all the creating work that he had done. So there's that sense of set apart. There was nothing defiled or impure about anything in the universe at that point but he set apart the day as holy, sacred unto God.
But then secondly, it's used in the burning bush account, it’s the second time it appears in the Bible, the flames of the burning bush, burning up, and Moses saw it and he drew near, because it was a mysterious sight, in how he looked and saw that the bush was burning, but not being burned up, it was not being consumed. And as he drew near, he heard the voice coming from the bush, the angel of the Lord speaking to him and saying, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you're standing is holy ground.” Again, set apart unto God a place where God and man can have fellowship, but take off your sandals, it's holy.
The third time it appears in the Bible is in the song of Moses, after the Exodus and the defeat of Pharaohs forces at the - in one sense, the most spectacular miracle of the Old Testament - the Red Sea crossing. And then the devastation of Pharaoh's army and then comes the song of Moses, a song of celebration. Exodus 15:13, and Moses sings, “In your unfailing love you'll lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” Well, that is our story friends, that is our song. That we are being guided by God to his holy dwelling place.
And soon after God called his people at Mount Sinai to be holy unto him as his precious possession. Exodus 19:5 and 6, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Again, the idea of being set apart unto God as his precious possession. Friends, then, holiness is of the central essence of God himself in his person, in his stance to all creation. He is holy and infinitely set above it, pure. And high and lifted up above all physical creation. An infinite gap between God and all created beings, the holiness of God. And then of the approaching of God and his dwelling and of God's calling of his people out of this world, the central element of that call is “Be holy because I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”
Now the New Testament applies this directly to the calling of the church of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:9, it says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” A call to be holy, again, because God is holy.
Now, the point of the gospel of Jesus Christ, its purpose is to take sinners like you and me who were dead in our transgressions and sins, raise us from the dead, purify us completely, and bring us into the presence of such a Holy God, blameless and unafraid, to stand before him and serve him forever. That's what the gospel does. How powerful must it be to do that for us! Oh, how sweet is the work of gospel grace to take sinners like us and bring us into the presence of a holy God like him.
Now one of the greatest forces in the gospel ministry for that transformation of sinners to perfect and holy saints is a well-ordered gospel church friends, a well-ordered church ordered by the rules of the gospel. And one of the greatest weapons in such a holy church is the zeal, the loving zeal that brothers and sisters have in Christ to watch over one another in brotherly love. To, in a very sweet way, get involved in each other's business. To actually care what's going on spiritually in each other's lives. To the one receiving such a ministry, it may seem from time to time meddlesome. There are right ways to do it and wrong ways to do it, it's true, but in the end, the true ones always thank the ones that loved, and the ones that cared, and the ones that came.
Now the passage commands us to confront sin directly to deal with it, to address it courageously and wisely and lovingly and to seek to have it out of the church. The end of the passage is church discipline, what we generally know as church discipline: that the church has the right, and even the responsibility, to expel wicked unrepentant members from their midst. So for two weeks I'm going to talk about that issue along with the full-blooded issue of dealing with sin in the church. This week, Matthew 18, next week in 1 Corinthians chapter five. For two weeks.
Christ’s Clear Steps for Dealing with Sin
The Context of Matthew 18
Now, in Matthew 18, Christ here gives us, I think, clear steps for dealing with sin. Context, again, of Matthew 18: It's said in the gospel of Matthew, the purpose of the Gospel of Matthew is to present Jesus Christ as the king of the Kingdom of Heaven to give us his credentials his right to rule, and to govern his people, to be our king. And so therefore, when we come to Mathew 18, we come in that same stance as subjects of the king of the Kingdom of Heaven. Of Jesus, and we're receiving from Jesus now, instructions about how we are to be holy within the context of the church.
Now, at the beginning of Matthew 18, if you put together the other parallel accounts in Mark and Luke, beginning of Matthew 18, what we have is a dispute or a conflict between the disciples over which of them is the greatest. And Jesus calls a little child and has him stand among them and gives through the little child an object lesson on true broken humility. He said anyone who humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And so becoming like a child and ministering to those that are like children, that's the essence of apostolic ministry. And so he's really teaching his leaders, how to be leaders.
He also warns them about the seriousness of sin. If your right hand or your right eye causes you to sin, then cut them off and throw them away, even a valuable part of your body if it causes you to sin. It's better for you to lose one part of your body than your whole body to be thrown into the fires of hell. So, he deal's very seriously with the issue of sin.
