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Let The Healing Begin

Updated on April 22, 2011
The act of forgiving will demand a considerable amount of time and unconditional love to heal...
The act of forgiving will demand a considerable amount of time and unconditional love to heal...

Sharing Christ's Sensitivies in Listening and Teaching

Matthew 18:15-20 is one of many scripture texts that have been used to harm rather than heal relationships. These verses are not meant to be a declaration of power, nor does this passage mean that if two or three people agree on something, then they can ignore the testimony of the one charged, bypass the valid input of others, and do whatever they want. This passage is not only about listening and accountability, but also about a larger vision of God’s kingdom.

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Mt 18:15-20).

If you read the passage in its chapter context, you can’t help but note the hyperbole or deliberate and obvious exaggeration Jesus uses to drive his point in a series of teachings. For example, we don’t drown others for being “stumbling blocks” and we don’t encourage people to tear out their eyes or cut off body parts because they’ve sinned. And most shepherds wouldn’t dare abandon ninety-nine sheep in search of the one that got away. Jesus’ exaggerated response to Peter’s question about forgiveness in verse 21 shows that he knows we want quick apologies and yet the act of forgiveness is a process that isn’t quite as simple as saying sorry and going our merry way. The act of forgiving will demand a considerable amount of time and unconditional love to heal—that’s what it means to forgive another member who has sinned against you. Jesus said to Peter, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:21).

What is the kernel of truth that is embedded in each of these exaggerated teachings, especially as it applies to verses 15-20? Chapter 18 commences with the disciples coming to Jesus with the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Were they earnest about this question in light of the fact that Jesus’ ministry had always been focused on the least? Yet he doesn’t dismiss their self-centered and self-righteous question. He takes them seriously, listens carefully and then responds, not with a direct or literal answer, but with a series of exaggerated teachings. Jesus pushes the disciples to think, to listen and to be accountable to others for the God-given power and authority entrusted to them. The examples of exaggeration allow the disciples an opportune time to learn without being embarrassed and to listen without being defensive. Jesus brings before them “a child,” the “little ones,” the “one that went astray,” the “member” who sins, and the “fellow slave” in debt. The kingdom of God is not concerned with “who is the greatest,” rather Jesus teaches that those who are given a great responsibility and authority should take extreme heed in using their power over the least and most vulnerable subjects. The child should be free of stumbling blocks, the lost sheep should be found, the church member should be given a fair hearing, and the fellow slave should be forgiven of all his debt.

If we listen with “new ears” we will always hear something different from what we expect. That’s why Jesus utilized hyperbole. He wanted to open the ears of his disciples to hear the gospel of love and reconciliation in different ways, through different experiences, with different language and images. If the Bible is a closed word that behaves as a mere answer book, then we’re all in trouble! We’ll continue to use scripture to attack others and thus bring about violence against one another and justify the harm we inflicted in God’s name. Granted the Word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword, it is a holy weapon wielded to heal and unite rather than to tear and destroy. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Jesus could have opted to use his power to plow his point across rather than beat around the hyperbole bush. Yet he chose to listen and engage his disciples in conversation while teaching truth. Christians today cannot pretend to be the Junior Holy Spirit possessing the final say nor should they lord it over others by insisting that it’s either their way or the highway (Mt 20:25). The Bible invites us to share Christ’s sensitivities in listening and teaching as we enter into ongoing conversations with Christians who struggle with what it means to live faithfully in relationship with each other and to look beyond ourselves for the greater good of the kingdom of God—the bigger picture set before us.

It is only right that we conclude with the lesson drawn from the last story in Matthew 18 between the king and his slaves. The day of reckoning arrived as the king wished to settle accounts with his slaves. Although it was within the king’s power to sequester and sell his slave’s family and possessions, he chose to be compassionate by not only forgiving, but also completely erasing all the slave’s insurmountable debt. Later in the day, that same slave bumped into a fellow slave who owed him a pithy amount of money. He demanded payment and threw his fellow slave into prison until he could settle his debt. Meanwhile the king caught wind of what transpired and summoned the wicked slave to his court. He reminded the wicked slave of his forgiven debt due to his plea. Although he received mercy he failed to extend that same mercy to his fellow slave. In anger, the king handed him over to be tortured until he paid his debt in full. Jesus said, “Our heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from the heart” (Mt 18:35). May the love and compassion of Christ the King cause church members to remove every harmful stumbling block and settle accounts with each other in the kingdom of God—let the healing of relationships begin.

