6/25/2014 1:00:00 PM
The Bible is the only place I know of where one plus one does not equal two! The promise of Jesus in Matthew 18, that He is present in the midst of two or three believers, actually is spoken in the context of an important process called church discipline that many congregations, unfortunately, don't even pretend to practice anymore. But is it far-fetched to believe that He enters small groups of believers in other situations as well? I don't think so.
I'm not sure why churches today shy away from the idea of disciplining its members. Perhaps it's out of a misguided notion that it involves punishing those who bring disrepute upon the body of Christ with unrepentant sinful behavior. It also may be because, as we've seen in a couple of mainline denominations just in the past week, that we can't agree about what behavior is sinful anymore. I find the process described in Matthew 18 entirely consistent with the rest of Scripture concerning sin, which God cannot abide, and compassion, which He insists upon.
Understand, God desperately wants to preserve us in His care. Consider the parable he shares immediately before Jesus institutes the process of church discipline:
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
- Matthew 18:12-14, ESV
Every individual in the Kingdom is precious to Him. God does not write off any of us as the inevitable cost of doing Kingdom business! He goes to extraordinary lengths to keep us with Him, and He admonishes us to do the same. That's why, even when a child of God commits a heinous sin, we are charged with lovingly encouraging him or her to repent and return to the body of Christ:
"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.
-Matthew 18:15-20, ESV, emphasis added
The purpose of church discipline, it's clear from these instructions, is not to kick those rotten sinners out of the church. It's restoration. But if the offending brother or sister insists upon his or her sinful lifestyle, then a concern for each individual in the Church requires that they be released to go their own way, without the protection of God resting upon them. It's of a piece with Paul's language in Romans 1 regarding the unrepentant – “God gave them over.”
Essentially, God visits His protection upon all who come to Him and choose to remain in Him. If He rejects anyone, it is those who have clearly rejected Him first, and He does that to preserve the rest of the Church. Quite a contrast from those who claim God is harsh with His children, isn't it?
It's also worth noting that Jesus's instructions, like most of His teaching, were a marked contrast to Jewish customs. For example, Jewish tradition required at least 10 men to even gather for public prayer. But He promised to be present in a much smaller number, a group of two or three – whether the business at hand was the attempt to restore a brother or sister in the faith or something else. The message is that our Savior wants an intimate relationship with us in all areas of our lives. He's not content to be a distant presence. Unfortunately, we're the ones who seek to keep Jesus at a distance much of the time, aren't we?
- June 25, 2014