God’s Rally Cry: “The Church Cares!” (Sept 20, 2020)
God’s Rally Cry: “The Church Cares!”
Watch our livestream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZCJanqx-cg
Would you go next door in the middle of the night and wake up your sleeping neighbor? No, of course not. It’s needless. It’s rude. It’s not being neighborly or loving. Well, let me add a bit of context and ask you again. It’s 2am. You see a strange orange glow out your window. You open your window to get a better look and immediately smell smoke. Realizing your neighbors house is on fire and they are in serious danger, what is the loving thing to do? Let them sleep? Or wake them before they are harmed?
Today we are going to talk about how to save a life. How to really show your love and concern for a fellow believer as you bravely and tirelessly try to save their life. God’s rally cry for the Church today is: “The Church cares.”
The common thinking today is that it is loving to let people live their own lives. Let them live by their own convictions and don’t meddle in their affairs. It is loving for you to let them live how they want to live. But, is it really? If you understand what sin is, then you realize that letting someone continue to live in unrepented sin is like letting your neighbor sleep in a burning house. It means their destruction. It means their death. Sin is damaging. It is damaging to the person who commits it. It is damaging to the name of Christ. And, it is damaging to all who bear the name of Christ. Don’t ignore sin. Don’t expect it to go away by itself. Don’t say you’d rather not get involved. Don’t wait for the brother to come to you. Jesus says, “Go.” The fellow Christian and the Church may be the fallen sinner’s only lifeline.
And I should mention, before we get too far, that this section of Scripture – what we are talking about today – is specifically dealing with a “brother or sister.” In other words, this is someone who is a part of the Church, a fellow believer. We aren’t to be going to all our neighbors’ houses and pointing out their sins if they don’t even believe in Jesus or the forgiveness he won. There’s a different approach to that. But here, for those who know God’s will and trust in the forgiveness that Jesus won, he says “Go!”
This also appears to be a private matter – where a fellow brother or sister has sinned directly against you. Jesus says go. But go reflecting Christ’s love. Go because this is a fellow redeemed – someone that Jesus shed his blood for, died for, and brought into his family. Go because this is one of Jesus’ precious sheep, yet they are wandering from the flock. Go before it may be too late.
And go, only with the goal of winning them over. Satan tries to make Christian discipline seem like the height of hypocrisy or meddling. His motive is the keep that fallen brother’s sins bound like his own for all eternity in hell – to keep them locked in that burning house because it’s none of your business. But if you go, not with the goal of reforming irritating habits or changing the quirks of their personality, but really go with the goal of “winning them over,” you might just save their life! In fact, Jesus says, “If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Mt 18:15). That “if” there, it’s a special grammatical form which indicates a good probability that they will listen. Yes, brothers and sisters in the Lord are sinners who will hurt one another from time to time. But we should have positive expectations that a loving rebuke will lead to confession and repentance.
So how do you go about this goal of winning them over? Jesus lays out the method. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so the ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Mt 18:15-17).
It’s a slow and deliberate process carried out with patience and love. First, go privately, so that offense and embarrassment might be contained, and pardon and forgiveness might all the more readily flow. If that doesn’t change their course, then go with two or three, that the matter might be underscored without making tongues wag throughout the congregation. Their presence adds weight to the testimony that the brother or sister has sinned and must repent. Finally, also in love, the matter is taken before the Church. Not, tell everyone in the entryway so that the whole church knows. But take it to the leaders of the church – the pastor and elders.
It’s a step by step process that may take some time and patience. Remember, the goal is to win them over. So it’s not, 1, 2, 3 strikes, your out. You may go to them repeatedly before bringing others into the matter. You may continue going to them a number of times before bringing it before the church. If our intention is to show God’s love, then remember what he said in the first reading, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” (Ez 33:11).
There’s a song that came out over a decade ago called “How to save a life”. It’s by a band called “The Fray”. The song is about talking with a friend and pointing out some things they probably don’t want to hear. There may be some resistance, but stay up all night with them if that’s what it takes to save their life. Sit in the pits with them and hear out their side of things so that you fully understand the situation. Take time and patience. Invest in them that they might be restored.
If they still don’t listen – to you, to a couple others, even to the church – then, finally, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector. But don’t misunderstand this. Yes, it means excommunication. Yes, it means that you no longer share in doctrinal fellowship with them because they refuse to confess that sin is sin. But remember how Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors. He reached out to Matthew, a tax collector, and made him one of his own disciples. He conversed with the woman at the well who had marriage problems. He associated with sinners, pointed them to him their Savior and even gave up his life for them. Treating them as a pagan or tax collector doesn’t mean you never speak to them again. It means you are reaching out to them anew. It does mean you are no longer in doctrinal fellowship, but this too is meant in love. The weight of this action is meant to shake them to their senses, open their eyes, so that they admit their wrongs and turn from them. Even in this final step, you show them love and continue to reach out to them, throwing them a lifeline of repentance and forgiveness. You keep trying to save their life.
And perhaps in this, too often the essential element of prayer is lacking. All while we are doing the above, we are to do so imploring the blessing of the Father, who even more than we desires the sinner’s salvation. Pray that the Father will enable us to minister in Christian love. Pray that he will give us appropriate words. Pray that the Holy Spirit will work through our words to touch the sinner’s heart. Pray with real confidence that the Father hears our prayers and will graciously grant the blessings we seek.
So, we talked about the motive of love behind reaching out to win over a brother or sister. We’ve talked about the method or ratcheting up the weight of the conviction, done with great patience and ceaseless prayer. Finally, lets talk about the means. It is the law and the gospel used at the proper time.
It is doing the tough thing and clearly proclaiming the law of the Lord. Saying, “This is what Scripture says, and what you are doing has crossed the line.” And I’ll be honest, this isn’t often a comfortable thing to do. But it’s one of the reasons we gather together as a congregation – to curb one another when needed. And God tells us this task is not optional. No one wants to wake their neighbor at 2am, but if their house were on fire and you let them sleep, you are not just loveless and careless. You are a killer. In the same way God holds each one of us responsible – especially in cases where it is a private matter and no one else knows – holds us responsible to point out sin and lead them to repentance. In the reading from Ezekiel, God is speaking primarily to his called servants, saying, If you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, “I will hold you accountable for their blood” (Ez 33:8). It’s intensified for called ministers, but what if the minister never knows about it? In Matthew Jesus urges every fellow Christian, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault” (Mt 18:15). It’s not optional. Nor should we even consider it an option when we realize the gravity of sin. With the law driven deeply into our hearts, God then reminds us why he has given us this job: because of his grace and his desire for the salvation of all mankind. The responsibility of waking our neighbor asleep in a burning house becomes a joyful privilege when he emerges safely from the smoke. So also our task of keeping our brothers and sisters from straying is a joy. Because not only do we clearly proclaim the law, but if they listen and we have won them over, we also get to freely offer the forgiveness of the Lord.
Already at the time of the sin Jesus was there. All through the process of seeking after the brother who sinned, Jesus was there and was also seeking. Jesus was there to hear the prayers of his people and grant his blessings of guidance and strength. And, finally, Jesus is there, freely offering the forgiveness he won for all people so that those who turn to him in repentance would not die, but live.