He also presents God as a shepherd who leaves the 99 on the hills and goes to look for that wandering sheep. Again the issue is sin the wandering that we do into sin. So we can see the context. One of the great purposes of church leaders, these apostles here and then eventually, I think, elders, pastors is restoring wandering Christians who have fallen into sin. So that's the context. So we come to Matthew 18:15-20.
Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5
And with this and 1 Corinthians 5 next week, we have the two central passages on the issue of dealing with sin in the church. What some people just would go straight to the issue of church and discipline, dealing with the topic of church discipline. I believe both are essential in understanding Christ's will for dealing with sin in the body of Christ. But they have a different focus. Matthew 18 seems to me to be a little more interpersonal, little more private, an issue between two individuals, maybe at a low level and you go and deal with that person privately, etcetera. 1 Corinthians 5, it seems a more public scandalous sin and how the church needs to deal with that. So, a bit different focus, I think. But both of them dealing with sin in the church.
Step #1: Your Brother Sins Against You
Now, the first step in this whole process is unfortunate, but it happens. In verse 15, it says, “If your brother sins against you,” so it starts with sin, the brother has committed some sin against you. Now in one sense we know biblically all sin is ultimately sin against God and God only. Psalm 51, “Against you and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,” said David. Next section in Matthew, we're gonna talk about the 10,000 talents and the 100 denarii and so sin toward God, that vertical aspect of sin is really infinitely more significant than any horizontal issue of sin, human to human. But yet, there is still the 100 denarii there are still sin issues, horizontally, and they should be dealt with, addressed, and Jesus is dealing with that.
Now, in this case, we are the offended person, the brother has sinned against us. We're the one who has been offended. Now, this word “brother,” I think should be taken in the Christian sense, brother and sister in Christ, not just other human being. I think it really is dealing with an in-house issue here because he mentions the church.
And so therefore we're dealing with Christians sinning against other Christians. And you have received that affront. Somebody has sinned against you, now Christ doesn't say what the sin is or how serious or give categories of sin. Enough of that's covered across the Bible. We know what sin is. It doesn't say how serious it is. Now, frankly, in all honesty there's some sins we just need to bear. In other words there's just some things you just need to put up with. It says in Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.”
I remember I was on a mission trip in Poland and we arrived at the airport hours and hours early. Good thing too because of the 15 metal detector sites they had there in Poland only one of them was working or operating. I don't know, the others might have worked fine, but they only wanted one to work. And there was a line as far as the eye could see, and those people were highly agitated. I wasn't, because I was okay with the five hours. I didn't wanna spend all five hours standing in line, but if that happened, I was still gonna make my plane flight, I was fine with it. But there were some people highly agitated.
I noticed that the guards didn't seem too disturbed by it, one way or the other. I think they actually took a secret delight in it, because they had the metal detector set at its most extreme sensitivity. I know because I set it off, I usually don't take my belt buckle off, it's usually fine. I took that off, I took, I was trying to take the rivets out of my jeans - It was nothing left for me to take out.
But I kept setting it off. I wondered if my fillings were setting it off and I didn't know what to do about that. There's nothing I could do. Come to find out that there was a piece of foil from a gum, piece of gum, that I had in my breast pocket and when I took it out, I went through, I was alright with it. I was thinking I was looking for the knob I was sure was up at 100 percent.
Now, this is a bit of a parable for what we must not do with each other friends, we must not be so sensitive that everything's an issue of confrontation and going, dealing with something someone, an arched eyebrow, a tone of voice a little bit of an iciness a little bit of hesitation. Look, life is tough friends. It may have nothing to do with you. Overlook it, be gracious.
God will give you wisdom, he'll give you wisdom. You need that wisdom because there are some things you ought not to overlook in love, you ought not to overlook them. And you need wisdom through the Holy Spirit to know which is which. There's some things that ought not to be brought on the plane. They are a danger to the plane, they ought not to be brought on to the plane. And there are some things that ought not to be in a church or in an individual, and so God will give you wisdom to know what to do.
Step #2: Go in Private and Show Him His Sin
So let's say the Lord has given you that wisdom and it's time to go, you need to go, Jesus says, "Go show him his fault just between the two of you. Now, interestingly here, the burden is on the person who is sinned against to take the initiative. The person who sinned against is the one who is to go and show him his fault.
