When Sheep Stray
Matthew 18:12-20

1. God pursues them (verses 12-14)
2. We should pursue them (verses 15-17)
3. We should bathe the process in prayer (verses 18-20)

In the life of any church, it is inevitable that some of its members would stray away from the church and from God. There are many reasons why this happens. In some cases, members stray because someone else comes along and causes them to stumble (Matt. 18:6-7). In other cases, it is their own lusts that have led them astray (Matt. 18:8-9). In our text today (verses 12-20), we are told what takes place and what ought to take place when people stray.

My message is entitled, "When Sheep Stray." In the context of this passage, we see a "little one" who believes in Jesus, straying away (verse 6). Jesus introduces the topic of a straying sheep in verse 12, ...

"What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish." (Matt. 18:12-14)

Jesus told this parable in order to give us a picture of what God does when sheep stray.

1. God pursues them (verses 12-14)

Jesus begins this parable with an introduction, "What do you think?" By asking this question, Jesus appeals to the common sense of his listeners. He tells them a story from everyday experience. And the idea of the story is that this sort of thing takes place all the time. Jesus pictures a herd of a hundred sheep. Somehow, in some way, the shepherd realizes that one of his lambs is missing. One of them has gone astray. We don’t exactly know how it is that he has come to recognize that one of his lambs is missing. Perhaps the shepherd was up on the hillside counting them. Perhaps the shepherd knows his sheep so well that he can tell which one is missing. I don’t suspect that this is beyond reason to assume. Our church is about a hundred people. I don’t take great efforts to count all of you and record when you miss church. But, my life revolves around all of you. When one of you miss church on Sunday morning, I can normally tell. Frequently, Yvonne and I will have a conversation on Sunday afternoon that goes something like this, "Hey, were the Duncans there this morning? I don’t think that I saw them. Do you know where they were? ... Oh yeah, ... that’s right! They were visiting family." "What about the Robyns? I don't think that I saw them. Wait, they were down in DeKalb visiting Kishwaukee Bible church today, weren't they. ... What about the Plowmans? ... Maybe someone was sick." We have that conversation because we were looking forward to seeing you on Sunday and worshiping with you and fellowshipping with you. When you are absent, please know that you are missed.

This shepherd was looking over his flock and identified that one of his sheep was missing. Somehow it had strayed away from the fold. Jesus asks the question, "does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?" (verse 12). The sense of Jesus’ question is rhetorical. We ought to respond, "Why, of course, he does!" To the shepherd, every single one of these sheep is important to him. He isn’t satisfied with the fact that he has ninety-nine sheep that are safe. He doesn’t want to return home at the end of the day with only ninety-nine. He wants to return home with His full flock. He wants to find that one and get it back into the fold.

While we aren’t shepherds, we should still be able to understand some parallels. A good parallel would take place in the business world. Suppose that you own a business where you service a hundred clients. Then, one of them informs you that he no longer wants to purchase your product or use your services. Rather, he has found a product down the street that’s cheaper than yours. More often than not, you will temporarily put aside the ninety-nine clients and go and pursue the one. Now, this might take different forms. You might simply speak with them on the phone. You might actually go and visit them personally to try to win them back. Perhaps you lower your price or offer some other type of incentive. But, the point is this, there will be a time when that straying client gets your full attention. In this case with the shepherd, he devotes his full attention to the one, single, lamb that has gone astray. He will allow the ninety-nine who are doing well to remain on their own for a time, as he goes and seeks for the lost one.

There are many things that could have happened to this straying sheep. A wolf may have crept into the flock unnoticed and killed the helpless lamb which then became the wolf's dinner. The missing lamb may have strayed too close to the cliff and endured a fatal fall down the rocks. The straying lamb may be trapped is some thorn bushes, unable to get out. Or, it may be that the lamb has simply strayed away from the flock and is grazing in another field, totally oblivious to any danger around it. In any case, the shepherd seeks to find the lost sheep. Verse 13 tells us, "And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray." It isn't that the straying sheep (or client or person) is more important than the others. Rather, the one was in danger, but is now safe. Thus, there is great rejoicing.

