Summary: A look at how Matthew 18 teaches us to be honest about our sins and that we need to be prayerful
Introduction to sermon
This morning we come to another very familiar passage. It’s only five verses long but wow! What five verses they are. If your brother sins (or sins against you) what are we to do? Do we take offence or do we build a bridge (show the kids talk lego). There is so much going on here that I will have a few different points. To make it easier to know where we are heading, they are honesty in our relationships (with God and others), naming sin for what it is, and prayer. In the middle somewhere we may even have a live example for you watch. So stay awake!!!
As is usually the case when we come to a passage of scripture, we need to see what's going on around it as well. If we briefly take a look at verses 10 to 14 Jesus is telling his disciples the parable of the lost sheep. The Shepherd is not willing for one to be lost. We need to take note that the lost one comes from the flock. He has been a follower and has fallen away. The emphasis is not on a new sheep to the flock but one already known one. This is important when you consider the consequences of a brother (and sister) in verse 17. Jesus gives us a direct correlation as to how serious we need to take the following verses. Correction or reconciliation are not done lightly. Jesus wants all of us to remain part of his flock.
Following our reading gives us another insight into how seriously this idea of correction or reconciliation needs to be. Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother (or sister) who sins against him. What’s a reasonable number of times I need to allow it to happen? Up to seven times? Rabbinic custom suggests that three times was enough. Peter more than doubles that figure. Go Peter! Jesus’ response was enough to make it completely unreasonable. There are a few discussion about whether Jesus meant 7 times 7 or 7 to the power of 7. Either way, the picture Jesus is painting is one of continuous forgiveness. Makes you think of the Lords prayer. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We give the same amount of forgiveness as we receive. Staggering to think about really, isn't it? That’s how serious this matter is to Jesus. He doesn't want anyone to be lost and we are to forgive an excessive amount of times. Obviously if you are in danger of some sort, this is vastly different. Domestic violence, whether it’s verbal abuse, physical abuse or child abuse are not acceptable and Jesus isn't asking you to cop it because of this passage. If your not sure about it, please see me or get help.
Now to our passage for today.
As a church, we have looked at this passage of scripture in depth in terms of how to deal with conflict. A kind of “how to manual” on how to confront someone who has upset us. First, we approach them one on one to try and sort the matter out. Then we approach them with 2 or 3 witnesses (usually someone in leadership), then finally if that doesn’t work, we take it to the church. The next step is that if there is no change in them, we remove them from membership. We need to recognise one thing in all of this. It takes two to tango. The offence isn’t usually just from one person to the other. Often it is far more complex than that. Both may feel offended by the other. How does this passage help us in that situation? What if this passage is being abused to gain some person’s own personal agenda? Can make it tricky, can’t it? The older I get, the more that I realise that things are far more grey than purely black and white.
If we use this passage purely for the purpose of settling a dispute, we have missed a couple of points.
The first one is honesty. When we have conflict with another person. When you are offended by another, we do need to take action. We need to be honest with that person. We do need to talk with them about it. But, we also need to be doing it out of love for them and with as much grace as we can muster (and through Jesus, that’s an awful lot). We can’t do it out of a desire for retribution or revenge. The whole sense of this approach is that it is done in private to give that person every opportunity to maintain their dignity.
If we feel that we are offended by another person not only do we need to take the initiative and be honest with that person who has upset us, but we also need to be willing to take a risk. The risk is the approaching of the person. I don’t know of too many people who like to hear about how they have upset someone. But it needs to be done. We can’t live our lives with offence and un-forgiveness in our hearts. Its hurts ourselves. As we approach them, we do need to do it tenderly and carefully. We are working hard to restore the relationship, not tear it down.