But in Matthew 5, it's exactly the opposite. There, you are the offending party, you're the one who's committed the sin. Remember “If you're offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Settle matters quickly, Jesus said.
So there he's actually then working on both ends of the equation, Both ought to go, if there's been some kind of an incident or an issue. Both of them ought to go. Either way, the thing has to be addressed. He really wants it to be addressed. Now, before you go, I think, bringing in some other scriptures, there's some things I think you ought to do. In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “Do not judge or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged. And with the measure you use, it'll be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank that's in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there's a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”
Now, what is Jesus dealing with? He's dealing with sin, he's dealing with a brother going to another brother dealing with the issue of sin. But what is he saying? First look to yourself. Look to yourself. And I would say there are two things, two character traits that a godly person who goes to a sinning brother or sister should display openly and obviously. The two traits are humility and gentleness. Those are the two key traits.
Humility means recognize that you, yourself, are a sinner. I think the plank in the eye could be many things, but I think it definitely relates to our own sin and to our perception of our own sin and to the fact that we really can see much more clearly our own sin than we can ever see anybody else's sin. And that we recognize that the very issue we're going for, we are fully capable of doing that same thing. That's a gospel humility that's worked in you before you ever go.
And secondly, gentleness. If you have something in your eye, and you can't get it out, you do want someone to come and help you with it. But may they not come boldly, may they not come with aggression and toughness: “I only have so much time. Let's get that thing out of there.” You can't do that. The eye is very sensitive, Perhaps the most sensitive part of the surface of the body, very sensitive. And so I would urge that you come with gentleness.
And it's fascinating to me that these same character traits are talked about in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are a spiritual should restore him gently watching yourselves lest you also be tempted.” There it is, a genuine humility, you're not a hypocrite, and gentleness.
So, that should happen before you ever go; but, when you go, what are you doing? Your brother sins against you. In Matthew 18, what are you doing? Well, it says, “Go and show him his fault,” or “reprove him.” Now, this word has to do, I think, almost like a court case where you are presenting evidence of the issue. You're presenting historical evidence - let me speak more plainly - what happened, the thing that was said, the thing that was done, etcetera. And you're also presenting biblical evidence, this is a sin because etcetera. How you do it, it's your own personality, but these are the things you're going to be discussing. What happened and what the Bible says about it.
You're gonna go reprove him, you're gonna go show him the faults and the goal of that is resolution. If he listens to you, it says you won your brother over. So your goal is to win back the brother or the sister, in Christ to repentance, into good relationship with you. That's the goal.
Now on their part, they ought to be looking at humility big time, at this moment, this is a moment to be humble. If a brother or sister in Christ ever comes to you with this kind of a case, and you thought you were sinless and perfect up to that moment, you will get reintroduced to your base primary sin and that's pride. Quickly, it'll come right away. What you do at that moment shows whether you are wise or a fool; a wise person or a fool.
It really is, it's covered again and again in the Book of Proverbs, Psalms says in 141:5, “Let a righteous man strike me, it is a kindness. Let him rebuke me, it is oil on my head, my head will not refuse it.” Bring it on. I think one of the key differences then between a Christian and a non-Christian is the humility that comes at moments like this, the Christian is actually eager and ready to believe that there's far more sin in them that they can see and that they need help and any help they can get, they're willing to receive it. Maybe that's not their knee-jerk reaction, but they know that that's their home base, they want the sin out of their lives, they want the help.
We have blind spots, and so the fool and the wise man part company here. Proverbs 9:8, says, “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.” And Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge but he who hates correction is stupid.” Well, that's blunt isn't it? You should embrace this, you should thank the person. It's oil on your - That was a good thing back in those days - oil on the head. That's like being anointed. It's a good thing. You will not refuse it, takes humility to repent quickly when someone shows you your fault and it is your responsibility to do so. Save the church a lot of trouble please, repent quickly. Repent from as much as you possibly can repent from repent, and do it wholeheartedly, but do it quickly.
