Summary: Jesus provides practical guidance to help His disciples maintain holiness within the body of Christ and thus protect the fellowship of the church
I love my church. I love my church because I love Jesus and Jesus loves the church. So that is why I’m so excited about our current sermon series. I want to share my love of the church with you in hopes that you, too, will fall in love with the church, either for the first time, or all over again.
Two weeks ago we began our series by looking at how Jesus loves His Bride, the church. He sacrificed for her, he sanctifies her and He sustains her. And we talked about how we can incorporate those same three actions into our love for the church. If you missed that message for any reason, I encourage you to go to the website and either watch or listen to it because it is so foundational to the rest of this series.
And then last week, we looked at the first of five practical ways that we can demonstrate our love for the Bride of Christ. We saw how preparing for and participating in corporate worship helps us to live as disciples of Jesus in a world that is increasing hostile to Him and to His church. We saw how the encouragement we receive as we draw near to God, hold fast to the confession of our hope and consider how to stir up one another to love and good works helps us to persevere and become more like Jesus.
But even though it is important for us to have a way to persevere in the face of those who would attack the church from the outside, I’m convinced that the greater threat to the Bride of Christ actually comes from within the body. And that’s not just my opinion. Jesus was so concerned about the possibility that the church could collapse from within that He specifically addressed how His disciples are to protect the fellowship of the church by appropriately handling conflict and sin that arises within His church.
My guess is that most of us are probably familiar with the passage that we’ll look at together this morning. In fact, I’m confident that almost everyone here can complete the last verse in this passage:
For where two or three are gathered in my name…
[Let people complete the verse]
there am I among them.
Unfortunately, I’m also pretty sure that most of us have probably utilized that verse out of context in a way that is inconsistent with the way that Jesus intended it to be used. I say that because I know that I am certainly guilty of that. So let’s look at that verse in context and see what we can learn together this morning about how to protect the fellowship of our church.
Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 18 and follow along as I begin reading in verse 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
(Matthew 18:15-20 ESV)
We tend to label this passage “church discipline”, which often gives it a negative connotation. But as I think we’ll see this morning, Jesus meant this to be a positive way for His disciples to maintain holiness within the body of Christ and thus protect the fellowship of the church.
Although we often focus on the procedure we are to use when there is sin and conflict in the body, I think it’s crucial that we understand why Jesus gave these instructions to the church. So we’re actually going to examine this passage in reverse order, beginning with verses 18-20 where we find…
THE POWER TO PROTECT THE FELLOWSHIP (vv. 18-20)
I’m going to spend a bit more time on this aspect of the passage than I originally intended because it is undoubtedly the hardest part of the passage to understand. When we get to the procedures themselves, they are actually pretty straightforward and won’t require a whole lot of comment.
We’ll also work backwards within this section and begin with verse 20. Think about some of the times that you’ve either used that verse yourself or heard others use it. Personally, I’ve seen it used most frequently in some kind of church gathering, usually a prayer meeting, where there are only a few people present. And it seems that on those occasions, someone will undoubtedly say something like, “Well it’s OK because Jesus is here since He promised that even if two or three people are gathered in His name, He will be present.”