Matthew Chapter 18: Trespasses Against Us, Stumbling One Another, Wicked Servant

Dec 31st, 2009 | By | Category: Matthew, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Matthew Chapter 18: Trespasses Against Us, Stumbling One Another, Wicked Servant

Matt. 18:1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The disciples questioned Jesus: “Who will be greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” In other words, “What is the standard of rating? How do you determine the level of advancement in the Kingdom?”

Matt. 18:2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

Jesus did not answer immediately but beckoned “a little child” to come over to him. He set the young child in the midst of the disciples and began a discourse in answer to their query.

Matt. 18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Why did Jesus use the word “converted” here? Usually the word means that one consecrates and gives his heart to the Lord. However, the disciples had already forsaken their homes and occupations to become consecrated followers of Jesus. In fact, they had been following him for some time. Therefore, Jesus’ use of “converted” in this circumstance indicates that more is necessary than just the act of consecration; namely, the disciples had to change their present wrong attitude.

We are reminded of Jesus’ words at the time he prophesied of Peter’s three denials: “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). In other words, a real change or transformation of character is needed, not just mental assent at the time one makes a consecration.

Jesus used a young child as an illustration of this needed change. The child showed trustfulness, teachableness, and humility. Some nominal ministers use this illustration to give an entirely wrong slant, saying that a Christian does not need much knowledge, that all one has to say is, “I believe in the Lord Jesus”—words that even a child could utter “parrot” fashion. A simple belief like that of a child is all that is needed, they say.

After consecration, we must be “converted.” Teachableness, humility, and trust must abide in us if we would mature in Christlikeness. These traits were all implied by the child’s obeying and coming to Jesus when he called. True, Jesus called the disciples and they obeyed, requiring them to radically leave business and family, yet to grow into maturity as a Christian, they had to render complete submission and obedience to God’s Word and to His providences. Otherwise, the prize of the high calling would not be obtained. And the attitude of meekness and humility should be toward God and His will and Word, not toward others. Many are quite willing to be teachers and/or to give opportunities for service, but submission and obedience should be not to them but to the Lord.

We cannot even enter the “kingdom of heaven” unless we are “converted” and become like a child. Therefore, in this context, the Kingdom of heaven is limited to the Little Flock. Elsewhere the Kingdom of heaven sometimes includes the Great Company, as in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25). Since Jesus was addressing those who had already consecrated, he was referring to the Kingdom not in an embryonic sense but in the finished future sense beyond the veil, where only 144,000 will be in the Bride class.

Matt. 18:4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

What a simple but profound statement! We are not to render blind obedience, however, like a literal baby with no knowledge. If we want to be the greatest, we must humble ourselves the most, but understanding should accompany the humility. Paul’s humility was especially manifested in connection with his beseeching the Lord three times to remove the impediment to his eyesight. God replied, “My strength is made perfect in [your] weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Paul drew on this lesson with statements such as “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). In weakness, Christ becomes more manifest in the individual who is rightly exercised. If weakness was the cost of pleasing God, then Paul wanted to be the least, and he called himself weak on many occasions, whereas he was really the “chiefest” of the apostles (2 Cor. 11:5).

In our trials and experiences, we should keep trusting, be humble as a little child, and not get discouraged. If we were beaten with many stripes for witnessing and our back was very sore and inflamed, the persecuting experience would be apt to temporize or modify our speech and behavior when we went to another city, but not so with Paul. Although he repeatedly went through the threshing mill, he continued with great zeal. He was beaten to the point of death with 39 stripes several times, stoned, etc., but nothing could dampen his ardor. He retained the attitude of childlike obedience, faith, and trust in God. And so it should be with us—persecution should increase our zeal, faith, trust, and obedience.

Matt. 18:5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

How easy it would be to take this verse out of context and teach infant baptism or that the simplicity of faith only requires one to say, “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” and he is saved.

To say we do not have to know much of truth is wrong. Truth is necessary and needful. When Jesus made this statement, he probably demonstrated by some action or movement that he was not really talking about the young child. He likened the child to one young in the truth, to a believer who is amenable to the truth and is looking for help, instruction, and comfort. The lesson was not that we should be children in knowledge.

Paul gave a proper slant: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men” (1 Cor. 14:20). Under normal circumstances, children do not have prejudices or a malicious or malevolent attitude. They are not troubled with race, religion, or politics.

