Sunday, May 26, 2019

[Matt's Messages] "If Your Brother Sins Against You"

“If Your Brother Sins Against You”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
May 26, 2019 :: Matthew 18:15-35

Pop Quiz. Who can remember what book of the Bible we have been studying together since December of 2017?

You are forgiven if you couldn’t remember, because we’ve ended up taking two long breaks from Matthew in the last two months.

We’ve made it up to chapter 18. If you want to turn there with me, we’re going to be in Matthew 18, starting in verse 15 this morning.

The last time we were in Matthew together was the last Sunday of April, and the disciples were asking Jesus which one of them was the G.O.A.T. The greatest of all time in the kingdom of heaven. Do you remember that?

He said that it was the humble.

“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

So Jesus told us that we are to become like these little ones, and to welcome these little ones and to not harm these little ones and to not hate these little ones.

Because He loves the little ones.

And it was amazing because we realized that WE, His disciples, are the little ones that He’s talking about.

The Father loves us and doesn’t want us to wander off and get lost.

The section ended by Jesus telling a story about a search and rescue operation.

Where a shepherd had a hundred sheep, but one of them wandered away. And the shepherd left the ninety-nine on the hills and went looking for the one that had wandered off.

And Jesus said that that was like the heart of God for wandering disciples. “Your heavenly Father is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Does that sound kind of familiar?

It seems like a long time ago to me. A lot has happened since then.

But Jesus remains the same, and so does His teaching.

In the next section, the one we’re going to look at today, Jesus continues His fourth major block of teaching in this Gospel, His teaching on relationships and obedience, by explaining to His disciples what they should do if another one of the disciples sins against them.

“If Your Brother Sins Against You”

Now, I think this is intimately connected to what we just talked about. Jesus isn’t just starting a brand new topic here. Look for more search and rescue here. Look for more about wandering sheep, wandering people, wandering disciples.

We were just told how the Father feels about wandering disciples.

Now, we’re told how we’re supposed to relate to them ourselves.

Jesus could have said, “WHEN your brother sins against you...” because it’s inevitable.

The church is full of sinners. There are no other kind of members.

Everybody in this room is a sinner, and guess what, sinners sin.

Now, everybody who belongs to Jesus is also a saint, so we don’t have to sin all of the time. In fact, saint is our deeper and truer identity now that we are in Christ.

But we still sin. I do. My wife and kids can tell you.

You don’t have to say, “Amen.”

It’s inevitable that brothers and sisters (the word here translated “brother” refers to both kinds of’s inevitable that brothers and sisters) will sin against each other from time to time.

So what should a Christian do when their Christian sibling sins against them?

By the way, I love that Jesus uses family language here.

This is about sin by a member of the family of God against a member of the family of God.

It’s not about the world and how we relate to them though there may be transferable principles to other kinds of conflicts.

This is a family matter.

One of you sinning against me. Me sinning against one of you.

How should we handle that in this family of God?

Jesus gives 5 steps.

Number one:


If it’s a sister, go and show her her fault. V.15

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

Step #1. Go and show your brother his fault.


This is in most instances a very private matter. Just the offender and the offended.

If your brother sins against you, go to him and try to make it right.

Now, what does the world say to do when this happens?

If your brother or sister sins against you...what?

“Go...see a lawyer!
Go...tell your neighbor!
Go...gossip about it to your friends!

Whatever you do, don’t go to him or her, I mean, they should come to you.  After all, they’re the ones that hurt you!”

But that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus says, “Go to them.” Yes, they hurt you. They sinned against you. It was a real sin. A real hurt. A real debt. A real stab.

But you are to go and try to show them where they have gone wrong.

As I have gotten older, I have found this to be harder to do.

I don’t like conflict.

If you have sinned against me, chances are, I have run away from confronting you.

At least at first.

Now, it’s better in many cases if you can to overlook an offense.

The Proverbs say that it’s a glory to overlook an offense.

But that means that a sin is unilaterally forgiven, and it won’t come between us at all.

If you can’t overlook something, the Lord calls you to go to your spiritual sibling and try to work things out.

If we consistently practiced step #1, we would have very few Christians ever get to step #4.

If we consistently practiced step #1 in our marriages, we would have very few Christians ever get divorced. Not that it wouldn’t happen, but it would become much more rare.

But we avoid confrontation, and we let offenses pile up, and we wait for the other person to take the initiative, and before you know it, we’re bitter and divided.

Now, it’s important how we go about showing somebody their fault, too.

Most of the time, we need to do it in a Galatians 6:1 way.

Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”


Of course, there are also times when flipping over tables is appropriate.

And it takes some wisdom to discern which times are which.

The point here is that we are to go and show our brother his fault.

And see here what the goal is. V.15 again.

“If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

You see the goal? All along, that’s the goal. To win your brother over. Restoration of fellowship. Debts forgiven. Relationship restored.

“If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

If he was a sheep, he’s been rescued!

Most of time when we confront somebody poorly, we want satisfaction not restoration.

