To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand Who Is the Greatest in The Kingdom
In Matthew 18, Yeshua rebuked His talmidim for their pride and desire for worldly greatness, and He taught them the three essentials for unity and harmony among God’s people, i.e. humility, honesty and forgiveness. In my last two posts, we looked at the issue of humility. But, we don’t always practice humility; do we? There are times when, deliberately or unconsciously, we offend others and hurt them. Even the Torah recognized “If by mistake you fail to observe all these mitzvot that Adonai has spoken to Moshe.” Numbers 15:22; and David prayed to be delivered from “…unintentional sins? Cleanse me from hidden faults.” Psalm 19:12
In this post, we will look at the second of Yeshua’s essentials for unity and harmony – honesty.
“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin against you, go and show him his fault — but privately, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation can be supported by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to hear them, tell the congregation; and if he refuses to listen even to the congregation, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector. Yes! I tell you people that whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. To repeat, I tell you that if two of you here on earth agree about anything people ask, it will be for them from my Father in heaven. For wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:15-20
These are Yeshua’s guidelines for dealing with those who sin against us. These guidelines were meant for Believers (not un-believers) and for discipline and conflict resolution in the context of the congregation, not in the community at large. These steps are designed to reconcile those who disagree so that congregation members can live in harmony.
Yeshua explained that the person who has been offended must first go and show him his fault — but privately, just between the two of you. A personal confrontation, carried out in love, will allow the sinning member the opportunity to correct him or herself. However, the person doing the confronting ought to be very certain of his or her accusation and that he or she is doing this out of true humility with a view to restoration of the other (see Galatians 6:1-4).
This call to confrontation is not a license for a frontal attack on every person who hurts or slights us. Many misunderstandings and hurt feelings can be solved at this stage. This saves congregational leaders from getting involved in everyone’s personal concerns. Personal confrontation also keeps Believers from gossiping with one another. Instead, Believers are to be mature enough to go directly to the source and deal with the problem at that level. When someone wrongs us, we often do the opposite of what Yeshua recommends. We turn away in hatred or resentment, seek revenge, or engage in gossip. By contrast, we should go to that person first, as difficult as that may be. Then, as we will learn in the next post, we should forgive that person as often as he or she needs it (18:21-22). This restores relationships.
If the personal confrontation yields nothing and the confronted person doesn’t listen, then the offended person should proceed to step two. In this step, the confronter should take one or two others with you so that every accusation can be supported by the testimony of two or three witnesses. This is backed up by the Torah in Deuteronomy 19:15 which says: “One witness alone will not be sufficient to convict a person of any offense or sin of any kind; the matter will be established only if there are two or three witnesses testifying against him.” These others also ought to help in reconciliation at this second meeting, hoping to settle the matter privately. An erring person might be willing to listen to the wise counsel of these others.
So, Yeshua’s advice for keeping peace in your relationships is:
- Don’t ignore conflict; address it.
- Don’t exaggerate conflict; solve it with the least possible publicity and public scrutiny.
- Don’t abandon conflict; pursue it to resolution.
- Don’t fence yourself in by conflict; taking two or three witnesses requires that you also are open to reproof and correction.
- Don’t recycle conflict; once resolved, let it go and get back to your life.
If the additional witnesses don’t bring about reconciliation and he refuses to hear them, then the third step is to tell the congregation. The objective at this point still is not disciplinary action but helping the sinning person to see his or her fault, repent, and be restored. Even the law of love has its limit.
The fourth and last step is to disassociate from that person. Some have construed this advice to be the final step of ex-communication. The goal, even through this difficult act, is to help the person see his or her sin and repent. The goal of discipline should always be teaching correct behavior. It should never be for punishment! Sha’ul recommended such action to the congregation in Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).
The person should be treated as a pagan or a tax collector; such people were shunned by the Jews. Matthew recorded this saying for his Jewish audience who would understand the metaphor for the kind of avoidance Yeshua demanded in this situation. In the phrase treat him as you, the word you is singular – while the decision of the congregation is made corporately, the avoidance is acted out at the individual level.
While all people in the congregation are sinners saved by grace, and while no congregation will ever be free of members who commit sin, the person described here has a huge blind spot to sin, and many people can see it. Yet this person refuses to listen to those whom God sends to help. In the congregation, Believers are to teach, challenge, encourage, admonish, help, and love each other. But there can be no true fellowship with a Believer who refuses the loving guidance of his or her fellow congregation members.
“Yes! I tell you people that whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” This verse parallels the similar authority given to Kefa and the talmidim in Matthew 16:19. Here the authority belongs to the congregation – the words you in this verse are plural. The words prohibit and permit refer to the decisions of the congregation in conflicts and discipline. Among Believers, there is no court of appeals beyond the congregation. Ideally, the congregation’s decisions should be God-guided and based on discernment of His Word. Believers have the responsibility, therefore, to bring their problems to the congregation, and the congregation has the responsibility to use God’s guidance in seeking to discipline members. Handling problems God’s way will have an impact now and for eternity.
“To repeat, I tell you that if two of you here on earth agree about anything people ask, it will be for them from my Father in heaven. For wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them.” In context, the application of this verse applies to matters of congregation discipline. Other verses apply to prayer in general (21:22; John 14:13-14; 15:7-8, 16).
Some scholars explain that the two or three who agree refers directly back to the previous verses (especially Matthew 18:16) – the people in the confrontation (the offender and the one offended, or the group brought in at step two). These people come into the confrontation, and God stands behind them as they work through their disagreement. If the matter must go before the congregation, God is there helping those in agreement to deal with the sinning member as they ought. Indeed, God may be using the people to “chase down the lost sheep,” so to speak, and bring him or her back “into the fold.” Yeshua looked ahead to a new day when he would be present with His followers not in body but through His Holy Spirit. In the congregation, the sincere agreement of two people is more powerful than the superficial agreement of thousands because the Ruach HaKodesh is with them. Two or more Believers, filled with the Ruach, will pray according to God’s will, not their own; thus their requests will be granted. In context, if the focus of their prayer is the repentance and restoration of the sinning believer, then that meeting of two or three concerned Believers will have tremendous power when they realize the promise that God is there with them.
In congregational discipline, not only must there be the authority of the Word, but there must also be prayer (Matthew 18:19). The word agree in the Greek gives us our English word “symphony.” The congregation must agree in prayer as it seeks to discipline the erring member. It is through prayer and the Word that we ascertain the will of the Father in the matter. Finally, there must be fellowship (Matthew 18:20). The local congregation must be a worshiping community, recognizing the presence of the Lord in their midst. The Ruach of God can convict both the offender and the congregation, and He can even judge sin in the midst (Acts 5).
There is a desperate need for honesty in the congregation today. “Speaking the truth in love” is God’s standard (Ephesians 4:15). If we practice love without truth, it is hypocrisy. But if we try to have truth without love, it can be brutal. Yeshua always taught the truth in love. But, keep in mind that humility must come before honesty.
I have only been involved in one congregational disciplinary meeting and that was many years ago. I would be interested in knowing if any of my readers of this blog have participated in such a meeting. I’m assuming that it is very rare, but you all know what happens when we assume.
In my next post, we will focus on Yeshua’s teaching on forgiveness from Matthew 18.
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