Matthew 18 contains a precious jewel of a promise. Miscreants have snatched that promise out of its proper context, broken it apart and sold the pieces at a fraction of their value to the unsuspecting church.
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven:and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
These verses are not a series of three different promises. This is a single promise stated, restated and certified.
Matthew 18:18-20 is the capstone of Jesus’ teaching that began by declaring the childlike the greatest in the kigndom of heaven. Because God cherishes His children so greatly, every expedient must be taken to protect them from stumbling into sin and condemnation. The radical expedient enjoined in verse 17 is the amputation of one member of the body of Christ.
The authority of the church to amputate a member is declared in this promise. God promises His authority and presence with the church when it gathers together in love to call a member to repent. God is present with the church when the church gathers together and in love removes the unrepentant member. What the church does in church discipline is done with God’s blessing and on God’s behalf. But this article is not about church discipline.
When the church binds a Christian to her as a member in good standing that action is a reflection of heaven. When the church releases a Christian from the church that action is a reflection of heaven. When two Christian’s agree together in their prayers about the sin of another what they ask of God will be done for them in heaven.
The promise of Matthew 18 cannot be separated from the the preciousness of God’s children and the necessity of restoring sinning brethren. Yet this promise is built on something astonishing. God is uniquely present in His church when it is seeking His will and following His purposes. When the church acts in the name of God, that is, when the church acts in accord with the will, character and purposes of God, He extends to His church an incredible authority. God allows the church to act and speak on His behalf.
This is crazy! If the history of the church has taught us anything it is that the church is incredibly unreliable. From its earliest years the church has shown itself susceptible to frauds using the body of Christ for their own gain. Yet, God has given the church body- not the universal church, but the local church- a unique authority to do that which is also done in heaven.
If this isn’t about church discipline, what is it about? It is about your local church. Your church family is much more than a gathering of people who go through the same routines every Sunday. Your church prayer meeting is more than a handful of people giving an “organ recital”. When the local church gathers together under the authority of God to do the will of God then that church is an expression of heaven!
For some reason that I have not yet fathomed our society has deemed recognition of certain obvious differences between people is prejudiced, belittling or hateful. In one sense this has some Biblical merit. God overlooks the differences between people. He is not a respecter of persons. The church must not respect race, riches, ethnicity, or gender.
Not being a respector of persons does not mean acting like differences do not exist. Callous cruelty that refuses to recognize the poverty of one in desperate need is not justified by a claim of treating everyone equally. Folly masquerades as wisdom when it ignores differences between cultures and genders because of some misguided attempt to treat all exactly the same.
Verses such as Galatians 3:28 do not teach an absolute lack of difference between various groups of people. The apostle Paul recognized differences and actively treated groups differently. When he went into a new community he went first to the Jews and preached, then he went to the Gentiles. This is what Paul means in Romans 1 when he says, “To the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Later in Romans Paul points out that God recognizes a difference between Jew and Greek. God gave favor to the Jews, then grafted the Gentiles into those blessings and will one day return rich blessing upon the Jews. God does not deal with all men at all times in the same way.
Different people are different. Despite the difficulty of many to comprehend the obvious this fact is nonetheless true. The differences between people have absolutely no affect upon salvation. Galatians 3:28 declares that God receives all who believe Him without prejudice to their differences. Differences do not go away so that all Christians become identical. The differences remain but they have no effect on the means by which any one is saved nor upon the possibility of being saved. No one is saved because of gender, nationality, economic status or any other personal advantage. Salvation is always only by faith. All who believe are saved. None who do not believe are saved.
This means there is no place in the church or the Christian’s life for scorn of others. One’s standing before God has no connection with physical differences. Christian’s have no business belittling another because their background is not ours. Indians are not inferior to the salvation of God. Blacks and Hispanics are not second class in the kingdom of God. Those who grew up in Christian homes are not superior in God’s plan to those saved out of a life of deep sin. The rich are not greater in the church than the poor. The young are not more important than the old.
