Church Discipline—Focus on Forgiveness
Matthew Lesson #104
December 6, 2015
“Father, above all things we desire to know You, and to know Your Word. To know Your Word leads us to an understanding that there are often situations and circumstances in our life where we have problems with other people and even significant problems with people within a congregation, and we need to know how to deal with those things.
But ultimately the focus on any kind of confrontation, any kind of situation where there is a personal problem is on the importance of humility, the importance of restoration, the importance of forgiveness. It’s the application of the kind of love that Jesus talks about that characterizes a disciple, that we are to love one another as You have loved us.
Father, now as we study a passage that is sometimes misunderstood, sometimes misapplied, sometimes not applied at all, we pray that You would give us insight into what the Lord is teaching to the disciples as it applies to local churches in the Church Age. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We’re in a section in Matthew where Jesus is giving another discourse. If you have a red-letter Bible—I’m not a great fan of red-letter Bibles, even though the Bible I have is one—you’ll notice that just about everything that is said in this chapter is in red. That’s because this is a solid and consistent discourse.
I’ve made that point over the last few weeks as we’ve studied this because often this chapter, just like the Sermon on the Mount, is a chapter where people go and take sections out of it, and they apply those in terms of different circumstances or different applications without understanding that everything that is said here is built on the same theme, and that is of forgiveness and restoration.
And above all the importance of humility.
That’s where Jesus began—talking about that. And by this point, the issue comes up, what do you do when somebody sins against you?
This is one of those chapters that a lot of people think shouldn’t really be in the Bible. I remember as a young pastor when I was in my first church, I realized there were a lot of people sitting in the pews who really don’t like sections of Scripture. If they had a chance they would take out a razorblade and they would just slice out certain sections of Scripture.
Well, somebody sent me this this morning, and I want you to know that if that fits you, there’s a Bible for you now. This is the “Cut & Paste Bible”.
“Tired of reading Scriptures that don’t make sense? Wish you could remove those verses you don’t like? The ‘Cut & Paste Bible’ is the answer! Keep only the verses that you like and remove everything else. Easy loose leaf design allows you to arrange the pages in whatever order you think is best, and even combine all of your favorite verses into a single book.”
Well, this is one of those chapters as we talk about this doctrine of church discipline that a lot of people really wish were not in the Bible. How do we know that? Well, we know it because a lot of churches just ignore this.
On the other hand, sadly, we have a lot of churches that want to spend too much time on this particular section.
So we see that there is a pattern in application that often is related to the two polar trends of our sin nature.
We have one trend towards licentiousness and antinomianism, which means lawlessness. And then we have another trend towards legalism, a trend toward self-righteousness, and really wanting to get involved in everybody else’s business.
You’ll often hear from the folks on that end of the equation, and even some who understand the grace application of this passage, that if we just had more church discipline, we would probably have better churches, and we would have better congregations that are focused on the Lord.
There’s some truth in that because the Bible does teach that there is supposed to be this thing called church discipline. A church that doesn’t hold to or practice church discipline is pretty much like a parent that is very permissive and never disciplines their children.
Before long what you have is a congregation of a lot of spoiled spiritual brats that are doing whatever they think they ought to do, sort of like the period of the judges, that everyone is doing what’s right in their own eyes.
The worst case I’ve ever saw of this was in the late 80s when I was pastoring in Dallas, Texas. There was a very large Baptist Church in Dallas where the pastor had been, it was discovered, that he was guilty of serial adultery. That’s not spelled with a “C”, it’s spelled with an “S.”
This had gone on for some time. In fact, it came to light eventually that this was like the third time that the deacon board had to deal with this with this particular pastor. So finally things came to a point, and they had asked for his resignation.
This was a really large church. Maybe at the time it was the largest church in Dallas. And there were a lot of really well-heeled business people in that church. In fact, Mary Kay of Mary Kay Cosmetics went to that church. A number of others went to that church.
So this made a big splash on the news, and it was the same time that you had these other scandals going on with Jimmy Swaggart down in Louisiana and several others, these tele-evangelists. So it was the big splash, and they were interviewing people in the church, “Well, what do you think about this?”
There was this one lady they interviewed, and this got played on several reports. She said, “I just don’t understand what the problem is. I mean, everybody else in the church is doing it. Why should we make an issue out of the pastor?”
