Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Transfiguration, 11th Sunday After Pentecost
Volume 8 No. 492 August 3, 2018
II. Lectionary Reflections on Matthew 18:15-22

My Brother's Keeper - Conflict Among Christians

by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.

Sermon on Matthew 18:15-20

One Christian cannot call out another Christian about their sin without conflict. Conflict has been a part of the church since its inception. It is somewhat comforting even to know that we are not alone in having to deal with conflict in the church. Just read Paul's epistles to the churches he served, they are all about conflict.

I have a favorite story about conflict taken from the comic strip Peanuts. You know, the one with Charlie Brown and Linus and Snoopy. In this strip a conflict arises between Lucy and Linus. Lucy bursts into the living room where Linus is watching TV and she demands that Linus change the channel threatening him with her fist if he doesn't. Linus says, "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" "These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold." "Which channel do you want to watch?" asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"

Most of us shy away from conflict. And when conflict arises in the church, most of us would rather ignore it and hope it goes away. The amazing thing about this passage and the most unsettling thing about this passage is how it makes sin an intensely public matter instead of keeping it a purely private one. The sins of an individual are brought before the community and are held up as something to be corrected, not just something the sinner needs to ask God to forgive them for.

Many times we use Jesus as a shortcut and as a way of avoiding genuine repentance. We privatize sin and think that sin is just something that is between "me and Jesus." We think that I just need to ask Jesus to forgive me and then everything is okay, completely neglecting the impact of sin on our community and church.

In Judaism, there is the practice of tishuvah, a process whereby a person seeks to be reconciled to their brother or sister whom they have sinned against. It is not enough just to ask God to forgive us, we must ask those in the church we have wronged to forgive us too. And, this teaching reminds us that we are to call out those who have wronged us.

Now there is a fine line between sin and a bad habit. There is a big difference between somebody who eats too much chocolate and somebody who embezzles money from the church. There is a big difference between someone who spends too much money on their hobby and somebody who is having an affair.

Some of the lessons and teachings of Jesus seem so simple at first. But these teachings get a lot more difficult when they are applied to our lives. We are reluctant to call out those people who have sinned against us. We are aware of our own sinfulness as well. As Matthew's gospel tells us earlier on in chapter 7:

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

But this just reminds us of the necessity of removing that which hurts our vision—our own sin. If we are timid about calling out someone about their sin because of our own sin, we need to call ourselves out first. Being sinful creatures does not relinquish our duty as a community called the church to keep each other accountable to the life to which Christ has called us.

But there are other obstacles to obeying Christ's teachings here. If the person who has sinned against us is also our friend, we shy away even further from confrontation in order that the friendship is not negatively impacted further. In ancient Greece, the famous philosopher and ethicist Aristotle made friendship the basis for ethics or proper conduct, yet we make it the excuse for immoral behavior.

This teaching flies against our natural instincts nowadays. We are a deeply individualistic culture. We think people are supposed to mind their own business. We think church is a place for fellowship and a place where we can go to feel better about ourselves and our world. But that does not even resemble the church Jesus calls us to be. Jesus calls us to be a community of believers, willing to forgive others and to receive forgiveness ourselves. We must remember when we are thinking about this teaching of Jesus that it was given in between two other stories that relate to this topic. These stories form a sort of sandwich around this teaching to rebuke.

The first is the parable of the lost sheep, where the good shepherd searches out the lost sheep, and the second is Jesus' response to Peter's question of, "How often should I forgive?" Jesus tells Peter there is no limit that we are to always forgive.

Jesus calls us to be a community that is not individualistic, but one that works together to keep each other straight, to keep each other holy. We cannot be faithful Christians if we see ourselves purely as individuals. To quote my favorite poet John Donne, "No man is an island." Those affected by Hurricane Katrina really know just how dependant they are on others. What a wonderful gift God has given those victims. They have the gift of knowing how much they need others. We should be so fortunate.

I really like what Lucy said when she confronted Linus about changing the TV channel. "Individually these five fingers are nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold." If Lucy's five fingers can work together to threaten, think how much more effectively our five fingers can work together to help those in need. I leave you with Linus' question to his fingers, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?" Amen.

