Title: Loving Enough To Rebuke
Text: Matthew 18:10-20
FCF: We often struggle feel like unloving hypocrites when we attempt to stop others from sinning.
Prop: Because those who consider themselves least are greatest in the Kingdom of God, we must love others enough to rebuke them of sin.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 18. Last week we began the 4th discourse of Jesus. Matthew has structured his book around these discourses, some say 5 others say 7, I am in the 7 camp, nonetheless, this is the 4th discourse of Jesus in the book. The discourse builds from the previous narrative which not only shows the identity of Jesus being the King of Glory, but also shows the inconsistency of the disciples to express a faith that understands Him. In yet another example of their misunderstanding, they ask Jesus a rather silly question. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus takes the opportunity to express to them, that there is no great or least in the Kingdom. That if they are in Him, then they are great. And one major sign that they are in Him, is that they consider themselves least. That they are humble. This teaching becomes the primary truth throughout the discourse, and as applications of that truth Jesus builds a multilayered lifestyle of those who are great in the Kingdom.
The first two of these applications we covered last week. That those who consider themselves least, will love others who consider themselves least. They will love them unconditionally. Knowing that in loving them, they are loving Christ. The second application of considering yourself least, would be our disposition toward sin. Specifically that we must never cause a follower of Christ to sin, and also that we must radically remove any aspect of our lives that leads us to sin.
Building on these two concepts, the love of others and the hatred of sin, He will weave them together in an extremely relevant way. An application for us today that we desperately need.
I am in Matthew 18, I’ll begin reading in verse 10. I am reading from the CSB this morning but follow along in whatever version you have available.
Let’s dive in and attempt to understand what Jesus is saying to us this morning.
I.) Those who consider themselves least are greatest in the Kingdom of God, so we must be deeply concerned over the spiritually wayward. (10-14)
a. [Slide 2] 10 – See to it that you don’t despise one of these little ones.
i. First of all, it is imperative that we recognize that the context has not changed.
1. Little ones still is not talking about children.
2. More importantly, little ones is not simply talking about humans in general.
3. Little ones must continue to refer to those who believe. Those who consider themselves least but are greatest in the kingdom of God.
4. Those who are followers of Christ.
ii. Secondly, is the word disdain.
1. It means to look down on or think little of.
2. With Jesus speaking to His own disciples, and those who would certainly become great in the kingdom of heaven, it is difficult to understand how or why one who considers themselves least, would look on another and consider them less than least.
3. I believe Jesus will get to the exact reason that such an assessment would be made in a moment, but first He deals with the bigger reason for why we ought not to look down on those who are followers of Christ.
b. Because I tell you that in heaven their angels continually view the face of my Father in heaven.
i. Now there is a teaching that is not isolated to this passage, that each believer has an angel guarding them on earth – protecting them from any and every danger not in the will of the Father.
ii. I am not going to set fire to that teaching– but I will say that this is not a great passage to go to for that teaching.
iii. The primary reason for that, is that the Greek pronoun here is collective not possessive. In other words these angels are not theirs as in tied to each individual so much as they are theirs as in assigned to the lot of them. It would be like the difference between saying “In the pews are our hymnals” vs. saying “In the parking lot are our cars” One indicates individual possession, the other indicates collective assignment. You don’t own your individual hymnal but they are the church’s hymnals. But each of you have a car that is not also for everyone else.
iv. What this passage is clearly teaching, isn’t really about angels anyway. It is about our God. We dare not despise followers of Christ because they are dearly loved, watched, and cared for by God the Father… always. Through Angels or otherwise. What God loves, watches, and cares for… we also should cherish.
c. [Slide 3] 11 – [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]
i. If you are looking at your bible and wondering where verse 11 is, or if you are looking at your bible and wondering why I didn’t read verse 11 when we read the whole passage at the beginning – there is a reason, but it gets a little deep.
ii. I had originally intended to just lay it out there for you, but I think for the sake of keeping you with me throughout all this, we will skip that. So let me give you the highlights.
iii. The oldest and most reliable manuscripts we have of Matthew, do not have this phrase in them.
iv. What is obvious is that this phrase was added, what is not obvious is why. It is the why that I will choose to mostly skip. If you are super interested in that, be sure to talk with me afterward and I’ll try to explain what I think happened.
v. And even if you try to make a case to keep this phrase in, this phrase almost comes out of leftfield having understood the passage the way we have up to this point.