See, that’s where we are in our licentious, antinomian culture. Unfortunately, there are also pastors and theologians on the other end of that who the way they write and the way they talk about this, they’re also asking everybody in the church to start spying on everybody else to make sure that we’re not allowing anyone to be licentious or to even sin in our church.
Often that goes along, in my exposure at least, with people who don’t understand a free-grace gospel. Often it is found among some of the pastors and theologians who are also very much proponents of a Lordship gospel.
That fits, because if you hold to what is called “the Lordship gospel,” then if you’re not producing the right kind of fruit, which they would define as a certain kind of morality, then maybe you weren’t really saved to begin with. So there’s this misunderstanding of the grace of the Gospel.
Now as we look at this passage, we need to understand, I think, a couple of things. One is that there are two basic key passages that we look at when we talk about church discipline. There are some other individual verses here and there that I’ll bring out, but when we look at this topic, we’ve got one situation here in Matthew 18.
We’ve got another situation in 1 Corinthians 5, and they’re not identical. How they are handled is similar in some respects because they both end up excluding or ostracizing or shunning the person who has been guilty of some egregious sin and refuses to do anything about it.
It’s really clear from the 1 Corinthians 5 passage, but there are some other passages that are somewhat similar. So we need to look at this because I think that they’re talking about two different situations, and they’re handled differently.
As a pastor with almost 30 years of professional ministerial experience, I’ve looked at this and said, “You don’t handle all these kind of situations identically.”
The way a lot of people look at this is, “Okay, here’s the pattern set up in Matthew 18 where you go privately to the person, then you go with two or three others. If they’re not responsive the first time, and then you tell it to the congregation.”
But that seems to be in Matthew 18 restricted to a particular situation. That’s not what they did in 1 Corinthians 5. That’s not what Paul did with Peter in Galatians 1. So this isn’t setting a paradigm for every kind of situation.
But it does set a standard that the church should be involved at times and in some circumstances with what is known as “church discipline.”
Let’s look at the context. Just quickly, to be reminded of the context. The question that is asked at the beginning of Matthew 18 is the disciples came to Jesus and said who’s going to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?
As I’ve pointed out we have to interpret everything in this chapter in light of the fact that Jesus is talking to His disciples who are believers. He’s not talking to unbelievers about how to become justified, how to have eternal life or how to spend eternity in Heaven. He’s talking to His disciples about what is required to be a good disciple, an excellent disciple.
The humility that is talked about here is not the humility we often think of and you often hear people talk about with a child, but a recognition that a child in that culture had no standing, no rights, no position. He was better not seen, not heard, totally ignored, and irrelevant.
And that’s what Jesus is talking about. When He talks about the kind of humility that’s needed, He’s saying, “You don’t need to be concerned about rank or privilege or future position or anything like that, just serve the Lord, serve Me, and serve in your ministry, and you’re not supposed to be concerned about other things.”
Now as a warning, and He talks about this little child, and it’s so important in terms of hermeneutics, in terms of our interpretation, understand that He’s not talking about children, except at the very beginning when He says, “See this little child, this boy in front of Me? You’ve got to be like him”—i.e., no rank, no position, no privilege. That’s the last time He talks about that physical kid.
From that point on, He’s talking about we need to be humble like that. So the humble spiritual child, the humble disciple who’s like that spiritual child in terms of his position is who He’s talking about.
So He says, “Woe to the person who causes that spiritual child, that young disciple to stumble.” And that means cause him to sin.
But the word there that’s used, as I’ve pointed out, is this word SKANDALIZO. He says in verse 6, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin.”
Now it’s not just simply sin. SKANDALIZO tends to be an extreme kind of sin causing this young child to radically—this young child believer—not a physical child, but humble like a child—to radically stumble and have a major blowout on the highway of his spiritual life, maybe even causing him to be completely derailed spiritually.
In a lot of passages, this is talking about going into false doctrine. In fact, when you look at the way this is used in the passages related to doubtful things in Corinthians, what we’re really looking at there is the problem of eating meat that has been sacrificed to an idol, and how this may eventually cause the weaker brother to go into idolatry. Now that’s major apostasy, wouldn’t you say?