© 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.

Recommended reading:

Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (The New Testament for Everyone)
Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (The New Testament for Everyone)

N.T. Wright's own translation of the Gospel of Matthew is combined, section by section, with useful explanation and interpretation of the passage, as well as thoughts as to how it can be relevant to our lives today.

 

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    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      1 Peter 4:17 says, "For the time has come for judgement to begin with the household of God..." It behooves all churches to exercise "good housekeeping" because "it begins with us." We ought to sweep the dust of dissension out the door. In-fighting among Christians is truly a disgrace. The dirty laundry of the church is a stain we shouldn't bear. If we should suffer, we ought to share in Christ's suffering while continuing to do good.

    • Judah's Daughter profile image

      Judah's Daughter 

      9 years ago from Roseville, CA

      I agree fully. I keep thinking about the woman caught in adultry. She was lowly and she, who was forgiven much, loved much. Likewise, we are to forgive!! Jesus Himself could have cast that first stone at this woman, but he didn't! Hypocricy is the cutting down and dissention in the church. The churches will be judged FIRST; is that not the prophesy? If a pastor or minister has an evil heart and indeed was not called to ministry, the Lord will dismantle him. But, when a minister sins, s/he is human. We all sin. If s/he is accountable to the church, they need to go through the process according to the Word to confirm their repentance. Their ministry may be more powerful because of it, for he who is forgiven much will love much!! Amen!

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      There's a story behind this hub. A Christian brother approached me with a request to interpret Matthew 18:15-20 in light of an unfortunate situation that arose within their church. The acknowledged leader of the group took issue with him in regards to some character traits that he deemed questionable. Initially, this brother presumed that the leader had his best interest at heart and submitted to the prescribed discipline—stepping down from teaching ministry. The short of it was that the discipline was carried out to the extreme in that it became indefinite. In fact, the leader used the Matthew passage to harm rather than heal this brother as their relationship was badly severed. The truth is, both parties had deep issues to deal with. Sadly, rather than working it out brother-to-brother, the leader decided to bring it up to the next level. He took it up with the church prematurely and the damage was done.

      As I listened to both sides, the issue was minor and did not merit the kind of disciplinary action that was enforced. What gets my goat is that this sheep, this brother in Christ, came away feeling somehow violated by the leader's uncalled for behavior—hiding behind the skirts of Scripture in order to validate his position and manner of discipline. He literally beat the Bible over the head of this brother misusing the passage in Matthew to his advantage.

      Biblically speaking, if there is anything God hates it's the abuse of a leader's God-given power or authority over those he is meant to serve. Yes King David committed adultery that led to a murderous act. But what really got God going was the fact that he abused his God-given power over the sheep in his care. This was the grievous sin that angered God. Leaders beware!

      Aptly stated in your comment, leaders can be deadly butchers rather than life-giving surgeons. I fear that many Christians in positions of leadership misuse and abuse the Scriptures today wielding the word out of context. They don't realize that they are harming rather than healing the body of Christ. There are those who would rather cut to kill than heal the relationship through the act of truly listening what the other member is saying. Only then can love and forgiveness, not superficial feelings and quick apologies, take place. Can you imagine the damage that these leaders cause to those who follow their lead as they are supposedly following Christ?

    • Judah's Daughter profile image

      Judah's Daughter 

      9 years ago from Roseville, CA

      Oh, this is such a beautiful and powerful message. I love reading your hubs as it brings confirmation of truth the Lord has shown me also over the past few months. I love growing in His Word. I use a phrase in one of my hubs of which I heard from a preacher; that is, "A butcher cuts to kill; the Surgeon cuts to heal." Praise God!!

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