Thus Jesus probably pointed to the child at first, but then abstractly spoke to the apostles with a manner, posture, or look to indicate that the child represented one who, in childlike trust, is searching after God or, having found Him, is desiring guidance and instruction. We are very responsible for how we treat such “children.” To “receive” one such little child means to be kind to and recognize him as a brother and to lay down our life for him. Acts of kindness are a means of “receiving.”

Others have made a consecration outside of the Bible Student movement, yet some think dispensational truth is necessary today in order to really be one of the Lord’s little ones. This attitude (of denying Spirit begettal in Babylon) could keep one from “receiving” a “little child” and thus from “receiving” Jesus in this instance.

There are two aspects of “receiving.” One aspect pertains to the initial receiving (that is, of consecration itself), and the other is a progressive condition of receiving one at any time in his consecrated walk. Here Jesus was showing the principle of dealing with others whom the Lord may actually recognize. If we do not receive them, we are in jeopardy. When Paul persecuted Christians, he thought he was doing God’s will, and when correction came, he immediately received it. In inflicting injury and harm on professed followers of Christ, Paul was really doing it to Jesus. Hence the risen Lord said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4).

The simple lesson is that we should be very careful in dealing with other people, especially those who demonstrate dedication to the Lord—whether they are first coming into our company or have been in our company for some time. Such should be treated with “family” (brotherly) respect, all things being equal. Even in present truth, there are degrees of development, but there can be progress and growth. Therefore, if someone does not believe the doctrine of the presence, we should not disparage him. It is one thing when we are established and then retrogress in doctrine such as the presence, which may or may not portend serious problems, but when one is a child and growing, that is another matter.

Matt. 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me.” Here Jesus qualified what kind of “child” he was talking about: a believer.

In what way would it be better to have a millstone hung around the neck and be thrown into the depth of the sea than to “offend one of these little ones”? To “offend” means to hurt or lead astray spiritually so that the individual goes into Second Death. The party who does the offending will also go into Second Death. Under the Law, one who was involved in a crime was as guilty as the one who actually committed the crime; both got the full penalty. Therefore, verse 6 is not a reference to hurting one’s feelings. If we went through life never hurting anyone’s feelings, not only would we be perfect gentlemen (or ladies), but we would not speak much truth because we would always be compromising lest we step on someone’s toes.

An example of incurring guilt in “offending” a little one would be to say of an individual who had earlier professed consecration, “I do not think he is consecrated. He did not know what he was doing. His consecration was not accepted.” To take this attitude and reason thus, only more firmly establishes the individual in a direction away from the Lord. Such a one could go into Second Death, and we would be responsible.

A middle-aged woman who had consecrated many years earlier and been among the brethren for a number of years eventually left the way of truth. In time, however, she came into a room where three brethren were assembled. The woman said she felt the Lord had never accepted her consecration because she did not know what she was doing at the time. Two of the brethren present commiserated with her and agreed that was quite possible. Unfortunately, those two brethren were actually strengthening her hand in an evil situation, making her retrieval more and more unlikely. In comforting her, they established her in error. It is better to err the other way around. If we encourage one to come back who never really was consecrated, no harm is done, but to encourage one who was truly consecrated that she was not, would bring a stiff penalty on both the individual and the one giving such advice. As to the degree of culpability of those who commiserated with the woman in this case, the Lord will have to judge. At any rate, verse 6 indicates that if we are the cause of the original offense—if we cause someone to go out of the truth—we incur the full Second Death penalty, as does the individual who is thus prevented from later coming back.

If others were present in such a situation—some who were newly consecrated and thus without established characters—and heard the bad advice that possibly the Lord had not accepted the consecration, wrong seed thoughts would be sown in their minds. A bad climate would be created that could later result in their giving up the narrow way when persecutions, trials, and besetments became severe. Anyone who gives such wrong advice is very culpable— and yet might be completely unaware of his jeopardy. The Old Testament teaches that ignorance is no excuse.

If we compare and contrast verses 5 and 6, both are serious. It is serious (1) to fail to “receive” one who is consecrated and (2) to “offend” one who is consecrated.

For one to have a millstone placed about his neck and then be cast into the sea means that not only would he die, but also a stigma would be attached to his death. He would be regarded as anathema. From one standpoint, that would be a horrible death (unless, of course, the individual died for the truth), but it would not be as horrible as going into Second Death because the one with the millstone would get a resurrection.

Here in verse 6 is a brother who offended one of the “little ones” and did not have a noose put around his neck. In fact, nothing seemed to be happening. He did not go through any trauma, and he might even have forgotten that he offended one of the consecrated. Nevertheless, that individual will go into Second Death—which is worse than having the trauma and experience of being cast into the sea with a millstone about the neck. One can be oblivious to the offense he has caused and still not get a resurrection.

Q: In regard to causing one to stumble, would the degree of willfulness and knowledge be a factor? There would be responsibility no matter what, but would the punishment be the same in every case? Could someone actually go into Second Death if he caused another to depart from consecration out of ignorance or without intention?

A: If someone completely forsakes his consecration and another brother has created the climate and condition that caused the departure, the party who departed would definitely go into Second Death. As for the brother who caused the offense, the Lord will have to judge, for there is another aspect. Sometimes one who reneges on his vows falsely blames another brother or sister. Just because a statement is made does not make it true. Thus it is from the Lord’s standpoint that culpability is determined. Some can take a statement and enlarge it to such an abnormal extent that they truly believe (falsely) that another is responsible for the situation at hand.

John 10:29 states, “No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” If one is “offended” so that he goes into Second Death, that individual would have failed anyway—if not for one reason, then for another. In other words, we can take ourselves out of the Father’s hand, but none can pluck us out if we are trying to obey. Nevertheless, responsibility is incurred by the one who causes the stumbling. Those who go into Second Death will be fully responsible themselves for having ended up with that fate, but if the Lord feels that another was responsible as the instrument of that failure, as the active agent of that deflection, then that individual would incur the same Second Death penalty. He would be considered a partner to the crime, even if he was oblivious to his role.

One who has a disposition to “offend” (such as excusing errant behavior among the professedly consecrated with statements like “Oh, he did not understand consecration”) tends to hurt not just one but several or many brethren. Those words should not be used because none of us can read another’s heart.

At any rate, there are degrees of culpability. Only God knows the full situation and, therefore, can judge one’s destiny for “offending” another Christian. However, in verse 6, the Lord is certainly emphasizing the importance of our dealing with others. Verse 6 does not mean we cannot say something to hurt somebody’s feelings. Jesus “offended” the scribes and Pharisees in that sense and even rebuked the disciples (for example, “O ye of little faith”). Thus there are hurt feelings in the Church in daily behavior. Verse 6 is referring to a much more serious offense.

We should exercise extreme caution with others. Jesus was warning us to be careful—to deal with others only from a proper Scriptural perspective.

A “millstone” is a large, heavy, circular stone with a hole in the center. There are usually two stones, an upper and a lower stone. The upper stone turns to crush the grain.

Although the thought was somewhat stated earlier, it is worth repeating. Those who would literally drown another with a millstone are, in effect, dramatizing that they do not want to see or hear of that individual ever again. They want the corpse to remain glued to the sea bottom forever. Thus the victim is stigmatized. However, it is better to be wrongly stigmatized in this manner and ultimately get a resurrection than to not get life because of spiritually injuring a consecrated one.

The Diaglott interlinear reads, “Who but ever may insnare one of the little-ones these, of the believing into me, it is appropriate to him, that should be hung a millstone upper on the neck of him, and he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.” It is such a serious offense to ensnare one of these little ones that the offender deserves to be quickly drowned in the sea with a millstone around his neck. This thought, which is different from the one presented earlier, has some merit. If accurate, the word “better” in the King James Version is not used in a comparative sense. The Lord has such a distaste for one who would stumble a “little one” that His desire is to peremptorily or abruptly drown the offender with a millstone. However, sometimes an enemy of the truth is kept on the scene as a means of testing the brethren. The same principle applies to Satan. Certainly Satan is very obnoxious and distasteful in the Lord’s sight, but he was not dealt with expeditiously because he unwittingly performs a service: the trial and testing of particularly the consecrated in present or past ages.

Matt. 18:7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!

“Woe unto the world because of offences!” Jesus even brought the world into this picture.

“Offences” are snares, traps, misrepresentations, persecutions, etc. Nero is an example of one in the world who caused “offences” to Christians. He and others in this category have accrued great responsibility. We do not know the degree of light Nero had with regard to Christianity, but he was certainly guilty just from a humanitarian standpoint. He was responsible for making human torches for his gardens. Offenses by the world are permitted to come on the consecrated for the development, growth, and proving of faith. However, even though it is necessary for the Christian to experience offenses, woe to the one who causes them.

If the “world” is considered from the standpoint of the present age at the First Advent, then Jesus probably had Judas in mind when he uttered these words. “Woe to that man [Judas] by whom the offence cometh!” Otherwise, the “world” would be especially the so-called Christian world. Jesus repeated these words at the Last supper, and Judas even asked, “Master, is it I?” (Matt. 26:24,25). Jesus replied, “Yes.” Judas subsequently went into Second Death, for he was fully responsible.

If it is “woe” to the world for offenses committed and the penalty will be very heavy and serious, then the inference is that for a believer to be involved in such a circumstance would bring an even greater damnation. In any age—past, present, or future—the instrument who caused the offense, but not necessarily the victim who was “offended” (persecuted, etc.), will receive much harm. Consider Judas (the offender) versus Jesus (the one offended), not to mention all those put to death for religious reasons in the early Church and during the Dark Ages. The same principle applies in regard to being a teacher: “Be not many masters [teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation [judgment]” (James 3:1). A teacher incurs great responsibility.

Jesus was saying, “Woe to the one who causes the offense!” He knew that he would be the victim of the offense and that Judas would cause it. In this case, the victim went into death, but the instrument of offense went into Second Death. Verse 6, which mentions the millstone, refers to greater culpability and thus Second Death. Thus there are variables in the lesson of offending, but all are somber and serious. To offend a young or little one not yet established in the truth— one especially liable to depart from the way—brings Second Death to the offender. However, the victim does not always go into Second Death.

A young or “little one” is more apt to be offended and thus forsake his consecration, thereby going into Second Death. On the other hand, one who is more established and mature may be offended so that he dies, but because he has a sufficiently developed character, he will die as a martyr and thus prove faithful as an overcomer (either Little Flock or Great Company).

Consider the Great Company class. Their schooling and testing take place now, in the present life. Therefore, to get life at all, the consecrated must be developed at least to a minimum standard in the present life. All of the consecrated who get life in either the Little Flock or the Great Company must be overcomers—even if the Lord has to take them out as a scapegoat into the wilderness. They must not deny the Lord. Hence there must be progress to a certain level even to get life. The term “little one” refers to one who has not yet matured sufficiently to get life. It is not an excuse to say of one who professed consecration and then departed from the way, “He did not know what he was doing.” When a person gets married, he really does not know what he is doing either, but the marriage vows are binding (or should be). No one knows what lies ahead with either consecration or marriage. However, in both cases, a person knows he has made a decision. The future is unknown, but the “contract” has been signed. Having made the commitment, we must abide by it and accept the responsibility. Otherwise, we are behaving like the children of Israel who said they wanted to return to the leeks and garlic of Egypt.

Paul said, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). Paul was showing that there has to be a minimum level of character formation in Christ-likeness in order to get life even in the Great Company.

The paragraph mark at verse 7 was improperly inserted, for Jesus made this statement on the same occasion as verses 1-6. There are times when Jesus spoke on two occasions on the same subject, giving a more elaborate discourse on one of those occasions, but that was not the case here. Matthew frequently extracted statements from several different occasions and combined them as if they were all spoken at the same time setting. His purpose in collecting statements of our Lord and putting them in one harmonious theme was to show how Jesus reasoned. On the whole, the other Gospel writers were more accurate chronologically.

Matt. 18:8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.

Matt. 18:9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

It is better to be “halt or maimed” in the present Christian life than to go into Second Death (“everlasting fire,” ”hell fire”—Gehenna). When necessary, we should suffer limitations lest we incur the full penalty.

Earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, the right hand and right eye were specified (Matt. 5:29,30).

Here there is no restriction as to which hand, foot, or eye. In Matthew 5, the thought was that our best time, ability, desire, etc., should not be used to serve the old man. Matthew 18:8,9 is a broader statement to the effect that if any quality in us is capable of causing offense, we must get rid of it by doing something drastic.

Verses 8 and 9 also show that the Lord enlightens an individual as to the trend of character he has, what it might lead to, and how he has to curb himself. For example, consider James and John, who wanted the Master to grant permission for fire to come down from heaven to destroy the Samaritans, who were not receptive to Jesus on the way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:54).

However, Jesus rebuked James and John and said they were of the wrong spirit. He called attention to a trend of character that if it were not schooled in the future, it could be damaging not only to others but also to themselves. Thus Jesus enlightened them as to a weakness.

The clause “if thy hand or thy foot offend thee” shows that the individual realizes he has this offensive trait, which is not a lack of cultural refinement but an ingrained character fault or defect, such as a spirit of envy, malice, pride, etc., that must be uprooted. The consecrated individual is aware that he has this wrong spirit, but it has not yet “matured” to offend someone else, one of the “little ones.”