So the idea here at this point is it’s someone who’s influencing a young disciple who wants to grow and mature and excel in discipleship to go into apostasy.
That’s followed up when you look at the word SCANDALIZO and the noun SKANDALON. It primarily has that sense. It can have a broader sense, but primarily it’s to influence somebody into wrong beliefs or wrong action.
So that can come from another person, Matthew 18:7.
It can come from the world system or somebody representing worldly thinking, philosophies. Or it can come from our own sin nature, if your own hand or foot causes you to sin. Again, I’ve pointed out that this is hyperbole. It’s not talking about physical, literal self-mutilation.
In Matthew 18:10 He talks about how this has an impact even in Heaven because God is going to watch over these young child-like disciples. Why does He do that? Because God is seeking to restore them.
Matthew18:11: “The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”
This isn’t talking about justification. “Saved” in the context there is nowhere in this passage where it’s talking about unbelievers. So salvation here is deliverance or restoration of this child-like disciple who’s been led astray.
Then we have the example of the sheep—that the person who owns 100 sheep, one of them goes off into the hills. He doesn’t just go into the next pasture; he’s going off into the hills and into the mountains where he’s in a position of danger. The shepherd is going to give the care of his 99 to someone else, and he’s going to go out and do whatever it takes to bring that one sheep back.
So we saw that in that short parable last week, the shepherd or owner is equivalent to God the Father, or the Lord Jesus Christ. The straying sheep is this young childlike disciple who has been caused to stumble or sin or led astray by false teaching.
So when he finds it, “if he should find it,”—that is, sometimes they exercise their volition and they don’t want to be restored. “And if he should find it, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the 99 that did not go astray.”
The focus here is on restoration, not going out and penalizing, punishing, ridiculing, judging, condemning the sheep that went off into the hills. That’s the focus through the rest of this chapter—on restoration, not judging the person who’s been led astray and has gotten into sin or into false doctrine.
Now when we get into verse 15, Jesus says—ramping it up just a little bit, “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.”
So this begins with this phrase “If,” which in the Greek is a 3rd class condition. Greeks express the “if clause” three or four different ways, actually, and it’s important to pay attention. This means maybe this will happen—maybe it won’t. It’s pretty close to what most English speakers think of as a condition. Maybe this will happen, maybe it won’t.
“If your brother”—that means it refers to another believer. In the Bible when it talks about a brother, it is not excluding women. It’s talking about another Christian, male or female.
So we could translate this, “If another Christian sins”—and then we have the phrase—“against you.”
Now some of you may have a Bible translation that doesn’t have “against you” in that translation. That’s because it is missing from some manuscripts. But interestingly enough, it is not only in the Majority Text, but it is in many of the manuscripts that are valued by the Critical Text. And so the Critical Text includes it as well.
But there are some translations that don’t have it. And unfortunately, there are some pastors, some Bible teachers, who use a translation that excludes it, and so for them it simply reads, “If your brother sins.” Notice the difference.
The text says “If your brother sins, go and tell him his fault.” Now that’s a little different. If you apply that, that’s like, “We’re going to look at each other, and if I see anybody sin, then I’m going to have to go talk to them about it,” rather than “If someone sins against you.”
Now the word that’s used here for sin is the broad word for sin, HAMARTANO, which means to miss the mark. It means to sin.
It’s the standard word used for sin, and it’s a broader word than what we saw earlier with SCANDALIZO and SKANDALON, which is creating a major stumbling block.
Now we have two options here exegetically. One is that even though this is a broader word, it should be understood in terms of the narrower concept that’s already been understood. I tend to lean in that direction because this kind of situation is not the kind of situation that you would want to raise with what we might call “minor sins.”
We might think of it as sins that we’re guilty of every single day, but this is something a little more egregious that is causing offense, and the fact that it says “against you” fits that context because creating a stumbling block is when you are sinning against someone.
You are causing a major problem for that person in their spiritual life. Maybe you’re trying to influence them to be a post-Trib or a Covenant Theologian, or you’re trying to convince them that Christ really isn’t God, or you’re trying to convince them of Lordship salvation.
There are people who have—this last week it happened—who tried to somehow convince me of some other position. I got a book in the mail this last week from somebody who was trying to dissuade me in my belief on a Pre-Trib Rapture or dispensation that went in the trash.
