This Sunday

THIS SUNDAY (July 2nd) in worship (8:00 and 10:30). Rick will finish off Matthew 18 by looking at verses 21-35, the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor. We will look at what Jesus says about forgiveness and why we so often struggle to forgive others. We will also celebrate communion this Sunday.

YOUTH GROUPS AND AWANA have now wrapped for the summer. The High School youth will meet this Sunday at 5:30 at Rick’s home.

SUNDAY SCHOOL is 9:15-10:15 am.

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Last Week's Sermon

Dealing with Problems in the Body

I suspect most people who have been in the church for any length of time have witnessed conflict in the church. Sometimes the conflict is brief and minor. However, at other times, the conflict can be destructive and drawn out. Churches have split. People have walked away from the faith. And the reputation of the Kingdom of God is diminished.

You probably have also witnessed an increasing secularization in the church. In other words, the church doesn’t look significantly different from the rest of the world and therefor people conclude, “What is the value of the church?”

Mark Dever wrote,

Imagine this church: It is huge and is still growing numerically. People like it. The music is good. The people are welcoming. There are many exciting programs, and people are quickly enlisted into their support. And yet, the church, in trying to look like the world in order to win the world, has done a better job than it may have intended. It does not display the distinctively holy characteristics taught in the New Testament. Imagine such an apparently vigorous church being truly spiritually sick, with no remaining immune system to check and guard against wrong teaching or wrong living. Imagine Christians, knee-deep in recovery groups and sermons on brokenness and grace, being comforted in their sin but never confronted. Imagine those people, made in the image of God, being lost to sin because no one corrects them. Can you imagine such a church? Apart from the size, have I not described many of our American churches? (Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church , 186)-

This slide away from holiness and the conflict that often rages in the church is due to the church ignoring what Jesus tells us here in Matthew 18.

First, let’s read the text.

15 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

Add to this text Galatians 6:1 where Paul reiterates this,

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way, obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.  (Galatians 6:1–3.)

In the book of Leviticus, it is stated plainly even regarding family conflict,

17 “Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.

18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:17-18)

The Bible tells us to take the holiness of the church seriously. In both cases the words are directed toward Christians. (In other words, these instructions are for those who should share the same desire to be holy as the Lord is holy). We are given some very good principles for what is known as church discipline.

Confront the Issue Privately

The words “sins against you” may or may not be in the original words of Jesus. However, either way, it seems to be speaking not only of personal offenses but also sin we observe in another. The Galatians passage makes it clear that we are to be watching out for each other. This is not the creepy “peek into your windows” obsession. This is about a genuine regard for holiness in the body of Christ.

We are not told to address EVERYTHING that offends or annoys. In love, some offenses should simply be overlooked. We all have bad days. We all say stupid things on occasion. In these cases, we should be willing to overlook the offense rather than take offense. The Bible says this in several places: 

(Proverbs 12:16) A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent (or wise) man overlooks an insult.

(1 Peter 4:8) Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

(1 Corinthians 6:7-8) Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers.

We are to address behaviors that hurt the character and reputation of the church and those things which become a barrier between us.

Jesus tells us that we are to go FIRST to the person who is involved in this behavior. This is the opposite of what we often do. Often our first step is to marshal support with others. We talk to our friends, fellow believers, the leaders of the church, and even broadcast our concerns all over Facebook before we talk to the person involved! This is just a much sin a what the person did to you.

We should go first to the person with whom we have a problem for several reasons:

  • They may be unaware of the offense
  • You may have misunderstood what was said or done
  • It is easier to solve problems before others become involved. You and the person involved may work things out but the things that were said earlier will allow the problem to work like an infectious disease among others.

When we talk to others before we have talked to the person we feel offended by we are slandering them by saying negative things before we have clarified or given the other person a chance to respond or repent.

The more people involved, the more damaging and wide ranging the effect. This includes the Pastor and other leaders in the church. There is a tendency for people to “tattle” on each other. That is childish behavior! If you see a problem, don’t call the Pastor or anyone else to “share your prayer concern”. Go talk to the person directly, humbly, and with a desire to restore rather than to punish or diminish.

Our role is not to serve as policeman over other people. We should not be nosey or obtrusive. However, we should care enough that when we see a problem in the life of someone we go and talk with them about it. To obey the teaching of Jesus this all must be anchored in love.

Involve others only when necessary

Let’s suppose you do go and talk with someone but they are belligerent. They refuse to talk about the issue. Now, says Jesus, you must go back and get a couple of other people to return with you. These should be people who are wise fellow believers. Hopefully they are also people who have a relationship with this person. Together you talk to the person for the purpose of bringing them back into fellowship with Christ and the church. The hope is the person will see that this is a bigger deal than they thought it was. They would see the seriousness of their actions and repent.

If, says Jesus, these contacts are unsuccessful (and there may be more than one meeting individually or with the small group), then the only recourse is to enlist the entire body to bring corporate pressure.

Do you see the idea here? Sin is serious business! We should care more about a person’s spiritual “sickness” than we would care if they had cancer! If the person does not respond to the group, they are to be excluded from the church in the hope they will eventually repent and return to the fellowship of believers.

Let me give you a true example of what one church did. They discovered that one of their financial people was stealing money from the church. They were using the church credit card to pay personal bills and taking money from the offering. When the church leadership finally learned what was happening the amount was already in the $30,000 range. The Pastor talked to the person but they denied everything. The Pastor brought a couple of elders from the church and the paper evidence. The person admitted what they had done.

