15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have
gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be
established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[f] in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
We are entering the Christmas season, a season of giving and good will, a reflection of the great gift of God to mankind when he incarnated himself in the form of a baby, Jesus, and took up residence on earth. This gift, however, kept on and keeps on giving.
Not only did Jesus grow up to pay the penalty for sin that every sinner deserves, a vile death on a cross, but he rose again and punctuated every example and teaching that he lovingly gave to all who would follow him. He proclaimed good news to the poor and oppressed. He healed and set people free! He left part of his divine self, the Holy Spirit, to continue his work, to indwell each person who would believe in him and trust his saving work on their behalf! These Spirit led believers thus make up Christ’s body left on earth, the church, who exist to bring God glory and honor for the sake of the world. What amazing gifts!
Christian community, the church, is a gift. Do you believe that? It’s not as cute as a baby Jesus in a nativity scene, but it’s God incarnate nonetheless. In Matthew 18, Jesus highlights the way community life, in Christ, should function. As children, dependent on a good Father, and with a healthy respect for sin, we look out for and care for one another. We gather in Jesus’ name, and he promises to join us, then in the flesh, now in the Spirit. We read Scripture together, wrestle with it, and apply it to our lives…TOGETHER. Inevitably, sin will be revealed. Jesus taught earlier in Matthew 7 that when this happens, first, you look at yourself and deal with the “plank in your own eye,” but not for your sake alone! You do that so that you can see clearly to remove the “speck in your brother’s eye.” This is a good way to live. You humbly care for one another, attacking sin together, aware you are forgiven only by the grace of God through Christ. This is a gift! Even when the defenses go up, Jesus keeps it fair. There is no place for false accusation in the church. Even if it comes to treating an unrepentant sinner like a Gentile or tax collector, this isn’t a license for cruelty. You treat them like any other non-believer, seeking to reconcile them to God with love.
The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his classic work, Life Together, put it this way…
Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the common life, is not the one who sins still a person with whom I too stand under the word of Christ? Will not another Christian’s sin be an occasion for me ever anew to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Therefore, will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches me that both of us can never live by our own words or deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 36)
As you think about gifts this season, will you thank God for the church? Will you treat your own sin with honesty and repentance? Will you care enough about your brother or sister to point out sin that is destructive or harmful and seek forgiveness together? Jesus longed for his followers to do life together, to draw out the best in one another, and in so doing to make Him known by our love.