[Oct 31]--The Bride: Go To Your Corners. . .

Matt. 18:15-18

I’m amazed sometimes that people doubt the doctrine of total depravity. I can understand if they differ with me about a literal reading of Genesis. I can even understand if they doubt the miracles recorded in the Scriptures (although I don't think they're taking the Bible seriously). I mean, it’s not like you see a miracle every day, right? But when it comes to the Bible’s declaration that we’re all sinners at heart, I mean come on! G.K. Chesterton once quipped that human sinfulness is the one biblical doctrine that you can prove with a daily newspaper.

The reason I bring that up is the sad fact that even redeemed people still have a sinful nature. I know that some well-meaning people deny that as well, but I think the Bible’s pretty clear about it. Yes, the Spirit’s at work in each of us, and hopefully we can see some improvement. We’re not what we once were, but we’re not what we should be, nor are we all that we will be. But the inconvenient truth is that within every church you can find people who can’t get along and threaten the unity therein. So what do we do about it?

Let me point out some things that Jesus didn't lay out as an option here. First and foremost, he didn't present the possibility that believers can—under any circumstances—bring their dispute into a secular court. Just to make it extra clear, Paul specifically forbade that in his letter to the Corinthians.

Second, nowhere in today’s reading does he say that it’s OK to complain about someone in front of other believers. I can’t believe I have to write this, but it seems like some of my siblings in Christ haven’t gotten the message yet. It's not all right for you to go to another believer and complain about someone else.

So what is the procedure? From the way some people act, you would think that this passage is esoteric and hard to comprehend like a passage in Revelation or Daniel. This isn’t rocket science or brain surgery.

First, you go to that person and try to resolve it between the two of you. You try to work it out between yourselves.

Second, if that doesn’t work, then you bring two or three witnesses to hash it out.

Third, as a last resort, you bring it before the assembled church. If the church determines that someone is in the wrong, then we can go from there.

I’d like to point something out here. He instructs that you treat the offending party (who doesn’t repent) like a tax collector or a nonbeliever. How are we supposed to treat someone like that? Well, how did Jesus treat someone like that? Like the scum of the earth? Like something you scrape off your shoe? By cutting off all contact? Of course not. We’re to treat them with love and compassion, always holding out the hope that they eventually will repent and there’ll be reconciliation. That doesn’t mean they continue to be treated like a member in good standing, naturally. If they're in a position of leadership, they'll need to step down. But hopefully you get the idea.

Let’s spend just a moment on this phrase which has been the source of some misunderstanding: “Whatever you bind on earth. . .” That’s a possible reading of the Greek, but I don’t think it’s the best one. Do we determine what’s bound on earth, and Heaven goes along with it? Really?

No. there’s an equally good way to translate it, and it makes much more sense theologically. As the NIV footnote says, it could be rendered “Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in Heaven.” It’s Heaven (in other words, God) who determines what’s bound and loosed, and we echo that. We—as God’s representatives—determine from God’s word what’s already been bound/loosed and we proclaim that truth to the world and the rest of the church.

There’s a reason why Jesus says this right after submitting his procedure for handling conflict in his church. When we follow his instructions, his Standard Operating Procedure (to use an Army term), we have his authority behind us. We’re not initiating the binding/loosing; we’re merely relaying to others what's already been bound/loosed by our Lord.

Waitaminute, it’s been waaaaaay too long before I reminded you of my favorite aphorism. You knew you were going to hear it again, didn’t you? No one in the history of mankind has ever done things God’s way who regretted it in the end. And the converse is true as well: If you do things your way instead of his, I guarantee that you’ll end up regretting it. Don’t fool yourself.

Lord Jesus, when someone lashes out at me, it’s so tempting to strike back in return. Please stay my hand. We’ll do things your way, by your grace and power.

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