Sermon on Matthew 18:15-20
Text: “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. 16 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.’ 17 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.
18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Keys play an important part in our lives. We use them for many things. We need them to start our cars or trucks. We need them to get into our houses. We may need them to get our mail. We often do not realize how important they are until we misplace them. This morning, we are going to look at A SPECIAL SET OF KEYS that have been given to us by God. One key is used to bind people to their sins. The second key is used to free people from their sins.
First, we will consider the binding key. What is meant by this key? The binding key is the refusal of forgiveness to a person as long as they refuse to repent. Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” (Verse 18) This key and the loosening key are usually used in connection with church discipline.
In our text, Jesus tells us to whom these keys are given, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Verses 19&20) When we get together as a church, Jesus tells us that he will be with us. Whatever they ask for, Jesus tells us, his Father will do. Since Jesus is with us when we ask, we are acting with his blessing. So, when we use the binding key, we are doing so with his blessing.
Note that these keys are not just given to the pastor or elected representatives in the church. These keys are given to the entire congregation. The congregation has been given the responsibility of using them. We read in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” We are all a part of this priesthood, with the responsibility to see that God’s will is done and that the keys are used.
In our text, Jesus outlines the steps that are followed in church discipline. He starts out the scenario, “If your brother or sister sins.” (Verse 15) A fellow member has committed a sin and you know about it. What do you do next? Do you ignore it and pretend it did not happen? That’s a very easy thing to do. No one wants to get involved, if they do not have to (although, they already are, when they see or hear it). This is one thing that we could do. Another thing that we could go and do is to tell everyone else about it. After all, who can resist a juicy bit of gossip? We justify it by saying that it is not gossip, because what we are saying is true. A third thing that we could do is to run and tell the pastor. After all, that’s their job, isn’t it? They are the ones who work with people’s spiritual lives. ‘I’ll tell him, and then I’ve done my duty.’
Jesus, however, does not want us to do any of these things. He tells us, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” (Verse 15) You, the person who knows about the sin, are to go to that person and show him his fault, just between the two of you.
When you point out the sin, it would be easy to just let them have it. In doing so, we could do a great amount of harm. We could drive a wedge in between them and us, with the result that they will not listen to what we have to say. Rather, as Paul writes in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” We are to speak to them in Christian love.
If the person we are talking to should tell us that they have not done anything wrong, Jesus tells us about the next stage in church discipline, “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.’” (Verse 16) You are to choose one or two others from the congregation and have them come with you. It is very important whom you choose. They should be people that the person we are talking to will respect. They, too, must be gentle when they speak with that person. Those who accompany you can serve two purposes. First, they can give you support. Perhaps, you are at a loss as to what to say. Let one of the others speak. If you are uneasy about what you are doing, the others can help calm your worries. They also act as witnesses. They can observe what is going on. It is no longer one person’s word against another’s. Rather, when asked by the church, they can support what has been going on.
If this person should refuse to repent after being confronted by these two or three, then the matter should be taken before the church. Jesus said, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church.” (Verse 17) Here the case is told to the assembly, complete with the witness of the others. Then, it becomes a matter for the church to deal with. Out of love for that person, they are seeking repentance from him.
If he still refuses to repent, even after the church has spoken to him, Jesus says, “Treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Verse 17) The “pagan” is a Gentile and, according to Jewish ceremonial law, was unclean and excluded from the assembly. Because the tax collector associated with the Gentiles, they were also considered unclean. You did not associate with these people, and they could not go to the temple to sacrifice.
When a person reaches this stage, they are said to be excommunicated. We are telling them that they are going to hell because of their unrepented sins. This is the sternest preaching of the law. This is the binding key. Some might think that this is a cruel key to use and, perhaps, should not be used. Who are we to tell someone that they will go to hell? Yet, this is the very purpose of the binding key. We want that person to see the seriousness of their sin, so that they will repent. It is like telling someone that they have a fatal illness. We would think it foolish not to tell that person, lest we hurt their feelings. We tell them so that they might receive the cure for their illness. We use the binding key out of love for these people, with the hope that they will repent of their sins.
We have also been given another key, the loosening key. With this key, we comfort the penitent sinner by announcing the forgiveness that Jesus won for them. With this key, we, acting in Christ’s place, forgive them their sins. As Jesus tells us, “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Verse 18)
Again, this key is not just given to the pastor. It is true that he publicly uses it every Sunday, after we confess our sins. However, we can forgive one another’s sins. When we sin against each other, we can go to each other and confess that sin, asking for forgiveness. When someone does that, coming to us, saying they are sorry, do not just say, “Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.” It was important enough for them to confess that sin to us and ask for forgiveness. Assure them that this sin was also forgiven by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
This is always our hope as we go through the stages of church discipline. We pray that they might see their sins for what they are and be sorry for them. Then, we have the privilege of using the loosening key. Then that person can be sure that they are a member of God’s family and can look forward to spending their eternity in heaven. Obviously, the loosening key is a much happier key to use than the binding key. This key promises eternal life and joy beyond all measure. The other promises an eternity of separation from God’s love and feeling the full force of God’s anger against sin. However, we must sometimes use the binding key, so that we can use the loosening key.
This is the ultimate purpose of church discipline. Our text tells us, “If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Verse 15) If they listen to you, you have gained him back from hell. This may seem to be a lot of hard work. It will take some time to carry out because it is not a 1-2-3 process. You do not just go through the steps once. You may end up working at it for some time. However, if that person repents and changes their life, wasn’t it worth it?
When we study the keys, we must confess that we have not always used them as we should. We do not always use the binding key when we should. We have remained silent, instead of speaking to our brother or sister about their sin. It may be that we did not want to get involved. It may be that we did not want to hurt their feelings. We may also misuse the loosening key. We have refused to forgive those who have sinned against us. We have nursed our grudges. For all the times, we have misused these precious gifts from God, we must plead guilty. How we thank God that, in his love, he sent his Son to pay for these sins, as well. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he paid for our sins. He brings us into his kingdom and gives us this privilege of the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Many of us can remember the thrill of the first time our parents gave us the keys to the car. We knew that there was a great deal of responsibility that went with this. This morning, we have talked about the keys that Jesus has given us. May we not be afraid to use the binding key, when necessary. May we gladly and quickly use the loosening key at the proper time. Remember that, with these keys, comes great responsibility. May God help us to use these keys as we should. Amen.
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