C.J. Mahaney's book on humility carries with it this account showing how we have these blind spots, and we need help. Maybe you've read his book, it's a delightful little book, I love it. But this is what he wrote. Just an incident he remembers, “As I sat with my family at a local breakfast establishment, I noticed a finely dressed man at an adjacent table: His Armani suit and stiffly pressed shirt coordinated perfectly with a power tie. His wing-tip shoes sparkled from a recent shine, every hair was in place, including his perfectly groomed mustache. The man sat alone eating a bagel as he prepared for a meeting. And as he reviewed the papers before him, he appeared nervous glancing frequently at his Rolex watch. It was obvious he had an important meeting ahead. The man stood up and I watched as he straightened his tie and prepared to leave. Immediately I noticed a blob of cream cheese attached to his finely groomed mustache. He was about to go into the world, dressed in his finest with a blob of cream cheese on his face. I thought of the business meeting he was about to attend. Who would tell him about the cream cheese? Should I? What if no one did?”
Friends, we all have cream cheese moments. Have you ever had any? You know what I'm talking about? Blind spots. Do you have anyone in your life who'll tell you the truth other than your spouse. Of course he or she will. Part of the ministry, right? Part of the ministry. And it's a good thing, it's a good thing, but do you have anyone else who will tell you the truth? Is this church a truth telling church? Are we characterized by the kind of truth telling that the Lord wants us to have here in Matthew 18. That's the burden on my heart today. Let's be that for each other.
Step #3 (If Needed!!): Take Witnesses and Try Again
Now, step three, if sadly needed, you take witnesses and try again. Verse 16, “If he will not listen, take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Alright, suppose the person doesn't listen. They harden their hearts, they dig in their heels, they're not listening. You're not getting anywhere.
So now you bring somebody along and now already it's getting serious. It was just a private matter between just the two of you. Now, it's becoming more public and the use of witnesses seems a bit ominous. It's almost like the final court case is already getting arranged and there are gonna be witnesses about what was done, what was said, how it was handled. So that any false accusations can be refuted by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Legally in the Law of Moses no one could be condemned without two or three witnesses, and therefore this step is preparation for the final trial before the church. Christ is directly quoting Deuteronomy 19:15, “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offence he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
Practically, though, these witnesses can bring a different perspective, maybe a different way a more winsome way or a different way of bringing about peace being a peacemaker. And perhaps that can happen as well. Remember, the goal is still the same, and that is repentance of the sinner and full reconciliation of the offended parties so that they can be in good relationship with one another.
Step #4 (If Needed!!): Tell It to the Church, Still Trying to Win Him
Step four, if sadly needed, you tell it to the church. Still, however, trying to win the individual. “If he refuses to listen to them,” says Jesus, “tell it to the church.” This, I believe, is referring to the local assembly of covenant believers. We'll talk more about that next time. But they know who they are, they know who's on the inside. He uses 1 Corinthians 5 language, not the outsiders. You're talking about people on the inside in the community, tell it to them. This is the local church and here we see clearly the authority of the congregation. That's why I am congregational in my Polity. This is probably the prime passage on that, that the final court of appeals is the congregation. It's not the elders, it's no other people, it's the church, the local congregation.
Notice again that the goal is still persuasion. The church is assembled, hearing the case, and seeks to win the sinner over to repentance. We know this because the final step comes only if he will not listen to the church. So even at that final meeting, however stressful and tense, the goal is still, will you repent brother, sister? Will you come back? Now again the final court of appeals, the congregation, the elders, I think have a leadership role in that very much so, but the congregation must make the final decision.
Step #5 (If Needed!!): Treat Him as a Pagan or Tax Collector
Step five, if even more sadly needed, you treat him as you would have a pagan or a tax collector. Look at verse 17, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” It's the final step of church discipline, expulsion from the membership of the church. From then on, they're not seen as a member of the church.
And we're gonna cover this more next week, much more clearly in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul says, in verse 4-5, “Shouldn't you have been filled with grief and have put out of your assembly the man who did this?” Verse 4 and 5 of that same chapter, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus, and I'm with you in spirit, and the power of the Lord Jesus is present, then hand this man over to Satan,” he said. And then at the end of that passage, “Expel the wicked man from among you.” It's very clear, there's no doubt.
It's a devastating step and listen to what Jesus is saying here, “Treat him as you would a pagan.” Basically the church in church discipline is saying, “We think that you're unconverted. We think that you're unregenerate.” Very serious. And why? Because repentance and faith is characteristic of a believer, this person just won't repent, won't repent, won't repent. And so the church assembled is saying, we think that you're an unbeliever.