It came from Oklahoma. It was anonymous. What I found curious was that just about a month or two ago, somebody sent another book on the same kind of theme, and they mailed it to the church, but they addressed it to my wife. So you think that somehow you’re going to get my wife to become Post-Trib, and then she’s going to influence me into heresy?
Those of you who know us know that that is such a farfetched idea that that’s not even in the realm of reality. Somebody’s really off their medication.
So that’s the idea here—that this is someone who’s trying to lead somebody into heresy or false teaching or really derail them in their spiritual life, but I will allow for the fact that it may also be the fact that somebody has really offended somebody.
Now when we talk about somebody taking offense today, we have to be very, very careful because we have a younger generation that takes offense at just about anything. If you believe anything dogmatically, assertively, exactly, profoundly, I mean truly is true, then you’re going to offend half of this next generation because they believe that anybody who believes anything is true, then they are, by definition of saying one thing is true and everything else is not, then they’re excluding everybody else, and that’s offensive.
They’re so judgmental, and that hurts their feelings. And we’re seeing a whole generation of these epistemologically spoiled brats. How do you like that for a phrase?
Then they go to college, and they don’t want anybody to teach them anything, because if they teach them that anything actually happened or anything is actually true, then they get offended, and they don’t know how to handle that—especially if they don’t agree with it.
We have a generation of people who’ve come up, and they can’t have adult conversations because when you have adult conversations with people, someone’s going to disagree with you, and you have to figure out whether you can humbly accept the fact that this person takes another position and be able to even engage in maybe a heated lively discussion over the strengths and weaknesses of different positions whether they’re biblical positions or political positions or whatever it might be.
So this is talking really about a situation where someone feels like or believes that another person is doing something or has said something or is leading them in a direction that would cause them to be derailed spiritually.
So you go to him, and you talk to him in private. This isn’t something that should be made public. It’s a private situation. It’s always important to value someone’s privacy even if it’s a sin that shocks you. Maybe you see a situation and you find out that somebody is involved, maybe a friend is having an affair, maybe you discover that somebody’s embezzling funds, something like that, and you are really shocked. You think, “We just can’t keep this private.”
Well, the Bible says you go to him alone. You have to respect their privacy. You have to make sure you ascertain and know all the facts. Maybe you’re wrong. And you talk to them.
If they say, “Yes, you’re right. I did that, but I was wrong, and I’m going to make it right.” Great! Forgive them, move on, forget it, it’s over with. That’s it. Keep it private.
What happens is when things go to a stage where some things become public. It becomes much more difficult for someone to change. They may want to, but now you’ve added other factors, factors or embarrassment, factors that may affect their job, factors that may affect their marriage, factors that may affect their relationship with their kids. You’ve just complicated the whole situation.
So if they’re responsive you end it there. You tell them his fault between you and him alone. Nobody else’s business. Keep it quiet, and if he responds, you’ve won your brother. Praise God, move on down the road.
Now one more thing I want to point out here is this verb that’s used “tell him his fault.” That’s the word ELEGCHO. The Greek word ELEGCHO is translated “reprove or rebuke.”
Now if you look up the word “reprove and rebuke” in English, that’s, I think, too harsh of a word to translate ELEGCHO with. It really represents sort of a range of meanings. But if you look “rebuke” up in an English dictionary, it says that it means to criticize or reprimand sharply. Well, that’s not what we’re talking about here.
The Greek word has a broader range and at the beginning it means just to bring something to light, to expose something, to bring someone to a position of recognizing the error of their ways. That fits other passages of Scripture that talks about doing this in kindness, gentleness, and in grace.
They’re not looking for a confrontation. It’s not a head-butting contest. The goal is restoration and recovery. The goal is not to prove you’re right, and you’re more righteous than the other person, and they’re a spiritual loser, and you’re going to jump all the way to the end of the process and consign them to the Lake of Fire. That’s not the point.
So, the idea here of rebuke is like it’s translated here, a more gentle sense of ELEGCHO, to bring someone to the point of recognizing their error and moving forward.
Another word you often hear when people talk about this is they’ve “repented.” I want you to notice that the word “repent” is never used in this passage. Okay, now, “repent” describes a change of mind, so it would be an appropriate word, but it’s interesting that it’s not used here.
