Session #117 All For One
Scripture Matthew 18:15-20
Matthew 18:20 is well known and often quoted in opening prayers – “where two or three are gathered together in My name”. Interestingly, what is not as known are the verses that come before and what the entire passage is about. Still on the theme of relationships, Matthew 18:15-20 addresses discipline in the kingdom community. This teaching will consider the process as prescribed by Jesus, the challenges of implementation, as well as how to apply Matthew 18:20 correctly.
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:15-20
The main takeaway is that it’s about love and restoration, not condemnation and rejection.
All for one; not all against one.
Remember that we are in Jesus’ 4th Kingdom Discourse:
Matthew 5-7 Kingdom Ways (Sermon on the Mount)
Matthew 10 Kingdom Assignments (sending disciples out)
Matthew 13 Kingdom Parables (Kingdom OS)
Matthew 18 Kingdom Community
Matthew 23-25 Kingdom Readiness
Matthew 18: Kingdom Community (ekklesia) – RELATIONSHIPS
18:1-5 Repentance & Regeneration
18:6-9 Righteousness & Restraint (Sin & Stumbling Blocks)
18:10-14 Rescue & Recovery (Parable of the Lost Sheep)
18:15-20 Restoration and/or Rejection (Disputes & Discipline)
- Level 1: Go to the person privately
- Level 2: Bring one or two more
- Level 3: Involve the larger community
- Level 4: Consider the person as a heathen or tax collector
18:21-35 Repayment and/or Release (Parable of the Unforgiving Servant)
Matthew 18:15 “Moreover…”
Context is always important, especially so is this teaching. It is about the King and His kingdom Community. It is about the place of humility. The kingdom is about righteousness and the King wants to protect His kingdom community from unrighteousness. King Jesus is serious about righteousness and sin in the kingdom community. Don’t look down on any one. Look out for every one. Everyone is important. The King’s intent is restoration. This sets the tone and spirit in the interpretation and application of this passage. It is NOT one of hate, condemnation and rejection. It is about love, grace and restoration. All FOR one. Not all AGAINST one.
There is the need to consider BOTH parts together (and not separately)
Part 1: Matthew 18:15-17 prescribes the process (and the different levels).
Part 2: Matthew 18:18-20 affirms the authority (we have to carry out the process).
Part 1: Matthew 18:15-17 prescribes the process and the different levels
Matthew 18:15 “Moreover if your brother sins [against you]…”
The Two Possible Scenarios are:
“if your brother sins against you”: you are wronged or offended by another and “if your brother sins”: Someone who is willfully sinning and unrepentant.
Level 1: Go to the Person Privately
“Moreover if your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” Matthew 18:15
Supporting Scriptures are:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:17–18)
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
The goal is to keep the circle as small as possible, just between two persons. This is safeguarding this person by not talking or gossiping about his wrongdoing or sin.
Gossip makes things worse, even harder for restoration and reconciliation later. It is supposed to be the easiest level, but it can feel like the hardest (for the one who has to initiate the meeting). It must be done in love. It requires boldness and courage. Humility is required of both parties, the one raising the issue and the one receiving the ‘rebuke’. The objective and desire is to gain – win over – a brother, not to lose someone to sin. It’s not about winning an argument but to win over a brother/sister. We are not out to get someone but to gain someone. We are FOR that person, not AGAINST that person. If he hears you, you have gained a brother. To hear is to understand and obey. To respond rightly is to repent, return and then we rejoice! If he does not, proceed to level 2.
Level 2: Bring One or Two More
But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ (Matthew 18:16)
“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established (Deuteronomy 19:15).
The two or three witnesses are not strangers and definitely not false witnesses. It is not to gang up. These are not necessarily leaders or pastors even. They are people who know the one being confronted (it is about relationship again) to support the one approaching the one who has sinned or offended. It is also to provide godly counsel and perspective, to verify and ensure that no one’s views are misrepresented and to witness that this is carried out correctly in the right spirit. All for one; not all against one. This needs to be remembered and emphasized again and again. If it is carried out and received rightly, a win-win situation. If it is carried out or received wrongly, a lose-lose situation. If he hears you, you have gained a brother. If he does not, proceed to level 3.
Level 3: Involve the Larger Community
“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church (ekklesia).” (Matthew 18:17a)
What is ekklesia? It is the Church: but definitely not the institutional church as we know it today. Broadly, it is the kingdom or messianic community. For the Jewish community, a minimum of 10 men is to be considered a community, to start a synagogue. Acts 1:15 mentions about 120 disciples (men & women) which can be 12 tribes x 10 per tribe. The Church is more likely a local community of believers who extends the love, care and concern of a smaller group of disciples who know this person and desire for him or her to acknowledge sin, repent, return and be restored. Again: All for one; not all against one. Jesus was not referring to public shaming of the individual, definitely not a mob waiting with stones in hand! Of course, the more prominent the person, the wider the influence, the greater the impact, the more public, the greater the fall out and repercussions. If he hears you (the larger community), you have gained a brother. If he does not, proceed to level 4.
Level 4: Dissociation
“But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17b)
What is to be considered a heathen (gentile) and a tax collector (sinner)? To consider as a gentile is to not be part of the redeemed kingdom community. To consider as a sinner is to be in need of repentance and forgiveness. The Old Testament equivalent: to cut someone off from the assembly of Israel is excommunication? I prefer dissociation.
As a last resort, Jesus commands the entire community to dissociate itself from the individual. Yet even this drastic action remains rehabilitative rather than retributive in design.
