Matthew 18:15-35: Discipline
February 19, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
This passage in Matthew 18 is much used in church circles, and not always well understood. It is one of only two times that specific word for “church” is used by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. One is when he is confirming that the foundation of the church is the gospel. As Luther put it, justification by faith alone is the article of the standing or falling of a church.
This passage is related to discipline. A true church is a church that has a right preaching of the gospel, right administration of the ordinances or sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and right church discipline. This passage is the go-to passage with relation to church discipline. The critical thing to grasp with relation to “discipline” is that it is merely a more intensive form of discipleship. The purpose is always for the building up, ultimate reconciliation, and blessing of all concerned.
All that said, Matthew 18 has been misused as a sort of excuse to go after people in church you don’t like. But of course, in the context, the point is reconciliation and forgiveness. It is a challenge to find a way to reconcile and forgive. As the parable that comes immediately after makes clear: if we have been forgiven sooo much, then surely we also must forgive others their relatively minor sins against us.
The process in the first part of Matthew 18 is a simple three-step process, one that you can find mirrored in various instructions in the letters with how to deal with false teaching or unrepentant immorality in church life. The first step is one-to-one. This is to give maximum opportunity for reconciliation because it is in private, and egos therefore are much less likely to be involved. The second step, perhaps after some extended attempts at the first, is to take a couple of others with you. Spiritual, mature, often “elders” at this point get involved.
The third step is to tell it to the church, and if there is no repentance at that point, there comes excommunication. But even excommunication is intended to bring to the point of renewal and reconciliation. As Paul teaches the Corinthian church when the sinning party repents, then the church must be very warm in its welcome to prevent the person from feeling shame or alienation for what they did. Note that the point is that the sinning party “listens”: in cases of personal offense, it is not always possible to agree with what someone says that you have done to them, but if you listen to them, take it on board, agree with the essence of what they are saying, then bridges can be mended.
A difficult passage, more honored in the breach, but one that is essential for the healthy well-being of the church body. Discipleship—and its more intensive form of discipline—is the discipline that keeps the body in tune and healthily going about the mission of its Master, Jesus Christ.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
To receive God Centered Life devotionals directly in your inbox, as well as other resources, enter your email address in the form at the bottom of this page and click "subscribe."