In the Fulness of Time/Part 116

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2009
Jesus turns now to the subject of relationships of “brothers” among the believers. When a brother is found to be in sin, this passage gives four distinct procedures to be followed: first, person to person; second, before witnesses; third, before the entire group of believers; and finally, if no settlement is reached, excommunication is prescribed.

Previous Article

Authority in the Assembly. Matthew 18:15-20

Authority in Discipline

(Four Steps) Matthew 18:15-17

Approach the sinning one, Person to Person. Matthew 18:15

Mt. 18:15 “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go, and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, then thou hast gained thy brother.”

Having spoken about proper care of the little children who believe on Him, Jesus turns next to the subject of relationships of “brothers” among the believers. In verse 17 this will be seen as a “church” matter if it is not resolved on an individual nor a “witness” basis. There are four distinct procedures to follow in the case mentioned; first is person to person; then witnesses are brought along; third, it comes before the entire group of believers, and finally, if no settlement is reached, excommunication is prescribed.

The particulars of the sin are not given. The word hamartano is used, meaning “to miss the mark, to fall short” (Romans 3:23). Whatever the specific sin, it is serious enough to involve the entire congregation if the sinner does not repent after the first two contacts. Christ’s first instruction is to “go” (present tense of hupago), inferring a repeated attempt with the brother to “show him his fault” (elenchon), using this strong word which carries with it the idea of conviction, of bringing to light his sin. The discussion is private, “between him and thee alone.” Private sins must have private solutions, if at all possible. To do otherwise is to violate the law of love. “If he shall hear thee” is a third class conditional clause, intimating that he probably will listen and it indicates a possible positive response. Then, you have “gained” him (from kerdaino, the same word Paul used in Philippians 3:7, “What things were gain to me”). There are times when this private procedure works, so it should always be tried at the outset, since the goal is to “restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). But if it does not bring him to confess his sin and repent, the next procedure must come into play.

Appeal to the sinning one with Witnesses. Matthew 18:16

Mt. 18:16 “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 19:15 in teaching this second step of discipline. In some individuals there is rebellion and refusal to heed a personal admonition. Since this matter is thought to be serious, it cannot be permitted to go on unconfessed, so the accuser faces the accused with reliable witnesses. It does not require them to have witnessed the actual sin, but to be accurate observers of the case presented against the accused. Apparently the accuser has sufficient evidence to prove his case, and the problem, therefore, is that the accused will not heed the admonition to repent.

Announce to the assembly the refusal to repent. Matthew 18:17a

Mt. 18:17a “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church.”

Here again, the commentaries are divided concerning the reference to “church.” Walvoord, for example, says: “It is more probable that he was referring to a Jewish assembly with which the disciples were familiar.” (Walvoord, J. F., Matthew, Thy Kingdom Come. Chicago, Moody Press, 1954, p. 137). MacArthur puts it this way: “In the course of Jesus’ teaching at this point in His ministry, church refers to any group of redeemed people who assemble in His name.” (MacArthur, John, Matthew, 4 vols. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984-89. Vol. 3, pp. 133-134).

While it is true that the Church, which is the Body of Christ, did not come into existence until the Day of Pentecost, Jesus is anticipating its beginning, as He did in 16:19. Merely because Jesus does not introduce the offices of bishop and deacon or the gifts of pastor and teacher, is no reason to say that He was not referring to the Church which is His Body. He predicted His death and resurrection in 16:21-22 immediately after the declaration of His intention to build His Church (16:19). Then He predicted His death and resurrection again in 17:22-23 before His instruction concerning disciplining in the Church (18:17). Since these are the only occurrences of ecclesia in Matthew, why should they not be referring to the anticipation of the formation and function of that Body of Christ which He would indeed purchase with His blood on the Cross? Both the immediate contexts as well as their position in the book of Matthew argue strongly for this interpretation.

The Jews had rejected the Messiah and His Kingdom; now Jesus introduces what is to occur in light of this rejection. Yes, He is to die, but He will be raised, and after this He will build His Church. It is the burden of the Upper Room Discourse in John 13-17 to reveal the coming of the Holy Spirit and His distinct relationship to the Church. It is the task of the Epistles to develop the governmental aspects and the ministry of the gifts of the Spirit in the Church. Matthew has more revelation about the future of the Jews and Gentiles in the remaining chapters of his Gospel, by way of messages and parables, culminating in the great discourse of Christ on the Mount of Olives. What Christ says here in Matthew 18 about the Church, therefore, is limited, but of great significance.

Apply Excommunication to the Unrepentant. Matthew 18:17b.

Mt. 18:17b. “But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a tax collector.”

After each of the first three instructions there is the hope that the sinning one will repent; but if this fourth step must be taken, it indicates that the person has no desire to change. He then is to be treated as ho ethnikos, “the Gentile” and ho telones, “the tax collector.” Both of these would be negative responses. The Gentile, or heathen, was outside the realm of belief in the only true God, and the tax collector, to the Jew, was thought of as a traitor to his nation as well as an oppressor of his neighbor. Perhaps Jesus is saying as in Matthew 7:20: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” It is very obvious that the earliest members of the anticipated ecclesia would be Jewish in background and would recognize the references to these two categories as outside the realm of the spiritual. Such a person was manifesting himself as an unbeliever. Just because the word “brother” is used is not necessarily a guarantee that the individual is a believer. For example, in Acts 3:17 Peter called those who crucified Christ “Brethren” and called for them to repent and be converted; in Acts 23:6 Paul spoke to unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees as “brethren.” For now, interpretation of each context must decide the issue, but “in the fulness of time” God will decide the final destination of such persons.

Read Part 117

Leave a Comment