“Our Loving Ministry to One Who Has Sinned”

(Matthew 18:15-20 – Pentecost 16 – September 20, 2020)

Matthew 18:15-20 – 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. 19Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Dear Redeemed, by the grace of God in Christ Jesus:

If you saw a child handling a loaded gun recklessly, what would you do? I bet you would at least warn him, and even take the gun away. Why? He would be in danger of losing his life. If you saw a man paddling his boat toward a gigantic waterfall that crashed on rocks far below, I bet you would urgently warn him and try to save him from plunging to his death. It would be the loving thing to do. If you saw a brother in Christ living in sin, being lured from his Savior by temptation, what would you do? May we never stand by, not caring about his danger.

We know what Jesus wants us to do. In our text He shows our Christian duty to act in love when we see a brother wandering in a path of sin. Jesus wants us to warn him and do all we can to save him from losing his spiritual life and plunging into eternal death. It is the loving thing to do. So let us consider “Our Loving Ministry to One Who Has Sinned,” as Jesus teaches us in regard to 1) Our loving manner and 2) Our loving method.

1) Our loving manner

First, let us look at our loving manner. If we see a brother sin without repenting, Jesus wants us to treat his sin with loving concern. He says in verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” “Go,” He says.  There is a sense of urgency. There is a soul in danger.

What kind of sin is spoken of? Is every sin of a fellow Christian to be the object of brotherly admonition? Are we to so show up on one another’s doorstep every time we see any failure to act or speak perfectly? Are we to peck at one another’s faults every time something bothers us? No. The sinful nature clings to us until we get to heaven. Even the most mature in faith sin. We hate our sin; we repent of it. That is why we gather together before God every week and confess our sins, so we can hear His gracious forgiveness in Christ. So we should assume true faith and repentance in one another. And “Love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Now, if a brother in Christ has sinned against us, if he is at fault for causing an offense that brings hurt and division, it is best to go and speak one-on-one with him. Instead of bottling up bitterness and allowing sin to fester and grow, we should bring our concern in Christian love. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we can share God’s forgiveness and love in Christ. And we can move forward in His grace.

But here, in light of Jesus’ steps of admonition, of special concern is the case of a brother in Christ who is becoming ensnared in a certain sin. He is following a path that leads away from Christ. He is destroying his faith by unrepented sin. True love leads us to react with urgency. This is no time to say, “Is there any real danger? I don’t want to be too nosy. He might get upset if I confront him. I’ll let someone else deal with it. Isn’t that the pastor’s job?” This would be the equivalent of standing by and watching a child play with a loaded gun thinking, “Maybe he’ll just set it down; anyway, it’s his parents’ job to watch him.” Or it would be like watching a man paddle toward a waterfall thinking, “Maybe he’ll see the danger and stop in time. Anyway, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4:9)?” A soul, bought by the blood of Jesus, is in danger of plunging into hell. Jesus wants us to minister to the one living in sin with due sense of urgency.

The manner of our ministry is to be marked by loving concern. Just before our text, Jesus spoke of His intense love for even one who wanders away from Him in a path of sin. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12-14). Jesus wants us to share His Good Shepherd’s love for the wayward sheep; and to share the love of the Father who eagerly awaits the return of the lost son into His welcoming arms.

So with heartfelt compassion, Jesus says in verse 15: “If your brother sins… go and tell him his fault…. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” That is our goal, to gain him back to Christ, to restore him to repentance and faith, that he may know Jesus’ forgiveness and love.

Even if a person’s sin has hurt us, we are not to go with a bitter heart, in attack mode. Holding a grudge and unforgiving spirit is sin. Jesus teaches later in this chapter that if we do not forgive each other from our hearts, it reflects a problem in our own relationship to God (verse 35). It means that we have forgotten how much God has forgiven us. The only right way to approach one who has sinned is with forgiveness and love. Whether or not he responds how we would like, whether or not he seems sorry, we will already have forgiven him in our heart.

Where do we get this unconditional forgiveness and love? From God. We forgive each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). We can be thankful that God does not hold a grudge against us until we are sorry enough. He loves us sinners, no matter how we respond. Even while we were still in hard-hearted rebellion and unbelief, in love God put our sins on His Son on the cross, and He took them all away. Now, He holds out His forgiveness and love to all freely in Christ. If a sinner hardens his heart against God and perishes, it is not because God’s forgiveness and love failed.

So in thinking of our manner of ministering to one who has sinned, we go with the attitude that we are ambassadors of this forgiving and loving God. It is His loving admonition we share, in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” However a person responds to our faithful witness, it is really a response to Him and His Word.