1. Don’t look down on those who are greatest in the Kingdom because God loves them
2. Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
3. How do these two thoughts pair up? In one breath it is talking about Christian to Christian interaction, which is what we had been talking about up to this point, even from last week
4. Then all of a sudden non-Christians are brought into this?
vi. It is probably best to interpret this passage while omitting this verse.
d. [Slide 4] 12 – What do you think? If someone has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go and search for the stray?
i. So now Jesus uses a common illustration, a parable, to explain what He is really getting at.
ii. With this illustration verse 11, starts to make a little more sense, seeing Jesus as the shepherd here, but contextually, as we will see, it is not Christ who will be doing the seeking for the lost sheep. We’ll get there. Hang on.
iii. So the illustration has a shepherd who owns 100 sheep. Each sheep is an investment to him and while only 1 percent is missing, the financial impact of losing 1% is significant.
iv. So he leaves the 99%, that he knows will be safe and secure in numbers, and goes to find the 1% whom he will not abandon to death.
e. [Slide 5] 13 – And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over that sheep more than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.
i. And if, per chance, he is able to find the 1 lamb again… there is reason for celebration.
ii. Restoration is celebrated, faithfulness is expected.
f. [Slide 6] 14 – In the same way, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones perish.
i. What is in view here, at least in Matthew, is not the celebration at the finding, but instead the heart of God.
ii. He does not want to abandon even 1 of His followers to their death.
iii. Death here is spiritual ruin.
iv. We see a similar teaching from the other side of this in Philippians, Hebrews, Jude and others, where God promises that if their faith is genuine, that he will continue his work in them until they are glorified. That he won’t abandon them. That He will continue to chastise them. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says that if God is not disciplining, then you are not His child.
g. [Slide 7 (blank)] So it is, at the end of this and through this illustration that we understand the full scope of what Jesus is driving at. He is saying not to despise those who are followers of Christ and loved and cared for by God. But why would we despise them? Because they have gone astray. They have fallen away. They are beset by sin. Overwhelmed. Overtaken.
h. The heart of God is this… I would leave those who are submitted to me currently to go find those who are my children but are living in rebellion to me currently. That is the depth of God’s love for His own.
i. And it is a love that we must share.
j. Are you concerned for brothers and sisters overtaken in sin? You see if you consider yourselves least – you will welcome all who also consider themselves least. If you consider yourselves least, you will hate sin so much that you will not cause it in others and you will do whatever it takes to not cause it in yourself. But also, when you consider yourself least, to see those who have been caught up in sin, who have stumbled, you cannot help but be moved with the compassion and love of God for them.
k. Most of the time… this is not what happens in churches.
i. Either we see a brother, sister, daughter, friend in sin and we turn our eyes aside, considering love to be ignoring the problem or hoping it goes away. Love is allowing them to sin without any rebuke or correction – when in fact, this is just selfish apathy.
ii. Or we see a brother, sister, daughter, friend in sin and we make conclusions on their eternal state and write them off as, just another fallen one. Guess we won’t see them again.
l. But this is not God’s heart. It is not in God’s will, and therefore, will not happen, that one of His own will suffer spiritual ruin. Therefore, we ought to have the same love and compassion God has for wayward believers.
m. Still considering sin serious, but seeking their restoration to safety among the body of Christ.
n. Paul and Barnabas were a wonderful team preaching the gospel in many Gentile cities in the 1st Century. One young man that joined them for their first trip was named John Mark. But John Mark abandoned them before they had even really begun their journey. We aren’t told why, but he went back to Jerusalem. Later Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them on their second journey. Paul and Barnabas disagreed sharply. Barnabas decided to come alongside John Mark, and Paul took Silas with him.
o. Not only did John Mark thrive under Barnabas, but he ended up writing a gospel ( the gospel according to mark) and Paul later affirmed that He was a valuable asset to the Kingdom of God.
p. Paul was wrong. Barnabas was right. Barnabas showed the heart of God to leave the 99 and go get the 1. Paul did not.
But remember that I said it was not God alone who would be the shepherd to track down the ones who have gone astray. No, this heart of God, in loving those who have gone astray, this heart that we should also have if we are His, that we are not willing that any should be overtaken with sin and be ruined by it… this love compels us to action. Indeed, we are called upon not simply to have the love of God toward brothers and sisters caught in a sin, but to go to them, and to restore them. Much like the shepherd did in this parable. Let me show you Christ’s application of the parable starting in verse 15.
