Please read: Matthew 18:12-35
Love Looks Like Searching for the Stray
“What’s your opinion? What will somebody do who has a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go off to find the stray? And if he happens to find it? Yes! I tell you he is happier over it than over the ninety-nine that never strayed! Thus your Father in heaven does not want even one of these little ones to be lost.” Matthew 18:12-14 CJB
Having reminded His talmidim of the horrific consequences of sin, Yeshua brings comfort once again. For those who have been ensnared and strayed He is the good shepherd searching for the lost sheep. The Father does not want any to be lost and there is joy in heaven over one who repents.
Love Looks Like Confronting Sin to Bring Reconciliation
“Now if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:15-20 NASB
Yeshua had been warning them about the dangers of getting entrapped in sin, suggesting that it would be better even to cut off their own hand or foot, or gauge out their own eye than let such lead them into sin because sin will take them straight to hell. Then He had brought the comfort of knowing that if they go astray the Good Shepherd will leave the ninety-nine to seek them out and rejoice greatly in bringing them back home. Now, He’s addressing His talmidim in their part of this process of seeking out the one who has gone astray in order to restore them to the fold.
“Your Father in heaven does not want even one of these little ones to be lost.” So, ” if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private“. When we become aware that our brother has sinned and is in danger of becoming entrapped and taken to hell we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus to go to him and implore him to repent, be set free, and return to the Father’s arms.
It may be a sin against us, or a sin against others, or just a sin against his own soul – all sin is against God. As David wrote in prayer to God after Nathan the prophet went to him to convict him of his sin: “Against You, and You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight; that You may be proved right when You speak, and justified when You judge.” Even if our brother’s sin was against us, it was above all against God and we are tasked with laying aside our own hurts and agenda for the sake of the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) to implore them, on Christ’s behalf, to be reconciled to God. Moses wrote: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.“ (Leviticus 19:17) Paul wrote it thus in Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him with a spirit of gentleness. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.“ We are to love one another enough to have the difficult conversations in order to draw our brother or sister back to the Father’s love.
Notice that this conversation is to be in private. It’s not something we post on Facebook, Instagram, twitter or other social media. It’s not something to be gossiped about with others. It is to be an act of love, not an opportunity to grandstand. We go to them privately to implore them to leave the sin behind and be reconciled to God. If they heed our pleading we have regained our brother and fulfilled our Father’s will – there’s joy in heaven.
But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be confirmed. Don’t give up on him if he refuses to listen to you. Instead seek out one or two respected, mature saints who can both speak wisdom into the situation and bear witness to his response. This testimony of two or three witnesses is needed first to establish that the particular deed is sinful and in need of being turned from. We are very good at justifying our own actions, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Proverbs 17:9). Repentance involves changing our mind, stop justifying our sin and recognise it for the death-producing horror that God says it is. We won’t stop sinning until we go from loving our sin to hating it, from depending on it to despising it. The first task of the witnesses is to help the person see their actions from God’s perspective – to witness to what God says about such in His Word. Their second task is to witness the person’s response – that of repentance and reconciliation to God, or of stubborn rebellion against Him.
“And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” If this small group of two or three cannot make the man see his true position then, and only then, are they to bring the matter before the ekklesia – people called out from the world and into the Kingdom of Heaven – so the whole community can reach out to him in love and concern for his spiritual welfare. Again, the purpose is to have him reconciled back to God who is, through His people, seeking this one who has strayed. If the community’s pleading cannot turn him then he can no longer remain part of that community. Instead of the sweet fellowship of the reconciled he is to be expelled and now loved as those outside the community of the saints are loved, like a Gentile or tax collector is loved. All this is in the hope that it will impress upon him the nature of what he’s doing and lead him to repentance and reconciliation. We see an example of this in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and then the resolution in 2 Corinthians 2:3-8 where we see this action led to repentance and Paul’s urging that the man be forgiven and comforted and fully embraced once more as part of the ekklesia.
We each have a simple choice – who do we want to be married to, sin or Jesus? We can’t have both. Jesus died as a result of our sin and to set us free from our bondage of sin so we could be given full citizenship in His Kingdom.
