Why the “Biblical Procedure” for Addressing Wrongs Never Works
Truth without grace is devastating. For instance, if you remove God’s grace from my life, all that is left is a wretched sinner. I do not want to face that kind of naked truth. Likewise, truth without grace can be enslaving. For instance, in Matthew 18:18 we are told in a context of broken relationships, “Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The context refers to two people who have had a disagreement. Jesus instructs the one who seems to be in the right to seek the other party out for the purpose of effecting reconciliation. If he is not successful he is instructed to take two witnesses and repeat the procedure. If that fails, he should engage the church. If the offending party does not hear the church’s admonition, he should be considered a Gentile and a tax collector.
Unfortunately, it seems that every time people choose to follow the procedures outlined in Matthew 18, rather than fixing the relationship, they make it worse.
Matthew 18:15-20 is a favorite passage to deal with broken relationships in the church. Unfortunately, it seems that every time people choose to follow the procedures outlined in Matthew 18, rather than fixing the relationship, they make it worse. Why? I believe because we fail to incorporate grace to the truth under discussion.
When someone has done a wrong to us we go to that person with a certain degree of anger and confront him with the truth. When that person refuses to repent on our terms, we take two witnesses, who usually are close friends of ours, not so much to effect reconciliation but to document the offender’s refusal to repent. When he does not respond the way we demand it, we then take it to the church—a church that the other party no longer attends.
The church usually writes a letter to the offending person, outlining his disobedience and gives him a certain time to repent. When he does not repent, the church now considers the offending Christian a Gentile and a tax collector. And some churches have used these two terms—“Gentile” and “tax collector”—as synonyms for unbelievers so they can justify themselves in pursuing a lawsuit in secular court.
We fail to discern the intent of the procedure outlined in Matthew 18
Why is it that in following “biblical procedure” we usually make the problem worse? I believe it is because we fail to discern the intent of the procedure outlined in Matthew 18:15-20. We are given the option to bind or to release, and we usually choose to bind. Please, notice the context. In the parable of the lost of sheep in Matthew 18:10-14, we have Jesus’ clear admonition that God does not want any one of those sheep to perish. Following the passage dealing with the discipline issue, we have the parable of two debtors (Matt. 18:21-35). Notice that the king became very angry with the party that was right, because of the party’s failure to release the offending party.
Once we have exhausted all the avenues for reconciliation, we should release the offender rather than bind him!
I believe a better way to deal with the issue is that once we have exhausted all the avenues for reconciliation, we release the offender rather than bind him. As Stephen did in Acts 7 and as Jesus did while hanging on the cross, we should pray for God not to count the offender’s sin against him. By doing this, we are sending grace to the offender and to the devil. Satan hates nothing more than grace, because grace neutralizes his most effective weapon: sin. Where sin abounds, grace overflows. Every time somebody offends us we should forgive that person unilaterally, because in so doing we take the truth of that offense and wrap it in grace. It is amazing how grace changes evil deeds into monuments to goodness. Jesus did this when He took man’s evil deeds at calvary and changed them into God’s gateway of grace.
Do not ignore the truth of their misdeeds add grace to that truth and turn it into a blessing.
But what about the terms “Gentile” and “tax collector”? What about them? A Gentile is someone who is outside of God’s covenant with God’s people. And a tax collector is a member of God’s people who is working for the enemy. These two categories are worthy of pity. I believe that what Jesus is saying is to be merciful to them. Have pity on them, because they are working for the enemy. Release them. Do not bind them. Do not ignore the truth of their misdeeds, but rather than use that truth to bind them and make them pay, as the slave did in the parable of the two debtors, add grace to that truth and turn it into a blessing. By adding grace to Saul of Tarsus, Stephen changed him into Paul of Antioch. Truth plus grace is a powerful combination.
When it comes to the truth itself, Jesus, no single person on earth can claim a corner on its understanding.
Truth always has two sides. The greater the truth, the farther apart those sides are. When it comes to the truth itself, Jesus, no single person on earth can claim a corner on its understanding. However, so many times self-appointed proponents and guardians of that truth claim the right to its full understanding. This is tantamount to their considering themselves greater than the truth itself and their positioning themselves over the truth to “instruct” others that, in their estimation, lack the “complete” understanding that they ascribe to themselves. Ridiculous! No wonder the Bible warns us that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1, NIV).
This is so serious that in Ephesians 4:3 Paul exhorts us to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He doesn’t say in the bond of agreement of “the truth as we understand it.” He says peace. This is because when brethren who differ on important issues are at peace with each other they are able to grow together in the understanding of the truth. Not for the sake of proving their particular point of view, but for the sake of what truth spoken in a context of grace does: it sets people free.
taken from “That None Should Perish”:http://harvestevan.org/books Ch.3