The church at this point could have had the person arrested and prosecuted but that was not their goal. They wanted to restore this person to right living with the Lord and the support of the church family. So, the church put the responsible people (the spouse had full knowledge of what was going on) in a new position in the church. Their job was to do work around the church to pay off the debt. They were also to remain active in the fellowship of the church. If either of the conditions were violated, they were told that they would be prosecuted.

Here was a church that took the sin seriously and handled it in the right way. Yes, the church would struggle for a while because of the financial hit. However, they had spared a member of their church family and were working hard to restore them to productive discipleship. It would have been easy to punish but instead they worked to restore their fellow believers. Because the matter was addressed by just a few in leadership it kept the problem from developing into something that would divide the church and tarnish their reputation in the community.

Unfortunately, this is not what usually happens. Either we bury our head in the sane and hope the problem just goes away (and it never does), or we enlist a “coalition army” before we even speak with the one who has caused (willingly or unwillingly) an offense!

Sometimes phones are buzzing, people are whispering in groups, conclusions are being drawn, and people are demonized BEFORE any attempt to talk to the person in the bullseye. And when we finally get around to talking to the offender, we are so worked up and there is so much emotion generated that we come into the discussion with a bazooka! We then tell others with great glee that the person was not very responsive.

How responsive are you when people come at you aggressively? I know I tend to duck and cover and enter battle-mode. I am not likely to hear what the person is saying because it doesn’t feel like it is being spoken in love; it feels like I am being ambushed!

Why is This So Rare? 

This is a difficult passage because we (I) prefer to avoid problems. We talk about it to others hoping someone else will confront the problem for us. We don’t want to go to others because we don’t want someone else coming to us if we sin. We have adopted a model of “live and let live”. Or better, we prefer the sniper approach to solving problems!

We know that in today’s world, if we excommunicated someone from the church (for godly reasons), that person would just go down the street and the new church would welcome them. Or, the person might sue the church and the church would likely be convicted of intolerance. However, I wonder if it would be better to be known as the church that holds to a standard of holiness or a church that doesn’t care what people are doing if they attend and put money in the plate!

If we truly care about each other we will adopt an attitude of accountability. In other words, we need to be willing for people to come and talk with us. At the same time, we must put away the bazookas and come to each other with caring hearts and open arms. Generally, if we adopt these attitudes, the process will work.

Church discipline is not about power and authority. It is about love that is willing to get involved. This is something that we each must commit to. If YOU are the one offended, YOU are supposed to go to the person with whom you have a problem. Most of the time no one else should ever need to be involved.

How do you know whether you should go and talk with someone? Here are some questions to ask before you go and talk to someone else,

  1. Is this an issue that has undermined my relationship with this person or is it detrimental to their spiritual walk with God or damaging to the church? If so, confront. If not, it may be something you just need to overlook or forgive.
  2. To what Scripture can I point to show why I am concerned?
  3. Do I have the right attitude? Is my desire to help the person or do I find subversive pleasure in confronting this individual? If the latter, then I need to skip confronting the other person and spend some time repenting of my own sin.
  4. Am I guilty of talking to others before I talk to the person involved? Have I truly gotten all the facts? Am I guilty of “stirring up trouble” by talking first to others? Do I need to apologize and ask for forgiveness from the other person?
  5. Am I prepared to come to the person humbly and lovingly or do I plan to bring my Bazooka?

Two or Three Together

There is one more section to this text that is generally quoted apart from the context.

18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.

19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

We use this text to point out you don’t need a big group for the Lord to be present in the gathering. It is a nice reminder that wherever two or three are gathered, He is with us. However, if you think about, even if you are by yourself, the Lord is present.

This text is also used by some to say that if you can get someone to agree in prayer on an item, then God will grant it. In other words, if you want something (let’s say a new car) and you can get another person or two to agree that you need it and God should provide it (you may have to agree that God should provide a new car for them also) then God will grant the request. However, if that were true there would be people agreeing in prayer for different responses to the same issue (think Cubs and Cardinals). How would that work?

The most important principle for Biblical interpretation and understanding is: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, AND CONTEXT. These words are spoken in the context of this discussion of the church discipline and the prospect of excommunication (disassociating ourselves from someone in the church).

Jesus was saying something different than how we have misused this text. These words mean: “When you approach things per these Biblical instructions you need to know that you act with My complete authority. When you excommunicate someone, I will support you. When you act with others out of a desire to correct a problem and redeem someone from a sinful situation, you are acting with my approval. I am present in these actions.


This is an uncomfortable topic. Whenever we revise the church constitution the issue we debate the most is the section on Church Discipline. The problem is: we are woefully inconsistent. We are willing to confront some sin but not others. We may confront someone about their marital affair but not about living together outside of marriage. We may confront the person who we believe is involved in criminal activity but we resist talking to people about their gossip. Our challenge is to care about ALL sin. We should want everyone to be as spiritually healthy as they can be.

God wants us to care about our spiritual lives and the spiritual lives of our friends, family, and fellow believers. He wants us to love each other enough to get involved!

It is possible that you know someone right now you should talk to. There may come a day when you (or I) need someone to alert us to a wrong turn in our life.

  1. Go to the person you have a problem with before you go anywhere else. Be open to the fact that you may misunderstand or the person did not know they offended you. If the problem is resolved . . . forgive (if need be) and move on.
  2. Do not gossip about the issue and don’t promote it on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media.
  3. If the problem is not resolved with a personal visit, enlist the help of a couple of other people to serve as a mediator of sorts.
  4. If that still doesn’t work, if the person is a believer, then talk to the leaders of the church and enlist their support.

The rampant violence that is so prevalent today stems from our inability to deal with problems in a productive manner. Someone must bring some sense to things. Why can’t that someone be you? Why can’t God’s people show the world a better way?


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