Christians ought not ignore the differences between peoples nor should those differences be barriers to fellowship. Selfless love that is committed to the spiritual benefit of the other must be the center of every relationship.
The church needs to recognize the differences God has built into each person. Every Christian should treat one another with Christlike love and grace. Turning a blind eye to differences will profit no one. God has not made the church homogeneous. The church is a heterogeneous mixture of personalities, backgrounds, abilities, resources and gifts that God has placed together in one body to provoke all to greater Christlikeness. He has shown the grace to all and made us all different members together for the edifiction of all.
Joshua had one hundred sheep and he loved every single one of them. He loved Jehu the big, stubborn ram. He loved Anna the tender ewe who cared for her own lambs and watched out for all the rest. He loved Beniah, the littlest lamb still staring at the new world with bleary eyes. Joshua even loved Javan, the difficult sheep who was always wandering off.
Late one evening Joshua led his small flock into a cave to shelter for the night. As they went through the small opening Joshua counted each one, calling out its name as it passed in front of him. When all were inside the cave Joshua realized one was missing. His heart sank as he counted again. He already knew which one was missing. Sure enough, when Joshua had counted and counted again, wandering Javan was not with the flock.
Joshua looked out into the night and saw the dark clouds building. The cold, late season rains would soon be falling. He moved a couple heavy stones in front of the cave door to keep the rest of the flock safely inside and Joshua headed out into the night to search for troublesome Javan.
Joshua slowly walked back down the trail. He traveled less than half a mile before the clouds opened up. Joshua was soon soaked to the skin. Shivering as he slogged down the muddy trail he called Javan’s name. Several miserable miles later Joshua found a side trail that he knew would attract Javan’s drifting attention. The stony path had turned into a small torrent but Joshua struggled up the rocky stream. Halfway up the slope he heard the terrified bleating of a sheep. Fighting the rising water Joshua found Javan perched on a small boulder just inches above the swelling creek.
Wading through knee deep water, Joshua reached the boulder and hefted the terrified sheep onto his shoulders. He held tightly to the legs of the struggling ram and slowly worked his way down the treacherous path. Joshua eventually reached the comparative safety of the trail below. As he carried his lost sheep through the driving rain Joshua spoke words of comfort to soothe his beloved ram.
Late that night the exhausted Joshua pushed aside the protecting stones and led his lost sheep into the fold. As he laid out wood for a fire Joshua heard growling from the cave entrance. He snatched up his staff and turned to see a lone wolf had crawled past the boulders. The vicious animal stood with teeth bared ready to lunge at the terrified Javan.
How do you think the loving shepherd would respond to a wolf bent on the destruction of the sheep he had labored long to rescue?
Like the loving shepherd, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. How will He respond to those who lead astray the ones He suffered such sorrow to save?
In Matthew 18 the compassion of Jesus for His children is the basis of stern warnings against causing His children to sin. The flow of Jesus’ teaching is this:
- Only those with childlike humility will enter the kingdom of God.
- The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself as a little child.
- The children of God are so precious to Him that receiving the child of God in Jesus’ name is like receiving Jesus Himself.
- The children of God are so precious it would be far better to be shamefully, painfully executed than to lead one away from God. God’s curse falls heavily on those who cause His children to stumble.
- Since the consequences of offending God’s child are so dire it is far better for the child of God to cut off any part of himself that would lead him to sin than to suffer Divine wrath.
- Jesus, like a loving shepherd, came to save the lost.
- Every child of God is precious to Him. God does not want a single one to perish!
Jesus’ teaching on church discipline flows out of the preciousness of the child of God and the seriousness of offending one of His children.
The fellow Christian who sins against you is the child of God. He is precious to God. He has been sought out and saved by the Shepherd. Far better for that sinning brother to cut off his offending appendange than suffer the wrath of God. If your sibling in the family of God is this precious to God, shouldn’t he be important to you? If his sin is worthy of painful amputation and divine wrath is it not worth a little discomfort on your part? Should you not risk a little unpleasantness to head things off before they get extreme? Seek out your erring brother that he not fall headlong into sin, cause others to sin or prompt others to turn from Jesus.
