Published by Jason Taylor on Sat, 9 Sep 2017 15:27

Matthew 18:15-20

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

This is one of the few passages in all of the Gospels that provides a ‘procedural guide’ for dealing with a situation within a church community. Here, one member of the community is described as having sinned against another. Note that this three-stage process starts very small – one to one. How tempting it is, when one is hurt, to start exactly the other way around – by talking to a large number of people, discussing it with anyone who is willing to listen, anyone except the person directly involved, that is! It is much more costly, and takes more courage, to speak up directly, for that requires a mature desire to engage with the other person, rather than to dismiss them.

Note the emphasis of the passage: if the member listens to you, ‘you have regained that one’. The aim here is conflict resolution and the renewal of relationship, not division and continuing mistrust. If a one-to-one conversation does not resolve the situation, one or two witnesses are to be invited along to confirm what is said (and perhaps to testify about the original incident). If this does not work, then the matter comes before the whole church community. Only if none of these remedies works is there to be a change in relationship.

The phrase ‘let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector’ (v.17) is interesting in the context of the whole Gospel. Jesus is shown talking to Gentiles, healing them, eating with tax collectors and inviting them to become disciples. So this phrase clearly does not mean treating such a person as a despised outcast, but as someone to be honoured, while acknowledging their position as now outside the community. The challenge for us is to deal with conflict in a similar manner, one to one; communicating on the same level needs to be our starting point. We must neither sweep conflict under the carpet nor institute a top-down system of control that demands conformity and scapegoats anyone who threatens the hierarchy. Realistic restoration is always the aim. The passage goes on to highlight the same sense of connection between earth and heaven mentioned in Matthew 16.19, and this underscores the responsibility to work for reconciliation. With this comes the promise of the power of united prayer. The passage ends by affirming that Jesus is present in the smallest of groups; indeed, he is present with the two or three who meet in his name to sort out a grievance.

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