Church Discipline

Matthew 18:15-20
15“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.
16But 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.
17If 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.
18Truly, 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.
19Again 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.
20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Among “church people” there is always much made of this passage. It has long been used as the club in matters of church discipline; but it is so much more than that. First, let’s look at the passage in light of its context. This discussion of what to do when someone is living in and relishing their sin lies inside of an entire message on how to treat those who are struggling or “weaker”. It is ultimately a message of restoration and forgiveness and that is frequently overlooked as we seek to police the faith lives of others. Here is what Dr. Gibbs has to say in his brilliant commentary on Matthew.

“It is a potentially serious and misleading error, therefore, to label these verses as exclusively devoted to the topic of “church discipline.” To be sure, there can be some validity to that kind of title, and I do not deny that Jesus has in view what has come to be called “church discipline.” However, the business of redefining “the greatest” (Matthew 18:1, 4) as the neediest runs so completely counter to our all-too-natural way of thinking that it is crucial to begin at the right place. Jesus is teaching about an extreme form of caring, of compassion, of concern for a fellow disciple in a situation of terrible need.”
Gibbs, J. A. ©2010. Matthew 11:2–20:34 (pp. 916–917). Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

When these verses are read in the light of restoration our hearts become open to the Gospel rather than the Law. When we seek the good of another rather than their punishment we are walking with God rather than counter to Him. In this passage is also a warning for the believer who is not embracing and massaging their sin. None of us is above the possibility of falling into a sin that captures our imaginations and takes us in a direction opposite of God. Paul addresses this in Galatians 6:1. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Keeping a guard over our hearts is a constant need and we are assigned to one another to help with that. Once again, Jesus is more concerned with grace, mercy, and forgiveness than He is with retribution. He suffered all of the retribution for us so we have no need to visit that pain upon others for any reason other than to bring them back to God.