And we respond by the authority of Christ, with the words He gives. Jesus says in verse 18: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” If we go to a brother who has sinned and he refuses to repent, by Christ’s authority we speak the truth in love: “You are bound in your sin. You remain in guilt and condemnation.” But if he repents, by Christ’s authority we tell him, “Jesus forgives you. You are loosed, set free from sin’s condemnation.”

This is our loving manner in ministering to one who has sinned. We go in love, earnestly desiring his repentance that he may return to the safety of Jesus’ forgiveness and salvation.

2) Our loving method

Now we consider our loving method of ministry. In order to minister to one who has sinned, first Jesus says in verse 15: “Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” We all know how tempting it is to make the sin public, instead of confronting the sinner personally. How our sinful nature loves to turn it into a juicy tidbit for gossip! But if we do, we ourselves commit sin. Broadcasting sin only stirs up greater bitterness in our heart, and it hinders forgiveness and healing. If the brother hears that we have spread the news about his sin, he will be less inclined to listen to us; and it would be much harder for him to feel accepted and return to the flock.

That is why Galatians 6:1 says: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” Put yourself in the place of one who has sinned. For haven’t we all sinned? Haven’t we all at some point needed to be rebuked and called to repentance? What a difference it makes if a brother or sister in Christ, in a spirit of humility and love says: “I come to you, not because I think I’m better than you, but because I’m concerned for your spiritual welfare. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief’ (1 Timothy 1:15). I need His forgiveness just like you. But I have to warn you that your sin is leading you away from Christ. He loves you too much to leave your soul in danger. He died on the cross for your sins. Don’t despise His grace. Repent, my friend. Come back to Him.” When our fallen brother hears Jesus’ words on our lips and repents, then we also declare Jesus’ uplifting words that say: “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2). The matter is settled privately, and we share the joy of heaven over one sinner who repents.

Jesus continues in verse 16: “But 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.'” We have gone to our brother one on one, with repeated efforts; yet he refuses to listen. Do we give up and say, “He is hopeless; it serves him right if he perishes”? No, Jesus says to get help. We bring one or two others along on the rescue mission, especially people he can trust. They witness that what is said and done is in Christian love. They add their loving warning. It should melt his heart to see true friends humbly and lovingly pleading with him, in Jesus’ name, to be reconciled to God.

But “if he refuses to hear them,” Christ’s love compels us to go even further. We enlist all the help we can get in this rescue mission. As Jesus says in verse 17: “tell it to the church.” What an impression it would make to have all the members of Christ’s body gathered in love around the one who has sinned, pleading for his spiritual and eternal good. “Look,” they say, “we are all patients in God’s hospital of grace. Not one of us is better than you. We are all sinners who repent and rejoice in Jesus’ forgiveness. He laid down His life to save you and us from sin and hell. He wants to lead you in safety to heaven. Repent of this sin by which you are separating yourself from His love.”

Jesus continues in verse 17: “But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Finally, the one who hardens his heart against God’s Word must be treated as an unbeliever. Even excommunication is a final act of love on the part of the church. It is the strongest possible warning that the impenitent has separated himself from God’s grace and put himself into Satan’s hands (1 Corinthians 5:5). It declares in no uncertain terms that if he dies in this state, he will go to hell. Even still, the church’s hope is that he will repent. Then we would rejoice to declare to him the boundless grace of God in Christ, who forgives every sin and restores the fallen.

Jesus concludes in verses 19-20: “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” In our loving ministry to one who has sinned, Jesus assures us that He is with us as we go in His name. We pray for His help to say the right things. We trust that His Word which we share is powerful to change the heart.

A story is told of a man who strayed from the Lord, but was finally brought back by the help of a friend who really loved him. When there was repentance and restoration, he was asked how it had felt to be away from the Lord. He said it had seemed like he was out at sea in deep water, in deep trouble; and many people were on the shore hurling accusations and judgment at him. “But there was one loving brother who actually came out to get me and would not let me go. I fought him, but he pushed aside my fighting, grasped me, put a life jacket around me, and took me to shore. By the grace of God, he was the reason I was restored. He would not let me go.”

In love, God sent His Son on a rescue mission to save each of us fallen sinners. In love, Jesus bore all the guilt, the shame, and the punishment for our sins; He took it all away from us. In love, He called each of us to repentance and faith; He embraced us and brought us out of death into eternal life. Jesus did all that for us. His love would not let us go. Now He calls us to share in His rescue effort. Let us share His love for the lost. Let us go to a soul who is straying in a path of sin, and show by our manner and method that Christ’s love will not let him go.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.