Exposition of Matthew 18:15-20 (b)

It should be remembered, that, in the matter of seeking to restore the lost sheep that strays from the fold, we are not simply trying to win a brother to ourselves, but that we are seeking to restore him into the favor of God; it is a matter which is very “serious,” a matter of what is “bound in heaven” and what is “bound on earth.” It is a matter of discipline. The German language calls this “Busszucht.” It is a chastisement to bring to confession of sin and guilt and to true sorrow of having sinned against God. Wherefore our fathers always stressed that there must be evidence of true sorrow for sin before a man can be re-admitted into the kingdom of God. 

As soon as we see the seriousness of sin, guilt, the wrath of God and eternal punishment for sin, we shall see how serious is this matter of “seeking to restore the brother.” 

Hence, the matter in judgment must be “established”! 

When our brother has sinned against us, or when he has sinned in general, it is first of all sin against God! He has broken the commandments of God and did not walk in love from a pure heart, in a good conscience and in faith unfeigned! He must be reconciled to God, and, thus, to his brother. And, conversely, if he is not reconciled to the brother whom he sees he cannot possibly be reconciled to God whom he does not see. The Lord is not mocked. 

Hence, it is really a walking into the tribunal of the Lord when we go to the brother to convict him of sin. It is before His face, the face of Him before whom all things are naked and open. For He judges the reins and hearts, and He it is that searches the intents of the heart. And this intent of the heart, whether this be purity of heart in confession or of filthiness and stubbornness of heart in refusal to confess, must come to light. The truth of the matter must be established

And when once it is established and ratified before the tribunal of God in the hearts and consciences of those who are “convicted,” this conviction stands. Nothing changes it; no arbitrary setting aside of the tribunal and circumvention of the statutes of God avail aught. 

It is therefore paramount that we take notice of the solemn “Amen, I say unto you” in both the verses 18 and 19 here in this passage. Jesus underscores in this implied oath the solemnity and the seriousness of this restoration of a brother from sin. 

For it is not simply a playing church. It is not simply a human transaction upon earth at which the God of heaven laughs or looks down upon without taking it seriously or without having his divine sanction. For what happens upon the word of two or three witnesses has validity in heaven. Surely such handling of the “Keys of the Kingdom” is dreadful reality. 

However, it all depends upon the truth being established that a man is unrepentant or repentant. For a man perishes not because he sins but because he refuses to confess his sins. If the mere fact that a man is a sinner would cause him to perish then all would perish and none would be saved. The unrepentant show that they are evil men who will not inherit the Kingdom! 

And it is for that reason that there is rule in Israel, in the church, that, when one has “risen up” against a brother in judgment, he shall take with him one or twowitnesses. 

In the first place we should notice that a “witness” here is not one who knows certain facts from hearsay but one who knows from personal knowledge. What he testifies to be the truth, he knows because he has seen it and heard it. He is a witness in a twofold sense. He is a witness because he has witnessed the happening. And then he is a witness because he attests to the truth of what he has seen or heard. That is the sine qua non of a witness. None other can qualify. 

Then, too, there is an interesting feature here in the text which should not be overlooked. It is a matter of arithmetic. We are enjoined to take one or two with us as witnesses in order that every word may be established by two or three! The point is that the one who takes the witness with him, be it one or two, is himself represented by Jesus as being the original witness. He cannot slip out from under the matter in which he has “risen up” in judgment against the brother. He will needs have to cast the first stone. He is one witness. When he takes one witness with him there are a resultant two witnesses and when he takestwo witnesses with him there are three witnesses as a result. Two witnesses are sufficient and three are allowed. 

There is here a deep principle which must be seen. 

It is underscored by Jesus when he is accused by the Jews of his day as not having a true witness because he testifies of himself! Jesus had said: “I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12. The Jews attack Jesus on this principle of “two or three witnesses.” And Jesus takes up the cudgel. 

There is an implied syllogism in the reasoning of the Jews. It is as follows: 1. Self-testimony by itself is not valid (major premise). 2. Jesus testifies concerning self (minor premise). 3. Jesus’ testimony cannot be held to be true and valid (conclusion). 

