Matthew 18:15 – “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.”
The message for Sunday, Disciplinary Discipleship, dealt with an uncomfortable teaching of Jesus Christ, which responds to our question, how should the community of faith should address sin (and the sinner) within the community?
This question directs us to one of Jesus’ teaching discourses in the Gospel of Matthew. The disciples present Jesus with a question of their own: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”(18:1) Their question provokes an extensive response from Jesus. He speaks of the “little ones;” he warns against the temptation of these little ones; he identifies the will of God for these little ones; he explains how one of these little ones is to be disciplined if they wander away; and, he concludes with a statement on forgiveness and an illustration to support his teaching. (Mt. 18)
Situated within the midst of this discourse, Jesus discusses the disciplinary actions to be observed by the community in response to the sin of a member…
Several words are used in the New Testament for sin. The most frequently used word comes from the root word hamartia. “To miss the mark” is a basic interpretation of hamartia. Thinking of sin as missing the mark is extremely helpful to understanding Sin and the effect of Sin. Our target (our aim) is to live in relationship with God. Sin describes the condition of veering off target such that one misses the mark! Individual acts of sin, therefore, persuade the offender to veer off target.
Side Note – This description of Sin and its effect is elementary and, perhaps, an oversimplification. I use it, however, to emphasize the most basic concept of Sin: Sin is a condition. Sin is a disruption, restriction, or obstruction in the participation of a relationship with God. Individual acts of sin are more than “bad” things, they are expressions of a heart isolated from the love of God.
Jesus speaks up. He describes to his audience the disciplinary actions to be taken by a community when they discover a member of their community is under the pwersuaive power of Sin. He outlines his instruction in four parts:
- Address the individual in private. Produce evidence of fault. If the offender listens (i.e. – repents), he is to be pardoned. If he does not listen, then observe step two…
- Address the individual in private, but in the company of two or three. Produce evidence of fault. If the offender listens, he is to be pardoned. If he does not listen, observe step three…
- Address the individual before the collective body of the church. Produce evidence of fault. If the offender listens, he is to be pardoned. If he does not listen, then observe step four…
- Jesus says, “Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (v. 17b)
If all else fails, remove the offender from participating in the active life of the community – the community of faith should regard the offender as someone existing outside of their community, who (add to this treatment) is guilty of a heinous act.
Wow! Jesus is not playing around here. It is hard to read his words without wondering if he is promoting the banishment, exile, or abandonment of non-compliant. IN many ways, he appears to be contracting his core teachings – sacrificial love of others, radical hospitality, inclusivity, etc. Why would Jesus take such a hard line on this matter? How are we (the Church) to understand his teaching in our modern context?
In our message, we turn to the teaching of Jesus preceding these words. In verses 10-14, Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Sheep. A shepherd has 100 sheep. One of the sheep wanders away. The shepherd leaves the others to go in search of the one sheep that has wandered away. If the sheep is found, the shepherd would rejoice greatly!! Jesus concludes this parable with a telling statement: “So it is not the will of the Father in heaven that one of these little ones be lost.” (V. 14)
God’s will is for the wandering one to be restored to community (with God and others). The parable of the lost sheep provides the interpretive key to understanding the rational of Jesus expressed his instructions on disciplinary action.
Jesus seeks to serve the will of God. The will of God is to restore the one who has wandered away (i.e. – the one who is veering off target such that he will miss the mark). If producing the evidence of fault does not lead to repentance, Jesus issues a harsh demand: remove the offender from participation in the life of the community.
The removal of the offender must not be seen as abandonment, banishment, or isolation. Exclusivity is not the telos of this action. The offender is removed from their participation in the life of the community so they can assume a new position in relation to the community of faith.
Imagine a teacher is discipling a disruptive child in her class. When I was young, the teacher would send you into the hall for a short length of time. There were couple reason for this action:
- The teacher removed me from the class so I would not be a disruption;
- The teacher removed me from the class so I could reflect upon my actions;
- The reacher removed me from the class so she could speak directly to me; she would be able to attend to my issues.
- The teacher removed me from the class so I could be forgiven and welcomed back.
Jesus applies the same model to his teaching. He encourages the removal of the offender so he can assume a new position in relation to the community. He is removed so the sin does not disrupt the health of the community. He is removed so he can reflect upon his condition. He is removed so the church can attend to his specific needs and concerns. Let me pause here, because this action is important to our understanding of discipleship. Discipleship is the process of growing closer to Jesus Christ through whom we are restored to God. The church places the offender in a new position so the church can assume responsibility for the individual. They tend to the needs and the concerns of the individual until the individual is capable of assuming responsibility for himself…this is discipleship!!! And, finally, the offender is removed so the church can, hopefully, restore a stronger disciple to the community, which strengthens the community.
Should a church discipline members of their community?
The answer to this question is not simply a matter of how; the answer to this question is realizing the opportunity churches are given to serve the will of God. To put it bluntly, members of a community of faith are responsible for one another. A church should be a people of nurture, encouragement, support, and empowerment. A people who worship together, but also grow together. When the presence of Sin emerges within a community of faith, the members are obligated to respond in love!
Some may apply the direct teaching of Jesus articulated in Matthew 18 and remove the offender from participation in the life of the community. Other churches may take a different approach. Either way, the intended result must be the same: Serving the will of God by restoring the wandering one to community with God and others!
More can be heard in this week’s message, Disciplinary Discipleship. Have a listen and, please, share your thoughts in the comment section! Blessings…