II.) Those who consider themselves least are greatest in the Kingdom of God, so we must pursue the spiritually wayward. (15-20)
a. [Slide 8] 15 – If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private
i. The words “Against you” do not appear in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.
ii. Probably they were added because of Peter’s personal application to Christ’s words, where he asks how often he should forgive someone who sins against him.
iii. But removing the words includes offenses of a personal nature, AND offenses that are not against you but are still sin.
iv. Removing these words also fits with the previous context better, since personal sin has not really been the focus up to this point, but rather sins in general, and perhaps even more correctly, sins against God.
v. [Slide 9 let it play] Another point that we should make here that is important… is the word sin. It means to trespass. To go where you are not permitted. To stray from the path that has been set before you. As we learned in our membership class, Sin is not an action that you take but instead, sin takes on a larger profile by being all that is anti-God. God’s law then, reveals less about what God has forbidden and more about who God is by focusing on who He isn’t. Therefore, to sin, is to express by thought, word, deed, or motive, a heart out of step with who God is. To trespass is to stray from the template called God.
vi. The reason I take the time to say all this is because there are some who have done “church discipline” on people who should not have had church discipline done on them. They are being disciplined for smoking, drinking, going to a movie, wearing pants, listening to rock music, or a myriad of other non-sins. Such churches will be judged for their abuse of this blessed and holy practice called Church Discipline.
vii. So if you witness a brother sin, like actually sin, then you are to go to him in private, with only the two of you, and rebuke him.
viii. [Slide 10] Contextually, this means with that heart of compassion and love that God has for his wayward sheep. This rebuke then, would be a measured rebuke.
ix. Witnessing someone steal, but then they walk right back into the store and return it, such a rebuke need not be harsh. Simply a reminder that God hates theft and sin and encouraging them to repent and surrender to God’s will.
x. What will most often be the case though, will be a sin that a person does not see. Outbursts of anger, or irritation, expressions of a lack of the fruit of the spirit in one way or another. Still the tone of this conversation, although it is rebuke, is garnished with love and humility.
xi. The goal is not shame, the goal is restoration. Restoring the 1 to the 99.
xii. But there is a superior goal that includes restoration – and that goal is purity. More on that in a bit.
b. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.
i. Listening is not simply hearing you out.
ii. Listening is not simply saying that you are right but continuing in life as though nothing had happened.
iii. Listening must mean genuine repentance and surrender. How do we know that? The parable is our guide. The 1 sheep staying where he is, continuing to be astray, never being restored to the body – is not what is in view. It is only when the sheep is led back to the fold safely, that the mission is accomplished.
iv. If he repents. If he seeks help to obey. If he stops sinning and starts living a holy life… then you have won your brother.
v. Now what if he does not repent but explains that what you saw wasn’t actually what you saw. He wasn’t stealing, he had gone to the front desk with a return and the lady told him to grab its replacement and put it in a bag. But then he thanks you for the concern that you had. Well that kinda makes sense right? And even if you still have your doubts… give your brother the benefit of that doubt. Right? Mercy.
vi. What if he doesn’t repent because he says that the Old Testament commands on theft are irrelevant to today and he is free in Christ to do as he pleases? Or what if he says, yeah I stole and yeah I know it is a sin… but I don’t care. I need this, and I don’t have the money for it right now.
vii. Well, then we move on to verse 16.
c. [Slide 11] 16 – But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established
i. So maybe as the confronter, what you are saying is a sin, isn’t a sin.
ii. Maybe he was trying to repent but somehow it got lost in translation.
iii. Maybe you have something against him and, unseen to you, you are prejudging him.
iv. That is what this step is for. It is to establish every fact.
v. Not just of the sin, but of the nature of the one sinning and the one who originally confronted.
vi. The circle of who knows about this gets larger.
vii. But what happens if they can’t get him to repent?
d. [Slide 12] 17 – If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church.
i. If a person is a genuine follower of Christ – one who considers himself least, when 2 or 3 people know of his sin, it should jar something loose in him.
ii. In my experience, very few make it beyond this step. Sin has power when it is secret. But when others know – it is very hard to continue on sinning. It almost takes someone intent on sinning to do so.
iii. That is why the CSB translators have rightly differentiated between the previous statement of non-hearing and this. In the KJV the first is “will not hear thee” the next is “Neglect to hear thee”
iv. One is a refusal the other is apathy. A person who can stand before 3 brothers or sisters and say – I do not care what you say. Or even, you are all wrong… such a person shows signs of lacking the humility of the “least” in the kingdom.