The background for this is probably an Old Testament passage in Leviticus 19:17 and 18, where the Law says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people,” Why? Because “you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
What’s interesting in Leviticus 19 is this drum beat chorus, where you get a couple of commands, and then it ends “I am the Lord.” Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this, I am the Lord. Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this, I am the Lord. Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this, I am the Lord. Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this, I am the Lord.
What’s the point? God’s the boss! He has the right to tell us what we should do and what we should not do.
So the command here is that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves under the Mosaic Law.
In the Church Age, it’s a little different. It’s a little higher standard. We’re to love one another as Christ loved us.
It is hard enough to love your neighbor as yourself. You can’t love, it’s impossible to love somebody else like Christ loved us, unless you’re walking by the Spirit. The first fruit of the Spirit is what? Love. We can only do that when we’re walking by the Spirit. That’s why we say that the Christian life is impossible unless you’re walking in the Spirit. It’s a supernatural way of life.
But there are exceptions to this. There are differences to this.
In Galatians 2, Paul confronted Peter over a matter of false doctrine. What happened was when Peter went up to Antioch, all of a sudden Peter, who had taken the Gospel to the Gentiles, had gone to Cornelius and done all of this and eaten all of that treif food—“treif” is Yiddish or Hebrew for non-kosher—ate all that treif food. He was chowing down on shrimp and lobster and fried catfish, but now all of a sudden he goes with the Jews up in Antioch, and he gets a case of hypocrisy, and he won’t go eat with the Gentiles, he’ll only eat kosher food. He hangs with the Jewish crowd, and so Paul confronts him.
Notice how this happens. This is not a personal situation. This is not Peter coming to Paul and offending Paul or sinning against Paul. This is a different situation.
When Peter had come to Antioch, Paul says, “I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed.” His hypocrisy had created a huge problem in the church. He said, “for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came”—these representatives from the church in Jerusalem, when they came—“he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.” So he’s operating on fear and not on grace.
The rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. Barnabas was Paul’s partner of the first missionary journey. He’s one of the leaders of the church in Antioch.
In Galatians 2:14 Paul says, “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter before them all”—notice this isn’t one person going to another in privacy saying, “Peter, come here. I think maybe you’ve got this a little wrong.”
Paul stands up in front of everybody and says, “You’re wrong!”—“I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?’ ”
It’s a public confrontation. He’s got to straighten out the problem. And the reason he does it publicly is by this point what’s happened? It’s infected everybody! So it’s a public problem. It’s a problem that has influenced the whole congregation.
That’s another issue. That’s what we’ll see in 1 Corinthians 5, which is the other major passage on church discipline: that when it’s taken public, and in most of these cases it’s already become a public issue, nobody is learning anything they didn’t already know. Nobody is exposing somebody’s sin that “I didn’t know about that.” It’s got to be dealt with publicly because it’s public knowledge, and if you just turn a blind eye to it, you’re going to have more problems down the road.
Also in Galatians later on Paul says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual”—that is, you who are walking by the Spirit and have a measure of spiritual maturity—“restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also by tempted.”
In other words, don’t do this if you’re angry—if you’re upset with the person—if you’ve got some sort of revenge motivation, you want to get back at him—you want to prove you’re right.
You’ve got to do it from a position of gentleness. Here, this means humility. You’re doing it out of love for their best interest, not for your best interest.
Now ultimately, what Jesus says in Matthew 18:16 is if that person doesn’t listen the first time, and that may take a while (this is an abbreviated discussion) then going to them privately may involve a year or two’s worth of discussion, as you’re working through some things with that person. It’s not just a one-shot deal.
But if he doesn’t hear … notice what’s interesting. For the Bible, hearing means responding positively to what you’ve heard. Hearing isn’t just having your auditory nerve stimulated. If you don’t listen, it’s because you’re not responding in obedience to what you heard.
Okay, so when somebody says “you didn’t hear me,” what they mean is you didn’t respond the way you were supposed to respond when I said that.
That’s what Jesus says, “If he won’t hear,” —if he doesn’t respond the way he’s supposed to respond, then you go back with one or two more—“that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ ” That comes out of Deuteronomy 19:15.
This is so that it’s not just your word against their word. It’s not a he said-he said, he said-she said kind of situation. But then you’re taking it to another level. This is because this is not just a matter of somebody said something that kind of irritated you one day. This is something that has significant consequences and may have significant consequences for the church.
