Matthew 18:15–18 (NKJV)
15“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 18Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The Scriptures make plain that our love for God is directly connected to and demonstrated by the fruit in our lives (Luke 6:43-49). Love for God is not defined by our feelings but by God’s word: Jesus says that if we love Him, we will obey His commandments (Jn. 14:15; 15:10-17). Because our love for God is revealed in such visible fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-26), Jesus instructs us in our text today how we are to respond when a brother fails to bear such fruit and sins against us.
Last week, we studied this passage in company with 1 Corinthians 5. We saw that following private attempts to confirm that our brother really has sinned and that he refuses to repent, the church is to come alongside this brother publicly and correct him. When the church acts in this way, then the brother is summoned “to hear the church” – to take ownership for his sin, make concrete changes in his attitude and actions, and submit to his brethren in the Lord. This is our calling as disciples of Christ.
However, if he refuses “even to hear the church”, then Jesus instructs us, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Mt 18:17). Jesus insists that we are no longer to treat him as an erring brother in need of correction but as an unbeliever in need of the saving grace of God in Christ. This action is a mercy to him for it endeavors to speak God’s own word to the man, warning him that a refusal to humble oneself now will only incur God’s judgment later. After all, Jesus’ command is accompanied by the sober promise that heaven itself will concur in the sentence of excommunication: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Mt 18:18).
As elders it is our duty to apply Jesus’ words to a member of our church, ——. Last year, we told the church that —— had filed for divorce from her husband and was refusing to seek the counsel of her elders both here at Trinity Church and at ————. We urged her to seek our counsel so that we could assist in the reconciliation of this marriage. We recognize that marriage problems are chiefly the responsibility of the husband to repair and assured her that we would not condone any sin on ——’s part. Despite our assurance, admonition, and then Suspension from the Lord’s Table, —— has refused to listen to the elders. She absented herself from worship both here and at ————. Just last week she finalized the divorce proceedings.
Since —— has refused “to hear the church”, our obligation is to put her out of the church. Therefore, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we, the elders of Trinity Church, hereby excommunicate —— from the church of Jesus Christ and hand her over to Satan, praying that God may yet have mercy on her and restore her to the true faith, that her soul may be saved in the Last Day (1 Cor 5:4-5).
As we do so, we would deliver to you two exhortations. First, remember prayer. As you think of ——, please pray that the Lord would humble her, expose her sin, and bring her back to a true faith in Christ. As you think of her family who remain in the church, please pray that God would empower them, by His grace, to continue to serve the Lord in humility, to honor —— as a mother and fellow image bearer, and to be faithful witnesses to her that they might be a means of touching her heart with the Gospel. Remember prayer.
Second, remember humility. Apart from the grace of God, we none of us would humble ourselves before Him. Our hearts are deceitful, our thoughts are vain, and our consciences are darkened. We all of us stand in constant need of God’s grace and mercy. So if you meet or interact with ——, be gracious, be kind, be loving, express your desire for her restoration, and your commitment to the well-being of both her and her family. Remember that Jesus regularly ministered to tax collectors and sinners, bringing them the truth of the Gospel in the hope that they would repent and turn in faith to Him. —— needs the Gospel. But hear the Word of the Lord: so do you. So beware the lies of the devil, the lusts of your own heart, and the snares of the world. Remember humility.
And so reminded this morning of our call to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, let us kneel and acknowledge our sin to Him, praying for His mercy and grace. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together.