When Jesus replies to this accusation of the Jews he concedes the major premise under 1 but denies the minor premise under 2, and, therefore, the conclusion that his testimony is not true, does not hold. For in “the law” it is indeed written “that the testimony of two men is true.” However, Jesus does not transgress that ordinance in Israel. On the contrary, in His case this ordinance is fulfilled in the highest and most exalted sense. Jesus’ word as the Mediator, the sent one, is corroborated by the testimony of the Sender, our Father in heaven, the triune God. And this testimony from heaven is not merely a voice from heaven, but it consists in the signs and wonders, as well as in the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Wherefore we read in I John 5:7: “Because there are three that testify, the Spirit, the water and the blood, and these three are into one” (testimony)! 

Hence, Jesus also submits to the rule of two or three witnesses. 

And thus His word and work is established. It is thus established in the hearts and consciences of men and angels, both good and evil. 

And it is this principle that is enunciated by Moses in Deuteronomy 19:15, where tie read: “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses shall a matter be established.” And that is the rule which Christ cites also in Matthew 18:15-20. Only when a matter is thus established shall it stand. Order in the court, tile tribunal of God, and all things in strictest justice! Strictest justice both to the accused and to the accuser. For justice is a two-edged sword. He who picks it up must beware he does not cut his hand upon the sword he would wield. 

Strictest justice also toward-the brother who has sinned against us, or as the text has it, “against you.” For none is interested in self-vindication or personal avengement, but in “winning” the brother for the Lord and his Church. 

And thus if the brother does not hear you, take with you one or two witnesses. 

The term here for “does not hear” really is a bit stronger. It really means that he ignores the evidence of the case. He acts as if the evidence did not point the accusing finger at him. He refuses to hear; he hears without heeding, and thus wholly disregards. He is disobedient. 

And now he must be convicted once more in his heart and conscience of his “sin,” and this time before two or three witnesses, the original prosecutor included. And the sinfulness of his sin must be pointed out, together with the command to repent in heartfelt sorrow before the Lord. And the one or two who accompany the original “witness” must be eye- and ear-witness and thus, if the man remains unrepentant, his guilt must be established together with his unrepentance. For in this court of the Lord the sinner may be guilty but when he confesses his sin he is pardoned. And that is the point toward which we labor. It is Busszucht!! It is not simply punishment, but it is reconciliation in the blood of the Lamb! 

And if it thus stands established before two or three witnesses that a man, a brother, is guilty and unrepentant, the matter also thus stands attested in heaven. For, in this smallest gathering in God’s church, Christ is in their midst. He is also a witness there. He puts his approval upon this “establishment” of the truth; it has his sanction! Amen, I say unto you! 

Now if the man refuses to heed the admonition of the original prosecutor before two or three, then it becomes a matter for the entire church. It must be told to them by the two or three witnesses. And the word of two or three witnesses stands as established! 

Then the brother must be admonished of both his sin and unrepentance before the church. If he heeds, the brother is gained. But, if he refuses to heed the admonition, then it is not so that nothing is done about it. The man is then not forgiven in Christ’s name. He is bound in his sin; it is declared to him that until he repents he has no place in the kingdom of heaven. See the Form Of Excommunication in the back of the Psalter and also the Form Of Readmittance

Now this is serious business. 

One may well tremble before the Lord when one declares a man to be “unto you a heathen and a publican.” On the other hand well may one tremble too if one does not declare the unrepentant to be outside of the kingdom. For the church which does not exercise Christian Discipline is like the bride who has lost her veil! Her glory is departed. Her meaning is lost.

Let it not be overlooked that when Jesus says, “Let him be unto thee a heathen and publican,” that this is not merely, a permissive word. It is not simply then a matter left to us to take it or leave it. It is the declaration of the Judge of heaven and earth, determining a man’s status of guilt. It is thus bound (momentarily) on earth and it is thus a constant reality in heaven. (The Greek text here employs the future paraphrastic perfect tense: action fulfilled up to the present.) In heaven it is constantly then thus viewed and it is thus “established.” When presently the books are opened, thus it shall be as established, and thus it is stipulated in the books of God. 

This is true whether the congregation is large or small. For the matter is not established by popular vote of the people. It is established according to the commandments before two or three witnesses. 

Let it not be forgotten. 

It is serious business. Woe to the church which does not conduct the business of the King. And also woe to the church where this matter of discipline is neglected and not taken seriously. 

Only that church gathers the sheep and seeks the lost which will insist that sin be confessed and forgiveness received. 

She goes upon the mountains to find the sheep that was lost, and rejoices when it is found! 

—G.L.