Verse 17 says, “And if he refuses to hear them”—if he refuses to listen and respond in the correct way, then—“tell it to the church.”
Some people have tried to get around this and say, “Well, this should also be limited.” What I’ve found is that when it gets to this point, a lot of times you don’t need to tell it to the church because that person has already hit the road.
In my almost 30 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve had to go through a church-discipline-type situation only about once directly and a couple of times indirectly. And they’ve really been different circumstances.
But the one I had to take a congregation through one time fit all these circumstances. One of my deacons in a church I pastored in the Dallas area was married and had five kids, and he had an affair, left his wife.
The Sunday after he left his wife, she showed up at church, and, of course, she was just an emotional basket case, and everybody in the church before the day was over ... because she had her close lady friends that she was telling, and of course, they told their husbands, and within 24 hours everybody in the church knew the situation.
The leaders and I worked fairly close with him, and there were a couple that were fairly close to him, and were able to call him during the next week and talk to him. We went through a period of about six months where they were trying to encourage him that he needed to fulfill his responsibilities as a believer and as a husband and as a father and get back with his wife.
We went through this whole process, and when it came to it, very wisely one of the elders went to him and read this passage and said, “Now what do you think we ought to do?” so he wasn’t telling him “This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to go tell the church.” He said, “What do you think we ought to do if we’re going to obey Scripture?” He looked at him and he said, “Well, I guess you’re going to have to tell the truth.”
Well, everybody already knew it. We weren’t exposing something that wasn’t exposed, but it was such an egregious act of rebellion and irresponsibility that if we hadn’t done something, it would have shown some weakness on the part of the leadership.
So we did. We prayed for him. We did it in a very grace oriented manner, and we had to remove him from membership.
I understand, I’ve been told by two or those elders that I’ve run into since then—and I don’t know why he didn’t call me. I guess I’d dropped off the radar when I was up in Connecticut and he didn’t know where I was—but about 10 years after that or 12 years after that, he called up two of the elders and said, “I really thank you for doing that. I hated it at the time. I was mad at y’all for years, but you did the right thing. And eventually the Lord used that to bring me back to a point where I realized what a horrible mess I’d made and how sinful I was.”
So that’s the goal—restoration. Every now and then, as you parents know, you have to execute some kind of serious discipline in order to get their attention.
In the next couple of verses, we have an interesting section. Jesus then says to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
That’s confusing because it isn’t really an accurate translation. It’s awkward to translate it accurately into English, and I’ve tried to do that on this slide. The second verb in both clauses is a perfect, future perfect, meaning “you will have already been bound.” We usually don’t talk like that in English.
So it should be, “whatever you bind on earth.” That was an idiom in rabbinic literature. “Binding and loosing” means to permit or to prohibit. Binding something, if something was bound, it was prohibited. If something was loosed, it was permitted. So you have to understand that idiom.
Some people will use this. They’ll say, “We need to bind Satan.” That’s irrational and has nothing to do with what the Bible says.
“Whatever you bind on earth,” which means whatever you prohibit. So this is talking about when you reach a judgment in terms of this kind of a discipline.
“Whatever you prohibit shall have already been prohibited in heaven.”
That means what you’re doing on the earth is a reflection of God’s standard that’s already been established before in the Scriptures. You’re just applying the standard of Scripture.
I’ve written that, whatever you bind on the earth [whatever you prohibit] shall have already been prohibited in Heaven, that is, their decisions were based on absolutes God had already defined in Heaven. Whatever you permit on the earth, will have already been permitted in Heaven.
Then one of the most abused, taken out of context verses in Scripture, Jesus said, “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask”—and this is applied by all kinds of people for prayer.
This has nothing to do with prayer. Not one time have we talked about prayer in this passage. We’ve been in this chapter for what, five weeks? Have we talked about prayer? No, we’re talking at this point about, who are the two or three?
You go to him by yourself in private and you come back, and then if he doesn’t respond, two or three go as witnesses. So the two or three in the context, if two of you agree on anything, two of you that were witnesses against this guy. “If two of you agree that this is what needs to be done, then you bring that before Me in prayer, you bring that to the church, then it will be done by your Father in heaven.” God is going to honor that.
