Sunday, December 10, 2023

Who is the Greatest? (Part 7)

By Clifton Angel
    Jesus authorized four methods of action Christians are to be concerned with when another Christian has sinned against him (Matthew 18:15–17). Last week, we considered the powerful significance of keeping a private matter private, and if the guilty brother repents, all is well. “Thou hast gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15). But, what if he does not?
    “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16). We would do well to consider the legal illustration being emphasized by the use of “two or three witnesses.” Jurors in a courtroom become witnesses of an account by listening to the prosecution and defense of an accused person. The jurors are vetted in order to affirm they have no prior knowledge of the accused person or his accusation, and they are strictly ordered to receive no extra information other than that they receive in the courtroom. Likewise, when we take “one or two more” to help our brother out of his sin, they are to have no prior knowledge of the accusation. They are not to be primed, pre-in-formed, or prejudiced. We’re not trying to win an argument. We’re not trying to boast ourselves above another (cf. Matt 18:1–5). We are trying to save the soul of a sinner in our spiritual family. What if he/she still will not repent?
    “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church” (Matthew 18:17a). Telling it to the church does not mean letting the church know one-by-one in our normal desired activity of whispering, gossiping, and backbiting. This third method of action commanded by Jesus is a public announcement to the corporal assembly of the local congregation of the church. Well, church, how about it? Will we obey it?
    As previously noted, there is a fourth method of action that we must take if the first three have been followed faithfully and our Christian sibling has refused to turn from the error of his ways. “But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17b). Jesus uses accommodative “tongue-in-cheek” to impress upon the prejudiced Jews the seriousness of the sinful state of impenitent child of God. A pagan Gentile (“heathen man”) and a tax collector (“publican”) were among the most devoid and defiled in the mind of the Jewish faithful.
    Do not miss the great irony. Jesus is not prejudiced against Gentiles and tax collectors. Jesus loves them, died for them, and thereby saved many of them. Even if a brother is devoid, defiled, and a castaway, he has opportunity to repent and return to Jesus as long as his life remains (cf. James 5:19–20). While impenitent, he cannot enjoy the fellowship of God’s family; however, God’s family will still seek to save him, as would Jesus.

- Clifton Angel preaches for the Coldwater Church of Christ in Coldwater, MS. He may be contacted through that congregation's website:

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