“Let Us Be a Symphony”

Matthew 18:15-20

We are currently at a point in Jesus’ road trip to Jerusalem where He has taken some time out to address some personal needs of His disciples and followers. He has started the course “How to live in Christian community 101” from a Kingdom point of view. 

Jesus understood that His disciples still had more of a “world” view of things than a “kingdom” view. Especially when it comes to relationships with each other. Take last week’s question as an example. “Who is the greatest in God’s Kingdom? How does one get to be on top?” The words “greatest” and “on top” are not in God’s Kingdom vocabulary. Therefore, Jesus realized he had to provide some more instruction. 

Instruction that is still pertinent today. 

Last week Jesus gave strong warnings for those who choose not to listen to His words. His expectation is that His followers should be striving to be more like Him. He has been hanging around with them for the past two to three years demonstrating what it looks like. He is coming to the end of His personal involvement and it’s like He has upped the severity. He knows He is running out of time and He is desperate that His disciples understand how to live in community as followers of Jesus Christ. He also knows to do so is completely upside down from anything they have ever been taught. 

That is why He was sitting there with them. 

The first thing Jesus requests is that we become personally aware of our own character flaws. This was what He taught them back in chapter 7, verse 3,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

Now Jesus is going to teach them HOW to live in community as brothers and sisters of God’s family. 

It’s like, these are the rules at God’s house, let’s follow them. 

The first instruction Jesus provides is

“How to deal with sin in the Kingdom Community.”

If you think about it, if we could get this lesson right we would eliminate a lot of other problems before they even started. 

Notice Jesus doesn’t begin with the sinner. He starts with the person who has been sinned against. The one who has been hurt. 

Or, the one who sees the sin and cares enough to reach out and help the sinner. But, what Jesus asks the wounded person to do seems difficult if not impossible, if you ask me. 

The person who is hurt, the wounded one, is supposed to confront the one who hurt them, directly and tell them their fault? Alone? In the world, this would seem ludicrous. But remember, we are talking about the Kingdom Community. Not that everyone in the Kingdom Community behaves correctly but there are supposed to be different principles involved. 

The first overriding principle is that we are called to love each other, as God loves us. We are called to see each other as brothers and sisters of Christ. No one is higher or lower in God’s Kingdom. 

Colossians 3: 11

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

It is also important to notice that what Jesus is saying here is not written as a command. We read in Colossians chapter 3, verse 13, 

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Jesus’ instruction of confronting your brother or sister tells us that clearly there are some things that we should not just “drop the matter,” and go on. 

Let’s look at these two options more closely. 

The scenario is I have been sinned against, hurt in some way by a brother or sister in Christ. I can….

  1. Forgive that person, which means I drop the matter all together, and bear the hurt. I don’t hold onto bitterness, retaliate, gossip to others about the problem, or
  2. I go directly to the person and express my hurt, as if they are not aware of how their actions have affected me. 

Notice, regardless of which option we choose, we are not to start griping or gossiping to others, especially under the guise of “sharing a prayer request” or going to others to “seek counsel.” 

Either we take it to God and let it go or we take it directly to the person involved and seek restoration. 

Another significant point – the whole reason for going to the person directly is for “restoration,” not “confrontation.” The goal in mind is not to make sure the person understands just how bad a person they have been! It’s to restore the relationship and offer that person the opportunity to make things better, not to make them feel worse. 

Next comes the “if.” Notice Jesus wasn’t giving a prescription here. It’s not like you take this medication and it clears up the infection. We are dealing with human beings and human beings have the ability to make up their minds regardless if they listen to the Holy Spirit or not. Jesus doesn’t say the person has to agree with you or immediately repent. He says it is enough if the person “hears you.” 


To be heard. What an affirming action. 

With the word “if,” there are two options: 

  1. If the person DOES hear you, Jesus says you have gained two things. 
    1. The problem has been understood
    2. You’ve gained your relationship back without wronging that person in the process by going to others with gossip and hearing half the side of a dispute.

Now mind you, the problem may not be cleared up completely, but you have had your opportunity to be heard. Change takes time. Swallowing the “I hurt my brother or sister in Christ” pill is difficult. Just because we are all supposed to be working on our own personality flaws doesn’t mean we all do it the same way or in the same time period. Agreeing to disagree is an answer. 

The benefit is, the problem stays with the two of you. Is understood by the two of you and doesn’t escalate. 

Which brings us to the second option of “if.” 

  1. If the person does NOT hear you, more steps are necessary. 
  1. Don’t give up! Maybe the person has an issue with you? Find two or more people who you think the person might listen to and ask them to go with you. 

Remember, the goal is restoration, not proving which side is RIGHT. By taking two or three others with you the goal is to have both sides heard and come to a consensus. Again, it is important to have the agreement that love and community is what is at stake, not whether one person is right or wrong. One person feels “wronged’” so hearing it out is needed and understanding is how it is accomplished. 

