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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:If Your Brother Sins Against You
Text:Matthew 18:15-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Safely Through Another Week

When Peace Like a River            

How Good and Pleasant Is the Sight 

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“If Your Brother Sins Against You…”
Matthew 18:15-20
We sing, “Blest be the tie that binds, our hearts in Christian love; The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” And that bond is a great blessing. There is no greater bond in this life than the bond that we have as believers. We are one with the Lord through His gift of saving faith to us, and we are one with each other. We are members of the same family of faith sharing our mutual comforts and cares.
But even though we have this precious bond of faith, conflict among Christians is inevitable.  Although we are saved, although we are spotless in the righteousness of Christ, we yet have this indwelling sin within us. Many translations of the Bible call it “the flesh.” It is that sinful nature of rebellious Adam with which we are born. That nature – that “original sin” – stays with us until the day we die. 
In fact, one of the blessings of physical death is that at physical death, we finally quit sinning. Only then is our sanctification complete as we are brought into the glorious presence of our God pure, not only in principle, but in practice. And then we will be spotless in principle and practice throughout all eternity.
But in the meantime, before we reach the perfection of heaven, we face that inevitable conflict. Perhaps a Christian brother or sister gossips about you or pulls a shady deal that affects your finances, or tries to tempt you with immoral actions. Any number of other scenarios can happen among believers in the church. If it were an unbeliever, it would be easier to understand that they would sin against you. But Jesus emphasizes in verse 15 “If your brother sins against you…” 
What often happens in a church when one member sins against another? The person who has been sinned against tells everyone else what happened. They try to retaliate since, after all, they were sinned against. And often they call the pastor and try to get him involved. Early in my ministry I fell for that one. Someone from the congregation called me and said, “So and So did this against me, will you go talk to them?” 
I was fresh out of seminary. I wanted to facilitate peace in the church, so I went and got caught right in the middle of a very unpleasant situation. I learned from the school of hard knocks what I should have learned by this very clear teaching of Jesus: If your brother or sister sins against you first go – not the pastor, not the elders or a delegation of your friends – but you go, one on one, and speak with that person.
The reason we are to go, one-on-one to speak to the person who sinned against us, is because Jesus commands us to. And he has good reason for that command, for that is the most likely way that the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin. But as we approach someone who has sinned against us, our demeanor – the attitude we have in approaching them – will make a tremendous difference. If we follow the approach drawn from Scripture we will speak the truth – not in a harsh, self-serving way, but we will speak the truth in love. 
Another reason to go one on one is that you may discover that the person who you think sinned against you, didn’t. How quickly we can misunderstand the actions or words of others! Our skin is often very thin, and we may think we were sinned against when in reality we just have a misunderstanding with a brother or sister in Christ. 
Also, as you meet with the person you believe has sinned against you, you need to realize that the purpose of the meeting is their spiritual good. We are by nature self-centered, so our minds quickly think about how we can get justice for ourselves since we were wronged when this person sinned against us. But Jesus is teaching here that we are to confront the one who sinned so that they see the error of their way, repent, and are restored to a proper relationship – not only with you – but with God. As Jesus says in verse 15, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
The Testimony of Two or Three Witnesses
But suppose you don’t win him or her over. Suppose that this person who sinned against you refuses to acknowledge that they sinned against you, then what do you do?  In verse 16 Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 19:15, 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.’”
Having a matter established between two or three witnesses is a principle that runs throughout Scripture. A judgment that is made isn’t your word against someone else’s word, or vice versa, rather it is to be verified by witnesses. Thus we read in Deuteronomy 17:6, On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.”
When you go back with one or two witnesses you impress upon them that the purpose is to restore the one who sinned against you by causing them to admit their sin, confess it, and be forgiven. Again, the purpose isn’t that you are repaid in some way for the wrong that was done to you. It is not a matter of retaliation. Instead, you confront the person who sinned with their spiritual welfare in mind. 
By bringing witnesses you also get a different perspective on what has happened. Quite possibly your witnesses will see that you have made a mountain out of a mole hole. Or, on the other hand, they may be persuasive in showing the person who hurt you, their sin. They may be able to cast some light on the situation that brings a resolution of repentance and reconciliation.
However, if this person who sinned against you still refuses to acknowledge their sin and repent of it, then you are to bring the matter to the church, specifically the elders of the church for they have spiritual oversight of the congregation. Jesus teaches us, in verse 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.”
The reason you go to the elders is because God has given them the responsibility of overseeing the congregation. When Paul gave his farewell to the Ephesians elders, as recorded in Acts 20:28, he said: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Likewise, Peter, in 1 Peter 5:2, tells elders that they are to be faithful overseers of the flock entrusted to their care, that is, the local congregation. 
This passage, as it teaches us how to deal in a practical way with another Christian who has sinned against us, also teaches us the importance of church discipline. Verse 18 is directly linked to verse 17 in that Jesus is here telling His disciples that what they do has heavenly – that is, eternal, consequences. He says, “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.”
We read the same language of binding and loosing in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus said to Peter, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