Seek reconciliation because you love your brother and sister. Seek reconciliation because the consequences of sin are disastrous. Seek reconciliation because Jesus loved that one as much as He loved you. Jesus sought out that one just as He sought you out. Jesus died to save that one just as He died for you. That wandering Christian is precious to God. Seek him out and turn him from the error of his ways. He is God’s child.
Why did God give the Mosaic law? If righteousness is only receieved through faith without works what good is the law? Does the Mosaic law offer something it cannot give or operate in contradiction to God’s promsie?
The law of Moses is a heavy weight that lays upon the soul and bears it down under guilt. 1 Timothy 1 says the law was not made for the righteous but for the lawless and disobedient. The law was given for the good of sinners. The natural response to the condemnation of the law is fear, anger, hatred, denial and rebellion. Men respond this way, in part, because of a failure to understand why the law condemns. The law does not condemn for the sake of condemnation. The law condemns for the sake of salvation. By confining men in condemnation the law shows the need of forgiveness. The law shows those in bondage their need a rescuer. The law convicts so those condemned will seek pardon. The law is not given to destroy hope but to compel faith. The law is not against the promises of God. The law impresses upon the heart and mind of men their need of the righteousness promised by God.
In Galatians 3:24 the law is called a pedagogue. No English word accurately conveys the function of a pedagogue. He was a servant entrusted with the care and instruction of the master’s son and heir. This servant had great authority over the child. The son was under the control of the pedagogue until he reached adulthood. Until then the servant was responsible for training the child. He kept the child under constant supervision and directed every moment of his life. The pedagogue was often a harsh taskmaster who forbade delight and demanded strict obedience to the most difficult of tasks. The job of this servant was to drive out the son’s childishness and bring the child to maturity.
The law was a pedagogue. The pedagogy of the law was not for maturity or righteousness. The law led enslaved men to the foot of the cross. The law taught sinful man of his inability to earn righteousness and of his need of a Savior. The law directed men to the righteousness that can only come by faith.
Why was the law given? Galatians 3 gives one answer to this question. The law was given to convict men of their guilt so they will look to Jesus for righteousness. That is what the law did and what the law still does today.
In His mercy God gave the law. Without the law men would continue to convince themselves of their own righteousness. The desperately wicked and deceitful heart of man convinces him that he is good. The law cuts through the hearts deceptions. By the law men are led to recognition of their guilt and directed towards the only means of salvation.
“God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all.” (Romans 11:32)
“The just shall live by faith.” Two verses later the great “Hall of Faith” begins with a definition of faith and then the rest of Hebrews 11 shows faith in action. Every example of faith in Hebrews 11 is inextricably connected to the Word of God.
God warned Noah of a flood. Noah believed God and built an ark.
God called Abraham out of his home. Abraham believed God and went out.
God promised Sarah would bear a son. Sarah believed God and received strength to conceive.
God promised Abraham’s descendants would be strangers in a foreign land but would return to the promised land. Joseph believed God and commanded his bones be taken from Egypt when the Israelites left.
God promised He would destroy Jericho. Israel believed God and marched around the city according to God’s command.
Whether it be His command or His promise, God’s Word is the basis of faith. Christian faith is the firm assurance of the truth of God’s Word which becomes the foundation for behavior. Faith is never the object of itself. Faith is not effective because it believes. Faith does not accomplish great things because of the conviction of the person or the intensity of his desire. Faith believes God. God accomplishes great things through those who believe Him. God is always the object of faith.
Because God is the object of faith true faith must be a response to what God has said. Faith is not some mystical force conjured up by those with sufficient internal persuasion. Faith is the definite response to the objective promises and plans God has revealed in His Word.
Faith to live is not faith to follow your dreams. Faith to live is not faith to pursue the late night schemes you had after eating too much pizza. Faith to live is the faith to follow the commands of God. Far harder to go out and preach the gospel to your neighbors than to move to another city in hopes of achieving your dreams. Faith is bold to follow God’s commands.