v. But perhaps all 3 witnesses are the ones who are wrong.
vi. Perhaps the 3 witnesses have been poisoned or polluted.
vii. That is why the entire church is now brought in.
e. [Slide 13] If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you.
i. But friend when the whole church agrees that such an offense is sin. There is really no other option than to repent and submit.
ii. Now I have already said that some churches get this wrong by imposing non-sin tradition upon their members. But in my experience that is not the biggest and most prevalent problem we face.
iii. No the biggest problem is simply the absolute neglect of this practice altogether.
iv. Believers allowed to continue in sin because their church is too afraid to lose a member. And they do not love the person enough to tell them to stop their sin.
v. There is seemingly conflicting information about this in the New Testament.
vi. To a Jewish audience, telling them to treat this person like a Gentile and tax collector would have not only communicated for them to treat them as unsaved… but also treat them as an enemy.
vii. But elsewhere, like in II Thessalonians 3 we are told to admonish such a one as a brother.
viii. And I think this really gets to the heart of something that is interesting. For whatever reason, when it comes to a person’s spiritual affiliation, we think we ought to treat them differently. I think this gets down to how we perceive the nature of salvation, as a past event that is done and over. Our evangelism and discipleship has been infiltrated by decisionism, in that as long as someone has prayed a prayer we treat them differently than one who has not.
ix. But as we have been studying, and will continue to study and see in scripture, sanctification begins with repentance and belief and continues in repentance and belief. How we treat someone with regard to sin, is not based on whether they are saved or unsaved. This isn’t the aspect of differentiation. Instead, when it comes to sin, the only aspect that matters is whether or not the person is repentant. God has made it incredibly easy on us for how to treat a person who is unrepentant. It is the same way we would treat one who has never repented. We preach the law to the proud and grace to the humble. And it really doesn’t matter whether or not someone is “saved”.
x. But seeing someone as outside the fellowship, treating them the same way you’d treat those who had never repented may leave the assembly wondering if they did the right thing? Did we have to kick them out? Were we too hasty?
xi. Jesus has a few more words on this.
f. [Slide 14] 18 – Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.
i. Jesus has said this before, actually rather recently. When the church stands at the porch of the kingdom of darkness, they will be given authority and power to make things on earth, like they are already in heaven.
ii. And rather than delving deep into what each component of this statement means – I think it is best to interpret this as a proverb. I don’t think we are talking about a binding and loosing in the sense that if the church decides guilt or innocence that God is in agreement.
iii. Rather I think that all Jesus is really saying, is that the goal of this is to make the assembly on earth look exactly like the assembly in heaven. And this reveals the superior goal to restoration. The superior goal to restoration - is purity. Which also includes restoration.
iv. That more important that the restoration of 1 sheep to the fold, is the other 99’s continued submission and trust of the great shepherd.
v. Allowing 1 sheep to continue to wander from the flock, will inevitably communicate to the other sheep that wandering from the flock is acceptable.
vi. So this proverb is Jesus saying – the goal is to make the assembly look the way God wants. Even if that means throwing out those who do not fit the template.
vii. To reinforce this, Jesus says the same thing a different way.
g. [Slide 15] 19 – Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
i. Now listen. THIS IS NOT SAYING THAT YOU CAN PRAY FOR WHATEVER YOU WANT AND GOD WILL GIVE IT TO YOU.
ii. This must be interpreted in the context.
iii. In other words, if you have a church of 3 and 2 of you gather together and agree that the other person is unrepentant and must be excommunicated for the sake of the purity and unity of the church – then God will make sure that unity and purity is maintained.
iv. There can be few things more unifying than a corporate rebuke of sin.
v. It is like Jesus is saying, “You are concerned about excommunicating someone – that is good – because it isn’t a “fun” thing to do.
vi. But listen – if you have sought Me and agree on the answer… then the Father will bless you because of it.”
h. [Slide 16] 20 – For where two are three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”
i. Again, this is an abused text. And I am not immune to it.
ii. People say this – usually when the turnout for a bible study is less than they expected.
iii. But listen – this isn’t talking about God’s presence. Is God absent when you are alone?
iv. Of course not. This is talking about coming together to make such a weighty decision. Prayer, fasting, searching the scriptures.
v. The guarantee then is – I won’t leave you to blindly stumble upon what should happen. I will help you find the right answer. If you pursue it together.
[Slide 17 (blank)] So let’s fit together what we’ve learned here today and try to understand it as a whole.
