Love Leads Us
16th Sunday after Pentecost
Love Leads Us
Text: Matthew 18:15-20
Look around this room for a moment. Go ahead, you can actually take your eyes off me for a moment. Look at the people sitting around you in this room.
How much do you love these fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you love them enough to smile when you arrive at church, maybe even be bold enough to say, “Good morning”? Do you love the people sitting around you enough to take it one step further? Would you ask the people next to you how they are doing—and actually care enough to really want to know how they are doing? Do you love the people around you enough to compliment and commend them—to tell them when they have done something well, that they have a beautiful singing voice, that they did something important for the church? Do you love the people around you enough to work together with them—to partner with them on a campus work day or at the kids carnival or in bringing a dish to share at an Easter brunch?
I’m guessing that you would reply “Yes” to most or all of those questions so far. Maybe you are a quieter type and you don’t always like being social, but I would guess that you would do all of these things. After all, these are your brothers and sisters in Christ.
But now I’ll ask you this: In this close-knit family of believers, do you love these people enough to have difficult conversations with them? Do you love the people around you enough to talk to them if they hurt your feelings? Do you love the people around you enough to tell them when they are sinning and then encourage them to stop? Do you love the people around you enough to do whatever it takes so that you see that person in heaven some day?
Suddenly the easy, “Yes” questions are a little harder. In some ways that’s a byproduct of our society. This is now a country where “tolerance” is preached. And right behind this concept of “tolerance” is a push for “freedom.” Combined, it’s a deadly false teaching of our world that says, “This is my life. It’s none of your business. You have no right to tell me what to do or ‘judge’ me.”
This is one of Satan’s deadly lies in our present time. He presents it as love. So our culture preaches this backwards version of love where everyone is accepted, every behavior is accepted, every opinion is accepted. Don’t dare to tell anyone what they are doing is wrong because that would be unloving. Don’t interfere with anyone’s life because that would be unloving. Be accepting, be tolerant, and let bygones be bygones. That’s loving.
That is a deadly lie. Imagine a parent allowing a child to play with knives or to grab a boiling pot. “Hey, they’ll figure it out eventually. It’s their life.” Imagine a lifeguard seeing a swarm of sharks but warning any of the swimmers. Imagine seeing a blind person walking into traffic but not saying anything. “Their choice. Their life. None of my business.”
That in fact would not be loving at all. To say nothing in those situations would be the most unloving thing you could do because those actions and activities will almost surely lead to death.
Think through the danger of sin. Sin separates us from God. Sin is contrary to his will. Sin leads to death and hell. We have Jesus as our Savior, but if I willingly keep on sinning without repentance, I am denying the forgiveness he offers. If we deny Christ’s forgiveness, we are stuck in our sin and stuck with the punishment of death and hell.
So how could it be loving to not say something to someone sinning? If someone is living contrary to God’s will and I don’t say anything, it would be like knowing a blind person was walking off a cliff and saying nothing at all. Not addressing sin is the least loving thing I could do.
It is a false notion and another lie of Satan to say that Jesus was loving and tolerant and accepting, that he welcomed sinners. Yes, Jesus did welcome sinners and eat with tax collectors and prostitutes. But Jesus also overturned the tables in the temple. Jesus also condemned the Pharisees as a brood of vipers, as white-washed tombs that looked good on the outside but were really dead on the inside. Jesus is the one who defended the adulterous woman but then told her, “Go and leave your life of sin.”
For all the times that we have been afraid to speak up against sin or have been tolerant or lazy with sin, we can be thankful for Jesus our perfect substitute. His life in our place included perfect preaching and pointed preaching. Jesus never fell into sin. Jesus never failed to keep his Father’s will. That is our perfect Savior whose perfect life stands in our place.
But he didn’t just become our substitute with his perfect life. He was also our substitute with his innocent death. Jesus came to die the death that sin deserves. He came to suffer the hell that is punishment for sin. He came to bring us forgiveness and freedom from what we have done.
Jesus did not come to give us freedom to do whatever we want so that now we can live how we want and do what we want and no one can ever tell us differently. Jesus came to give us freedom from death and hell. Jesus came to give us a new and forgiven life with God. That doesn’t make me want to do whatever I want in disobedience. The riches of Christ’s love make me want to do anything I can to follow his will in obedience.
Christ’s love is what leads us in how we live our every day lives. And thus, Love Leads Us when we have interactions with fellow Christians. This is what Jesus teaches us today. The words of Matthew 18 are hard to understand for modern ears. They are even harder to put into practice. But we must understand that it is love that leads us to follow what Jesus says. Listen now to his words:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” This is Step 1 when when dealing with sin. It is very different than our world’s view. Normal action is that when someone sins, you make sure to plaster it all over Facebook. You call up or Email or text a friend and let them know, “You’ll never believe what so-and-so did.” Or if we aren’t spreading gossip and rumors and telling everyone else we know, we simply don’t do anything as we lean toward that worldly view of “tolerance” of others. “It’s none of my business,” we say.
Those aren’t actions driven by love. But these are: If you see a fellow believer caught in sin, or if someone sins against you, you don’t keep quiet. You don’t run and tell everyone. You don’t huff and puff and hold in anger. You don’t look for revenge. Love instead leads you to go and talk to that person. You speak to that person privately and calmly and patiently and lovingly.
