Church discipline (1)

Bible Reading Matthew 18:15-35

Dealing With Sin in the Church

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

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

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Believers in Jesus Christ become by new birth the children of God, and as His children, members of His family, His household. Harmony in a home is essential to the realization of its ideal life. This requires recognition of parental authority and obedience to household rules which have been designed for the good of all. Where these rules are violated disharmony follows and loving authority must be exercised to correct the violation.

God ordained marriage and the home. The Bible contains much teaching on the divine requirements for proper marriage and home relationships. It is understandable then, that when God would speak of the relationship of redeemed men to Himself and to one another, He speaks in terms of the home, the household.

God, our heavenly father, has made clear to us in His Word, that which He requires in His house. We have been instructed "how to behave ourselves in the house of God" (1 Tim. 3:14-15). The general atmosphere of God‘s house is to be holy. "HOLINESS ADORNS YOUR HOUSE, O LORD, FOREVER" (Psa, 93:5). In the Bible we shall find all the instruction we need for maintaining harmony in God's house, for it is by the Scriptures that we are “thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16,17).

It is much more pleasant to speak of the harmonious and delightful aspects of God's family. However, it is painfully evident from the Bible itself that from time to time the order of God's household is disturbed and disrupted by some member or members and action has to be taken to restore both the disobedient member and the harmony of the home, Such acts of discipline are sometimes accompanied by distressing unpleasantness, but if we are to maintain Divine order in God's house we must submit to this aspect of truth with all the others.

Where is church discipline first mentioned?

As we learned earlier in this series of studies, Jesus was the first to speak of new covenant people as the "church." "I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). Here He announces His intention to build something which He calls "My church." What all is intended in the word church must await further unfolding of revelation. It is significant therefore, that before anything more is revealed as to the nature of the church, our Lord should refer to it the second time in connection with discipline, giving instruction as to how the members of the church should maintain a harmonious life together. (Matt. 18:15-35). All the wonderful things our Lord desires for His church can only be realized through the many-membered body, therefore, the functional unity of this body is absolute1y necessary. No amount of individual attainment is any substitute for the corporate growth and progress of the whole.

Therefore Jesus follows the statement of intention to build His church with instructions for the harmonious life of that church. Now let us see what our Lord taught on this occasion.



Vs. 15 - "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother."

JBP - "But if your brother wrongs you, go and have it out with him at once JUST BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU. If he will listen to you, you have WON HIM BACK AS YOUR BROTHER."

This is probably one of the most important, and most neglected of all the scriptures on the matter of Christian behaviour. In the first place, when someone sins against us, we often do not go to him, but rather wait for him to come to us and make right his wrong. In the second place, we too often do not keep the matter "just between the two of us", but rather tell others how we have been wronged. In the third place, we are so hurt and angered by the sin, we are not much interested in "gaining our brother" but rather in getting revenge. While you have been sinned against he is the one who is the loser and needs to be "won." You have been sinned against, but he is the sinner. Your own hurt must take second place to your genuine Christian concern for your sinning brother's condition.

Sin is contagious. It must be isolated and wiped out. Quarantine it, don“t spread it! "Go and tell him his fault between YOU AND HIM ALONE. To involve others is to spread the germ and endanger the whole community of believers. If he will listen to you, and the matter can be settled, settle it and forget it! It is questionable, even though the matter has been resolved, if it should be mentioned to others.

Remember, this isn't just good human advice, but the command of our Lord. It is obvious that if this first step was faithfully followed, much disharmony in the churches of God would be eliminated.


Vs. 16 — "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’"

If the sinning brother will not "hear you" ("listen to you") you must not abandon the situation. You must take "two or three witnesses" (presumably "spiritual" fellow Christians) and try again to "gain your brother."

Remember the purpose is not only to correct the wrong but to restore the wrong doer. Since it may have to be brought to the church it is necessary to have two or three witnesses to establish the true nature of the situation (Deut. 9:15; John 8:17; 2 Cor. 13:1). The witnesses will be chosen for their spiritual maturity and concern for the unity of the church. They will seek to bring the erring brother to restoration in a loving manner. Much depends on the way in which such things are done.


Vs. 17 ~ "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. "

It might be well to borrow a word of caution at this point from a brother who has written, "let us first be sure that the trespass is not of the nature which love would lead us to forgive and pass over rather than take up, for in many things we ALL offend. Evidently it is sin of such a nature as may affect the fellowship of the assembly."

Having gone to the brother ALONE and having failed to gain a hearing and win him; and having then taken two or three witnesses. only to experience a similar rebuff; there is nothing left but to bring the matter to the church. Notice, however, that it is not for immediate "judgement." The church is first of all asked to entreat the man to repent and be restored. The church then seeks to reach the delinquent man and "convert him from the error of his ways."


Vs. 17 ~ "But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."

JBP - "And if he won't even LISTEN TO THE CHURCH then he must be to you just like a pagan ~ or a tax collector."

It is to be hoped that few situations reach this point. If a man withstands the loving entreaty of the entire church he shows himself to be unfit to continue in its fellowship. "He has excommunicated himself. God cannot forgive the impenitent and He does not expect us to do so." By this action he has denied his Christian profession and must be so considered. The man is destroying himself, and if he was allowed to continue in the fellowship of the church. he would destroy the church also.


When the church acts in obedience to Christ's commands, their "binding" and "loosing" is confirmed by "heaven." We are not here talking about rules governing some human society, but rather those which govern the church of Jesus Christ. This holy society of men and women is distinguished by the presence of Christ "in the midst." Those who gather in His Name and subject to His Word are assured of heaven's support. Let us be sure, however, that all of these factors are present as we make our profession of being His church.


Peter, like many of us, wondered how often he must forgive a brother who sinned against him. This question was probably asked to see how the Master's answer would compare with the various teachings among the Jews. Some taught forgiveness for three offences. One Jewish teacher thought that forgiving a neighbour twice was sufficient. In the light of this, Peter's suggestion of seven was rather liberal. However, Jesus said "seventy times seven." Christian forgiveness is without limit. As often as forgiveness is sincerely sought it must be given.

Jesus then tells the story of a man who was forgiven a gigantic debt of some $10,000,000.00. He in turn refused to forgive one of his fellow servants a debt of $20.00. When the matter of the first man was found out, he then put the ungrateful fellow in jail and required that he remain there until he could pay the debt in full. The lesson is obvious. No man owes us the debt we owed to God. If God forgave us through Christ our $10,000,000.00 debt we must be willing to forgive the $20.00 debts owing to each other.