“But if they will not listen, take one or two others along…If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” —Matthew 18:16-17
In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches His disciples what to do when they experience sin and conflict. He instructs, “‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15). Jesus, however, does not presume that this is always going to be the case. Hence, He includes a qualifying statement, “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’” (Matthew 18:16).
Jesus is pragmatic about the church; He knows human behaviour is to avoid conflict and other people. This is why Jesus says if we try to resolve the conflict in a healthy way, respecting the privacy of the individual’s situation, speaking the truth in love and wanting to win them over to a deeper experience of the love of Christ in community, but they will not listen, bring in outside help. The people we bring in should be healthy disciples living in dependence upon Jesus and obedient to His teachings, not people who agree with us and will gang up on the other person. Together, with these people, repeat the process of speaking the truth in love, bringing the sin into the light, nurturing accountability to the teachings of Jesus and finding reconciliation.
Ideally, the brother or sister is open to that discipline and the relationship is restored. But even then, Jesus is realistic about the church, that even in the testimony of two or three godly witnesses, some people will not listen. What we see sometimes in the church is that some people cannot see their own tendency, their own sin and the damage it is having on the rest of the community. At this point, Jesus says, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). If someone is not going to listen to us, the leadership of the church or the broader church, recognize that we are dealing with someone who may not even be a disciple of Jesus. The root word of “discipline” is “disciple.” Discipline is a key part in the life of a disciple. There is no discipleship that does not involve discipline.
Maybe as we are reading this devotion, we need to be disciplined and God has brought alongside brothers and sisters to point out our sin. May our hearts be willing to listen and to learn from what they say, and humbly repent of our sin.
Lord God, break down any barriers that keep me from softening my heart to hear the gentle rebuke of my brothers and sisters. Thank You for placing me in a community of believers.