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"Where Two or Three are Gathered"
Rightly Dividing the Word
“Where Two or Three are Gathered”
Matthew 18:18-20
 
Tonight we are continuing our series called “rightly Dividing the Word” which is dealing with some of the more misused and misapplied verses of the Bible.  So far, we’ve dealt with a text from the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 7 that is often used to reprimand those who would try to bring Scripture into a conversation regarding someone’s actions or conduct.  The passage begins by saying, “judge not, that you be not judged”. 
 
But what we discovered is this not intended to say we can’t or shouldn’t be discerning.  In fact, as we see in the rest of the passage, we have to make judgments so we can minister effectively and rightly handle the Word of God. 
 
Instead what we see is we are not to have a critical spirit, but instead live by the Golden Rule and treat others the way we desire to be treated.  And if we need help deciding the truth about a situation, we can ask, seek and knock and God will provide everything we need to deal with that situation, not only in wisdom to make the right decisions, but the resources we need to love as he would have us to love. 
 
As I was studying through that text and especially the verses that deal with the asking and seeking and knocking, I thought about how often that phrase is used as a blank check for prayer.   And outside of the context of the Scripture, that seems to be the case.  That’s why it is so important to always start with the context.  There may be other verses that are similar in thought and context that broaden that application, and once we determine the context of what we’re studying, then we can move on to them. 
 
On the other hand, sometimes, we just look for similar verses and assume we know what they mean.  After all they say very similar things and sound alike, but the individual circumstances into which those verses are placed help us to know the real and specific design of the passage. 
 
Such is the case with the verses before us tonight.  Listen as I read from
 
Matthew 18:15-20
 
Now, this particular passage is dealing holiness in the church.  I believe that Jesus Christ desires that the church be pure, and here we find His instruction as to our part in that purity. 
 
Now it is important to remember that holiness always involves judgment.  In Revelation Chapter 1, we see an interesting picture of Christ.  He’s moving in verse 12 and 13 among the seven lamp stands, which represent the seven churches, which represent all the church.  And He is clothed with the garment of the priest and the king and prophet.  He’s there in His full glory.  Listen to
 
verses 14-16
 
Jesus is moving among His churches and He is marked out as pure by His whiteness.  And His eyes are penetrating, looking for sin, and that sin is to be dealt with.
He is pictured in the robes of judgment.  He is ready to trample out sin and speak in judgment.  And it looks like Jesus means business!  In fact, so overwhelmed was John with what he saw, he fell to the ground like a dead man.
 
That is a picture of how the Lord deals with sin in His church.  But how does He actually do that?  In at least three ways:  Element number one is the ministry of the Word.  The Word is an instrument of holiness.  Ephesians 5 talks about being washed by the water of the Word.  It is a purifier.
 
Secondly, the Holy Spirit, Romans 1:4, is called “the Spirit of holiness.”  And the ministry of the Spirit is essential to the holiness of the church.  So the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the Spirit.
 
But thirdly, I believe you must link up Revelation 1 to what we read in Matthew 18.  It seems to me Scripture is teaching us that the Lord moves among His church with purity in mind, penetrating, searching out sin, and ready to deal with it, not only through the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the Spirit, but the ministry of His people.
 
And that’s why at the close of the passage He says when you’re “gathered together in my name, I’m there in the midst of you.”  In other words, when the church is moving to seek its purity, Christ is there in the midst moving among the candlesticks, doing His purifying work.
 
Now if I am correctly assessing that, then it means the church will never be more like Jesus Christ than when it dealing with sin. 
Never are you as an individual more like Jesus Christ than when you are seeking the purity of His church.  And yet, on a wide scale, in the church across our land today, this is not in the thinking of the people.  We tend to want to just love people and ignore their sin and pretend everything is fine and nothing matters.  After all, who are we to judge?  After all, we have no right to judge, eight? 
 
No, as we’ve already learned, we have every right to judge and make discernments and the design of that is to love people as Christ loves them. 
 
See, the devil has convinced us if we deal with sin and stand against sin and confront sin, people won’t come to church.  To reach people, we’ve got to downplay this sin thing!  If we really want to win the lost, we just have to talk about love and forgiveness.
 
