Question & Answer Forum

Does Matthew 18:15 teach that a believer must seek redress when he is wronged?

Some differences between believers are trivial and require tolerance, not redress. In 1 Corinthians 6:7, Paul reproved the Corinthians for seeking redress by going to law. He asked them, “Why do ye not rather take wrong?” Taking another Christian before a court is clearly wrong. A matter taken to court cannot be called “trivial.” Taking wrong rather than seeking redress is clearly the preferred option.

When should a believer go to another who has trespassed against him to get a matter made right? The word “trespass” in this text is the usual word for “sin,” or “miss the mark.” Hence, this is not merely a slight or difference of opinion but a matter that must be rectified so the offender may be cleansed from his sin and restored to the Lord.

Matthew 5:24 gives us the responsibility of the one who offends, “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” His sin makes acceptable worship impossible until the matter is rectified.

J. Slabaugh


In Matthew 18:16, what is the role of the “two or three witnesses,” and are they related to the “two” in verse 19 or the “two or three” in verse 20?

The two or three witnesses seem to do more than merely “witness,” since the Lord Jesus adds, “if he shall neglect to hear them These accompanying brethren seem to make an appeal along with the offended brother, and subsequently bear witness to the failed attempts at reconciliation and the apparent intransigence of the offender. When this man’s rebellion extends to failure to “hear the church,” discipline must be carried out. Heaven’s authority is behind the action of the assembly, for it is carrying out the mind of God (verse 18). It is perhaps part of their exercise for the offending man’s recovery that is motivating the praying brethren in verse 19, where it is interesting to note again the link between heaven and earth – this time displaying God’s response to the spiritual exercise of these brethren. An assembly’s authority and power – including its actions of “putting away” and receiving back – are based on its character as gathered to His Name (verse 20) and representing our Lord Jesus in this world.

E. Higgins


To what circumstances does Matthew 18:17 apply?

“Let him be unto thee as an Aheathen man…” cannot mean “personal withdrawal”; this destroys assembly unity (Ephesians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 12:27). The of fender is put among “them that are without” (1 Corinthians 5:13). This case is more subjective than 1 Corinthians 5:13 and 1 Timothy 1:20; therefore it requires greater care. Such action is clearly a last resort. Rushing to enforce this passage denies other NT teaching (James 2:13; 1 Corinthians 13:5, 7). The initial problem must involve a moral issue of right and wrong (“trespass” is translated “sin” 38 of 43 times) which is public in nature; “forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:32) in personal matters means not exacting payment for wrongs. The circumstances must include a thorough attempt to both contain the problem (“between him and thee alone”) and also, by patiently explaining his fault, win the brother. Should this fail, reliable witnesses must impartially and indisputably document the original offense and further attempts to resolve it (1 Timothy 5:21). Telling the church is still intended to resolve it favorably. The church speaks to the offender through its guides, who are “apt to teach,” “patient,” and “take care of” the believers as one would an emergency room patient (1 Timothy 3:2, 3, 5; Luke 10:34, 35). When the offender still will not recognize his sin, heaven decrees his excommunication. Dependent on God, the elders guide the assembly in administering heaven’s decision. The believer is put away for refusing to submit to God’s Word.

D. Oliver


Does Matthew 18:20 teach that overseers put a person away from the assembly?

The parable of the straying ep (verses 12-14) is an important part of the context of Matthew 18:20. The differences between this parable and the story of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7) are important. There the sheep is “lost”; here it has “gone astray.” Here, the 99 are not in the wilderness, and the effort may prove to be a failure, as it was in the hypothetical case (verse 17). This is descriptive of the work of godly shepherds to recover a straying believer. Seeing recovery is shepherd work, there is good reason to consider the “two or three” of verses 16, 19 and 20 to be assembly elders or shepherds.

Elders act for an assembly in discipline cases, but their judgment is not arbitrary; it is in obedience to Heaven’s judgment. “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be (having been) bound in Heaven.” The action of an assembly carries out God’s judgment. However, it is not merely elders who “put away”; it is an assembly action (1 Corinthians 5:13) with elders acting for it. Very often there are details of sin that should be only known and handled by elders. They have the confidence of the assembly and act tenderly as shepherds in behalf of the assembly.

N. Crawford