[Pentecost 16]  Matthew 18:15-20  J.D. Roekle

 

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But 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.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

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.

19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” 

 

Being Your Brother’s Keeper

 

Dear friends in Christ,

          A man is casually watering his front lawn.  His neighbor comes by and points out to him: “Roy, is that smoke coming out of your house.”  “Oh that?” he answers, “That’s just a little fire.”  The woman persists: “Aren’t you going to do something?” “Nah,” says Roy, “I’m just going to wait and see what happens.”  The woman then gets more forceful: “Roy, your house is on fire! Dial 911.”  “I don’t want to bother anyone.  It will just cause a big commotion.”  As the woman runs off, she says frantically “I gotta get some help!” 

          The illustration may seem a little absurd, but the main point of it is that sometimes people tend to ignore the obvious.  They ignore the signs that something is seriously wrong.  When they do that, how do you react?  Do you ignore it along with them, or do you warn them?  If you see a car barreling down the road approaching an intersection just as a person is crossing the road, unaware of the car, what do you do?  Do you say: I don’t want to get involved.  I would hope that you would call out to the person crossing the road and warn him of the impending danger. 

          God’s work for you in the Church is really no different than that.  When you see a fellow Christian in spiritual danger, you are to warn that person about it.  In his Church, God has made you your brother’s keeper.  Let’s take some time here to understand what that means for you. 

 

          When Jesus uses the term ‘brother’ in the opening verse of this text, he isn’t speaking about a natural relationship you have at birth.  He is talking about the relationship that you have with other people who are now a part of the family of God.  People who are also God’s children.  People who are your brothers and sisters by faith in Christ.  This relationship with fellow Christians is special, and you want to treat it as such. 

          As in all your relationships, there are things that tend to get between you and a fellow believer.  Something that interferes with the relationship you have as a brother or sister in Christ with someone else. The specific interfering culprit is sin

          Sometimes a fellow Christian may sin against you in some way.  Or they may have committed a sin in general and they don’t think it’s a big deal.  Jesus teaches you here how you are to deal with that person and his sin. 

          You could choose to ignore it.  Maybe it will just go away. Is that a good idea?  You don’t think it’s your business, so you could choose to wait for that person to come to you. Is that what you should do?  That’s not what Jesus says.  He commands you: GO! 

          “Go and show him his fault.”  Now don’t misunderstand what Jesus is saying here.  We all have faults.  We all have shortcomings.  Jesus isn’t saying that you should go to every Christian you know and point those things out.  Jesus is speaking about sin.  A specific sin that was committed against you either directly or indirectly, and that your brother or sister has not repented of.  He doesn’t look on it as a sin, and hasn’t sought Jesus’ forgiveness.  That person may still be blatantly in that sin, not turning away from it.  If that sin isn’t addressed, just think what could potentially happen to that person’s soul!  Think about how that sin will eat at and erode that person’s faith.  If you’re the only fellow believer who knows about it, then God makes you responsible to go

          And as you go, Jesus has special instructions for you.  Show him his sin “just between the two of you.”  Jesus wants this to be a private matter.  At least at first.  And yet, what often times is your first reaction when you feel you have been wronged by someone?  Talk to everyone about it and let them know!  Everyone, that is, except for the person who offended you.  But Jesus wants you to swallow your pride.  He wants you to practice humility and keep it just between two people: you AND the person who offended you. 

          Not many of you like confrontation.  In fact, many back away from it.  When approaching a brother or sister about their sin, you want to approach them without being confrontational.  Don’t approach them in anger, but in love.  Let your heart be evident as you let them know that you are approaching them by the Savior’s command and with the heart of the Savior in mind. 

          And doing this with the love of Christ in mind should remind you to be persistent.  We each sin often.  Daily.  With everything that we are.  And yet, God is persistently there, reminding us of our sin, and then reminding us of his love in Christ for us.  He reminds us that Christ never did sin against anyone.  He reminds us too, that his death signified that all our sins against everyone else, in fact all our sins period, have been forgiven.  Wiped away.  You need a constant reminder of that.

          In view of the persistence of your loving God, be encouraged to do the difficult work of approaching a Christian brother or sister when they have sinned.  When you point out their sin, and they refuse to repent, don’t give up!  Keep at it.  Go back again.  When it becomes clear that they won’t listen to you alone, Jesus outlines further steps to take.  He talks about taking 2 or 3 witnesses along to be with you as you approach the person about their sin.  And if that doesn’t work, at some point you may need to get the church involved.  You can do that by talking to the pastor, or one of the elders or other leaders. 

          We certainly all pray that it doesn’t have to go that far.  But if it does, the church must be ready to deal with the sinner as Jesus said: “if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”  That’s the very hard but necessary work that is called excommunication. 

          And why does the church have that practice?  Well, because Jesus commands it as a necessary thing.  But why does he do that?  Are there some people that he just doesn’t really like?  That’s not what the Bible tells us.  “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”  Remember that everything he does in relation to us is out of love for us.  And this is no different.  His object in cutting off the sinner from the Church is to serve as a wakeup call for the sinner.  And how sweet it is when a sinner repents so that the Church can announce forgiveness and welcome the sinner back into her family. 

          Now, this is difficult work.  Whether the Church is involved or not, it is hard.  But the work starts with each of you being a brother or sister to each other.  It isn’t that you should go looking for someone else’s sin.  But sometimes, you can’t miss it.  That’s when you need to listen to Jesus’ command and go. 

But because it’s difficult work, the excuses in your mind will come.  “I don’t want to push them away.”  If you don’t address the sin now, then keep in mind what can potentially happen.  You could remain close here, bet then separated for eternity.

          “Who am I to judge?”  Remember who the real judge is.  It is God. And remember that we confess that Jesus is returning to judge the living and the dead.  You don’t want that person to be on the wrong side of God’s judgment! 

          “It’s not that bad.  God will understand and forgive them.”  Do you realize that this is the same rationalization that this person is using?  Remember that you aren’t addressing a bad habit.  You are addressing sin.  Never minimize sin.  Keep in mind that sin that is left unaddressed can eat away at a person’s faith until their faith in Christ is gone.  

          Whenever the excuses come, wipe them away with a focus on why Jesus gave the command to ‘go’ in the first place.  His goal is to allow you to be able to tell that person that they are forgiven and restored to his family. 

 

          Will you always be successful?  You know that you won’t.  Will you sometimes fail to go?  Yes, you probably already have.  Remember that you live under God’s grace.  Keep in mind the love that God has for you in Christ.  You too are forgiven for any lack of love you have shown for a fellow Christian when you’ve failed to address their sin.    You too are forgiven of every transgression you have committed against the Law of God. 

          But don’t let the knowledge and comfort of that forgiveness be an excuse not to go.  God will forgive me if I don’t talk to my brother or sister about the problem.  Instead, let the knowledge and comfort of that forgiveness be the motivating factor to go.  You have peace with God because of it.  Don’t you want the same for your brother or sister in Christ?  Amen.