But I am reminded when Peter confronted Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit of God and they both dropped dead, great fear came upon the church and many were saved as a result.   
 
This tolerant kind of sentimentalism that never deals with sin is never going to renew the church and all the messages of love and forgiveness will amount to nothing until first of all, there is brokenness over sin and a return to the holiness of God. 
 
And unless and until the church comes back to a message of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin, it will never be renewed, and its evangelism will never be effective. 
 
 
And as I said earlier, that’s what Christ wants to do in His church.  Never is the church more like Jesus Christ than when it’s acting out Matthew 18:15-20 and dealing with sin.
 
The will of the Father is that His people be holy and that is the work of Christ in the church.  He does it through the Word, the Spirit, and the work of the people. 
 
The Word does its part as it’s proclaimed.  The Spirit does His part as He moves in the heart.  But we are to join the Word and the Spirit in human flesh and we are to act on behalf of Christ in the presence of His church to seek its purity.  And the prescription for that is in verses 15-20.  We are to be Christ moving in His church.
 
So how does that happen?  Let me give you five words to help understand that.  We’re going to just quickly touch on four of them, then settle down and spend some time with the fifth because there is where we find our misunderstood verses.
 
But it’s impossible to jump into the fifth without understanding what leads up to it, so  
 
First of all is
 
  1.  The Place of Discipline
 
The place of discipline is the church.
 
verses 15-17
 
 
So here we have this situation of brothers being at odds with one another.  They are unable to work it out between themselves and even when a couple of others get involved trying to keep it from becoming a bigger problem, it is still unresolved.  So, verse 17, Jesus says, “Tell it to the church.”
 
What does that mean?  The church is the assembly of God’s redeemed people.  That’s the place of discipline.  That’s where the Lord is moving to cleanse.  And by the way, the first two encounters are within the church also.  This is a church problem and it is to be handled by the church.
 
Second,
 
  1. The Purpose
 
verse 15b
 
“If He shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”  The purpose of the discipline is always restoration.  One who sins is lost to the fellowship.  He’s lost to the ministry there and he needs to be regained as a treasure that was lost.
 
Third,
 
  1. The Person
 
verse 15 again
 
Who is involved?  It’s your brother and you.  It’s you and me and all believers.  Again, it’s the church.  We’re all responsible.  We are all to be ministers of holiness. 
 
What did Paul say in Galatians 6:1?  “You who are spiritual, go and restore such in one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.”  Hebrews 10, “Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together.  Instead, come together to stimulate love and good works among the brothers and sisters.” 
 
The church needs those who are willing to be obedient to that, who have a holy zeal for God’s name, and who have purified their own hearts so they can do this work.  We need ministers of holiness.
 
So the place of discipline, the church; the purpose is restoration; the person, all of us are involved;
 
Fourth is
 
  1. The Provocation
 
When do we do it? 
 
Verse 15 - “If your brother trespasses.” 
 
Every sin in the church is a sin against everyone in the church.  That means whenever there’s an unconfessed, unrepented sin, whenever there’s a continuing sin, whatever the sin, that’s a provocation for discipline. 
 
Fifth is
 
  1. The Process
 
 Verse 15-17 tell us there are as many as four steps involved.
Step one, go and tell him his sin alone, privately.  If he responds, that’s the end of the process.  If he doesn’t, step two, verse 16, take one or two with you that his attitude and his response might be confirmed by two or three witnesses, which according to Deuteronomic law was the standard of legality.
 
Now if he doesn’t respond in that setting, then three, verse 17, tell the whole church, and that means the whole church then goes to try to restore him.  The whole church then goes to try to draw him back.  One has been unsuccessful, two and three have been unsuccessful, now everybody goes. 
 
Now, the extent to which the church has been told may vary.  You may want to tell the whole church.  You may want to tell a group of the church or the church as constituted in its leaders.  But in other words, you’re to widen the circle of people who are pursuing the sinning brother or sister to bring them back, to bring them to repentance, confession, turning from sin back to purity.
 
And if they still do not hear, then step four, treat them as heathen or a tax collector. 
 
