The longer I pastor my church, the more I appreciate the importance of the local church. Yes, I’m biased – I love my church. The preparation for last week’s sermon made me very conscious of the fact that I don’t love it enough.
The text was Matthew 18:15-35 – the Lord’s teaching on dealing with individual sin, the authority of the church and God’s mercy and judgment. I thought I knew this text – it is certainly familiar. However, I was convicted in the preparation and in the delivery as I realized that I haven’t taken the church seriously enough.
First, when Jesus gave the well-known three-step procedure for dealing with sin, he didn’t give an option for the offended party to just leave it alone. Sin in the church is a big deal. If the one sinned against tries to bury the matter, he is hurting the church. If, when confronted by the individual and two or three witnesses (step one and two, respectively) and does not listen, then the private matter becomes a public matter.
I have been involved in discipline situations, but I don’t think I’ve done a great job over the years communicating the destructive nature of unresolved interpersonal sin. I need to know my sheep better and ask difficult questions more often.
I don’t want to leave the impression that we have a church full of unfinished business – we don’t. I am coming to the realization that I am more a product of our privatized, individualistic culture than I thought. The fact that ‘we belong to each other’ in the church (Romans 12:5) has serious implications for the elder’s oversight of the church. Responsibility for keeping watch over the flock involves confronting sin in the church according to the parameters of the authority of the church.
The word ‘church’ only appears twice in the Gospels – in Matthew 16:18 and here in Matthew 18:17. In the first instance, the context is Peter’s confession and our Lord’s subsequent statement concerning Peter’s authority to bind and loosen – the keys of the Kingdom. The passage in Matthew 18 makes it clear that this authority is not limited to Peter alone. The New Covenant church – the post Acts 2 church – had not yet begun at this time. However, Jesus’ teaching is unfolding to encompass the gathered body’s authority when dealing with matters of judgment within the church. This authority and function of the church is revealed even more in the time of the Apostles’ ministry in Acts and the Epistles.
Commentators have used a lot of ink discussing the tense of the words ‘whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” My understanding of this is that Jesus said that Heaven’s decision stands with the church, but we must remember that the binding and loosing authority is God’s first, not ours. In other words, Heaven doesn’t conform to the church’s decisions on earth. The church conforms to the authority of Heaven. That is the source of the church’s authority.
The authority of the church has often been abused, on the local level in power struggles and favoritism. This abuse has also occurred when the church has gotten wrapped up in worldly power and politics. However, the church has real authority and responsibility to use with humility and wisdom for the sake of a disciplined church that is growing in grace and purity for God’s glory.
The parable of the wicked servant is a chilling reminder that God will not be mocked. If a person confesses that they believe the Gospel and continue on a self-centered way, they betray that they have not been saved by God. True conversion results in new life. We are not saved by what we do, but our salvation produces fruit. One of the evidences of that grace of God is a love for the people of God.
When we regularly see Christ presented before us, we will remember the immensity of God’s love, mercy and grace. This astonishing generosity of God seen in the Gospel will put everything else in perspective. There is no better way for my church and I to grow in love, grace and witness than to be constantly confronted by our crucified, risen Lord.