The prayer of faith is prayer rooted in the promises of God and built on the revealed will of God. When Jesus promised answered prayer to those who believe, He was not issuing a blank check for those who could conjure up enough personal conviction to make something happen. Mountains don’t move because a person believes hard enough. Mountains move in accord with the promises of God. Jesus was issuing a cashier’s check backed by the explicit guarantee of the Word of God.
The promises of God to answer the prayer of faith cannot be divorced from the rest of the Word of God. Faith in faith and faith in prayer are not blessed by God’s promises. Faith in God that seeks the accomplishment of His Word will always be answered. The prayer of faith is prayer that knows what God has said, that prays in agreement with His Word with a certain conviction that God will keep His Word.
Faith believes God and orders life in accord with God’s Word.
“Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;” (Hebrews 6:17-19)
“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” (Galatians 3:18)
The promise God made to Abraham and to Abraham’s seed was a covenant made with Jesus.
The covenant God made with Abraham was made with Abraham’s descendants. God repeatedly told Abraham that He is making this covenant with Abraham and with Abraham’s seed. This covenant certainly included Abraham’s son, grandson, great-grandson and so forth. This covenant involved another party. The covenant of God was made with the seed of Abraham.
Just like in English, the Hebrew word for seed is both singular and plural. One is correct in refering to a single seed and to a bag of seed. The same is true in Hebrew. In His covenant with Abraham the seed that God is covenanting with is a singular descendant, not all the descendants of Abraham. The covenant of God was made to one seed.
The seed to whom God made these promises was not Isaac. The seed to whom God made these promises was Jesus the Messiah. What does this mean? This means the first person of the Godhead covenanted with the second person of the Godhead to make righteous those who believe in Him. God’s promise to Abraham that his seed would bring blessing to the world and his seed would have an eternal kingdom that covenant was made to Christ. Abraham was the beneficiary of a covenant made between God and God.
The covenant of God was that of Father to Son, Creator to Savior, Judge to Redeemer. God covenanted with Himself to make people righteous through faith. God makes men righteous through faith because He promised His Son He would.
The covenant of God is changeless. The covenant of God is changeless because the Author of the covenant is changeless. The covenant of God is changeless because the changeless God made this covenant with Himself. The permanent nature of a covenant by the changeless, faithful God is even more certain because that covenant was not made to man. Because the covenant was made to Jesus, God the Son, man can do nothing to accomplish the covenant that God made with Himself. It is absolutely and utterly impossible for the changeless God to change an eternal covenant made by God the Father to God the Son.
Four separate times Jesus relates forgiving to being forgiven. (Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:34-35; Luke 6:37; Mark 11:25-26)
Forgiving others is of such importance that the one who refuses to forgive cannot credibly claim to be a Christian. The forgiven Christian will forgive. If he does not the consequences will be disastrous.
Jesus does not teach that a person is saved by forgiving others nor that refusing to forgive will result in a loss of salvation. Jesus teaches that one who has been forgiven his mountainous debt of sin will respond with merciful forgiveness towards those who have wronged him. The person who refuses to forgive either does not understand the greatness of God’s forgiveness or has never truly sought forgiveness from God.
The Biblical ideas of forgiveness have become obscured by many misconceptions. Since the apostle Paul commands Christian’s to forgive as they have been forgiven it is worthwhile to meditate on the promises of God associated with His forgiveness. Below is an outline I use in counseling to help believers think rightly about forgiveness.
When I receive salvation through faith, God in His forgiveness promises several things.
God’s forgiveness is a promise:
✓ To not see our sin when He sees us (Isaiah 61:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21)
✓ To not hold our sin against us (Psalm 103:12)
✓ To not dwell on our sin (Isaiah 43:25)
✓ To not exact justice from us for our sin (Romans 3:25; 1 Peter 2:25)
✓ To treat us as if we have never sinned (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
✓ To have a full relationship with us (Colossians 1:20; Romans 8:16-17)
When someone repents of wrong done against me, I must extend forgiveness to that person.
