Damariscotta Baptist Church
Saturday, August 18, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

09/04/11 Sermon

Matthew 18: 15-20

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

 

 A teenager stays out all night, missing his curfew. When he arrives at home his parents are upset and they discipline their child by grounding him for 6 weeks.

 A student at high school cheats on an exam and gets caught red handed by the teacher. He’s expelled from school.

 An employee is caught stealing items from the business she works at. As a result her boss fires her from her job……

 

In the secular world we live in, when you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing and you get caught, there are consequences.   But in the church that’s not necessarily the case:

A church leader is in an adulterous affair but everyone remains silent.

A committee member is a bully who is critical of others in meetings, but no one stands up to her.

A church member is criticizing the leadership and causing dissension but nobody says a word. 

Members skip worship services taking the summer off----but the church turns its head.

 

While in the secular world there are consequences for bad behavior, in the Body of Christ it often goes unchecked.

 

But why?   Well there can be several reasons?

For one, church people often want to avoid conflict at any cost. Since we’re ‘Christians”, we’re not supposed to get into an argument.   As scripture says: If someone slaps us on the cheek, we’re supposed to turn and offer them the other cheek also. (Mt. 5:38)

Another reason we allow sin to go unchecked is because we feel unqualified to point out the sins of others because of our own sins. We can’t say anything to anyone else about their issues because they’ll just point out our own sinfulness and we sure don’t want that.  Besides, scripture has told us in John 8 verse 7 that he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Then there is the feeling of not wanting to be seen as a self-righteous Pharisee. Our history as Christians is filled with negative stories of those who have wrongly judged people.  There are the Crusaders and the Spanish Inquisition and the Puritans with the Salem witch hunts. And so we remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1 that we’re to judge not or be judged.

And still another reason that we’re quiet about sins of other Christians is because we’re supposed to be people of grace.

We Christians are to give people the benefit of the doubt for their bad behavior because we want to be understanding of their circumstances.  I mean they could have had a bad childhood, or they’re going thru a tough time in their personal life, so the graceful thing to do is to just accept these individuals as broken even if they do run right over people………
All of these reasons can seem to be really good reasons to turn our heads the other way at bad behavior and sin.  It certainly is the easy way as well.  So maybe we should just scoot past this scripture today and move on to verses 21 and 22. After all, they’re about forgiving people 70 times 7 so maybe we need to go on to that??   That makes more sense with all of the other scriptures about grace and mercy and forgiveness.----let’s forget about this disciplining stuff and dealing with sins of others because this can seem out of place anyway……………But then again, before we move past this scripture, maybe we should take a closer look and see what Jesus had in mind with this disciplining stuff. ---- Maybe it’s not as contradictory as it seems to be. Perhaps this scripture about dealing with other Christians’ sins makes perfect sense alongside all the other scriptures about grace and love and forgiveness and mercy??
 
So let’s take a loser look:
Now, when we look at our scripture today, the first thing we can say here is that Jesus really cares about the church; he cares about community and how we get along with one another.   After all, the Jesus movement began with 12 disciples; a community of men who would have their own issues of arguing from time to time.  James and John were plotting about how they were going to sit at Jesus’ right hand on the throne. Peter’s teacher’s pet responses to Jesus had to have irritated the others.  And of course later, Paul and Peter would argue about the Gentiles and Paul and Barnabas had an argument about Mark going on a mission trip.  So Jesus foreknew that there would be disagreements and sin within the Body of Christ.  Jesus knew that as long as we were still on this earth, living in a fallen world we Christians would still be dealing with the issues of sin in our own life.
 
But Jesus also knew in order for the movement to continue on, in order for his church to be a genuine witness of life transformation to others, how we live and act as a church among ourselves would be critical.  After all, who would want to join the Christian faith if they saw that Christians were continuing to live in sin no different than anyone else in the culture?  Why would anyone want to be a part of this life changing movement if no lives were really changed?
 
Can you imagine where the movement would be if people saw the early Christians living in sin, arguing and bickering in division and conflict?
 
Can you imagine?????

 

Well, maybe we can imagine what would happen when we look and see what’s happening with all of our emptying churches today.

We live in a time where we hear that the biggest reason that non-church people don’t come to church is because of the hypocrisy they see in Christians. They don’t see the point when Christians look no different than anybody else.  Christians are either sinning and not being held accountable for it OR when we do try to deal with it, our churches become places where there is fighting and arguing just as you would see in the secular world.

So Jesus’ teaching here in this scripture of how to deal with sin is extremely relevant and important for us today.  It’s important because it speaks to how we’re to get along and love each other as Christians while also addressing how we’re to be witnesses to others as we follow our calling to go and make disciples of everybody else.   Who we are, and how we behave is essential to being a Christian. Our witness is important in leading others to want to be in a relationship with Christ themselves……..So with that in mind let’s look at what Jesus says in how we’re to deal with sin within the Body of Christ.

The 1st thing we see Jesus tell us--- is that when we see a fellow brother or sister in Christ sin, we’re to go one on one and point it out to them.  Jesus says in verse 15 that we’re to go and do it right then. We don’t need to put it off.  It needs to be addressed quickly because when we don‘t go and address it immediately, two negative things can happen. 
 
