Harmony of the Gospels

(53.2) Pattern for Conduct in the Church
Matthew 18:15-20

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gave His procedure for dealing with people problems that arise within a church. 

There is no perfect church, because there are no perfect people. 

I heard a man say one time, “I wouldn’t belong to any church that would have me as a member.

We are far from perfect, that’s why conflict is inevitable in the personal relationships between Christians.

It is humanly impossible to live in total harmony with others all the time.

Jesus told His disciples how to settle disputes between believers in Matthew 18. 

But first, I want you to see what happened when Paul and John Mark had a falling out.

In Acts 15 we are told how Paul resolved his conflict with John Mark, which had developed between Paul’s first and second missionary journeys.

Listen as I read verses 36-41.

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”
37 And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.
38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.
39 And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,
40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.
41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

We are told here that after some time passed (the amount of time is not clear), Paul expressed to Barnabas the idea of returning to the cities where they had established churches.

The disagreement over John, whose family name was Mark caused the splitting up of the first missionary team.  

Paul objected to taking Mark, who had left them in the city of Pamphylia.

The dispute was so sharp that each man took a new assistant and traveled in a different direction; Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus, and Paul chose Silas and departed for Cilicia.

We are not told how long it took, but eventually Paul and Mark were able to overcome their differences. 

Later, when Paul wrote to the Colossians and young Timothy, he mentioned Mark and said that he appreciated him.

He told the Colossians, “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him),” and to Timothy he said; “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.”

It’s evident from this that Paul had forgiven Mark and wanted his company.

I think that Paul understood that holding a grudge would hurt him in the long run.

He must have taken steps to repair the damage, and they became good friends again.

Allow me to digress for a few minutes.

The apostle John warned Christians not to hate each other, when he said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?  And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:20, 21).

I didn’t say this; John did. 

John says that if you say you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar. 

“For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” 

There is a great deal of nonsense and pious hypocrisy going on today, even in our fundamental churches. 

If we do not love our brother, then we do not love God either.

Notice that this is a commandment. 

God does not ask you if you feel like it or if you want to. 

He says, “This is what I command you.  Because I love, you are to love.” 

I get a little tired of hearing some Christians say they are “dedicated” to God when they are lazy on the job. 

You are not dedicated to the Lord unless you demonstrate it in your life and in your service.

Now, let’s look closely at what Jesus said about resolving conflicts.

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

The Christian is to be a truthful person.

“Tell him his fault,” means to be honest with him about his fault. 

But we don’t want to hurt anyone so Paul says in Ephesians that we are to “Speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

That is the secret of maintaining Christian fellowship.

But, don’t wait too long before dealing with the problem, because the longer we wait, the more people we involve in the problem.

There is one more thing I want to say about Jesus’ method for dealing with people problems.

If someone sins against you, you are to go to them. 

You see, Jesus is talking about believers in these verses, and wrongs done by Christians to other Christians. 

The obligation is upon the one who has been injured to approach his brother who has offended him and not vice versa.

In the next two verses, Jesus tells us what to do if the person will not listen to us.

16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

The last phrase of verse 16, “that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” is taken from Deuteronomy 19:15.

This just and sensible principle of the Mosaic Law is brought over into the New Testament by our Lord and established for the benefit of the Christian church.

There are some people who like to smother trouble and cover it up. 

This is not the way the Lord tells us to handle it. 

If there is a problem between two believers, it should be worked out in an amiable, peaceful, and quiet manner. 

If the individuals cannot work things out, take it to a group. 

If the group cannot work things out, the last resort is to take the problem to the church as the final authority. 

The church may decide to cut off the obstinate sinner, at least temporarily, from Christian fellowship.

There is a shocking example of that in 1 Corinthians, where Paul was dealing with what, for him, was a recurring problem. 

A man who was a member of the church at Corinth was having an affair with his own step-mother, a thing which would revolt even a heathen, and which was explicitly forbidden by the Jewish law. 

Shocked as he was at the sin, Paul was even more shocked by the attitude of the Corinthian Church toward the sinner.  

They were accepting of the situation and had done nothing about it when they should have been grief-stricken. 

Paul’s verdict is that the man must be dealt with. 

In a vivid phrasing, he says the man must be handed over to Satan, meaning that he must be excommunicated. 

Send this man back to Satan’s world to which he belongs is Paul’s verdict. 

Next, Jesus made a statement that many find difficult to understand.

18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

What did He mean by this? 

He meant that if we withhold the Word of God, we “bind on earth”; if we give the Word of God to others, we “loose on earth.” 

With regard to this man who was living in open sin with his step-mother, Jesus is saying that whatever the congregation agrees to do will be approved of in heaven.

Jesus goes on to say:

19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
20 For “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing … it shall be done.” 

Does He mean that if we agree on anything, He will hear us? 

Yes, but notice the condition: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name.”

He will hear any request which is given in Christ’s name—that is, a request that Jesus Himself would make. 

Or we could say that asking in His name is the same as asking in His will.

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” is the simplest form of church government. 

This is how the earliest churches started, with a handful of believers, and according to Acts 2, “They continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:24).


The Bible offers several steps to resolving conflict and settling disagreements among people:

1. Scripture advises the believer to face the conflict—acknowledge its existence and accept its impact.

Christ advised His disciples to go immediately and directly to the person and discuss the grievance.
He said, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault ….” (Matt. 18:15).

Others should be enlisted to mediate the conflict only if the conflict cannot be resolved one-to-one. 

If all else fails, we are to take it to the church for a resolution.

2. Scripture instructs the believer to forgive the conflict—to put the disagreement behind and move ahead in harmony once it has been resolved.

A person that holds a grudge will suffer from it. 

Hatred in the heart can fester and grow like a cancer until it hurts the spirit, and maybe even a person’s physical health. 

So, let it go by giving it into Jesus’ hands.

He will handle any problem you give Him very well.

3. Scripture encourages the believer to move beyond the conflict.
Paul resolved his grudge against Mark and looked for opportunities to minister with him. 

The result was that they started several churches and won many to the Lord. 

The Holy Spirit cannot do its work when there are hard feelings in a person’s heart. 

The Bible says that it quenches the Spirit. 

Paul knew that, so he patched up his differences with Mark, and the two were able to accomplish great things for the Lord.

Jesus reminded the Pharisees of the greatest commandments—to love the Lord and love your neighbor.

He said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40).

The desire of God is for His children to live in harmony.

Christians are to resolve any conflicts they have with others, and replace the discord with love.

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There are 5 websites by this author:
harmonyofthegospels.yolasite.com (Life of Christ)
teachingsermonsforpastorsandlaymen.yolasite.com (sermons)
theepistlesofpaul.yolasite.com (Titus and Jude)
paulsepistletotheromans.yolasite.com (Romans)
theperiodofthejudges.yolasite.com (Judges)

Please review them and use them as the Lord leads you.
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