10 September 2017Matthew 18:15-20
”If another member of the church sins against you…” (v. 15)
Psalm: Psalm 119:33-40
We sometimes forget that the Gospels were written not as the events of Jesus' life were occurring, but some few years later as his followers were becoming somewhat more formalised and beginning to be the start of the Church of which we are a part.
In this passage Matthew's Gospel (speaking to those who have come to faith from a Jewish background) is setting in place a formula for the congregation, a formula which goes beyond what they would have been used to growing up within the exclusiveness of Jewish society. They were perhaps somewhat entrenched in this viewpoint, something which was clearly not seen in the life and ministry of Jesus, and so the Gospel seems to be encouraging them to seek a new way forward for the Church.
The previous verses (Matthew 18:10-14) demonstrate an openness which would have been unfamiliar to them in their previous more restrained life within the Jewish faith. They would have been familiar with a tradition that excluded certain occupations and even certain nationalities from being within God's grace, and Matthew seems keen to encourage a more open understanding within the community to whom the Gospel is written. However, seemingly, there comes a time when those in a leadership position would have to challenge the person who was in conflict with their fellows within the community, and, whereas in the past it would have been a case of just telling that person they were no longer welcome there. Now we have a new formula in an effort to get past the difficulties involved and enable all to move on in fellowship together.
The passage sets out a very straightforward pattern. First of all the person who has been offended seeks to find a solution one-to-one with the offender - one that hopefully will be sufficient. If this does not work then others are brought into the situation as witnesses so that the offender can perhaps see how the offence has occurred and can make amends.And if this fails, Matthew suggests they do as the Jewish faith would have done, and take the drastic action of expelling the person from the community of which they have been a part, using the example of Jewish restrictions about Gentiles (non-Jews) and, ironically in the case of Matthew, tax collectors. Matthew 16:19 would seem to justify this treatment of the person concerned, "whatever you bind [forbid] on earth shall be bound [forbidden] in heaven, and whatever you loose [allow] on earth will be loosened [allowed] in heaven". Words that are repeated in verse 18.
- Are there situations within the Christian Churches of which we are familiar where such harsh judgement could or should be made? What might they be?
- Is one of the reasons that Church attendances seem to be decreasing the fact that they are beginning to be seen as an exclusive body where sinners are no longer welcome? Why? Or why not?
- To what extent is the formula set out in Matthew's Gospel as valid within the Church today as it was at the time of the Early Church?