Owe Nothing but to Love (Matthew 18:15-20)–Sunday, Sept 7, 2008

Love one another; not the easiest thing to do. In fact, I think I’d be safe in saying we have all come across one person or another we just didn’t “love”!


We sing the song:

“Yes, I love you with the love of the Lord. 
Yes I love you with the love of the Lord. 
I can see in you the glory of the King,
and I love you with the love of the Lord.” 

But, let’s be honest, quite often we’re just giving lip service. 


The word “Love” doesn’t always flow easily, and that is a good thing.  When we express “love” too easily it is often empty talk or something less godly.  But Jesus commands us—you and me—and Paul repeats, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

If I was really feeling ornery today I’d have you greet each other and say “I Love You”  Instead, we’ll look at these passages and talk about love and how love can exist, even in conflict.


If your brother sins against you.


This is a very small “IF”  Jesus could as easily have said, “when” your brother sins.  When your sister.  When your pastor.  When your elder sins against you. 


If your brother sins.  To what is Jesus referring? 


“What did it meant to sin against another person? The Semitic culture in the time of Jesus held honor in the highest esteem. Sin (hurting another) meant a loss of honor. For, sin had more social than psychological dimensions. In other words, one took offense if reputation was hurt, not just feelings.” 
(Larry Broding,


Some ancient manuscripts don’t have the words “against you.”  Without that phrase, Jesus could be referring simply to anyone who sins, to church discipline.  However, considering the context, and for the purpose of this message, we are dealing with the text as printed. 


When a brother sins against you.  We’ve all been sinned against at one time or another.    Think about your life.  Think about your relationships, especially those in the church.  Conflict will occur, just as morning follows night.  Someone will offend you at one time or another.  How can I be so sure?  Remember Paul’s testimony? 


“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members”(Romans 7:21-23).


Our very nature, imperfect but growing, sinful but redeemed, testifies that at some point we will either offend or be offended, sin or be sinned against.  It happens.  Don’t be surprised.


Most people tend to nurture wounds, to harbor hurts and offenses, rather than resolve them.  The people of Jesus’ day were no different.  They built alliances and broke relationships because of hurts and offenses, real or imagined, just as we.


So we know it will happen, and it does.  I’m upset and what do I do now?


Some people aren’t happy if they aren’t arguing.  It isn’t that they’re miserable.  In most cases it is a learned behavior, a mindset of being obstinate and argumentative. 


Jesus knows conflict will come and provides a pattern for resolution.  But this isn’t just a step-by-step process. Rather, the purpose of these instructions is to provide redemption and reconciliation, to show honor and love.


If I love my neighbor, it naturally follows that I will do what is best for him or her.  But instead I harbor grudges and anger, which only serve to divide church and separate me from God.  My wound festers and destroys my ability to glorify God in my own life.


Jesus teaches, “Go to your brother.”


Why do we avoid going to those who hurt us?  Some possibilities:

  • Pride:  if they don’t know what they did wrong, why should I tell them?
  • Justification:  I’m right.  Why should I make the first move?
  • Bitterness:  I can forgive, but I’ll never forget
  • Self:  It’s not my problem, it’s his or hers.

I can tell you my first inclination is to go to the person to let them know, in no uncertain terms, how badly they hurt me.  I want them to know just how guilty they are.  This is not a part of Jesus’ plan for resolution in the church.  Going to my brother or sister isn’t to be a blame-fest.  Before I go to my brother or sister, I must pray in my heart for the grace to extend the mercy and forgivesness I have received from God.


Consider Leviticus 19:17:  Do not hate your brother in your heart.  Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.


The purpose is healing of an argumentative spirit, to allow for reconciliation and peace in the body, in the family, in the community.  My purpose is to help my partner in conflict realize freedom and renewal.


Let me say here that many, if not most, church and family arguments actually occur because of a misunderstanding or misinterpretation.  Jesus tell us to first go to the individual.  Why?


  • We could be the one wrong in the situation.  The conversation may help me recognize that.
  • My “brother” may not even realize that he hurt me.  Speaking to him or her first protects his or her dignity.
  • My brother/sister may repent, change, and ask forgivness.  No one else needs to know about the conflict.

The law of love considers each person’s value in God’s sight, each person’s ability to contribute to the life of the body.  Giving one another the opportunity for restoration allows each of us to stand a little more confidently


If you can talk honestly and openly with your brother or sister, and the two of you can come to an agreement, you will have won your brother over.  You didn’t bully him into agreeing with you.  You showed him grace and mercy and love, which opened the door for him to reply in the same manner.


Unfortunately, not everyone will respond so well to an individual confrontation.  Jesus further instructs that if your brother doesn’t agree with you, bring someone else.


Please don’t bring an ally who totally agrees with you and wants to gang up on the other person.  This isn’t a wrestling federation.  Once again, this next step is meant to assist in the reconciliation process, not to encourage an all-out brawl.


The person to bring is a wise person, a mediator, someone who can listen to both sides and offer objective thought about the situation.  But we don’t want a mediator, we want a gladiator, some to champion our cause, our rights.  Nevertheless, involving the right third person brings another perception to the situation and makes me think through my opinions as well.


If your brother still does not listen, go to the church.  Now why would you tell the church?  Most likely Jesus refers to church leaders, and this would be in the case of church discipline, not just petty arguments.  But if a person refuses to stop causing conflict, we are to treat him like a tax collector or Gentile. 


This doesn’t sound like our Jesus, who is loving, forgiving, redeeming.  William Barclay has an idea about this: 

This, in fact, is NOT an injunction to abandon a man; it is a challenge to win him with the love which can touch even the hardest heart.  It is not a statement that some men are hopeless; it is a statement that Jesus Christ has found no man to be hopeless—and neither must we” (Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 189).


When I treat my brother as a Gentile or tax collector, I seek to show God’s love to someone outside the church, someone without an understanding of grace and forgiveness. 


Today’s passage, on its surface, doesn’t include much theology.  It seems to be a simple set of directions for resolving conflict in the church.  However, we’ve looked deeper into these passages and found the following truths:


  1. Conflict is inevitable in this imperfect, sin-marred world.
  2. God is a forgiving and loving God.  As those reflecting the image of Jesus Christ, we are called to reflect His grace as well.
  3. When we walk through our lives not only reflecting God’s grace, but letting it change who we are, we will “win” those with whom we have conflicts.  We won’t always win the fight!  But we will win his or her spirit through God’s love and grace.

May God bless you as you consider how you can bring peace and unity to Body of Christ in your community.


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