  1. What if the person you are trying to share your grievance with just won’t budge? Refuses to listen to you, or other brothers and sisters in Christ? 
  2. Tell the church. This is where you bring the issue to the leadership of the church. They pray and seek guidance and approach the individual. Hopefully by this time the person recognizes their sin and is willing to work on it.
  3. But if the person still refuses to budge. As a last resort, Jesus said they are to be refused fellowship, 

“treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector,” 

As one who is not in the family of God. 

This is where it gets dicey. 

Okay, how does the Kingdom of God treat pagans and tax collectors? The answer is, 

  • With Love and Respect
  • Christians had relationships with pagans and tax collectors, they just weren’t allowed in the heart of their worship community. To be fair, the pagan and tax collector didn’t want to be there anyway. 
  • And just like with anyone outside the Kingdom, they would have treated them with a goal of bringing about full repentance and reconciliation. 


Jesus wants His disciples to understand the Kingdom of God is about reconciliation. Reconciliation between God and humans and reconciliation between humans and humans. No longer associating in community with the unrepentant sinner seems harsh but that is what the Kingdom of God is about… repentance.

Those of us who have had children will understand this correlation. Your child has obviously gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. Breakfast consists of nothing but complaints and arguments about what is being served and how badly it tastes. Not to mention the pokes and sneers given to siblings in between arguments. Turmoil builds until another sibling says something and a piece of toast becomes a flying projectile across the room, hitting you in the face. What is the first thing the parent says, “Time Out!” You go into this corner, you go into that corner and think about your behavior. Now we all know timeouts don’t always accomplish the goal for which they are intended, but I think you get the point. Life in the kingdom community is supposed to be uplifting, encouraging, supportive and the place we want to be a part of. When we become bent towards “hell” as Jesus might say, we lose sight of the blessings. 

Just as the child gets bent out of shape from lack of a good night’s sleep, they lose sight of the blessings. 

Ian is having his leg amputated because that is the only way to keep him alive and free from cancer. It’s harsh but it’s necessary. 

Discipline when done correctly is inherently loving. Discipline should be given in order to change a negative behavior to a positive behavior. By the time the church is involved, discipline is necessary. 

When a believer clings to their sin, Jesus calls us to cut off, or shun, or excommunicate them from the community of believers. Although it is not stated I would like to add, however, they continue to pray for them. 

Verse 18 then reads, 


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.

Jesus again uses Jewish sayings that would have been immediately understood by the Jewish listeners. “Binding and loosing” is originally a Jewish phrase used by rabbis and means that something could be forbidden or permitted by an indisputable authority. So, if one church banishes another believer for refusing to repent and they just go to another church, the banishment would still be binding in God’s eyes. 

Then we read exactly what the repentant is denied. 

They are denied the power and the blessing in fellowship of joining with other believers, verse 19 & 20,

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

The word “agree” in ancient Greek literally means, “to symphonize.” When two or more of the community of believers get together it is like a great orchestra made up of a number of musical instruments set to the same key, and playing the same tune. What a wonderful metaphor!

Jesus was telling His disciples and followers that when the hearts, desires, wishes and voices of two or more of them were praying to God it was like a symphony of beautiful music. 

Jesus also said

if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” 

If we were to take this statement literally everyone and his brother would be in church. We need to continue to consider the context in which it is written. This promise follows the statement of binding and loosing, which in turn refers to church discipline and the application of the disciple’s prayer of removing a believer from the community for a refusal to repent. 

Charles Spurgeon puts God’s answers like this: 

“Remember that God often hears the prayers of our prayers, and answers that rather than our prayers themselves.” 

Verse 20 has a meaning that many have missed. When we take this verse, 

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Out of context, as many have, me included, we come up with the idea that if two or more Christians are gathered Jesus is with them. Well, actually that is a no brainer. When one Christian is present, God is with them. You can add as many Christians as you want and God is still with them. 

Let’s look at this verse within its context to see what Jesus was really saying. Jesus wasn’t talking about God’s presence in believer’s gatherings, He was addressing sin and how believers where to handle conflicts with each other. 

By the time Jesus gets to verse 20, He is providing the church a procedure for dealing with discipline. He is providing clear and practical steps for church leaders to follow when difficult relational situations occur.  Verses 18-20 wraps up the instructions with remember, we follow the steps Jesus gives and leave the rest up to God. 

Again, the listeners would have known that Jesus was talking about church discipline. They would have had Deuteronomy 19:15-19 memorized and it would have immediately come to mind. Deuteronomy 19 states that two or three witnesses must agree to bring a legally binding charge against someone. It was the Old Testament law that protected the individual. One person could make up anything against you, but with more than one witness it was more difficult. Jesus was using part of an old law that was already a part of their existence to help them comprehend a kingdom way of living. 

If only we would follow this process. The Christian church would be a more welcoming place. People would feel a sense of security and hopefulness. 

Notice where Jesus puts Himself at the end of His instruction, “in the midst of them.” 

He’s not up front, He’s close to all who are there, near to every worshiper. Omnipresent, enlightening, strengthening, comforting and saving them, 

in perfect symphonic harmony. 

Let’s pray.