Last week we looked at just how seriously God sees sin.
Sin separates us from God. It places us under God’s curse and under eternal banishment from his presence to a place of unspeakable suffering.
Jesus spoke plainly and often about hell. It is that lost and painful eternal existence which he would have us avoid. But only he can save us from it – if we are willing.
So sin is serious in relation to God.
But it is also serious in relation to others, especially within the Christian community, the Church.
We remain in chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel account of Jesus life and ministry. We move on to verses 15 following where Jesus talks about banishing someone from the church assembly.
That is an extremely serious matter. To banish a believer from the community of believers because they have sinned against someone in that community.
Jesus outlines a particular procedure, and it is a procedure I have never seen followed properly.
The procedure Jesus lays down is to for the injured party to raise the matter with the offender, one to one. If the person acknowledges their fault, then that is the end of the matter. If they don’t, then Jesus commands that the victim take two or three others to see the offender. Again if the offender acknowledges the problem, the matter is dealt with. If not then it must go to the assembly of all the local believers. Again if the person acknowledges their offence, that is the end of it. If not, he must pay the penalty of being expelled from the church.
Sin is serious and it cannot be allowed to infect the body of believers. It means that every believer has a responsibility to challenge it and ensure that it is repented of.
Jesus shows us that sin must be dealt with, but that it must be dealt responsibly and with understanding. A person must be given opportunity to repent, an opportunity to admit their error and to put things right.
We see here grace and truth at work. The Truth must be upheld and applied. It cannot be ignored or put aside. If it is, then others start to live the lie of the offender, and the gravity of sin is reduced in the hearts and minds of others in the church. That then means that the church becomes liable to subversion from the truth it exists to teach and to proclaim. That manifestly must not be allowed to happen.
So there is a balance here between maintaining the purity of the living message of the church, and helping the offender to be reconciled to the church. After all, there is none of us who does not at some point succumb in a serious way to the waywardness of our own evil hearts.
So Jesus lays down 3 opportunities for the offender to repent. And there are also 3 stages which believers in the church community must be prepared to take to
- ensure the purity of church doctrine and practice
- ensure the recovery of a believer to right relationship with others
Because Jesus will force none of us against our will to obey him, the offender must come to acknowledge their sin of their own accord, and give it up. They must be encouraged to see this for themselves, firstly from the person offended, then from two or three concerned associates, then from the entire local assembly.
The penalty of expulsion must be applied for the sake of the church. But expulsion does not deprive the offender of any thing in this life, of their goods or livelihood. What it does do is remind the offender of what is most important in the Christian life – the spiritual life of the church by which their own spiritual life is encouraged, and their own gifts are exercised for the glory of God and the good of the church.
The entire process is designed to solicit a reaction of reconciliation with God and with his people. While at the same time preserving the essential integrity of the church’s mission and its life.
Let us note that expulsion is a matter for the whole church to consider and to decide. It is not reserved to leaders, or leadership; to elders or deacons. It is a matter for the whole assembly.
In these days when the church is so invaded by the ways and thoughts of this fallen and sin sick world, it is important to remember this.
The world lauds and submits to strong leaders, and surrenders responsibility for morality.
The Church is different.
Every believer is a member of the royal priesthood and a citizen with responsibilities in a nation whose identity is holiness.
All therefore have a responsibility to safeguard against disobedience to God – sin.