My forgiveness must be a promise:
✓ To not see the sin when seeing the person (Philemon 1:16-17)
✓ To not hold the offense against that person (Philemon 1:18)
✓ To not dwell on the sin committed (Philemon 1:13,15)
✓ To not seek vengeance for the offense (Romans 12:19)
✓ To treat them as if they did not sin against me (Philemon 1:11-12)
✓ To do everything I can to have a full relationship with them (Romans 12:18)
Even if one does not repent of a sin against me, I must still act toward him in a Christlike fashion.
✓ Not be sinfully angry with them (Ephesians 4:26-27)
✓ Not seek revenge for the wrong done (Romans 12:17, 19)
✓ Not speak against them in the presence of others (1 Peter 3:9)
✓ Be kind and gracious in all my speech towards them (Ephesians 4:32)
✓ Do good to them, even when they do evil against me (Romans 12:21)
✓ Treat them with Biblical love, genuinely seeking their best in all situations (Colossians 3:13-14)
Was Abraham saved? How was Abraham saved? How did Abraham become righteous before God?
Abraham lived hundreds of years before Moses and before the giving of the law. Abraham did not live under any requirements to observe feasts, avoid pork or make offerings in the temple. Central to the entire discussion of Galatians is this fact: God required Abraham to be circumcised. God gave Abraham this command when he was 99 years old. Abraham and all the males in his household were circumcised mere months before the birht of Isaac.
The false teachers could point to this event to show the great importance of circumcision. The Judaizers could point to Genesis 17:14 and show that those men who were not circumcised had broken God’s covenant and were not not part of the people of God. The argument would have been overwhelming. The false teachers could show from Scriptures that circumcision was essential to being part of the people of God. Any Galatian man who refused to be circumcised could be shown to not be one of God’s. This had to be devastating to any who argued otherwise. Except for one little thing: Genesis 15:6
The events of Genesis 15 take place at least fifteen years before Abraham was circumcised in Genesis 17. Genesis 15 records events that happened as much as ten years after God promised to make Abraham great and to give him innumerable descendants. Abraham was getting a little bit nervous about the completion of God’s promises. In Genesis 15 God assured Abraham that he would have a son and would be the father of great nation. Genesis 15:6 tells Abraham’s response to God’s promise, “And he believed in the Lord.” Abraham believed God would keep all His promises. As Paul says in Romans 4, Abraham “against hope believed in hope.” When there was no hope, Abraham still anticipated the fulfillment of God’s promises. Abraham believed God.
The rest of Genesis 15:6 destroys the argument of the Judaizers and all those who would insist the person has to do something to be saved. “He believed in the Lord, and (God) counted it to him for righteousness.” Abraham was saved. Abraham was made righteous by God.
What was the means by which Abraham received righteousness? It wasn’t circumcision. Genesis 15:6 was fifteen years before Abraham would even hear that particular command. It wasn’t the keeping of the law Genesis 15 was almost 450 years before Moses would descend from Mt. Sinai with the tables of stone. It wasn’t even Abraham’s obedience in traveling to a distant land that is not the subject of Genesis 15. The only means through which Abraham was made righteous was believing God. Abraham believed God would give him an heir and that through that heir would come One who would bring the blessing of salvation to the whole world.
Abraham was made righteous through believing. All those who believe God are made righteous.
The book of Nahum announced the doom of Nineveh. Decades before the last strongholds of the Assyrian empire fell before the rising power of the new Babylonian empire the prophet Nahum told Judah of the impending destruction of the capital of Assyria. In two short chapters Nahum gives a vivid picture of Nineveh’s crimes and punishment.
Nahum was not written to call Nineveh to repentance. Nahum was written to call Judah to repentance. Nineveh serves as a graphic depiction of God’s mercy and justice. In Nahum 3 God announced the reasons for Nineveh’s judgment.
“Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not;” (Nahum 3:1)
“Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts.” (Nahum 3:4)
“There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?” (Nahum 3:19)
Employing a mix of thuggery and seduction Assyria became the greatest empire of her day. God’s judgment fell on Nineveh because of the Assyrian Empire’s great wickedness. The atrocities of Assyria were brutal even by the barbaric standards of ancient empires. Assyria used all manner of lies, manipulations, false promises, warfare, torture, intimidation and barbarism to amass great wealth and achieve great power. Like a pride of lions Assyria ravaged the nations and dragged their lifeless corpses to her lair for later consumption.
In the course of her depradations Assyria conquered the kingdom of Israel, enslaved its people and filled the land with other peoples taken from distant kingdoms. God’s judgment of Assyria is a fulfillment of His promises to Abraham to “curse him who curseth thee.” God’s judgment did not fall on Assyria only for her abuse of the Israelites. God judged Assyria for her wickedness and mistreatment of other nations.
Biblical history offers repeated examples of God judging the nations for their sin. Is not the God of the Old Testament the same God who still reigns over all the nations? He does judge and will judge the nations for their sin- including America. America will face the wrath of God for her horrible mistreatment of many of her own citizens, her relentless insistence on murdering unborn babies, her unceasing worship of the goddess Entertainment, her malicious assault against the image of God held in the distinctness of male and female and for her outrageous rejection of the true God.
American Christians have no reason to think God is not already judging this nation for its willful rebellion against Him. Romans 1:18-32 describes the process and punishment of idolatry. America seems to be well into the punishment stage. Yet, as Nineveh knew, God is merciful. God delays judgment that men may have a chance to repent. When men repent God will turn aside His wrath. Though our nation fully deserves all the wrath of God, He is ever ready to show mercy. America is not beyond hope. When Christian’s declare the truth of the gospel Americans will believe and be saved.
In communion Christian’s commemorate the cross. The breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the cup are a vivid depiction of the suffering and death of Jesus.
His body was broken. He was beaten, scourged, scorned and pierced.
He blood was shed. Thorns were driven into His scalp. His beard was ripped out of his face. Nails were driven through His hands and feet. A spear was thrust into his heart
Jesus died. Communion is the continual reminder that Jesus paid the wages of sin for those who could not.
Jesus took on His shoulders the curse of the sin of men.
He was despised and rejected, though it was I who despised God and rejected Him. He knew sorrow and grief, though it was I who refused the Source of joy and peace. He was struck and beaten by God, though it was my back that deserved the stripes. He was chastised though it was my crimes that broke peace with God. He was oppressed and afflicted, though it was I who willfully pursued my own way. He was cut off from life though it was I who earned the punishment of death. He was made a sacrifice for sin, though it was my iniquity which brought down the wrath of God.
Those found guilty under the law are under the ban of death. The law holds all enslaved to death. The penalty of sin is inescapable. Jesus was born under the law and under the law He became the substitute. He was made a curse. In His death He was condemned, He was scorned, He was hung in shame and He was forsaken by the Father. What the law demanded Jesus paid. The ban of death fell on Jesus instead of you. By being made a curse Jesus buys men out from under the curse of the law. The death of Jesus satisfies Divine justice and sets men free from death.
He took on Himself all the curse of sin though He was free from all sin. He who had no sin was made sin for us. He was perfectly innocent but treated as if He was guilty. Though the Son was in all ways perfect before the Father, Divine wrath was executed upon Him. Communion is a constant reminder of the dizzying truth that, “God Himself condescends to suffer in place of His enemies.” (Spurgeon)
Jesus is God the Son. He is the only spotless Lamb of God. The law never had reason to condemn Him. He who was not cursed was made a curse. He who had never disobeyed was made sin. He who was innocent was hung on a tree as if guilty and vile. This is what communion remembers. Communion remembers the flesh of your God that was broken for your crimes. Communion remembers the blood of your Lord that was spilled to cover your guilt.
In communion the Christian reminds himself and others that “He became sin for us who knew that sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”