We want an apology, not a brother back.

But Jesus is interested in family harmony.

The point of these steps is to get things back to where they belong.

Now, if you have sinned against someone else, if you’re on the other side of this equation, you aren’t supposed to wait for the confrontation.

Remember what Jesus said back at the Sermon on the Mount, “[I]f you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

If we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, we should be meeting each other on the way!

This last week, my conscience was heavy with some sins of the tongue that I had committed, and I had sinned in front of a group of Christians (and really against the group). So when I was convicted, I went to the whole group and asked for their forgiveness.

And they all readily granted it, for which I’m thankful.

Because we are family, and we want to do whatever depends on us to maintain that family unity.

But, however, that doesn’t mean that your brother will always listen, does it? V.16

“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'”

That’s step two.


We only take this step if step #1 failed to win our brother back. “But if he won’t listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Now, that last piece is a quote from Deuteronomy 19:15. It’s got a judicial ring to it.  There is a case being built here against the person who has sinned that needs to be established in case this thing goes before the whole church.

But I don’t think that the two or three going along is only for establishing “who said what.” I think that the two or three going back to talk with the erring brother is a more serious attempt at winning them back.

It’s getting a small group involved in someone’s life and showing how seriously concerned they all are about the well-being of this brother or sister who is wandering. It’s probably also to introduce more help if the conflict needs mediation, arbitration, and conciliation. Sometimes, we just can’t handle conflicts on our own. We need help!

Take one or two others along.

Now, what does the world say at this point?

The world says, “Give it up! Forget it. He’s not worth it. She’s a joke.”

The world says, “Get what you can. Cut your losses. Forget about that other person.”

But God says, “Go after them.”

Now, remember the point of going after them is to try to win them.

It’s not to gang up on them, it’s to gather round them in love.

Take one or two others along.

But that doesn’t always “work.” What if the sheep doesn’t want to be rescued? V.17

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church...”


That’s step number three. “Tell it to the church.”

At this point, it’s gotten beyond affecting just a small group. It threatens to affect the whole church, so the whole church needs to get involved.

If the Pastor or another Elder was not part of your “Step 2 Team,” this would be the time to get them involved.

“Tell it to the church.”

Now, that doesn’t mean stand up on a Sunday morning during “testimony time” and gossip about your friend’s behavior!

It means to get church leaders involved, meet with the principal people in the situation, get counsel, get a larger group of members together to intervene, set certain people to praying, and make it clear to the member who is trapped in the sin that this is serious business and needs to be dealt with.

I will level with you: this part (when something gets to this step in the process) it is no fun.

There has been almost nothing more painful and difficult for me in pastoral ministry than leading a church through this process at this step. Most of it is the role of a Pastor or Elder to do. And it’s a difficult business that no one enjoys. If you did enjoy it, there’d be something wrong with you.

But it is love! It’s love go after the wandering sheep even if the wandering sheep doesn’t want to be found.

I have not practiced this perfectly or even consistently as I would want.

And when this process is handled poorly, even more people get hurt.

But this is Jesus’ command to us, and it is love.

This is what a loving shepherd does for wandering sheep.

This is what a loving family does for the family they love.

They seek reconciliation and restoration.

“Tell it to the church.”

Remember where that word “church” came from in the Gospel of Matthew?

Remember when Jesus asked Peter the big question?

“Who do you say that I am?”

And Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

And Jesus said, “That’s right, and on this Rock, I will build MY CHURCH.”

“My messianic community. My called out gathering of people.”

The church belongs to Jesus.

And now the church, belonging to Jesus, gets involved in this conflict to try to resolve it and bring reconciliation and restoration to the family.

And when that works, it’s glorious!

I’ve seen this at work. And it’s glorious thing.

But, of course, it doesn’t always work because sometimes disciples just want to keep sinning.

So you tell it to the church (v.17), “...and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”


Now, remember, this didn’t start with telling the church.

If sins against one another can be cared for privately, that’s the way to go.

And most of them can.

The vast majority of them can.

But sometimes you get the whole church involved, and they still don’t want to listen.

Then you treat them like a “pagan or a tax collector.”

I love that. Remember what Matthew did before he because an apostle?!

This is step #4. And it’s called by various names, sometimes “Church Discipline” or  "Disfellowshipping” or “Ex-communication” because if someone is an outsider, outside of the Christian fellowship, they shouldn’t be taking communion.

The “you” here in verse 17 is singular. The church declares him or her an outsider, but each individual member needs to act that way, too.

If he refuses to listen to the church–the church has, as a whole, reached out to him and tried to bring him back, but he has refused to turn–then you treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Not as an enemy, but as someone who is outside of the family of God, someone who is clearly not a believer because they are not acting like one. As someone who you cannot have fellowship.

Somebody outside of the family.

I know that brings up a host of questions. It takes wisdom and discernment to make good decisions about what is and what is not acceptable.

And we need to extend to grace to one another as we stumble forward together.

And we need to be careful to not make matters worse by doing it poorly.