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name”—they’re gathered together in Christ’s name to bring judgment upon somebody in the congregation—“I am in the midst of them.”
So don’t use this as “we have to get two people together to pray, and then God’s going to …” People actually believe that! That our prayer will have more power if two or three of us come together. If there’s only one of us, Jesus isn’t there. Jesus is omnipresent! Christ is in every believer. “Christ in you,” Paul says, “is the hope of glory!”
This isn’t a magic, superstitious thing, “If I can just get two or three believers together or the more the merrier, and then God’s going to have to answer our prayer.” That’s not what this is talking about.
I want to wrap up in a minute and just skip over to 1 Corinthians 5, so we can tie this together.
1 Corinthians 5 dealt with a really strange situation, because in our culture this doesn’t necessarily carry the same kind of connotation that it did in their culture.
Paul describes a circumstance in verse 1. He says, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you.” Now this is a broad word. It’s the word PORNEIA, from where we get our English word for pornography. He’s talking about some sort of sexual immorality. And it’s—“such a kind of sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles”—they don’t even want to talk about it.
They consider this to be so bad that even in Corinth … Now let me tell you, Corinth would make people in Las Vegas blush. In the ancient world, they said, “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.”
It was a harbor town. It was on the crossroads of the waterways and the trade routes and everybody who was anybody from all around ended up in Corinth. They had these extreme sexual religions, fertility religions. Anything went in Corinth, but you didn’t do anything with your step-mother at all. Okay?
This was all through the Roman Empire. The Roman jurist, Gaius, says “It’s illegal to marry a father’s or mother’s sister, neither can I marry her who has been formerly my mother-in-law or step-mother.” That was part of Roman law.
Cicero expressed revulsion at the marriage to a step-mother, and said, “When mother-in-law marries son-in-law, oh to think of the woman’s sin. Unbelievable! Unheard of to think that she did not coil.”
Even the salacious and unshockable Latin poet, Catullus—he wrote X-rated stuff—he viewed such a relationship as absolutely abhorrent.
Those were unbelievers. They were shocked down to the soles of their feet by someone marrying a step-mother.
The Old Testament prohibited it as well.
Just look at Deuteronomy 27:20 at the bottom [of this slide]. “Cursed is he who lies with his father’s wife.”
Now we don’t know if this guy in 1 Corinthians 5 had married his step-mother. We don’t know if his step-mother was still married to his father. There are a lot of situations here, but all that apparently is irrelevant. The fact that she was his step-mother, that’s all we need to know.
Leviticus 18:18, 20:11 also prohibit this, as well as the Mishnah.
In Sanhedrin 7:4, “These are they that are to be stoned: he that has connexion with his mother, his father’s wife, his daughter in law, a male, or a beast.” “Has connexion,” that’s a euphemism for sexual relations.
So what does Paul do? He says you have to kick him out of the congregation. He describes it this way in verse 5.
He says, “Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.”
Over in Matthew 18, Jesus said they are to be treated like a Gentile and a tax collector.
If a Gentile became a believer, they were a proselyte, so “being treated like a Gentile” is basically an idiom for being treated like an unbeliever. “Being treated like a tax collector” was also viewed … nobody could be right with God if they were a tax collector. So what Jesus was saying was treat them like an unbeliever.
That doesn’t mean to be mean to them, but the issue is spiritual. They’re acting like an unbeliever, so you need to treat them like an unbeliever, and maybe they weren’t saved to begin with, and they really do need to hear the gospel.
But the assumption of the passage is they are a believer. It says it’s a brother, so that means he’s a believer. So you need to treat them differently. They are definitely shunned and outside. They are not allowed back into fellowship with the church.
I’ve had about—as I mentioned earlier—I’ve had a couple of other situations. By the time you get very far, they’re gone. Usually, they’re in a position where they don’t want to come back to church anyway.
When I first went to Preston City Bible Church, first Sunday morning I showed up, I was in my jogging suit. Remember that? That’s because the moving truck broke down, and all my clothes were on the moving truck. I only had what I wore driving up to Connecticut.
So we’re walking up to the back door of the church, and the Chairman of the Deacons at that time came out and said, “We’ve got a little problem.”
“Really?” I haven’t even gotten into the pulpit yet. “What’s the problem?”