So from the original discussion, stemming from the disciples’ question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus answers that only those who consider themselves least are the greatest in the kingdom. From last week, we saw that considering yourself least involved the love and acceptance of others who are followers of Christ, and the hatred of sin, so much that we would not cause it in others and would do drastic things to prevent it in ourselves also.
Considering ourselves least produces a love for other believers and a hatred of sin and we really see those two woven together in today’s passage too.
To consider ourselves least, is to be filled with compassion and love for those who have gone astray. But not to stop at love for others caught in sin, but to apply that love and to go to them to rescue them from it.
Certainly God and the Spirit are involved in this matter, and the scripture teaches that God chastens and that the Spirit convicts. But what is crystal clear from this scripture, is that God uses His ambassadors, His representatives, to accomplish this at times. When self-discipline has failed, church discipline begins.
So what does it mean that so many churches in America and around the world refuse to do biblical church discipline? Why is it that so many local assemblies neglect confronting sin?
Ultimately, churches that refuse to take sin seriously and perform church discipline on wayward believers, are probably not churches governed and led by people who are greatest in the kingdom of God. People who consider themselves least would purify the church, either by restoring the wayward, or excommunicating the unrepentant.
So in applying all this to our specific congregation there are two angles that I’d like to address. One is about our hearts and the other is about our hands.
[Slide 18a] First about our hearts. We have heard today that God’s will is that none of His children would fall into spiritual ruin. That He would leave all of us to go find the wayward one. Now we have been teaching, correctly, that the sign of a true believer is that of a changed life. That if someone is truly converted, they will live a life that is being more and more conformed to Christ. This is a wonderful message, a true message, and a message that we in this culture desperately need to hear.
[Slide 18b] However, as an application of this teaching we may be tempted to write people off. We might be tempted to see someone fall into sin and conclude – well I guess they just weren’t a Christian after all. Indeed, believing in the sovereignty of God, we may be tempted to think, well if they are His, then God will get them. He will chase them back.
[Slide 18c] Friend to go to this conclusion without the proper due course as prescribed is to live in rebellion to our King. God’s Sovereignty notwithstanding and the guaranteed progressive sanctification of those who possess saving faith granted – it still does not relieve us of this blessed opportunity to go and rebuke and restore.
And it just might so happen, that they will not listen, and that they will ultimately be excommunicated out of the church, and we may still be left to wonder – were they ever genuinely Christians? But saying this by the permission and instruction of Jesus the King of Glory, cornerstone of the church, is vastly different than saying it because we do not care nor are we led by love to rebuke the sin in another.
The conclusion that someone is an unbeliever may not be wrong but when it is made prematurely, it is hateful. It is a lack of compassion and love. And furthermore, it is the farthest thing from considering ourselves least in the Kingdom. In fact, if you isolate that statement “Well I guess they just weren’t a Christian after all” do you detect an air of superiority woven to the words?
But a heart that loves, this heart from God, will go to great lengths to rescue a sheep that has gone astray. And only when every avenue is exhausted, will the shepherd return to the 99 without it. Not in flippancy, but in great distress.
[Slide 19] The second thread of this application today deals with our hands. And specifically it is a promise here. I hope it comes across as a promise and not a threat.
That promise is that at Columbus Baptist Church, you will be rebuked for your sin until you are restored or until you are excommunicated. Again, I really hope that comes across as a promise. Because that is what it is. You will be held accountable to us and to God for your actions and we will not allow you to be dominated by any sin.
This is actually one amazing argument for you to become a member here, because by becoming a member you must agree to the constitution of our church. In that constitution you submit to the possibility of discipline by the church. It is accountability. It is a perk of being a member, that we will not let you run headlong into sin without doing everything we can to stop you. And while that may be true of anyone here, regular attender or otherwise – it is guaranteed in writing to those who are members.
You will not be abandoned to sin and despair. We will leave the 99 and in compassion and love, seek you out and bring you home. And the only way we aren’t bringing you back to the hillside, is if you make it clear you do not want to come back by your unrepentance.
That is our promise at Columbus Baptist Church. As an application of the text this morning, we must corporately submit to follow its instructions to lovingly rebuke the wayward toward restoration, but ultimately toward our church’s purity. And ultimately that starts with you. Will you love your fellow believer enough to rebuke them? The purity of the church is at stake, not to mention their purity toward God. Help us keep this promise by going to the wayward.
[Slide 20 (end)]