This is the most significant thing that could ever happen to a person in this world spiritually. That a local body could be testifying negatively, they don't think that you're a Christian. If that should ever happen to you, and may it never happen to you, but if that should ever happen to you, the issue of your relationship with Jesus should be priority one, until it's resolved. Don't blow it off, don't make light of the discipline of the Lord, deal seriously with it.
Notice two other things, that the medieval practice of burning the heretic is rejected here. Now, we don't really need to go into much detail, we don't do that now. I might add through Baptist influence on the history of our country. We can talk about that another day, but it's true. Alright? Separation of church and state, a Baptist idea. But the idea is we don't kill heretics. This is the last thing we do. We expel them from the congregation. That's it, there's nothing more. And we continue to hope and to pray for their repentance that they might turn back and then they can rejoin, more on that in a moment. But the final act is this issue of church discipline. There's no physical or corporal punishment, or whipping or burnings or any of the stuff they did in the Middle Ages so wrongly.
Again, the Presbyterian model of a higher court of appeals beyond the congregation is not in view here, either. Final act is done by the local church. 2 Corinthians 2:6, it says, “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him.” It implies that it's a vote, a majority vote. And if the majority of the church thinks he ought not to be a church member any longer, he isn't. That's how it works.
And treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector, consider him unregenerate. We're gonna say next week, very plainly, don't associate yourself intimately with him. There are exceptions, of course, if you have a pre-standing biological or marital relationship with him, that's a different issue. We'll talk about that next time, but with such a man do not even drink.
The Whole Time: Prayer, Prayer, Prayer
And yet at the same time, there's a yearning to seek repentance and restoration. Eventually, even the 1 Corinthians 5, sinner it seems repented and came back. More on that next time. And the whole time prayer, prayer and more prayer. Saturating the issue in prayer, more on that in a moment.
The Authority of the Church
The Authority of the Church to Discipline
Jesus then next talks about the authority of the church to do this. You might say, what right do you have to do this? That right is even questioned legally these days. There are legal issues. Does a church have even the right to do this? Well, let's not worry about the laws of the state. Let's first just deal with the laws of the Bible. Does the church have the right to do this? And the answer is clearly it does.
Binding and Loosing
In verse 18, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This is a Rabbinic expression having to do with leadership and spiritual matters. Binding is to utter a restriction in a spiritual matter. Loosing is to state liberty in a spiritual matter, binding and loosing.
Jesus says this authority is given to the church. But I believe and I think it's right to see this authority as delegated. It's a delegated authority from heaven down. The grammar, the Greek grammar actually implies this. You really could literally read it this way: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be having already been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be having already been loosed in heaven.”
All we are is the mouthpiece. God does the binding and loosing. He does the forgiving or not forgiving. We're the ones that just declare the state to the individuals. Just like in John 20, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone their sins, they're forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Again, who can forgive sins but God alone? But it's our job based on their statements, based on the scripture, based on what's going on to say your sins are forgiven or your sins are not forgiven. So you have that the congregation has the authority to bind and loose in these matters of sin and discipline. Yes, not just the right, but I would say the responsibility to follow this track.
The Effectual Prayer of the Church
What about prayer, the effectual prayer of the church? Well this process can be quite difficult, it's not pleasant. There is entrenched sin all the way along the line. And the people who are bringing about the discipline are not perfect people either and they can be open to accusations. The whole thing could be very difficult. I would urge and I think the text urges that there'd be a super saturation here in prayer, lots of prayer.
Only God Can Transform the Heart
Only God can change a sinner's heart. God alone has the power of repentance, to give as a gift. 2 Timothy 2, it says, in verse 25-26, “Those who oppose the man of God, he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who's taken them captive to do his will.” And so the desire is God please grant him or her repentance. Turn their hearts, O Lord please give it to them and there's this prevailing prayer, saturating prayer for ourselves and for the individual.
“Two or Three”: Both in Confrontation and in Prayer
Now, I think that this passage is about prayer, I just don't think it's only about prayer. When it says “If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven,” what could this be other than prayer? It's definitely talking about prayer.
