the weblog of Alan Knox

Church Discipline Revisited – Seek Reconciliation

Posted by on May 2, 2008 in community, discipline, scripture | 6 comments

In my last post, I examined the context of Matthew 18:15-20, namely that Jesus is teaching about forgiveness in spite of sin and the seriousness of sin. Once again, here is the passage under consideration:

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)

As we begin to study this passage, we notice first of all that something has precipitated this interchange: one brother sinning against another brother (I would assume this would apply to “sisters” as well). Thus, we’re dealing with family – family in Christ, I would say. This is not about dealing with sin in general, nor is it about dealing with sin outside of the family. Specifically, one person has offended another person, and a broken relationship is involved. The desired outcome of this procedure is the restoration of the relationship. The undesired outcome – the outcome if reconciliation is not reached – is a broken relationship – treating the person as a “tax collector and Gentile” as opposed to treating the person as a brother or sister.

Furthermore, there is another motivation to this interchange: the offended individuals desires to reconcile the relationship (“you have gained your brother”). The offended person does not enter this dialog in order to prove the other person wrong, nor does the offended person enter into this because he disagrees with the other person. Instead, the offended party cares so much for the other person that she is willing to humble herself and go to the offensive party in order to seek reconciliation. These may seem like insignificant details, but they are very important that we recognize the motivation in order to understand the teaching.

Also, as we try to understand this passage, notice that the commands in this passage are given specifically to the individual who was sinned against: “go and tell him”, “take two or three”, “tell the church”, and “let him be to you”. All of the 2nd person commands are singular – to the individual sinned against. In the last command, the “you” is also singular. This does not tell the church how to the treat the individual. In fact, nothing is said of the church taking action at all. This is specifically for the individual who is sinned against. (Note: I am not saying that the community of believers should not take action. However, this community action is NOT in view in this passage.) (I have previously discussed the individual nature of the commands in this passage in a post called “Matthew 18 and Discipline“.)

Finally, the phrase “tell him his fault” (ESV, NKJV, KJV) is also rendered “show him his fault” (NASB, NIV, NET) and “rebuke him” (HCSB). This verb (ἐλέγχωelenchō) has a wide range of meanings: 1) bring to light, expose, set forth; 2) convict, convince, point out; 3) reprove, correct; 4) discipline, punish. While the verb is translated with all of these definitions throughout the New Testament, this is the only use of the verb in Matthew. Thus, Jesus could be telling the offended person to “reprove him because of his sin” or to “expose the broken relationship to him”. Either translation is possible from the term ἐλέγχω (elenchō). Given the desired response (i.e. “you have gained your brother”) and the final negative result (i.e. treating him like a tax collector or Gentile) leads me to think that Jesus was telling the offended person to expose the offense and the broken relationship to the offending party.

The importance of relationships and reconciliation is demonstrated by the last three verses of this passage. Heaven (that is, God) takes notice both of reconciled relationships and broken relationships. God’s children – those who have been reconciled to God, forgiven by God, loved by God, etc. – by nature offer the same reconciliation, forgiveness, and love to others. Similarly, God’s children seek restoration and forgiveness, even if they have to humble themselves (like a little child? like a shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the 1? seventy times seven times?). And, as Jeus points out in the next passage, God’s children will humble themselves and forgive a brother or sister over, and over, and over, and over again. They are more concerned with their relationship with their brother or their sister than they are concerned with protecting themselves from the possibility of future offense.

There is certainly much more that can be said about this passage – especially the last three verses. However, I think it is important for us to begin with the basics. Before I conclude this short series tomorrow, I wonder if you have anything that you would like to add to this study…


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-2-2008

    If this has already been mentioned by someone else, I apologize for the duplication. I heard John MacArthur asked an interesting question. The person wanted to know exactly how we were supposed to treat someone who chose not to repent after having been shown his/her faults. What does it mean to treat someone as a “Gentile and a tax collector”? MacArthur’s answer was something I had not thought of before — maybe others have. That is, we treat them as anyone else we wish to have come to Christ. We don’t push them away, but instead try to bring them (back) in to the church.

    It changed my attitude toward those who sin against me and how I approach the issue of church discipline.

  2. 5-2-2008


    Thanks for the comment. While I probably would not phrase it as “try to bring them back in to the church”, I understand what MacArthur is saying. I would think that treating someone like a Gentile and tax collecter indicates that we no longer have a brother/sister relationship with them. At least, that’s the way tht I would phrase it.


  3. 5-2-2008

    I probably did not phrase it the way MacArthur did. It has been a while since I heard his comment. I think the gist of it was not to have nothing to do with them; rather, the relationship has changed (like you said). But the desire is not to keep the relationship broken, but to be restored. (Again, this is my interpretation of something I heard MacArthur said some time ago.)

  4. 5-3-2008


    Yes, I think I understand better now. Again, I don’t think I would say “have nothing to do with them”. Instead, I would stick with “our relationship has changed”. You’ve helped me think through this more, and I appreciate it very much!


  5. 5-3-2008

    Anonymous –

    That makes a lot of sense … I can’t believe that I have not seen that before. After all, this was Jesus teaching here. I can’t imagine that He would have treated the sinning brother badly or rudely. You’re right – His desire would have been, and so should ours be, to have the relationship restored.


    ~Heather 🙂

  6. 5-4-2008


    The more I study Scripture and especially the life of Jesus, it becomes more and more clear that we should hold our relationships with one another as much more important than we normally do – or at least, more important than I normally do.