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Matthew 18:15-20 - Homiletics

The method of dealing with offences.

I. THE DUTY OF PRIVATE CHRISTIANS .

1 . Secret admonition . The Lord had warned the apostles that offences must come; he had urged the necessity of exceeding carefulness against giving offence to others; now he tells us how to act when others put a stumbling block in our way by their trespasses. Go and tell thy brother his fault, he says; speak to him secretly, do not publish his transgression, do not make a talk of it; charity endureth all things, charity hideth a multitude of sins. Speak to him; it is better to tell him his fault than to brood over it. But speak to him gently for his own soul's sake. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother—gained him to Christ, gained his soul; for he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. And oh! what is the exceeding great privilege of gaining a soul which Christ loved, for which he came down from heaven that he might seek it!

2 . The second step, admonition before two or three witnesses . If the first attempt fails, still publicity should be avoided as far as possible; a second should be made with the help of one or two Christian friends. They may bring the erring brother to a sense of his own guilt, of the offence which he is causing to others, of the, wrong which he is doing to the Church of which he is a member by his wilfulness and obstinacy.

II. THE OFFICE OF THE CHURCH .

1 . Its discipline . If the sinful brother again and again refuses to listen to Christian reproof in private, the sin which is causing offence to the brethren must be brought before the Church. By the word "Church" the Lord must mean the Christian Church, that Church of which he had spoken for the first time at Caesarea Philippi, which he was building upon the Rock. He was speaking prophetically, looking forward to the growth and increase of the Church. "Tell it unto the Church." This is the last resort; if he neglect to heal the Church he must be regarded as a heathen man and a publican, no longer a brother in the full Christian sense of the word. But we must remember that the Lord's mercy extended to heathen and publicans. He came to call sinners to repentance. The sinful brother may repent, he may be forgiven and saved. The censure itself is inflicted not only for example's sake, not only that the cause of offence may be removed, but also for the sake of the offender, "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" ( 1 Corinthians 5:5 ).

2 . Its authority . The Lord here confers upon all the apostles as representatives of the Church that authority which he had already ( Matthew 16:19 ) given to St. Peter as the representative of the apostolic college. The Church, then, hath authority in controversies of faith—authority to declare what is of faith and what is not, what is of obligation and what is indifferent, what is allowed and what is forbidden. Christians are bound to regard the decisions of the Church with respect and reverence, for if rightly made they are ratified in heaven. Yet St. Peter certainly erred ( Galatians 2:11 ); Churches may err, and alas! have erred. It is only while the Church stands firm upon the Rock, which is Christ; only when the two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ, and he himself according to his promise is in the midst of them; when those two or three are men who have turned to God in the simplicity and lowliness of little children; it is only then that the conditions are fulfilled on which this promise depends. What a tremendous responsibility rests upon those who are called to guide and rule the Church of God! All Christian men should feel for them in the many difficulties of their arduous work, should pray for them constantly and earnestly.

3 . The strength of the Church . That strength lies in prayer. The power of united prayer is such that if any two true believers agree as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them. They pray on earth, our Father hears in heaven. United prayer brings to their help the almighty power of God. That union of human wills into concordance with the holy will of God must be the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the suppliants; and when the Holy Spirit prompts the prayer, the prayer is always heard, the petition is always granted. Only let us not misunderstand the Lord's promise, as perhaps the sons of Zebedee did at the time. Instructed Christians will ask for spiritual blessings, which alone are blessings always and under all conditions; or, if they sometimes ask for earthly things (and they are encouraged to do so in the Lord's Prayer itself), it will always be with the Lord's own condition, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." The strength of the Church lies in prayer, and the strength of prayer lies in the presence of Christ. The union of only two Christians in real earnest prayer represents the Church. For Christ himself is present wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, or rather, as the literal rendering is, into his Name. Christians are united by the one Spirit into one body, into that spiritual unity which is called by the one name ( 1 Corinthians 12:12 ). Believers are gathered together into that name, into that spiritual fellowship which can only be realized by those who walk in the light as he is in the light ( 1 John 1:7 ). And wherever that fellowship is, there is Christ the Lord manifesting himself to those who meet in his name and are gathered together into his name. He is in the midst of that little gathering, for he is God, omnipresent, ready to hear his servants in whatever corner of the world they lift up their prayers to him, ready to grant their petitions, to guide their counsels, to ratify the decisions, to give effect to the sentence issued in his name by those who met together in his name in the simple earnestness of childlike Christians, in the energy of that faith which has turned wholly to the Lord.

LESSONS .

1 . It is a difficult task to reprove a sinful brother; it is sometimes our duty; it must be done with gentleness and wisdom.

2 . To gain a brother's soul is an exceeding great reward; it is worth much prayer, much thought, much time.

3 . The Lord bids us hear the Church; the Christian must respect the authority of the Church.

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