“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
We are all sinners. We all offend each other. Sometimes it is intentional. Sometimes it is unintentional. So how are we to react when someone wrongs us. Here Christ shows us the extent to which we are to go when someone wrongs us. We are not to wink at evil. Otherwise, we encourage evil by tolerating it. Nor are we to seek vengeance. Christ outlines a middle ground.
Christ told His disciples to forgive each other. But we are to do so in a way that corrects the faults. While this is the command it is not easy to obey. We all tend to lean too far one way or the other. We either tolerate evil or hold bitterness.
Christ laid down 3 steps to correct a brother. The first is a private one-on-one meeting. Second, if the offending party is unrepentant we are to meet again with him in the presence of witnesses. Third, if there is still no repentance, we are to go public.. We are to go to the Church. This is not the advice of the world. The world’s advice is to go public right away. We need to gather our allies. He will gather his allies. This results in a church split.
Now it is fair to ask, is this an absolute rule? Are we to apply this to every type of offense? There are obvious limitations to Christ’s words. Christ does not order us to reprove in public without exception. But He tells us to attempt this method when someone has wronged us in private. Christ is not commanding us to bear injuries. But He taught us to cultivate an attitude of meekness towards each other. We are not to destroy our relationships with each other with harsh actions.
Also, note Christ was talking about personal interactions. “If your brother sins against you…” If the offense is against the entire church, Paul said we are to rebuke in public. (1 Timothy 5:20)
If a private rebuke does not result in reconciliation. We are to take one or two others as witnesses and try again.
If he does not listen to the witnesses bring the offending party before the church. The word “church” may appear premature. We must understand this in the context of the Old Testament. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament by 70 Hebrew Scholars. It translates the “assembly” of the people of God as the ekklesia, or “church.”
Jesus’ use of Deuteronomy 19:15 implies that the church is the same as Old Testament Israel.
If he refuses to listen to the church, he is outside the camp of Israel. We are to treat him as a Gentile or tax collector.
Treating him like a Gentile or tax collector means not associating with such a person. We are to cut them off from fellowship and social relationships. Paul applied this in 1 Corinthians 5 and 1 Timothy 1:20.
Christ goes on to say that the church judgment is binding in heaven as well as on earth. The meaning is this. Whoever, confesses his fault and asks for forgiveness, the Church is to forgive. Both men and God absolve him. But, God condemns those who treat the church’s judgment with ridicule.
The church is not perfect. It can error. So here is the question. What about times when it absolves the hypocrite. One who is not truly repentant. They can mouth the words. But their hearts are still callous. Are they absolved in Heaven? Christ is talking about the true penitent person. This is not a discussion about false repentance. The church is Christ’s representative on earth. The church condemns or forgives because Christ condemns or forgives. It is not the reverse. Christ does not condemn or forgive because men condemn or forgive. Rome tortures this passage. It assumes it has the right to forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins. Even the Pharisees understood that.
Christ re-enforces this with a statement that is often ripped out of context. “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” This is a passage about church discipline. This is not a promise or prescription on how to get whatever you what. If it were I have a proposition. Let’s get together I will agree with you that you should have a billion dollars. And you agree with me that I should have a billion dollars. Two have agreed so it will happen. The ridiculousness on its face. We serve God. God does not serve us.
Those who rip the passage out of context show their ignorance. Not only do they not know how to read scripture. They show they do not know how to read.
Likewise, many mistreat the following phrase. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” When we gather in Christ’s name as a church. He is there. We must take care to listen to Him. And carry out His will not our own.