We love sinners
It is so hard to love sinners. In my mind, I have a certain expectation of how people are to treat one another. When I don’t see that my first reaction isn’t love. It’s disappointment, anger, confusion, or a want for justice. When someone isn’t following the rules feelings well up inside us, and it isn’t usually love. It happens on the road, on the playground, at home, in your zoom meetings. How do we love sinners, especially when a fellow Christian is involved in that sin?
Every thought, word, and deed of Jesus was love. It is remarkable to watch him throughout the book of Matthew love people, sinners. He loved those who it was hardest to love. Jesus wants his church to be the display of the same love. In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches a love for sinners. Before these verses, Jesus told of a shepherd who rescues a lost sheep. Now he explains what we might call, “tough love.” Jesus loves sinners, so do we. 15 “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. First, he says, “your brother.” This is a fellow Christian. Jesus commands us to judge our fellow Christians and help them when sin is involved. Jesus’ concern is not that we reform a brother’s irritating habits or change his quirks of personality. His concern is that we go to him when he has sinned. Sin is not a mistake and it is not
minimized. Next he says, “Go.” Don’t pout, grumble, or gossip. Go. Show him his fault just between the two of you. His sin is damaging—to himself, to the name of Christ, and to all who bear the name of Christ. Show him because he may not have known if someone didn’t show. The goal is winning the brother over. Typically, this is where things go wrong because we don’t always approach our fellow Christian in love. We do so in anger. This is justifiable anger because some wrong has been done. We’ve stewed in our brain how much we are going
to show that person what they’ve done wrong and forgotten all about love. Our blood boils over and we use resentment or justice rather than a desire for the person’s forgiveness. This is not love for the sinner, this is anger. The anger is going to kill you both. Anger damages your relationship with your heavenly Father and separates you from his love. Anger causes you to speak damaging words to your fellow Christian, thus can hinder his relationship with God. Too many people have walked away from the church because they were hurt by a fellow Christian using anger, rather than love to correct them. Let the forgiveness of Jesus wash your anger away, like a big bucket of water dousing a fire. God does not withhold forgiveness from you, he fully and freely sets you free. God’s approach toward you and your own sin is never done to make you terrified of him. He will confront you or send someone to confront you to because he cares so deeply about your life now and forever. He is a protective Father who hates what Satan does to you and despises how your sinful nature deceives you. He will do whatever it takes to prove his love to you. This can be what you are to another sinner when you go in love rather than anger.
Jesus indicates that there is good probability that the brother will listen. Brothers and sisters in the Lord are sinners who sin against one another. But we should have positive expectation that a loving rebuke will lead to confession and repentance so we can wash that sinner with loving forgiveness. 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.’ It may be that the brother will not listen and repent. But we should not give up. These may be helpful in several ways. First, for various reasons the erring brother may be unwilling to listen to me but willing to listen to others. Second, their presence could add weight to the testimony that the brother has sinned and must repent. Third, should it become necessary to bring the matter before the entire congregation, these companions will be able to testify concerning the erring brother’s obstinacy.
17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. The assembly of believers will hear the case and plead with the sinner. Although he did not listen to the one or two or three, in the end he may be brought to repentance by the united testimony of his fellow church members. This is the result which God and God’s people desire. If he refuses, we act in church discipline. Excommunication is and must be an act of love. It is the strongest possible
preaching of the law, done with intent to lead the sinner to recognize and repent of his sin, so that he can be saved. This doesn’t mean the group will stop loving that sinner. Jesus loved all. In love he preached to them and in love he prayed for them. The excommunicated sinner needs the love of Christ’s people now more than ever. Jesus summarizes. 18 “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.” Jesus gave tremendous and amazing authority to Christians. He gave us authority to loose and bind. We let loose repentant sinners of their guilt. We bind the unrepentant to their sin which has heavenly authority. Why on earth would Jesus trust sinful human beings with this responsibility? What if we do it wrong? There
are instances where Christians have bound repentant sinners and it is damaging to their souls. These acts need repentance as well. Confess the times when we have not acted in love with the intent of setting sinners free. These too are forgiven. Jesus gives the authority to sinful human beings because he wants to include people in his ministry of delivering forgiveness. This is the most exhilarating part of what I get to do. Jesus intended this for all of us to use. This is done when believers gather. 19 “Again, 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. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” When believers gather, we pray and distribute the goods. Therefore we begin almost every service with confession and absolution. We confess our sins together; we are all in the same sinking ship without Jesus because we all are sinners. Then I get to free you from all the guilt and burden of every sin. I forgive you. Can you imagine what our community would look like if we did this with each other on a regular basis? How much love would be flowing through and how deep our relationships would grow if we practiced this? We would correct one another when sin is present and then forgive one another. In my house, we don’t say, “It’s ok.,” when someone says, “I’m sorry.” It’s not ok. But we say, “I forgive you.” According to Jesus’ words that is just as good as God if himself said it.