Redemptive Discipline

by RC Sproul

Matthew 18:15–17 "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" (v. 15).

James M. Boice's comments on Matthew 18:13 remind sinners that "everything God has done is for your salvation, and no one in all the universe will be happier at your repentance than God" (The Gospel of Matthew: An Expositional Commentary, vol. 2, p. 388). If the Father rejoices to see errant sinners return, we must also desire transgressors to be restored, no matter their offenses. This principle undergirds today's passage, the classic text on church discipline.

Discipline necessarily means confrontation and is established in Christ's call for us to care for the spiritual growth of one another (Matt. 18:10–14). We are required to intervene when Christian friends and family go astray, otherwise sin might destroy that person. In a real sense, we are our brother's keeper.

Verse 15 addresses offenses between two believers privately, not those against the church corporately. John Calvin wisely teaches that in certain cases we can skip this first step and right away call witnesses (vv. 16–17) and, if necessary, local authorities, if the sin is an illegal activity. Physical abuse, for example, might be a case in which this is done. Normally, however, we face those who offend us in private. Of course, we overlook peccadilloes in love, without mandating repentance for every sin (1 Peter 4:8). Nevertheless, more consequential sins demand us to go alone to the offender first, without gossiping and spreading the news to unconcerned parties (Matt. 18:15). We hope for repentance, but regardless of the initial outcome, Calvin teaches, no one may disgrace "his brother, by rashly, and without necessity, divulging secret offenses."

If no repentance is forthcoming, the offended party must go back to the accused with one or two others (v. 16). This conforms to God's principles for justice (Deut. 19:15); witnesses protect the offender and the offended from false accusations. Finally, if the sinner remains impenitent, he is excommunicated from the assembly (Matt. 18:17). Even then, Augustine writes, let us not neglect the offender's salvation: "For the very heathen, that is, the Gentiles and Pagans, we do not reckon among the number of brethren; but yet are we ever seeking their salvation" (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, vol. 6, p. 359).

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

In excommunication, Dr. John MacArthur writes, "the idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and then to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother" (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,158). Think of someone who has, on account of unrepentant sin, been cast out of your church. Take time today to pray for his salvation.

For further study:

Proverbs 24:28–29

Source: INTO the WORD daily Bible studies from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.

Before You Unfriend

by Rick Morley

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

If another member of the church sins against you…just talk about them behind their back.

If another member of the church sins against you…just call a bunch of people in the church to complain about them. You may even want to start a letter-writing campaign against them.

If another member of the church sins against you…just send them a nasty email. Copy the clergy. And, while you're at it, CC the bishop.

If another member of the church sins against you…don't say anything. Just avoid them. Un-friend them on Facebook. And, if you can't avoid them on Sundays, then just leave the church.


In the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus talks directly to his followers to tell us what our fellowship is to be like. If a brother or sister in the faith hurts you, angers you, saddens you, or does you wrong in any way…you go and talk to them about it directly, one on one.

Not only does this manner of working out difficulties lead to forgiveness, it also does so in a graceful way. The offended party isn't dragging the offender through the mud. If it gets worked out here, no one else needs to know.

Forgiveness is available without fear of embarrassment in the fellowship. It can be done quietly. Lovingly. Gracefully.

However, when that doesn't work, you bring another person or two with you. This “ratchets” things up a bit, but still provides for grace amidst discretion.

And then, if things can't be worked out there, you bring it to the whole church.

I've seen churches be totally undone by backbiting and whisper campaigns. It can be devastating-and not just to attendance and finances-but it's devastating to the Christian witness of that parish, and the Universal Church.

For when that happens, the church ceases to be a place of forgiveness, grace, and mercy. One might say that it ceases to be a church in any discernible fashion.

Forgiveness is meant to be at the core of who we are, and to be honest with you, if we can't do it between ourselves in the church, how can we ever be agents of reconciliation in the world?

Right here, Jesus gives a clear blue-print for how our communities might be holy places where holy relationships might flourish. And, it's something that we need to practice until it is so ingrained in our DNA, we can't imagine living another way.

Because, for Jesus, there isn't another way.


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