Paul’s Rebuke and Instruction to the Corinthians
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. … deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5
But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him (2 Corinthians 2:5–11).
Does not mean this person has lost salvation? Not yet, at least.
And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:14–15).
There is accountability to uphold kingdom ways in the kingdom community.
Part 2: Matthew 18:18-20 Affirms the Authority
“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:18
Part 2 must be read with Part 1 in mind. Note “whatever” and “anything” refer to the preceding verses (Part 1 above), It emphasises the power of community and relationship. Jesus was affirming the authority given to the kingdom community to execute Part 1. Matthew 18:18 is almost verbatim with Matthew 16:19b with one difference. This line (authority) is available to all disciples (plural), not just to Peter (singular).
Matthew 18:18 Binding and Loosing
“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:18).
The rabbinic understanding is forbidding and permitting. The New Testament understanding is withholding forgiveness and extending forgiveness.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained (John 20:23).
If a person is unrepentant, the community has the authority to tell him that his sins are not forgiven by God (bound, cf 1 Corinthians 5:1-5); if he is repentant, he is loosed from his sins (cf 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). It is not because we say so but because Jesus says so. This is not to be confused with personal forgiveness. Verse 18 presupposes that the church is acting according to Jesus’ guidelines given in Matthew 18:15–17 and is generally seeking and sensitive to God’s will.
Then the church’s loosing and binding—forgiving or refusing to forgive—carries the very authority of God.
“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven (Matthew 18:19).
This is not a blank cheque prayer when two persons agree about anything. It is in the context of two or three confronting a person of sin and making a judgment call. The agreement (symphony) is in accordance to God’s will and ways
Matthew 18:20 – One of the Most Mis-Used Verses of the Bible!
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).
This is not the verse to use to console ourselves in the event of poor attendance. It is Not about Attendance. It is about Authority. In the same context as above, it is about two or three agree on the proper course of action concerning someone who is wilfully engaging in sin and unrepentant. Paul’s example with slightly different words can be found in 1 Corinthians 5:4: In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
The above process is not easy. The King gives us the authority to act in His name on His behalf.
He promises to support us and be with us as we carry out this difficult task. In His ways, with His spirit of love, grace and restoration.
Is this End of Story? Thankfully, the ‘flowchart’ doesn’t end there. This is why it’s important to remember the context of this teaching. Everyone is important and precious in His sight. The Father’s desire is that no one, not even one, should perish. How did Jesus treat gentiles and tax collectors? He reached out to them to win them over, to bring them back in. We continue to reach out, to restore, to recover. So that we can rejoice. If he hears … if … if … if … If not, it will end in destruction, not the desired outcome. Hence, ALL FOR ONE; to prevent destruction.
Challenges to Application
Three Things Not Mentioned
Surely sin is not referring to every little petty issue, hence the need for clear doctrines and stands, the need for all believers to know kingdom righteousness and ways. What is the context? Seriousness of Sexual Sins? E.g. LGBTQ+? Pornography? Sexual Promiscuity? Adultery? Divorce? New Testament writers warned mostly about idolatry and sexual immorality.
Frequency of Attempts in the first three levels before Level 4
Ideally, all disputes and conflicts to be resolved at Level 1 or 2, and as many times as possible.
We should exhaust all attempts before escalating to the next level.
Time Frame of the Entire Process
Four days? Weeks? Months? Years? As long as it is required, as promptly as possible. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Our Understanding of Discipline
We see discipline as negative: condemnation, punishment and excommunication instead of positive: correction and restoration – realignment, Discipline is meted out with the wrong spirit, instead of love, patience and grace.It should be all for one, but turns out to be or perceived as all against one.
Our Unwillingness to Engage/Obey
Nobody wants to be the ‘bad’ guy, to confront or to address the issue. We wrongly conclude that we are not to judge at all (cop out). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:3, “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.” It is easier to mind your own business. Close both eyes, leading to compromise. We may extend grace in all the wrong ways. We say to ourselves to let God deal with him/her when Jesus clearly instructs us to deal with the situation before it escalates and the kingdom community loses all credibility
Lack or Inconsistency of Discipline Across Churches (local kingdom communities)
It is difficult to implement so we avoid the issue altogether. We forget that to love means to also discipline, albeit graciously. Today, you can leave one church and go to another church with no questions asked. There is a lack of real relationships amongst local communities. There is no unity.
There are no easy answers to the above challenges. Issues have to be worked out with love and maturity, without compromise. Individuals may take the initiative, but issues and instructions must be collectively embraced and addressed by the community. We must keep in mind the spirit of this instruction: The King is serious about righteousness and sin in the kingdom community. The addressing of sin is for the good of the individual and the community. This is to be applied and implemented with love. We must do our very best to restore and reconcile
All FOR one. Not all AGAINST one.
Conclusion: ALL FOR ONE
It is too easy to see this passage as only Level 4, cutting someone off from the kingdom community. Yet the main thrust and focus of this passage is about helping and restoring someone
Part 1 and Part 2 go together. Don’t quote Part 2 if we are not going to take Part 1 seriously.
Jesus gives us the process as well as the authority.
All FOR one
This teaching applies to ALL, each one has a responsibility to be engaged in level 1. For levels 2 and 3, it is not about ganging up against one, but ALL having a heart for this one.
We are not out to get someone. But to gain someone. Imagine if every kingdom community carried this out well. It starts with you, dear Archippus.