Verse 13 is the key verse to the parable. If the lamb is found and brought back, the Shepherd rejoices. The point of this parable is to describe God’s attitude toward the sinner that strays. God pursues those who stray away from the fold. He pursues them whether they are caused to stumble (verse 6) or whether they stumble themselves (verses 8-9). And when they return, God’s heart is filled with joy. This is the point of the parable! In Luke’s account (of this very same parable), Jesus said that this joy extends throughout heaven and includes the angels (Luke 15:7, 10). God’s heart is for straying sheep to come back into the fold. This is the point of verse 14, "It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish." The Bible says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23). God takes no pleasure when they stumble and fall. He is no cosmic killjoy. He delights and rejoices to see those who stray return to the fold. Aren’t you glad?

When straying sinners come back, they are received by God with grace, kindness, and joy. What would it be like if it were the other way around? What would it be like if the straying sheep would come back, not to a delighting and rejoicing God, but to a hard, condemning, chastising God? This would hardly be encouraging for a straying sheep to return. But, this isn't how God is. When you come back into the fold, you are embraced, received and comforted.

Do you remember the story of the prodigal son? He went away and squandered his inheritance with sinful living. And yet, when he came back, the Father ran to meet him. The Father lovingly embraced him, kissed him, and killed the fattened calf for the celebration in the return of his son. He said, "We had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found" (Luke 15:32). This is the heart of God. God loves it when straying sheep come back into the fold. His offer of complete forgiveness is extended to all, by the mere pleasure of His grace and kindness in Christ. This is why you ought not to despise one of these little ones (verse 10). Because, God has a heart to seek them out individually. When a single lamb in the flock strays, God pursues them. 

I’m curious, how many of you can identify yourself here? How many of you grew up in church, believing in Jesus, but went astray? Then, God, in His mercy went out and found you and brought you back? What a comfort it is to know that when you come back into the fold, you encounter a rejoicing God, rather than a wrathful and angry God, who is going to vent His anger upon you first. The heart of God is filled with grace and compassion. He loves to see the lost come in. It fills Him with great joy.

When Jesus was upon the earth, he spent his time with the tax-gatherers and sinners, calling them to come into the fold. It is why he came. As verse 11 says, "the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost." If this morning finds you in a lost or in a straying state, know that God is pursuing you. Even as you listen to His word this morning, He is pursuing you. He is saying, "Come back." It matters not the sin that you have done. It matters not the extend of your rebellion. If you but acknowledge your sin, and confess your sin, and turn from it, and look to Christ, and plead for forgiveness, then you will find a God with open arms and a smile on His face, ready and willing to embrace you.

I think about how often God did this with Israel. Israel was constantly straying and God was constantly calling them back. In Isaiah 1, God said, "Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me. An ox knows its owner and a donkey its master's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (verses 2-3). Then God goes on to describe how Israel was like Sodom and Gomorrah in their wickedness and how often they had gone astray. But God continues to pursue them. He says, ...

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; Seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan; plead for the widow. "Come now, and let us reason together," says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." (Isaiah 1:16-20).

The point of this parable is that God pursues the straying lamb. Let’s turn our attention now upon what we ought to do "when sheep stray."

2. We should pursue them (verses 15-17)

If God pursues them, we ought to do so as well. Jesus gives us a clear plan of how to do this. Jesus said, ...

"And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact 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, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer." (Matt. 18:15-17)

These are amazingly simple verses. Jesus begins with the situation of another believer sinning. Initially, the sinning brother is confronted individually and called to repentance. If the brother repents, then forgiveness is freely extended. However, if the brother fails to repent, then one or two more are brought into the process. This time, a group of people come to confront this individual. If the brother repents, then forgiveness is freely extended. However, if the brother fails to repent, then it should be told to the church. If the brother repents, then forgiveness is freely extended, and fellowship within the body is enjoyed once more. However, if the brother fails to repent, then he should be treated as an unbeliever, out of the fold of the church.

How easy this sounds, and yet, how difficult it is to practice. I’m here to tell you this morning that when it comes to actually carrying this out, I’m the chief offender at failing to do this. How often have I failed to directly confront the one sinning! Rather than speaking to a sinning brother, I have spoken to others about the sin. How often I have failed to confront sin in the first place. Often I have seen sin and let it pass without confrontation. This passage is incredibly easy to understand. But, I have found it incredibly difficult to practice. I am confessing this sin before you and have been on my face pleading with God this week to grant me the grace to deal with sin as Jesus outlined before us here.

Perhaps you have failed in this way as well. I ask you, "Will you plead before God to grant the strength to follow the Lord in obedience in this passage?  Will you?" (Before proceeding in reading through this sermon, you might want to pause and pray to God for the strength and courage to act as Jesus instructs us to act).

Let’s look at this passage again in more detail. It yields four steps in how we ought to pursue a straying sheep.

Step #1 - Go by yourself (verse 15)
In verse 15, we read, "And if your brother sins..."  At this point, some manuscripts have the additional words, "against you." Some would attempt to make this confrontation very narrow. They say, "only when another Christian brother sins against you can you go and confront them in accordance with Matthew 18." I’m not sure that this is the case. It might just be that you witnessed a sin, which wasn’t directed against you which ought to be confronted. For instance, suppose you see another Christian brother in a drunken stagger, walking down the street. His sin of drunkenness isn’t against you, but it should be confronted. Perhaps you witnessed a sin against a child, who wouldn’t have the maturity to confront such a sin. In this case, you ought to go to the one sinning yourself. Now, it’s probably best if the one sinned against goes, but you aren’t let off the hook if the sin wasn’t directed against you.

So, if you see this or experience sin, you ought to "go [to this individual] and reprove him in private." The text literally says (as the NASB margin points out), "between you and him alone." This isn’t supposed to be a big show. It shouldn’t even be a big deal. Perhaps you are simply pulling someone aside after church. Perhaps you go out for coffee and talk. Perhaps you make a simple phone call. When you reprove someone, it means to identify their sin and call them to repentance. You are calling him back. Your spirit in doing this is of utmost importance. Galatians 6:1 speaks of this same situation, "Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted." You need to come to this person humbly. You need to come gently. You need to come with spirit of love, maturity, affection, and love toward your fellow believer. You need to come with a genuine desire to see repentance and have the relationship restored.

First, Jesus considers the situation in which the brother comes back. He says, "if he listens to you, you have won your brother." When Jesus says, "if he listens to you," it isn’t simply whether or not he hears your words, but that he understands them, embraces them, admits the sin, and willingly returns." If he comes back, it is pure joy. Your love for your fellow Christian has been demonstrated in that you were willing to confront the sin. And their love for Christ is clear in that they demonstrate a heart of repentance.

The result is that relationships are strengthened and the church is stronger as a result. There are some of you here this morning who have gone through some very trying times with me. I know that as we have worked through these struggles together, that our hearts have been knit together. There are some of you here this morning who I will love and be faithful to until my dying day because of the struggles we have been through together. Confronting a fellow Christian in their sin is a church-strengthening process. When and if this takes place at Rock Valley Bible Church, the church will thrive.

But, what happens most often within the life of a church is that when someone sins, the sin isn’t directly confronted. Rather, it is discussed with other people. Everybody talks around the issue, rather than confronting it directly. The idea behind going in private first is to insure that everyone doesn’t know about this. The sin doesn’t need to be told to others. It doesn’t need to be told to the church. It doesn’t need to be told to the world. When repentance comes, talk of the sin should stop. But when people are talking about it behind this person’s back, it crushes the church. Those things that should remain an issue between two parties become an issue for the entire church. Factions develop, sides are taken, and it becomes a big mess. And the words of Jesus ring true, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand" (Matt. 12:25). And I might add by extension, "Any church divided against itself will not stand."

I simply ask you, church family, whether or not you will commit yourself to this process. If you witness or experience sin in another member of the congregation, will you confront that person individually in private? Or, will you talk about it with others in the congregation? Will you work hard to keep the matter between the two of you unless the sinning party remains unrepentant? Or, will you spread the gossip abroad. In fact, I’ll go further. Suppose that someone comes to you and begins to talk with you about the sin of another. As soon as you detect what the person is saying, will you stop the conversation right then and there and ask, "Wait! Before you go on, have you spoken with this person yet?" If the answer comes back, "Well, no." Then, will you be committed to this process and send that individual away to deal with the matter biblically (i.e. privately)? It may just be the case that the offending party repents and they reconcile and you never hear about it again. In that case, may all glory go to God! But if the case is that they have talked, and the sin continues, then will you be willing to say, "Since you two have talked this over, and it is still unresolved, let me come with you and talk again."  This is step #2, ...

Step #2 - Go with one or two more (verse 16)
Jesus said, "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed" (verse 16).

The idea here is two-fold. On the one hand, you are attempting to get a bit of leverage upon this person. Rather than a me-verses-you confrontation, you lay the facts before others, and the situation grows in seriousness. You present the sin. You present the proof. You call for repentance. Hopefully, the presence of others might be a helpful incentive to call this brother to repentance.

But, there is also another reason for bringing in these other witnesses. It is to confirm the facts. Sin has a way of distorting our perspective. Sin will attempt to confront the spec in a brother’s eye, when he has a log in his own (Matthew 7:3-4). It makes mountains out of molehills. It makes molehills out of mountains. It makes minor things become major things. It makes major things become minor things. When sin is confronted, it is often the case that issues come up from all over the place. People can become very defensive when being confronted. When they are attacked, they often retaliate. Things can easily degenerate into a "he said/she said" argument. The presence of a third party, who isn’t as emotionally involved in this issue, will help to "confirm ... every fact" (verse 16). These other witnesses can help direct the issue, and approach things rationally.

So, if you are in this situation of confronting a brother who has refused to listen to you alone, bring a witness who can look at the situation objectively. Choose your witness carefully. Don’t bring your best friend. Don’t bring your mother. Don’t bring a new convert. Bring somebody who is spiritually mature, who is respected by all. Bring somebody who isn’t emotionally involved in the situation. And the goal in this meeting is simple: You are praying for the sinning party to return and come back.

The whole context of this passage has been to bring back a straying lamb. If he repents and admits to his sin and asks forgiveness, you have won your brother (verse 15). It doesn’t need to go beyond this circle. In fact, it ought not to extend beyond the parties and the witnesses. If your brother repents, you should embrace him in love. You should forgive him of his sin against you. You should restore him. And the whole meeting shouldn’t be a matter of discussion for the whole church to know about. In that case, may all glory go to God!

But, sadly, it’s not always the case that people will repent when they are confronted even when confronted by two or three. Jesus again takes this into account in verse 17 with step #3, ...

Step #3 - Tell it to the church (verse 17a)
Verse 17, "And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church." As with step #2, I believe that this is an attempt get a bit of leverage upon this person. Rather than a me-verses-you confrontation or a me-verses-these-self-righteous-and-arrogant-people, confrontation, we present the situation before the entire body. The sin is identified in the scripture. The process of confrontation is communicated. The church body is encouraged to contact this person and call him (or her) to repentance.

Now in communicating this to the church, it doesn't mean that at the end of the service each week, we ought to ask "Is there any sin that you have confronted that you want to bring to the attention of the entire church this morning?" This isn't wise. Rather, the leadership of the church ought to be involved in this process so that issues are communicated appropriately and effectively. You ought to involve the elders and pastors in this process. In our situation at Rock Valley Bible Church, this is difficult, because we only have one elder at this point. We only have one pastor. I am acutely aware of the difficulties of shepherding a flock of people as the only elder. I long for the day when we would have a plurality of elders here at Rock Valley Bible Church. But, we don’t have that yet. It’s the process by which we are going through to be a completely independent church. You may think that we are an independent church. But, we are not. In establishing Rock Valley Bible Church, there are really two major goals that need to be achieved before we become independent. The first is to be financially self-supporting. Before we are a completely independent church, we need to be able to meet all of our financial obligations. Rock Valley Bible Church has achieved this goal. For the past 18 months, Kishwaukee Bible Church in DeKalb, who planted our church, hasn’t needed to send us a dime to support this work. So, financially, we are separate from them. But, in the second goal, we are not. The second goal is to have a plurality of elders. We haven’t yet achieved this goal. As a church, we are a child  that is growing up. As a result, we are still under the authority of Kishwaukee Bible Church. You might even picture our two churches as under the authority of one united elder board.

In the three years that I have been here in Rockford, I have made great efforts to meet with the elders/pastors in DeKalb. I probably make a trip down to DeKalb every three weeks or so to meet with these men, to report on the work here in Rockford, to seek advice when difficult situations arise in the church, and to pray for God’s blessing upon our work. Periodically, we have one of the pastors from Kishwaukee Bible Church up here in Rockford preaching. The goal in this is so that you might know them and that they might know you. Practically, it is difficult. I know that, but it is the best we can do. Just this past week, I was down in DeKalb at an elders meeting and pleaded with them, that the elders down there might show more of a presence up here in Rockford, because I feel the need for you all to see that I am accountable to these men and that these men share in the shepherding process of all of you. I told them that I would like to have them come up here more often than when I ask them to come and preach. They told me that they would develop a schedule by which one of the pastors/elders would come up and visit on a rotating basis. Perhaps every other month, during our Sundays when we enjoy a lunch after church together, one of the elders would come up here to help shepherd the church. As you get to know these men, you can help communicate to them how things are going up here. You can communicate concerns and joys to them. I tell you this because if we ever encounter a church discipline process that comes to step three and we need to communicate it to the church, the elders in DeKalb will be fully involved in the process. This whole process is very serious, and I’m not willing to go at it alone. I need the help of other, experienced, godly men, who are sharing in the responsibility of shepherding this church.

Now, as these things are communicated to the church, it isn't simply for public consumption. Rather, those in the church are to speak to this individual and call him back. This is what Jesus assumes in verse 17, "and if he refuses to listen even to the church." The only way that the sinning party can listen to the church is if those in the church are going to this brother or sister and pleading for them to repent and come back into the fold. As three, six, ten, fifteen, thirty people call them, the hope is that eventually they would realize the error of their ways and repent and come back. I have heard testimonies of this taking place. Sin is identified, and communicated to the church. The person responds and publicly repents and the church brings them in again and lovingly embraces them. It is utter joy.

Unfortunately, the way sin works, people will often justify themselves. The confronted individual will think that the one confronting him is wrong. He will think that the group of people confronting him is wrong. He might even get to the point where he thinks that the entire church is wrong. He thinks that the whole world has gone crazy. He thinks that he alone is the only sane one in the world. Actually, it is the other way around. And "he refuses to listen even to the church." In this circumstance, you take it to step four, ...

Step #4 - Cast him out (verse 17b)
At the end of verse 17, we read, "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer." I have contemplated long and hard about the meaning of these words. What does it mean with reference to how we ought to treat such an individual? I have already tipped my hand by what I have called step four in the discipline process. "Cast him out" (verse 17b). I believe that we ought to treat this individual as one who is outside of the covenant community. When the Jewish mind heard, "Gentile" and "tax-gatherer," they certainly thought that it means, "out of the commonwealth." The "Gentiles" and "tax-gatherers" were kept out of the temple area. The "Gentiles" and "tax-gatherers" were "strangers to the covenant." Jews were not permitted to eat with them or fellowship with them at all. This is what Peter said in Acts 10 when he visited the home of the gentile, Cornelius. Though Cornelius was a God-fearing man, Peter told those gentiles assembled, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him" (Acts 10:28).

These people ought not to be welcomed in the assembly of the church. You ought not to fellowship with them outside the church. This is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5. There was a man involved in unrepentant sin within the congregation (1 Cor. 5:1). He instructed them to remove this man from their midst (1 Cor. 5:2). In other words, they were to discipline this man and "cast him out" of the church. But, the objection comes, aren’t we supposed to reach out to those who are outside the church? Aren’t we supposed to befriend sinners as Jesus modeled for us? Aren’t "Gentiles" and "tax-gatherers" to be loved as Jesus did? Aren’t "Gentiles" and "tax-gatherers" to hear the gospel in a context of love? And if we discipline a man, aren’t we simply supposed to treat him as an unbeliever in need of the gospel, by befriending him? No. We are to cast this one out.

This is because there is a difference between the one who has been in the fellowship of the church and the one who has never been in the fellowship of the church. The one has made a claim to believe in Christ, been in the church, and experienced the blessings of the church and then, becomes unrepentant. The other has never heard of Christ, does not profess to believe in Him, has never been in the church, and has never experienced the abundant blessings that come with being within the church. The one who has been outside all the time is the one we need to love and have a heart for them and bring the gospel to them, as Jesus did. But the one inside the church, who is unrepentant, ought to be cast out. This is what Paul said in 1 Cor. 5:9-11. 

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. (1Cor. 5:9-11)

Did you notice the distinction Paul made between to the two types of immoral people? The one, you are supposed to be with and preach the gospel to them. The other, you need to avoid like the plague.

Let’s get back to the thrust of the passage. We do these things because we care for the "sheep that stray." Our heart is that those who fall into sin will repent. And so, in all of this, we act in a heart of love and compassion and grace. We are patient and kind with them. We pray for them.

I have been personally involved as an elder on two different occasions where this process of calling a straying sheep back into the fold went to the fourth step. We announced it to the church, and cast these two individuals away from the church. I have made it my goal, though I sometimes fail, to pray for them every week, longing for God to grant them repentance.  The words of 2 Timothy 2:24-25 is my heart, "the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth." I pray that God might grant them repentance that they might come back.

And in the day that they acknowledge their sin, and repent, and come back within the fold, I want to embrace them in love, holding nothing against them. I want to be rejoicing over them more than over the "ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). This is the heart of God and I want to have the heart of God. And I long for the church of Jesus Christ to have this heart as well. The goal of this process isn’t to hurt these people. It isn’t to retaliate against them for the hurt that they have caused. The goal is to see them walking with Christ once more.

The good news is that today, we don’t have anyone in our congregation who is in this state. These words of Jesus have been proclaimed in theory, only. But my desire for you would be that you would embrace these words today entirely apart from any one, specific situation, that you might be ready to act upon them in obedience to God the day that one of our members strays. God pursues the straying sheep and we ought to pursue them as well.

Verse 18 gives us one last bit of advice. ...

3. We should bathe the process in prayer (verses 18-20)

Jesus says,

"Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be 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, there I am in their midst." (Matt. 18:18-20)

We ought to bathe these matters in prayer for two reasons.

1. This is a serious matter (verse 18). Jesus says that these matters have eternal implications. What amazing authority that Jesus Christ has given to the church. What is bound by the church is bound in heaven. What is loosed by the church is loosed in heaven. It works like this. When a person is under the discipline of the church, the church has made it a matter of public declaration that this individual has sinned and is unrepentant for his sin. Thus, the sin is not forgiven. This isn't merely an earthly reality. But, it is a heavenly one as well. When the cast out one repents and comes back into the church, his sins are forgiven, both on earth as well as in heaven.

2. We have astounding promises (verses 19-20). Remember, these words come in the context of those in the church, who have been cast out to their unrepentance. Jesus said that if you all agree upon this individual's lack of repentance, heaven agrees with you. These verses give divine authority to what takes place in the church.

Before you confront another in his sin, bathe it in prayer. Before you bring along another witness or two, bathe it in prayer. Before you tell it to the church, bathe it in prayer. Before you cast an individual out of the church, bathe it in prayer. Pray because it is a serious matter. Pray because heaven will agree with your process when you pray.

This process is simple to understand, but difficult to do. We can't do it on our own. Pray for God's grace in this entire process.

 

This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on June 13, 2004 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see
www.rockvalleybiblechurch.org.