First of all we can be affected as individuals especially when the sin is against us.  When someone has hurt us or behaved badly, we carry around a burden of hurt feelings that have a negative impact on us and our relationship with that person.  The longer we don’t address it, the more it can be a poison to us and lead to bitterness and resentment. 
 
Another problem that happens when we don’t go and speak to someone immediately is that it can lead to gossip.  When it’s on our hearts weighing us down, we often will go and share it with others and try to get them to empathize with us and take sides. The next thing we know we’re also living in sin because we haven’t gone and addressed it immediately.

 

Now along with the negative impact on us individually, when we don’t go and address someone’s sin immediately, it can also affect the congregation as a whole.  When someone is living in sin or causing problems in a church it has an affect on the whole atmosphere and identity of the church.  When sin goes unchecked, the church becomes nothing more than a secular organization because people are not living life-changing set apart lives.

When we don’t deal with the issue of sin, sticking our head in the sand, we’re not being the set-apart, sanctified Body of Christ we’re called to be. There is a subconscious negative impact because in reality we’re no different than the rest of the world.

Now before we move on to Jesus’ 2nd step of instruction, I need to speak to what I think is the most critical part of today’s scripture.  And that has to do with the way we go to speak with those who have sinned.  We have to get this right before we ever go to speak one on one to others.

Now, unlike the way the secular world would handle bad behavior, when we Christians go and address sin, we don’t go trying to win an argument.  Instead we go with grace and forgiveness leading the way.  We go with an identity of one who will forgive 70 times 7.  We go as one who also struggles with sin ourselves but who has repentance as part of our DNA.  When we go to someone who is sinning, we go with the whole purpose of seeking after reconciliation. Our one and only hope is that the person who has wandered off will come back into the fold.  It’s interesting to note that in the scripture right before today’s passage, Jesus is speaking about a man who owns a hundred sheep, who leaves the 99 to go and look for the one who wandered off.  And when the man finds the one sheep he’s just as happy with that one sheep as he is with the 99 that didn’t wander off.  That’s the mentality we’re to have as we go to speak with someone who has sinned. We go with the passionate desire for them to be reconciled back into the fold……….Now unfortunately, things don’t always turn out that way.  Sometimes those who are behaving badly or living in sin resist our desire for reconciliation. They can become defensive, indignant and defiant.  Now when that happens, Jesus says the second step is for us to get one or two other witnesses to go with us.  We don’t get into an argument since reconciliation is our one and only goal.  So we find one or two witnesses who also have a passionate desire for reconciliation.  Then the group goes to the person and they together address the faults with the individual. The hope is that the witnesses will bring support to strengthen the desire of reconciliation………………..

Still as we see, Jesus says, even this may not help.  They may feel ganged up on and may continue to be defiant. They may decide to leave the congregation which is of course unfortunate.  And yet in regards to the well-being of the whole congregation it can actually be the best thing since reconciliation is impossible because of THEIR choosing.

However if they remain and are still defiant, we see that Jesus takes it to another step which is bringing the individual before the whole congregation.  Again the whole desire for everyone in the congregation is about reconciliation;  to be back in the fold of love and grace, living the life of a set-apart Christian.

Still, if the person remains defiant to the whole congregation, Jesus makes it clear that you would then treat them as a pagan or tax collector which of course means you would no longer treat them as a member of the body.  Now what’s happening here when it gets to this point, is that the individual has rejected what Christianity is all about.  Their unwillingness to repent and change is an affront to the cross.  You see, our faith is about repentance and dying to our self.

Christians are not defiant people with defiant egos.  Christians are people of humility, who have repentance as part of our DNA.

Christianity is also about new life, and transformation. We’re seeking to grow and become more and more like Christ which means we’re always shedding our old sinful self.  We are always striving toward perfection. Jesus calls us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

So we Christians are Try’ers. We are trying to be perfect like Jesus.  And part of our trying as a Christian is to be open when someone approaches us with our sins (not taking it personally with our egos) but rather seeking to listen and receive so as to become more and more like Christ thru our repentance and new life.  It’s in our TRYING together, striving toward being like Christ that we become a unified family that maintains its status as a set apart community of believers differentiated from the world in how it behaves and how it handles bad behavior and conflict.  And in doing so we become what Jesus desire----we become a witness to a life that non-believers long for.  We become a place where there is goodness and rightness along with grace and mercy and forgiveness.  We become a continuation of the movement of Jesus Christ that grew from those early set apart Christians by being a living witness to a world that is so desperately seeking for something real and true…………………

In closing this morning…..as we prepare for receiving the Lord’s Supper, we’re being reminded that we are a family; a family that loves one another and seeks what’s best for each other.  So as we share together in the body and blood of Christ let us be committed to be a set apart people in the way we live and in the way we treat one another.

If you hold a grudge with someone, go and talk to them with love--- don’t let there be a coldness between you and anybody in this congregation.

Today, let us seek reconciliation AND let us lead with forgiveness and grace and love.

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen