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3c The Christian Life Means Loving Until It Hurts

Stand Firm: Living in a Post-Christian Culture  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We will continue our look at Matthew 18 tonight as we finish our look at Sanctifying Love. Last week we looked at the childlikeness of believers, taking sin seriously, and God’s pursuit of his people. This week we will look at Love that Disciplines and Love that Forgives.

Sanctifying Love

The Love That Disciplines

Matthew 18:15–20 ESV
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
What are these verses talking about? What are the terms we use for it today?
Sanctifying love also includes a willingness to confront those brothers and sisters who fall into sin. In this next portion of His sermon, the Lord lays out His specific and detailed pattern for dealing with sin in the church. These instructions don’t give us license to pounce on people for making a small error or carelessly saying something they shouldn’t. Love covers those kinds of sins, or at least it’s supposed to. What Christ is prescribing here is a means to address patterns of sin that are destructive to the believer’s own life or a threat to infect and pollute the rest of the church. The point of this process is not to kick problem people out of the church. It’s to restore the sinning brother to a right relationship with God and believers, so as to protect the integrity of the church and its testimony to the watching world.
What is the first step we are to take according to these verses?
Jesus says, “If your brother sins, go and tell him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (v. 15). Church discipline is a series of steps— the first is done in private. In a sense, this step is preliminary to the process. We should be faithful to lovingly confront sin where we see it in the lives of the believers around us. If God’s people were more faithful in addressing sin when it first appeared— if they didn’t turn a blind eye and hope the problem went away on its own— there would be fewer instances that demanded the subsequent steps in the process. We need to love each other enough to confront the sin that stifles our fellow believer’s spiritual growth and stunts his usefulness to God’s kingdom. And if he responds positively to such loving confrontation, there is no need to go beyond that. Christ says, “You have won your brother.” By God’s grace, we rejoice in His goodness and in the repentance His Spirit has produced.
What is step two in the process?
However, not everyone will repent, regardless of how sincere or compelling that first confrontation was. In those cases, Jesus says, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (v. 16). Sanctifying love does not easily lose heart; it persists for the sake of the sinning brother. We confront him again and plead with him to repent, taking witnesses to give testimony to his response. Again, the hope here is to help the wayward believer see his sin the way God sees it and deal with it directly.
What is step three in the process?
“If he refuses to listen to them,” Christ says, “tell it to the church” (v. 17). It’s a sober thing to bring the sins of a believer before the whole church body. This isn’t an act of sanctified gossip. We urge the rest of the church to pursue the unrepentant person in love, calling him back to faithfulness to Christ. “If he refuses to listen to them, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (v. 17). If he won’t submit and repent after unleashing the entire church on him, at that point the church is forced to treat him as an unbeliever, because he is behaving like one. If he’s living in open, unrepentant sin, there is nothing to certify him as a believer.
Why is step two in the process so important? Why is two or three witnesses specifically called out in Matthew?
This is so important as it is tied to Biblical Justice. There is a clear Biblical standard that must be adhered to when the church ( or civil government for that matter) is to entertain a charge. The base for this is found in the Old Testament in a section called Laws Concerning Witnesses:
Deuteronomy 19:15 ESV
15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
And referenced in the New Testament:
2 Corinthians 13:1 ESV
1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
So what is the standard being set here?
No one gets to make a singular accusation according to the biblical standard regardless of how earnest their position is. Charges must be established by two or three independent lines of witness all corroborating one another. This could be eye witnesses (either I saw the event or I was with the person when they went and talked to them and they were unrepentant), social media posts, video evidence, etc. Much easier to establish now than it was during Old Testament times. But would we want it any other way? Do we want action taken against us on the basis of a single line of witness?
These steps protect the accused as well as the accuser. It’s no small thing to put somebody out of the church, but you do it out of love for him. Paul tells us that the unrepentant sinner might have to suffer:
1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV
5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
The Lord may take him out of the world altogether to bring an end to his sin and remove the stain on the testimony of His church. But the hope is that disassociating the unrepentant sinner from the blessedness of fellowship will get his attention in a way the prior confrontations did not.
That said, you also put him out of the church out of love for the rest of the body. He cannot be allowed to stay within the fellowship, because:
1 Corinthians 5:6 ESV
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
His sin could fester and spread throughout the church like a cancer. In this regard, sanctifying love prioritizes both the one who is in sin and the rest of the church.
How many of you enjoy talking about church discipline?
A common argument against church discipline is that no one will want to join a congregation that practices it. However, the transformed heart has holy longings. The world is aggressively wicked, and regenerate believers are eager to belong to a church body that emphasizes holiness, integrity, and sanctification. It’s true that a church full of judgmental busybodies with Sequoia-sized logs in their own eyes won’t attract anyone. But that’s not true church discipline. God wants us to keep His church pure, starting with our own lives. A truly disciplined church is one where all its members are continually taking inventory of their own hearts before rushing to confront the sin they spot in others. Sanctifying love keeps careful watch over one’s own heart, first of all.
And if the church is forced to go through the entire process of church discipline and put a member out of the church, what confidence do we have that it was what God wanted? The Lord says, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18: 18– 19). Christ is confirming the church’s authority to conduct such discipline. If we confront a sinning believer and he does not repent, we can say he is bound in his sin because that’s what the Bible says. If he does repent, we can say he is loosed from his sin because that’s what the Bible says. In other words, we are doing on earth what heaven has already done. We are rendering a verdict consistent with the verdict that heaven has already rendered.
Moreover, Christ confirms His participation in the process, saying, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (v. 20). In the first chapter of Revelation, the Apostle John received a vision illustrating Christ’s relationship to His church. John wrote: “His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace” (Rev. 1: 14– 15). This is a picture of Christ’s purifying work— work that He accomplishes in part through the process of church discipline. In that sense, our sanctifying love for other believers is a reflection of the Lord’s, as He desires the church to be His holy, spotless bride.
As an aside, Matthew 18:20 is one of the verses that is most often taken out of context. How do we normally here it used? But that is not the context of the verse. We must be extremely careful on taking liberty with verses in the bible and applying them beyond the scope of the context in which it was given. While it is true that Christ is with us when we gather together, as he is always with us, this verse does not support that thinking. It is in the context of church discipline and the restoration of our brothers and sisters to Christ.

Love that Forgives

Matthew 18:21–35 ESV
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
With the Lord’s sermon in Matthew 18 coming to a close, Peter wondered aloud: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (v. 21). In those days, the rabbis instructed that forgiveness was only to be offered three times. Perhaps Peter thought if he doubled that and added one, the Lord would be impressed. But Christ’s reply deflated those hopes. He said, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (v. 22), meaning endlessly. Believers are never more like God than when they forgive, and Christ is describing the magnanimous, gracious, endless forgiveness we receive from the Father. He closes the sermon with a familiar parable illustrating that very point (vv. 23– 35).
But if such forgiveness is not coupled with the confrontation of sin, evil will find a comfortable seat in the church. We need to forgive one another freely, out of godly love and the recognition of what we’ve already been forgiven in Christ. But we also need to faithfully confront those sinning believers out of a sanctifying love, both for the sake of their spiritual growth and to preserve the purity of the church for the honor of the Lord.
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