That language springs from the court of law. To bind someone in a court of law is to find them guilty. To loose someone from court is to acquit the person of what they were charged with. For instance, when someone who is accused of a crime is acquitted, they are – in the biblical language of the first century – “loosed” from court.
What Jesus is teaching in these verses is a deep and profound truth: Elders are entrusted with the spiritual oversight of the congregation and their decisions in bringing discipline or in pronouncing an acquittal of discipline have eternal ramifications. That should give us some indication of just how important church discipline really is.
Reformed churches have invariably stressed that there are three marks of a true church. Some other Christian denominations have stressed two marks. Many churches are in agreement that the preaching of the Word is a mark of the true church. A second mark is the proper and faithful use of the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and holy baptism. But while some churches end the marks of the true church there, Reformed churches have invariably added the third mark – discipline, as a sign that a church is true and faithful.
The Necessity of Church Discipline
Church discipline is important for many reasons, including these three: First, we need to deal with sin in the church by exercising biblical discipline for the purity of the church. The church, after all, is the very Bride of Christ. Paul expressed that in his second letter to the Corinthian Church. He warned them about false teaching in this way: I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2-3). Because the church is the bride of Christ, we are always to seek the purity of the church by guarding ourselves from false teaching and dealing with sin in a proper biblical manner when it crops up in a local congregation.
Another reason why church discipline is so important is because by proper church discipline we seek to honor Christ, for He is the one who sacrificed Himself for the church. Jesus shed His blood for the church. He sacrificed His life for His Bride. Is it right then for us to tolerate sin within the church? For the honor of Christ, we seek the purity of His Bride.
A third reason for church discipline is the restoration of the sinner. Sometimes people look at church discipline thinking that the members of the church are using it to retaliate against someone who hurt them, or to show themselves to be better than the person under discipline, or to exercise power because the elders or the pastor want everything under their control.
But those are all misconceptions. The purpose of church discipline is always to restore the sinner to a right relationship with the Lord and with others. It has often been pointed out that there is only one unforgivable sin: impenitence. Every other sin, no matter how heinous, gross, or repulsive it is, is forgivable. And just as we have been forgiven of all our heinous, gross, repulsive sins – and all sin fits that description and more – since we have been forgiven, we are to receive back the repentant sinner into fellowship in the church, just as the Lord receives the repentant sinner back to Himself.
Where Two or Three are Gathered
Another truth taught in these verses is the power of – and God’s blessing on – corporate prayer. Verse 19 may seem at first glance as though it contains a formula we can use to get whatever we want from the Lord. Jesus says, 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.”  
Far from teaching that we use a certain formula to get what we want from our heavenly Father, Jesus is teaching the power of prayer and His heavenly Father’s blessing on prayer. In this context He is focusing on the power and necessity of prayer for the person who has sinned against you, for yourself, and for the witnesses that may be involved. Such a prayer includes petitions for the elders and the whole church, asking that the situation be handled biblically and the sinner restored by repentance to the Lord and to the church.
Another truth that is taught with great clarity in these verses is the divinity of Jesus, evident by His omnipresence. In verse 20 Jesus says, For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” The context is still that of a brother who has sinned against you, but it is a principle that should give us encouragement in every area of life. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is always with His people. He is with us individually. He is with us when a large congregation gathers, and Jesus assures us that He will be with us when two or three come together.
His divinity is evident through His omnipresence. There is no place on this earth where we can go where the Spirit of Christ will not go with us. What the Psalmist said about the Spirit, in Psalm 139, is equally true concerning the Son of God, and God the Father. David wrote:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you. 
(Psalm 139:7-12)
In the evening, we rope off the back pews. We still have pretty good attendance in the evening. But even though our numbers are smaller in the evening than in the morning, the most important person is always with us. Christ, by His Spirit, is present with His people, even as He is seated at the right hand of God the Father in glory.
One commentator notes, “…However small the group or however insignificant we may think we are, we can know that the very God of the universe, even Jesus, is present with us. What can be more encouraging or comforting than that?” (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Mathhew, Vol. 2, pg. 393)
We often sing, “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above…” If someone sins against you and causes the tie that binds to be broken, don’t gloss over it, or tell everyone else about how you were sinned against. Don’t try to retaliate. Instead go to that person, prayerfully, kindly, yet firmly and lovingly, and seek to turn him or her from the error of their way.
You will find that you are blessed, regardless of whether that person listens to you or not, for you will be dealing with sin in a biblical way, living out the commands of Jesus who clearly teaches us what we are to do when a brother or sister in Christ sins against us. Amen.
Sermon outline:
“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.” – Matthew 18:15
                     “If Your Brother Sins Against You…”
                                     Matthew 18:15-20
I.  Because of our sin, conflict among Christians is inevitable, therefore
     Jesus teaches us the correct way to react when another Christian –
     “your brother” or sister in Christ – sins against you:
     1) We are to go to him or her alone, one on one, seeking their
          spiritual good, not bringing the matter up with anyone else (15)
     2) If he or she refuses to listen, we are to return with one or two
          witnesses (16; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15)
     3) If the person still refuses to listen, we are to bring the matter to
          the elders of the church (17)
II. This passage also teaches:
     1) The importance of church discipline (18)
     2) The power of prayer (19)
     3) The divinity of Jesus, evident by His omnipresence (20)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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