Calvary Road Baptist Church

“The Eighth Benefit of Being A Church Member: In The Place of Recourse”

Matthew 18.15-20


Turn in your Bible to Matthew 18.15. When you find that verse, please stand for the reading of God’s Word:


15    Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

16    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.

17    And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

18    Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

19    Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

20    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


In Matthew chapter 10 the Lord Jesus Christ chose His twelve apostles. Since Paul declared to the Corinthians, in 12.28 of his first letter, that the apostles were set in the Church, we presume this to be the first time we see the Church of Jesus Christ in existence. Notice that the Church was in existence before the Day of Pentecost, during the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 16.18-19 the Lord Jesus Christ promised to build His Church, declaring that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” and delegating astonishing spiritual authority to the Church when He uttered these words:


“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”


If Matthew chapter 10 somewhat locates in time the founding the Church, and Matthew 16.18-19 shows us something akin to the charter of the Church, then our text for today, Matthew 18.15-20, provides the guidance necessary for a Church member seeking recourse within the Church when a member has sinned against him.

I would like to point out three features that comprise our Lord’s doctrine for Church members to follow when they have been seriously sinned against. I say seriously because sins and offenses that are not so serious are dealt with by the offended person’s own love. But first, let me bring to your attention First Peter 4.8 we read these words:


“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”


“Charity” there, of course, is love. Matthew Henry has commented on this verse,


“There is a special relation between all sincere Christians, and a particular amiableness and good in them, which require special affection. (2.) It is not enough for Christians not to bear malice, nor to have common respect for one another, they must intensely and fervently love each other. (3.) It is the property of true charity to cover a multitude of sins. It inclines people to forgive and forget offences against themselves, to cover and conceal the sins of others, rather than aggravate them and spread them abroad.”[1]


Obviously, Church members who make a Matthew 18.15-20 issue out of every perceived offense and slight sadly lack in love, while those who refuse to employ the Lord Jesus Christ’s means for dealing with serious sins are simply rebellious. Our text reveals three features related to dealing with serious offenses committed against Church members by other Church members:




The proper attitude is revealed by a single word, the word “moreover.”


“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee . . . .”


This word “moreover” translates a little Greek word, , which functions to show continuation. Thus, we are reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ’s words that describe to Church members how to deal with sins committed against us by other Church members cannot be divorced from the context. To put it another way, you cannot fully understand Matthew 18.15-20 apart from an understanding of what the Lord Jesus Christ said only moments earlier.

We do not have the time to read Matthew 18.1-14, but the chapter begins with the disciples asking Him,


“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”


Focusing on the need for humility, by saying,


“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven,”


the Lord Jesus Christ responds with three illustrations. The first illustration is an illustration of the humility of little children. The second illustration shows the great wickedness of sins. The third illustration is the parable of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one that has strayed.

So you see, our text continues what has gone on before. This is not a separate and distinct issue the Lord is dealing with. Though He is now dealing with the case of Church members instead of with the case of lost people, the same humility that is needed to avoid offending little children who believe in Him, and to leaving the flock to seek out the one that has strayed, is needed to properly deal with that Church member who has sinned against you.

Oh, the horror stories that we hear about, the wicked law suits that erupt from Church members who have been dealt with by other Church members who have tried to implement this passage, and the damage that is done in so many people’s lives . . . because the Church member who considers himself to be the offended party does not seek reconciliation with and the restoration of another Church member with an attitude of humility. Truly does Proverbs 13.10 read,


“Only by pride cometh contention.”


Consider what Paul wrote about this process in Galatians 6.1:


“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”


A spirit of meekness is the description of someone’s demeanor who is humble. Would you not like to be dealt with gently and tenderly? Then make sure you deal with others gently and tenderly.

All of this is suggested by the single word “moreover.”




Remember that we are examining how serious sins are dealt with, not how the pickers of nits with their magnifying glasses that are used to find the faults of others tend to operate. Keep in mind that there are three stages in this process . . . if the member who initially committed the serious sin against this properly responding Church member stubbornly refuses to repent and make restitution:


Step #1:         “. . . if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”


Would to God this is all you have to do when someone does you serious wrong. You go to him privately, with humility, explain to him the wrong he did to you, state what you expect from him by way of asking for forgiveness and making it right, and he complies with your wishes. If it works out this way, ideally, only two people will ever know your brother sinned against you, because once he has reconciled with you, there is no need for anyone else to know about it. Amen? But what usually happens is that when Bill sins against John, John has to vent his spleen to Paul, George, and Ringo before he does the right thing and deals with Bill. What should happen, when there is humility and not wounded pride, is that John talks to Bill, and no one but Bill, when Bill has sinned against him. Imagine what God could do in this Church if we exercised the humility and the self-discipline necessary to properly implement Matthew 18.15.