But the principle is clear. Step #4 is to treat them as outsiders. Put them out of the church family, and treat them like they are out of the church family.

Now, here the world goes ballistic! It says, “How cruel! How unloving!” But it is really just the opposite.

You’re still trying to win them and restore them.

You are still trying to rescue them!

The whole point is to rescue your brother or sister while maintaining the purity of the church.

This drastic action of step #4 is meant to shock people back to their senses.  It is “putting them outside” for their own good and for the church’s purity. This is taught other places in the New Testament. Check out 1 Corinthians 5 today for another example.

And no one is to be exempt. Pastors like me are to be treated the exact same way. Carefully, with two or three witnesses, but equally. 1 Timothy 5 says, “Those [elders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (v.20).

This is serious stuff. To be treated with prayer.

And verse 18 says that we are doing the Lord’s business when we do it. V.18

‘I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven [or, better, “has already been bound in heaven], and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven [or, better translation, “already been loosed in heaven.” This is the Lord’s business. It’s serious and needs prayer.] ‘Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.’”

Does that language sound familiar to you?

It’s also like chapter 16, isn’t it?

Jesus told Peter that he would have that kind of authority.

And now we find out that the church together has that kind of deep authority.

And if we are doing things right and righteously, there is symmetry between what the church does here and what God wants in heaven.

Now, it’s been a while since we were in the Gospel of Matthew together.

But there is a principle we’ve been seeing over and over again as we’ve gone through it together.

The Gospel of Matthew is a theological biography of Jesus Christ.

“Keep your eye on the ball.” Right?

What is the ball? “Who is Jesus?”

Don’t miss it in verse 20.

Look at that claim that He’s making.

He’s claiming that when the church gathers together and prayerfully does this deep authority work of trying to bring reconciliation between disciples and restoration of sinners back to fellowship, where is He?

Right there with them.

Right in the center.

Right there in their midst.

Who could do that?

That’s a big claim there!

This guy is saying that He’s in the middle of all of these messy conflicts between believers. Calling them to each other. Calling them to be family. Calling them to repentance and love.

Sometimes we think that verse 20 is about prayer meetings.

But it’s really about congregational meetings. (Which, hopefully, are prayer meetings, too!)

The congregation gathered together in the name of the Lord Jesus to do the work of  the church of the Lord Jesus.

And where is Jesus? Right there in the middle.

One more step.

What happens if your brother or sister repents?


Look at verse 21.

Peter knew that’s where Jesus was heading with all of this. That’s why he came and asked him the question he did in verse 21.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? [Notice the similar language] Up to seven times?’”

That’s a lot! Some of thee rabbis just said 3. Peter is being generous. Have you ever been sinned against 7 times and had to forgive 7 times? It’s hard to do. But (v.22)...

“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. [Again and again and again.] Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.

That’s over one gazillion dollars in today’s money. No joke. This was more money than was in Israel at that time! It’s 20 years wages times 10,000. Somewhere between 6 and 9 billion in today’s dollars. It’s the biggest weight of currency times the highest Greek number. This is a gazillion dollars.

Jesus is using the highest of hyperbole to get across His point.

“Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt [and of course that wouldn’t have done it. This debt could NEVER be repaid]. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. [WOW!] But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [not a small amount of money–a hundred days’ wages is a considerable sum – say $14,000 – it’s a real debt but nothing compared to what he’s just been forgiven].

He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. [Wait. What?] His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' [Sound familiar?] But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. [This man had obviously learned NOTHING. He was bitter and irrational and unforgiving and UNCHANGED.]

Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Wow. What a powerful story!

The point of this parable is not to explain the mechanics of how God forgives and when.

The point is not to teach that we get forgiven, then there is a test to see if we will forgive and then God takes away our forgiveness.

Parables don’t work like that. Most of the time there isn’t a one-for-one analogy between each character and scene and real life.

I think the message of the parable is twofold.

First, that we have been forgiven a massive sin debt that we could never pay.

We should marvel at what Jesus did for on the Cross.

And second, that “forgiven people forgive” (See the notes from the Zondervan NIV Study Bible on Matthew 18:35).

And so Jesus is warning us that if we aren’t people who forgive then we may not yet be people who have been forgiven.

If someone is consumed by bitterness and unwilling to forgive their brother or sister in Christ, then it calls into question their salvation.

We shouldn’t give false assurance to someone like that that they are saved.

Because the grace of God transforms us to be gracious people.

Disciples of Jesus forgive disciples of Jesus. That’s just what we do.

And we do it “from the heart.” For real.

This is why Jesus taught us to pray like this in the Disciples’ Prayer. Remember that from the Sermon on the Mount?

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Jesus closes with this crazy story to move us to do the opposite.

We are supposed to see ourselves as the one who is forgiven an astronomical gazillion dollar debt to God.

And then been transformed by that forgiveness.

So if a brother or sister sins against you and then repents, what should you do?

What would you do?

What will you do?

“Forgive your brother from your heart.”


Previous Messages in This Series:01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith