THINKING ABOUT MATTHEW 18:15-17, PART 3

What if the brother, after standing before the congregation, does not repent? He who refused to listen to his brother, to the witnesses, and to the assembly is now to be viewed and treated in a specific way, which though harsh, Jesus made completely clear to His audience. “Let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” There would have been no mistaking the sentiment. This brother is now to be treated as a heathen who would have no interest in God or a tax collector/publican. Jesus casts no aspersions on tax collectors; He simply acknowledges how the Israelites would have treated such a person. Numerous examples exist: Matthew 5:46-7, 9:10-11, 11:19, Luke 7:29, 18:11. No self-respecting Israelite would have been caught dead associating with a tax collector or a Gentile, Acts 10:28.

Clearly, if this brother refuses to listen, he is to be put away, 1 Corinthians 5:13. See John 12:42. The Amish say “shunned.” We might today say “disfellowship”, but I prefer the terms “note”, “mark”, or withdraw.” Since fellowship is based on our being in a right relationship with God and each other, this man has already removed himself from that fellowship. He has, in essence, “disfellowshipped” himself. The assembly is merely acknowledging his action and engaging in the proper response which, Jesus says, is to treat him as you would a heathen or tax collector.

The specific meaning is brought out through the New Testament. Look at these verses to get the sense of what Jesus is saying regarding the association.                                                                   2John 1:10 “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him….”

Romans 16:17 “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.”

1Corinthians 5:11 “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner–not even to eat with such a person.”

1Corinthians 5:13 “But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.'”

2Thessalonians 3:6 “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”

2Thessalonians 3:14 “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note (or mark) that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.”

2Timothy 3:5 “(men) having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”

Paul still gives place for repentance when he adds in 2Thessalonians 3:15, “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Remember, the hope is for his restoration.

Some important facts result from this understanding. First, think of the particular phrases: “do not receive…nor greet”, “avoid”, “not to keep company with”, “put away from yourselves”, “withdraw from”, and “turn away.” There is no ambiguity in these. They are not hard to understand, yet brethren often ignore them. Today, we still maintain relationships with such brethren whether it be in person or over such media as Facebook. We associate ourselves with brethren who have been marked. This activity is not scriptural and is, in itself, sinful. It also ignores the discipline of the Lord that will help to save that person’s soul.

Second, what effect does such marking have on other congregations and Christians outside of his congregation? Some say that there is no effect. In other words, such marking of a sinful brother by a particular congregation has no binding effect on other congregations. They are free to bring the brother into their congregation (congregational autonomy). Brethren, how can such a thing possibly be? The language of scripture is clear: do not associate with him. How could the admonition be that his marking only extends to the boundaries of his local congregation? If a brother were marked for having his father’s wife and being unrepentant and put out of the local assembly, is he free to go to another assembly of saints? Is another congregation free to accept him into their assembly? Think, would Paul have approved of such practice? How could such a discipline possibly be effective?

Good brethren with strong Biblical knowledge comprehend the meaning of these verses. They do not, however, seem to like to put them into practice. We don’t mark when we should. We don’t disassociate ourselves when we should. We do welcome sinners into our congregations when we should not. Such things are contrary to the clear teaching of Jesus for several reasons, 1 Corinthians 5:5 (necessary for saving), 1 Corinthians 5:6 (bad effect on others), 2 Thessalonians 3:14 (shame), 1 Timothy 1:20 (to learn the error of his ways).

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