Step #2: “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.”


Two things to point out here before moving on: First, notice that when you do things right, others are informed that the other guy did you wrong only after you have first tried to deal properly with him about his wrongdoing. Thus, the guy who sinned against you can make sure no one else knows about his sin by properly and quickly responding to your efforts to reconcile. But if he doesn’t take you seriously, perhaps misreading your humility, you are then to bring one or two others into the process. And please note that this step recognizes the well-established Biblical principle of two or three witnesses.[2] You have no business even telling the truth about someone else’s wrongdoing unless it is already commonly known, or unless you have one or two witnesses that you have brought into the process to add to your own testimony concerning the wrongdoing. This second step shows that you are serious. The one or two others that you bring into the process should convince the offender who wronged you that you are serious about this, that you will see it all the way to the end, but that you are also still willing to resolve the matter right now if the offender does right by you.


Step #3: “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”


Please notice three things at this point: First, this entire process goes only so far as the offender’s response requires. Someone who has sinned against you can bring this entire process to a screeching halt at any time by simply doing what he should have done on his own, ask your forgiveness and make restitution to you. Second, this entire process can only take place within the context of a Church congregation. There is no possible way to make use of this procedure outside that group of members who comprise your Church because only the Church has the spiritual authority to deal with sin properly. Third, notice that the Church is not said here to decide whether or not to act in response to this man’s refusal to repent and make restitution for his sin. If a Church member is so foolish and so stubborn that he will not repent when being confronted privately, will not repent when confronted with one or two others as witnesses, and will not repent when the matter is brought before the Church, his fate as a Church member is sealed once the facts are established. He is out unless and until he repents of his sin. So you see, once the Church member who has been seriously sinned against begins the process of obeying the Lord Jesus Christ’s instructions in this matter, and continues to do what the Savior said to do, the responsibility for bringing the matter to its proper conclusion rests entirely in the lap of the wrongdoer. He is the one who, on three separate occasions, refused to yield to the will of God as expressed by the Lord Jesus Christ. For his refusal to yield (not for the original sin he committed, but for his repeated refusals to repent), he will ultimately lose his status as a Church member and will no longer be considered by the congregation to be a brother in Christ.




18    Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

19    Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

20    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


We do not have time to deal with these three verses thoroughly, but there are two comments I would like to make to ensure that we are clear in our thinking about the authority granted here:

First, there should be no mistaking the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ at this moment establishes the Church congregation as the most authoritative body on earth for dealing with sins and spiritual issues. Churches have not been granted the authority to deal with issues of crime and violations of governmental laws. But only Church congregations are granted the authority mentioned in this passage. Beyond this Church, there is no court of appeal for matters that we are authorized to deal with.

Second, there should be no mistaking the fact that even when mention is made here of two or three, the context is always a Church congregation. Christians who are not Church members are not addressed in this passage because such a situation is not dealt with in God’s Word. When a Church member is sinned against by another Church member, the steps that he employs, and then the steps that one or two witnesses may be involved in, are properly seen as functions enacted by Church authority, since the ultimate resolution of the problem with an uncooperative member is undertaken by the Church itself.


The Bible is God’s holy Word, our infallible guide to the salvation that is found only in Jesus Christ and the instruction manual for Christian living. In the Bible we are not only shown what God wants us to do, but how, as well. The Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Church congregation and set His apostles in that congregation. He then made some promises concerning His Church; to build it, concerning the gates of Hell, and the authority He invested in it. We saw today that He also regulates the congregation by the plan He revealed for dealing with the sins members commit against other members; the attitudes we must have, the actions we must take, and the authority we are wielding. Christian Church members are not to be so petty as to take these formal steps to reconcile for every slight and perceived offense. Neither are we to be so lax that we forego the use of this means when it is appropriate. Let us be wise and judicious, let us be careful and cautious, but let us also truly deal with sin in our midst in the way that pleases the Savior and glorifies our God.




Let me now take a few minutes to speak to you about that person who has been sinned against but who is not a Church member. Let’s call him George. I speak hypothetically because you would be hard pressed to find in the Scriptures a New Testament Christian like George, who remains unbaptized past the time he has fully persuaded the preacher that he is truly converted. But with the mess that we have these days, what with Christians so confused about the nature and the necessity of Church life, I think it necessary to consider the benefits of Church membership from a different perspective. So we will consider the case of George, the Christian, who remains unbaptized and unincorporated into the membership of a good Baptist Church.

Perhaps George, through his own stubbornness, selfishness, or conceit, feels self-sufficient enough to try and live the Christian life apart from the benefits of Church membership. Baptism is a light thing to him, and communion can easily be done without because he has no experience with it. Or suppose George is a genuinely converted person who has been mishandled by those who should have guided him to believer baptism and participation in Church life through active membership. So, perhaps it is not George’s fault at all, but the fault of the preacher. In any case, our hypothesis is that we have a Christian named George who is not a Church member, and who is then seriously sinned against by another Christian. What recourse does he have regarding that Christian who sinned against him? Consider our text as we address George’s plight:




Remember that this attitude was expressed by our Lord Jesus Christ’s use of the word “moreover.” He wants the same humility when dealing with sins committed by one member against another member as He mentioned in the case of little children when addressing the pride of His disciples:


“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child.”


But how would the new Christian, how would George, know that such an attitude was crucial? He is not a Church member. He has no pastor who is responsible for perfecting him for the work of the ministry, Ephesians 4.12. He has no spiritual elder who he is to obey, Hebrews 13.17. Thus, even if George did attempt to deal with another Christian, who has seriously wronged him, it is not guaranteed that he will have any idea what proper attitude to employ.

Experience with people has shown me that it is virtually guaranteed that if a man is not shown the necessity of humility in such cases he will only rarely possess the wisdom needed to be humble on his own. Thus, the wrong attitude will very likely yield the wrong result.




Two considerations here:

First, how can George employ the right actions to address his problem without proper instruction? I have known men who have studied this passage for decades without coming to a clear understanding of what to do. God’s plan is not only to use men to reach men, but also to use men to teach men. But not being a member of any Church, George has everyone as his Bible teacher, meaning that he effectively has no one as his Bible teacher. Not long ago I observed a Christian, who is not a Church member feverishly taking notes from a Bible teacher who uttered statement after statement that was factually incorrect. Yet the whole time the fellow thought he was wonderfully blessed. But you cannot be blessed by error, no matter how thrilled you are to receive it. I sat there and said nothing as I watched with sadness.

As well, how can the right actions be taken by George when the actions the Lord Jesus Christ instructed are the actions of one who is a Church member? You see, only a Church member has the Scriptural and spiritual authority to deal with spiritual issues. And that Church member only has the Scriptural and spiritual authority to deal with another Church member about spiritual issues. This is proven by the fact that the ultimate resolution of the problem comes when the matter is brought before the Church. But does our Church hear of matters between two people who are not members? No. And will we consider a matter between one of our members and someone who is not a member? Again, no. We do not have the authority. So you see, the actions which the Lord Jesus Christ prescribes to deal with those who have sinned against you cannot be taken unless you are a Church member, and unless the person who wronged you is a Church member.




The authority the Lord Jesus Christ granted to deal with the sins one Christian commits against another Christian is authority granted to a congregation, not to individuals who are not Church members. So, George is without any authority to respond to a wrong done to him. Thus, if George approaches a Christian, who has wronged him, with an attempt to deal with his sin, that other person could just say, “Who gave you the authority to talk to me like that? By what right do you confront me and urge me to give you satisfaction?” Because, not being a Church member, George is not part of a congregation wielding authority delegated by the Lord Jesus Christ.


So you see, when considered from every angle, if you are not a Church member when someone does you serious wrong, you have no recourse. There is no one you can go to for protection. There is no scriptural remedy at your disposal to solve your situation. Oh, I suppose you could go to court. But winning a court battle does not deal with spiritual issues, does it? Winning in court is the means of punishing someone, not reconciling with him. And winning in court is the result of appealing to the power and favor of the unsaved. Hardly the way to deal with a Christian about a spiritual problem, is it?

In a nutshell, there are times when a Christian needs protection from other Christians who do him wrong. But you will not find that protection from other Christians out there. You find it only in the body, where we support your determination to obey the Lord Jesus Christ with the threat of excommunication to any member who does not also submit to the Savior. My friend, the ultimate threat of removal from the congregation only works with those who are already in the congregation. So you see, only the Church member has recourse for wrongdoing by another Church member. And this is the eighth benefit of being a Church member because there is no other place under heaven where so much as a finger will be lifted to help you deal with those who have wronged you.


[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002),

[2] Numbers 35.30; Deuteronomy 17.6-7; Joshua 24.22; Ruth 4.9-11; Job 10.17; Isaiah 8.2; 43.9-12; 44.8-9; Jeremiah 32.10, 12, 25, 44; Luke 24.46-48; Acts 1.8; 2.32; 3.15; 5.32; 10.39-40; 13.31; 2 Corinthians 13.1; 1 Thessalonians 2.10; 1 Timothy 5.19; 6.12; Hebrews 10.28; 1 John 4.1; 5.7-9; Revelation 1.1; 2.2

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