“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Matthew 18:18 NASB
We looked at Matthew 18:18 in depth during our lesson on Keys: (http://blog.renewal.asn.au/2022/08/27/keys-suffering-glory/)
Binding and loosing were Rabbinical terms for forbidding and permitting various activities and people in the community of the Jews. They believed that the power and authority to do such was established in the heavenly court and vested in the rabbinical body of each age and in the Sanhedrin. Yeshua was establishing a new body to carry this responsibility in His Kingdom – His ekklesia. They were not to establish their own law but administer His law, the Torah of the Kingdom of God, of which they were now citizens and priests.
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. 1 Peter 2:9 NASB
The pharisees had added many of their own rules and regulations and called these God’s Torah when they were not. Disciples of the King were to learn of Him and decree only that which He decreed.
I assure you and most solemnly say to you, whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth shall have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth shall have [already] been loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:18 AMP
Yeshua was directing His followers to establish His halakhah הֲלָכָה (the Way / the path that one walks) in His ekklesia (community of called out ones) “…teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20), instead of blindly following the Jewish religious laws that they had grown up with which had been established by the Pharisees whose teachings He had warned them to guard themselves against (Matthew 16:12). Notice that this was not to be established or administered by a single man but by the gathered group of called out ones under the leading of the Holy Spirit, as reflected in Acts 15:28 after much prayer and discussion led them to the point of agreement and unity in the Spirit: “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us…” As they had gathered in Yeshua’s name, He had been in their midst (Matthew 18:20) and made His will know to them through the Holy Spirit.
Love Sounds Like A Symphony – Coming into One Accord
“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:19-20 NASB
Prayer is essential to all the above exercise of God’s authority in the ekklesia. We are to come together in prayer and seek His will until we come into that place of sweet agreement (Gk: symphoneo), of harmony, in one accord – acting in spirit-led unity with the same divinely produced opinion. Even if there are only two or three of us, as we gather in Yeshua’s name, united with Him for the purpose of establishing His will, He is in our midst and that which He brings us into agreement with shall be done for us by our heavenly Father.
Love Looks Like Limitless Forgiveness
Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I still forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven). Matthew 18:21-22 NASB
The Rabbinical rule, derived from Amos 1:3, 2:1 and 2:6, was that no one should ask forgiveness of his neighbour more than thrice. Peter had recognised in Yeshua a more forgiving spirit than this, but was still caught up in the pharisees’ notion of quantifying everything to create fool-safe rules and regulations for keeping the people obedient to Torah. Once again Yeshua insisted that this was not His way, not the way of the Kingdom of Heaven. The difficulties of interpretation have some translations giving a number of seventy seven times, and others of seventy times seven. It matters not which one because the point Yeshua was making was that it was more than we could keep a track of. There is to be no end to our forgiving of the one who seeks it, because there is no end of God’s willingness to forgive us no matter how many times we sin against Him. As citizens of God’s Kingdom we are to forgive as out King forgives, for we are to express His character.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his master commanded that he be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment be made.
So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’
And the master of that slave felt compassion, and he released him and forgave him the debt.
But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe!’
So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’
But he was unwilling, and went and threw him in prison until he would pay back what was owed.
So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their master all that had happened.
Then summoning him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his master, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he would repay all that was owed him.
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. Matthew 18:23-35 NASB
Forgive as we have been forgiven. No one owes us as much as we owe our King, and He has freely forgiven us of it all. The debt was calculated and no excuses allowed. But mercy was applied out of compassion and the full amount forgiven – the King carried our debt upon Himself.
The first step to forgiveness is acknowledging the debt owed.
The second is recognising the total inability of the debtor to repay or make things right.
The third is compassion for this one who cannot repay and is thus deserving of punishment.
The fourth is mercy that relinquishes the right to demand what the debtor cannot give.
When we remember how much our King has forgiven us we are in no position to withhold such forgiveness from others.
1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
2. Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998.
3. Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible. 1995, 2020. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
4. The Holy Bible: The Amplified Bible. 1987. 2015. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
*What is God’s attitude towards those who have strayed and been ensnared by sin?
* What did Jesus instruct us to do if we become aware that our brother has been ensnared in sin?
* What should we do if that sin was a wrong against us?
* What if our brother did or said something that we don’t like but scripture doesn’t call it sin?
* Explain the severity and mercy of God.
* What is the attitude towards forgiveness in your culture and how does that compare with what Jesus taught His disciples?