In the course of some normal ministry this past week and an abundance of discussion regarding church discipline in my social media circles, I could use some help. I have lamented over the broad and perhaps exaggerated application of Matthew 18:15-20:
“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 loosedf 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.” (English Standard Version)
This passage is familiar enough to most, but, I think, requires a second look and deeper consideration. The principle is easy enough to understand, and likewise be applied. However, there’s a three-letter word in this passage that can truly change the way the church seeks to apply it. That word is in verse 15 – “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” By some accounts, the word “you” appears to have been added to the text much later than its original inscription.
The New American Standard Bible reads in this manner – “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” The absence of the word “you” in this translation might just change the import of the passage significantly.
We have two possible ideas represented here:
1. This discipline is to be enacted when someone sins against you specifically,
2. This discipline is to be enacted when someone sins in general and in your purview.
In other words, when someone sins visibly or publicly and you happen to be a witness to it, you have a duty to confront it,
When someone sins against you specifically in private or public, it remains your responsibility to engage the disciplinary process.
There might be a warrant to apply this passage when someone sins against another, but that one is too weak, damaged, or afraid to initiate the process themselves and needs your help.
There are those whom God calls to expose sin with a view to correction for the benefit of all within the church. These are often those with the prophetic gifting of Ephesians 4:11. If a person is operating in the prophetic, we must take great care to “not treat prophecies with contempt.” 1 Thessalonians 5:20 Neither should we hold the one who prophesizes in contempt lest we share in the same sins and consequences.
Some evidence suggests that the word “you” was added in later manuscripts. Whether or not the addition changes the import and application of the passage remains to be seen. I’d like your help by asking you a few questions:
1. Does an individual church member have the right to call out the public sin of another?
2. Does Matthew 18:15-20 address only those sins committed against us as individuals?
3. What other biblical passages should be used in conjunction with Matthew 18:15-20 in the process of Church Discipline?