But then there's that issue of authority for “two or three come together in my name there, am I with them.” So the idea is when the witnesses go, the two or three that are going, Jesus is there authoritatively in their midst. They're really dealing with Jesus there, all the way through. So it's both authority, and also prayer. God is willing eager to hear prayer about this, pray for the sinner that God would turn them back and that grace would triumph.
Now, next week, we're gonna talk about the motives and purposes and some practicalities of church discipline and questions that people frequently have. And our text there will be 1 Corinthians 5. What applications can we take for this?
Hunger and Thirst for Holiness
First of all, from the very beginning of the sermon can I urge you to hunger and thirst for holiness? Our hunger and thirst for righteousness, hunger and thirst for it. It's the happiest state you can possibly have. It characterizes God, you should yearn for it. And not just in your own life but because you love a brother or sister, you yearn for their holiness too.
Think of Love Differently
And secondly I urge you, please think about love differently. Love isn't some sentimental romantic thing that - well, it can be sentimental and romantic, ought to be from time to time, but not like this, concerning this. You need to think about love differently. Is it loving to leave a brother or sister in Christ, in some kind of bondage, to sin. Is that loving? Is it loving for a mother to see a tick embedded in the back of their toddler and make no effort to pull it out? Is that love? “Oh, the process is gonna be painful.” No, that's not love, it's not love friends.
And we had to go through this issue here in this church. I remember it distinctly. And there were open questions about whether it was even love, loving to vote someone off the membership role. “In love we oughta leave them on.” That is not loving friends. For able-bodied people who are just never coming to church to be constantly reassured that that's all right. It isn't all right. And it isn't loving to leave them so deluded. It's not love. We need to think about love differently.
Yearn for This, Pray that God would Develop it Here at FBC
We need to yearn for this kind of thing to happen in this church, the way Christ intended it. The way Christ intended it. That we would be bold and loving, as elders. Pray for the elders that we be bold in loving in leading the church and striving after holiness. Pray for yourselves to embrace your role and responsibility. The elders could only make a recommendation to the church. If you reject this teaching, Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5, you'll never vote anyone out of the church, the church will become unholy. It's your job as the congregation to accept this teaching as right and biblical and say yes, we will do this, we want to do this.
Now, pray also as you pray for this that we would be properly balanced. Many churches have nothing to do with this at all, at all, at all, at all. They don't do any of this. More about that next week, but they do nothing about it. Other churches go too far into legalism. They've got that 100 percent metal detector thing and everything becomes an issue of judgmentalism and legalism. And it's sin. And Satan works both of them, Satan's working both of them, really, because he doesn't want the church to do this, he makes this appear repugnant so that they don't do that.
And I think that's actually what did happen 100 years ago. Most churches were doing discipline 100 years ago, Baptist churches anyway, but then it got legalistic. It got extreme and now they don't do it at all, many. So pray for the right balance, sweet balance.
Be Humble if You are Confronted
And if you're ever confronted, if somebody comes to you, be humble, welcome it, don't dig in your heels. Accept it, learn from it, listen to it, be genuinely thankful if somebody comes, even if they don't get it all right or you don't think they were particularly gentle. They probably won't look particularly gentle to you at that moment but they might have been trying to be gentle, as best that they know how. Don't worry about their demeanor. Look at what they're saying and say, “Lord is there some truth in it?”
If You Go, Go for the Right Reasons and in the Right Way
And then finally, if you go, please go for the right reasons, and in the right way. Seek to win your brother over, go for the glory of God, the purity of his church. Go out of love, not out of vindictiveness. Go with deep humility and brokenheartedness and go saturated in prayer.
We come now to a time of celebration of the Lord's Supper, and this is really a good opportunity for us to look at the issue of indwelling sin, to look at the issue of what's going on in my life. The Bible says that we ought to look inward in our own hearts and assess ourselves to see if there's any sin in us, when we come to the table, and resolve to make it right. This is not for sinless people there are no sinless people, it's for sinners.
We believe that this is for those that have testified to saving faith by water baptism, which you saw earlier today. So that if you have come to faith in Christ, and have testified to that by water baptism, as a believer, you're welcome to the Lord's Supper. Please come. And if you have never trusted in Christ, do not take from the Lord's Supper. It's not for you yet. But my prayer is that you will trust in the Lord Jesus, you'll look to the cross of Christ and to his blood shed on the cross as sufficient for your sins and come to faith in Christ, and be able to partake next time. Please, if you would, close this part of the service in prayer.