Those were two groups of people identify or  symbolize the idea of being an outcast.  Treat them like you would somebody on the outside of your group.  Put them out.  Don’t let them join the fellowship.  Don’t let them associate.  Don’t let them feel at home. 
 
 
 
But don’t miss the follow-up to that.  You put them out so that when they become miserable you can call them back.  Remember, the goal is always restoration. 
 
So the place of discipline, the church; the purpose, restoration, to gain your brother; the person, you and me and any of us; the provocation, any sin; the process, four steps. 
 
Now we come to the last part and what I really want to focus on and that is 
 
  1. The Power
 
I don’t know about you, but whenever I deal with this passage, there is always something of a hesitancy and sense of inadequacy about the actual doing of it. 
 
If you’re like I am, you say, “Well, who in the world am I to go to somebody else and confront them with their sin?”  I mean, this is a private world and everybody is sort of a private person.  You just can’t go blasting into someone’s life and say, “You are sinning.”  I mean, what right do we have?  I’m not an apostle.  I’m not perfect. 
 
And then people want to misinterpret Matthew 7, “Judge not lest ye be judged.”  What right do we have to do that?  How can we possibly publicize people’s sin to the whole church and send everybody out after them?
 
 
 
My dad and I used to have some discussions about the topic of church discipline.  I would take the position that the Bible teaches it and Jesus instructed it and expected it, but dad would say, “But the Bible says we aren’t to judge”. 
 
So what is our authority for dealing with sin in the church?  By what power do we do this and do we have any right to do it all? 
 
The answer is found in verses 18-20, and this is really the focal passage of the text.  Our authority is found in two places. 
 
First of all,  when we deal with sin
 
  • our Father in heaven acts with us
 
verse 18
 
Now that verse ought to really give us pause to set back and think about what we just read.  It’s a good thing Matthew began with the word “assuredly” or “truly” because what we find there is almost beyond comprehension. 
 
To know that we are acting in agreement and under the authority of and with the approval of the infinite holy God is hard to grasp.  But that’s what it’s saying. 
 
Those phrases, “bind on earth and bound in heaven”
are rabbinical terms and they would have been very familiar to the Jewish audience..  They simply refer to the rabbis either binding someone’s sins on them or loosing their sins from them. 
And it basically is the idea of recognizing that someone has been freed from their sin or they are still bound in their sin. 
 
So the binding is not taking place because we are declaring it.  We are simply the human mouthpiece that makes the observation and declaration of what has already happened in heaven. 
 
So when we say to someone, “Based on what we observe in your life and your response to the sin in your life, we are simply ratifying what heaven decrees.  And the same is true regarding forgiveness of sin.  What gives us the right to say to someone, “You have been forgiven of your sin”?  Only that Scripture declares when certain criteria are met, sin is forgiven. 
 
And when we have the Word of God in heaven sustaining our judgments, we have authority.  That means if you’re a sinning person in the church and somebody goes to you and you don’t repent, and two or three go to you and you don’t repent, and the whole church is pursuing you and you don’t repent, we can safely say your sins are bound on you and we can say that because we’ve gone through the process to determine that based upon the revelation of the Word of God, we are simply repeating what God has already said. 
 
and when we say that, we are simply saying what the Father has already said in heaven.  And what it boils down to is simply the church acting on behalf of the will of God.  The Father in heaven is acting with us and gives us authority to act. 
 
On the other hand, if you’re in sin and we go to you and somewhere through that process you repent, and your heart is broken, and you grieve, and you turn from your sin, then we can safely say with all the authority of God, “Your sins are loosed.  Welcome into the fullness of the fellowship.” 
 
We are merely doing on earth what has already been done in heaven.  So the authority then is that we are acting in behalf of the Father in heaven, who’s already done what is right to do in your case.
 
That’s why I said earlier, never is the church more like Jesus Christ than when it is dealing with sin.   Never does the church more fulfill the will of God
 
That’s our authority.  Our Father in heaven stands with us when we’ve followed the biblical pattern. 
 
And just for emphasis, look at
 
Verse 19
 
Again we are following the Biblical pattern laid out in verse 15 and following.  So the “two” here are the witnesses who confirm the repentant or unrepentant heart.  Two was the lowest number that could confirm a decision. 
 