Your ultimate goal is not to tell the person off or give a good piece of your mind or to be a know-it-all. Love leads you in the ultimate goal of winning your brother or sister over. The ultimate goal is that you steer someone off the sinful road to hell and back onto the road to heaven. And if that person listens to you and goes back to following the Way, the Truth, and the Life, you can rejoice that you have won that person over.
But what if that person doesn’t listen? Jesus continues in verse 16: “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” If you privately and lovingly speak to a person about sin and that person does not listen, there is a problem. That person has been told about the dangerous path of sin that leads to hell and essentially tells you they don’t care. That’s a big problem.
Step 2 is more forceful. It is still very different than our world’s view. Step 2 is not the time when now you tell everyone you know, the time to run someone’s name through the mud, or the time to embarrass that person. Step 2 is more forceful but it is another step of love.
If someone doesn’t listen to you, now you take a friend or two with you to speak to that person privately. Maybe it’s you and your spouse. Maybe it’s you and another friend. Maybe its you and I who speak to that person. Love leads you to bring more people into the situation so that, God-willing, their consensus can convince the person that they are in fact sinning and in the wrong.
But what if that person still doesn’t listen? They don’t listen to your earnest pleading to change. They don’t listen to you and a friend or two lovingly pleading to change. Here’s what to do next. Verse 17: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
Step 3 is not a tattletale step. This is still not the time to run and blab your mouth and gossip to everyone what someone has done. And actually, love would never lead us to do that. Rather, love leads you in step three to bring in the reinforcements. Someone is not listening to you or to you and a few friends. This person is still refusing to stop sinning. They aren’t listening. Maybe they don’t even care. They are unwilling to change. Step 3 is when love leads you to definitely bring it to me if it hasn’t been already. Step 3 is when our church Executive Council gets involved.
This is the time when official church actions start to take place. Step 3 is when a person is denied Communion. Step 3 is when a person’s active membership in the church is suspended. Step 3 is when formal warnings are given by the pastor and the leaders.
To some that might seem unloving. “Who are we to judge?” the world asks. “Who are we to decide who goes to Communion and who doesn’t?” the world asks. But remember that this is an extreme act of love. Jesus offers his body and blood in Communion for the forgiveness of sins. How could that possibly be offered to someone who refuses to stop sinning? How could someone be an active, regular member of a Christian church if that person refuses to stop sinning and act like a Christian? This why love leads the church to act, praying that the person will finally get the message and finally change their ways and finally be allowed back into active membership and Communion.
But what if that person still will not listen? What if that person still will not change? There’s one final, drastic step to take. Step 4 is the second half of verse 17: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
The final act of love is what is called “excommunication.” That is when a person is finally removed from a Christian church as a final warning of love. This is not something to do lightly or quickly. Not even after one or two months. But it is a final, drastic wake up call in love. It’s like shouting at the blind person walking toward the edge of the cliff, “You need to stop or you will die!”
Four steps Jesus gives to us. This is our responsibility and our duty. This is not just the job of the pastor to be the “sin police.” This is not none of your business. It is your business. It is your job, it is your responsibility, to love the people sitting around you so much that you care whether they go to heaven or hell.
It is the job and responsibility of all of us to speak to one another in love and address sin. When we do, we will follow these four steps: Speak to the person privately. Take one or two others with you. Take it to the church. Take that person out of the church. If at any time the person doesn’t listen, you go to the next step. If at any time the person listens, repents, and changes, then you stop. Then you forgive. Then you greet the person with open arms of love because you have won your brother over.
This is an incredible responsibility Jesus gives to us, that he would say to you and to me: “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
We are Christ’s representatives here on earth, and he trusts us and empowers us to act on his behalf with other people here in this world. What we agree on and do here on earth, he supports and backs from heaven. That’s powerful! And only love will lead us to carry out this responsibility the right way.
You know this isn’t really a “fun” message. Last week was fun. We were reminded of the joy of carrying the cross of Christ only to receive the crown of heaven in the future. Two weeks ago was fun. Jesus told us that the gates of hell could not overpower us and we had a powerful service. This week we have to hear about talking to other people about their sin and loving steps of church discipline. Yuck!
But yet these words of Matthew 18 are absolutely critical to the life of the church. If we all don’t follow these words of Jesus, our church will crack and possibly crumble. The close-knit feel of our family will fall apart.
When we don’t follow these words of Jesus, is when we are gossiping and spreading rumors. It’s when we are talking behind people’s backs. It’s when we are holding grudges and getting angry. It’s when we are offended and do nothing about it. It’s when we don’t come to church or church functions because, “I’m upset with that person.” It’s when we let people do whatever they want and think it’s not a big deal to sin.
You see, the moment we don’t follow the steps of Matthew 18 is the moment we become unloving. It is the moment that Satan has chiseled a crack in our family and is eager to make the tiny crevice a huge crater.
Think about the love of our Savior Jesus Christ that led him to live for you and die for you. Think about his precious blood that washed you and every person in this room clean from sin. As you look around at the other people in this room, love them like Jesus loved you. Love them enough even to tell them when they have offended, when they are wrong, or when they are sinning. Love the people in this room enough to listen if you are the one who is in the wrong. Love the people in this room enough to speak to each other in all situations in calmness, patience, and love.
There is only one way that we will carry forward as a close family of believers: If the love of Christ leads us. God fill us what that love every day in every conversation.
Posted on September 28, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged Absolution, Church, Church Discipline, Excommunication, Forgiveness, Love, Matthew, Matthew 18, Repentance, Sermons, Sin, Win Over. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.