04 September 2011

"If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. ... For, where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (vv. 15, 20)


The disciples had seen Jesus in a new light after a trip up the mountain where they had seen him in all his holiness, and where God had told them to listen to him (Matthew 17:1-7). Now, Matthew is telling us what it was that Jesus told them during that time. What does Jesus focus on? - how members of God's flock should behave towards one another. They need to cut out their own sin.

But what about when other people in the church sin against them? How should a disciple respond when they are hurt by another disciple's sin?

Jesus tells his disciples to get it sorted. If they have been wronged, then they shouldn't keep quiet and let the resentment build up inside them. It may well be that the person who's hurt them doesn't even know they've done anything wrong. They need to be given a chance to say sorry.

There's a three-step approach:

  • The first step is to deal with it quietly - just between the two of them. He Jesus tells them that "If the member (of the church) listens to you, you have regained that one" (v. 15). (He's just beforehand talked about sheep wandering off and being lost.)
  • Only if they refuse to listen should others be involved - and then, only in the presence of the person who is at fault (verse 16).
  • A public trial in front of the whole church should be the last resort (verse 17), and based on the testimony of the witnesses (as in the Jewish teaching of (Deuteronomy 19:15)).

If the person still refuses to listen, and amend their ways, then they clearly are no longer welcome in the flock of a holy God. Jesus says they are like the Gentiles (those from non-Jewish nations who were not allowed into God's presence in the Jews' temple) or tax-collectors (those who had collaborated with the Roman occupiers against their own Jewish brothers and sisters). And he reminds them that if the church expels someone in this way, they do it with heavenly authority - because he is with them in their conversations.


To Ponder

Is the church a 'club for saints' or a 'school for sinners'? If it's a school, how long do we give for the lessons to be learned?

How should Christians act if they hear people in the church gossiping about someone else's failings 'behind their back'?


What stops them from doing this? Or what should stop them? If you are a member of the church, how open are you to being told you have hurt someone and saying 'Sorry'?


Bible notes author: The Revd Neil Cockling

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