“Well, we got a guy in the church. He’s married to a lady in the church. She’s here this morning, and there was a prostitute killed in Norwich last night, murdered in Norwich last night, and he was seen in the vicinity, and he’s been seen in the vicinity with her before. So what are we going to do?”
I said, “Is he at church?”
He said, “No.”
I said, “Well, if he ever shows up again, let’s talk about it then.”
He never showed up again. He was three states away within a couple of days. He was not guilty of murder, by the way.
That’s usually what happens. Somebody goes into carnality; the last place they want to do is show up at church because they are having too good of a time out there wallowing in sin.
So Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 5:5, “I’ve decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved.”
See, this guy’s a believer. He’s not saying, “I’m turning him over to Satan, so he’s going to roast in hell in the Lake of Fire.” God is going to discipline them, hopefully, to bring him back.
In this case, by the time Paul writes 2 Corinthians, the guy has confessed his sin, and he’s changed, but the congregation hasn’t quite forgiven him, and Paul has to reprimand them again and say, “No, you need to treat him with grace and love coming back.”
In 1 Timothy 1:18–20 Paul says this to Timothy—I’ll read the context for you—“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected,”—now these would be believers. They rejected the faith in good conscience—“concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
The picture is that if they’re outside the church, apart from fellowship with believers, apart from hearing the Word of God because they’ve chosen to be disobedient and live in sin, that this is an environment where God can lower the boom in terms of divine discipline.
So there does reach a point where people are to be asked to leave the congregation.
In 1 Corinthians 5:6 and following, Paul uses the imagery of leaven. He says, “Do you not know that a little leaven”—leaven represents sin—just a little leaven. If you are permissive, parents listen, if you allow a little bit, then a little bit’s going to mess up a whole lot. And that’s what Paul is saying here. If you allow a little bit of sin and you are permissive and you don’t deal with it, everybody knows about it, then it “leavens the whole lump of dough”—just like leaven.
“Therefore purge out the old leaven” —you can’t get away from the fact that this is removing that sinful influence from the congregation—“since you are truly unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
“Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven”—that is not allowing known sin to exist permissively in the congregation. And he goes on to talk about that.
This just reminds us of what Paul says later in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’ ”
Every parent ought to have, by the time your kids are ten it may be too late, but after you teach them 1 John 1:9, teach them 1 Corinthians 15:33. “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
I remember when I was a kid, I came home one day, I met a new kid at school, I’d just gone to junior high school, and I said to my mom, “Oh, I met this new kid. We got along great.”
“Where’s he from? Is he a Christian? Who are his parents; I need to meet them.”
She was riding herd on every kid that would influence me in my life for which I’m truly grateful, and she was wise at that. “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
Once you allow certain kinds of things to go on in a congregation, then it will have damage down the road.
One last quick story. I know of a church here in Houston. The pastor was a good friend of mine, and when he wrote the doctrinal statement for that church, he wasn’t as precise as I would have thought he would be in the area of eschatology and dispensationalism and premillennialism, so that there were people in the congregation who were not premillennial.
When he left that congregation, and another pastor took over, there were all sorts of problems in that congregation because there were people who were amillennial and some who were premillennial, and this caused a lot of problems.
“A little leavens the whole lot.” You have to stand true to the truth of God’s Word and to the call to walk by the Holy Spirit.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed.
“Father, thank You for this time to study these things, to be reminded of Your grace, that You desire to forgive us. The whole focus of this disciplinary process is to bring people to a place of forgiveness and restoration, not to punish them, not to seek rewards, not to lord it over somebody. In fact, it’s not even to expose the sin at all. It is simply to encourage them to be restored to fellowship with You.
Father, give us wisdom if we ever have to apply this, that we do it with gentleness and kindness, as the Scripture says.
You are a God of judgment, though, and You have judged our sins. You judged them at the Cross, Christ paid the penalty for all of our sins, so that’s really not the issue anymore. The issue is our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and walking by the Spirit after salvation.
Father, we pray that if there’s anyone who’s unsure of their salvation that they would take this time to trust in Christ as Savior. That instant you have eternal life. It can never be taken from you, and you become a member of God’s royal family and have eternal life.
Father we pray that You would challenge us with what we studied this morning. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”