And notice, they are to agree.  The word “agree” is 
The word from which we get the word “symphony.”  It means “to produce a sound together.”  When all of you who are looking into this person’s life agreed that his sin is still there or his sin is repented of, whatever it is, covering anything, the Father will be agreement with you.
 
That means this verse is not talking about a blank check for prayer and yet, that’s how it’s normally used.  If gets removed from its context and instead, these two or three people get together and name it and claim and God is obligated to give them anything they ask for. 
 
Nay! Nat!  I don’t know which two you are reading about if you believe that, but the “two” here are the two witnesses in a case of church discipline involving a sinning person, and they really want God’s will done, and they really want what’s right, and if they agree over this issue, and then follow the biblical pattern, they can be confident that in their seeking for God’s will they will receive it and God will do what’s right.
 
And that’s a very important confidence, because when you move into discipline, you can second guess yourself and say, “Boy, I hope I’m doing what’s right.  Maybe I’m judging.” 
 
And here we have a reminder that if it’s been confirmed and we all are in symphony, and we’re all reading the same signs the same way, and we’re asking for God’s wisdom, we can know the Father is acting in accord with us.
 
So the first reason for our authority is God in heaven I acting with us. 
 
Second reason.  Not only does the Father in heaven act with us, but
 
  • the Son on earth acts with us
 
verse 20
Here’s another verse that gets terribly misapplied.  You, like me, have probably heard that read a dozen or more times at prayer meetings.  If we can just get two or three people together, God will be there. 
 
I didn’t know God was limiting His visits to two or more!  So what happens when a person prays alone?  Why did He tell us to get in the closet by our self?  As far as I can tell, if you’ve just got one person, God’s there. 
 
That isn’t what this verse is talking about.  Again, the “two or three” in this context are witnesses in the church discipline issue. 
 
 See that’s why it’s so important to teach the flow of the Scripture.  Jesus is simply saying, “When you act to do my work of moving among the churches to assure character and purity,  just know, when you do it the way I tell you to do it, I’ll be there with you.  In fact, I’ll be right in the middle of it.  “
 
Isn’t that a great confidence?  Not only is heaven involved as the Father acts with us, but the Son is here on earth with us also.  Never are you more fulfilling the will of God and the work of the Son than when you’re acting in the purging and the purifying of His own church. 
 
In closing, just a word about the central figure in this.  We should never lose sight of the fact that the process is designed to bring the erring brother or sister back into the fold. I really believe that is what God and Jesus take such active rolls in the process and their heart should be our heart.  You can’t have the heart of God and just let them go.  They need to be brought back.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian of rather liberal persuasion, lived through some of the terrors of Nazi Germany.  He wrote a little book called “Life Together”.  In it are some very profound thoughts that might help us with what we’re looking at.  Listen to what he says.
 
“Sin demands to have a man by himself.  It withdraws him from the community.  The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.  And the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.  Sin wants to remain unknown.  It shuns the light.  In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.  This can happen even in the midst of a pious community.”
 
He continues, “In confession, the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.  The sin is brought into the light.  The unexpressed is openly spoken and acknowledged.  All that is secret and hidden is made manifest.  It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted, but God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron.” 
 
Listen to this.  “Since the confession of sin is made in  the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self justification is abandoned.  The sinner surrenders.  He gives up all his evil.  He gives his heart to God.  He finds the forgiveness of all his sin and the fellowship of Jesus Christ and his brother.  The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power.  It has been revealed and judged as sin.  It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder.”
 
 
“Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother.  He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and it handed it over to God.  It has been taken away from him.  Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God and the cross of Jesus Christ.  The sin concealed separated him from the fellowship, made all his apparent fellowship a sham.  The sin confessed has helped him to find true fellowship with the brethren in Jesus Christ.”
 
What a ministry, the ministry of restoring the sinning brother.  It is the key to purity of the church.  It is the key to revival of the church, the renewal of the church, and the reaching of the world through a renewed church.  And it is done with the assurance that “when two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, He is in the midst.
 
Let’s pray
 
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