The Pastor wrote a number of articles where he selected a trait such as pride or jealousy and said that if this trait was not curbed, it could lead to Second Death. At first, such a statement might seem harsh, but it is not harsh in light of Scriptures like verses 8 and 9. Wrong traits, if governed under the Holy Spirit, can be beneficial, for then the “fire” is directed into useful channels.

There are distinctions between “eye,” “hand,” and “foot,” as follows:

1. The “eye” represents the intellect, the mind, and what goes into the mind. Wrong suggestions that enter the mind along the lines of envy, lust, pride, jealousy, earthly pleasure, etc., must be dealt with.

2. The “hand” signifies service, activity, employment (both in secular work and for the Lord), hobbies, etc. We are to do with our might what our hand finds to do in proper areas (Eccl. 9:10).

3. The “foot” represents our walk and conduct in life, the choosing of paths to take. We make decisions as to what direction our feet will go. We are to direct our feet toward a goal that is heavenward, for “evil communications corrupt good manners [conduct]” (1 Cor. 15:33). If we know we are going into a nest of trouble where we will be tempted, it is our feet that take us there. Therefore, we must make a decision: will we go there anyway or somewhere else? We should choose a path that circumvents the evil. Jesus went among sinners but always kept himself separate and distinct. He preached to publicans and sinners but remained separate. Paul said, “See then that ye walk circumspectly … Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15,16). And he advised, “Make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way” (Heb. 12:13).

Matt. 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

Verse 10 is related to verse 5, where Jesus said, “If you receive one of these little ones, you are really receiving me.” Now he said, “If you despise one of these little ones, you are really despising the Father.” If the Father is so solicitous of the welfare of these little ones, then the party who injures a little one affects the Father and His feelings. The same principle operates in both verses.

Verse 10 is helpful in an entirely different way too. It reveals that each consecrated Christian has more than one angel watching over and guarding him. If the guardian angel were always in heaven beholding the face of the Father, then he could not be down here superintending the providences of his assigned individual. Therefore, at least two angels (and probably more) are watching over each consecrated one. The angel in heaven, as the guardian angel, has the chief responsibility. Several angels, or “spiritual body guards,” are assigned to each individual, and one of these, the guardian angel, is appointed to be in charge and make decisions. This latter angel is responsible to the Father to make sure things are done properly.

Another Scripture seems to indicate that each Christian has only one angel, but the statement is based on the thinking of the other disciples at the time Peter was in prison (Acts 12:1-16). James had just been beheaded, and Peter was scheduled for beheading the next day. The disciples prayed into the wee hours of the morning. When an angel appeared unto Peter and released him, the apostle went to the house where the others were praying. Peter knocked on the door, and Rhoda answered and then ran to tell the others with great joy. When she announced, “It is Peter!” the others thought she had seen his guardian angel (singular). However, this statement was just part of the narration of a historical event and was not a doctrine being taught.

Satan concentrates more on certain individuals than others. Consider what Jesus said about Peter, who was a natural-born leader: “Satan has desired to sift you” (Luke 22:31). Satan knew that if he could get Peter to fall, many others would fall with him because of his influence. And it may not always be that an individual is so important. Rather, the circumstance and the effect that circumstance would have on the Lord’s people could be what is important. Or a very humble brother could be doing something very critical in nature that the Lord does not want disturbed. It could be that rain will not be allowed to fall on a certain day lest the circumstance be interfered with and, of course, the individual. Thus even the weather can be influenced because of the crucial nature of something that is to happen. (We are not referring to a convention, for example, but to something crucial.) And the Lord could intervene so that a certain decision will not be made. The point is that there is always a sufficient number of angels available to assist an individual in a given situation, even if that assistance requires activity in several areas.

Each consecrated child of God receives round-the-clock surveillance and supervision from the angels assigned to him, collectively speaking. The angels take turns or have “shifts” to work, for they need to eat, rest, relax, etc. They need times of recuperation and rest from watching the sinful earth. Thus there is a “changing of the guard,” as it were. Even though the guardian angel also needs to eat, rest, and sleep, he is like an office supervisor who goes on vacation but appoints someone to be in charge while he is away. The guardian angel has the responsibility to see that matters are adequately handled in his absence. The emphasis in this setting is to show the sensitivity of the Father and of Jesus toward these little ones—how highly they regard the consecrated and how much displeased they are with those who offend these little ones.

Jesus could have had 12 legions of angels assist him if he had so prayed (Matt. 26:53). Since a “legion” consisted of somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 men, Jesus could have had at least (12 x 3,000) 36,000 angels. Why 12 legions? Perhaps it was to show that all of the spiritual “tribes” would subsequently have angels to guard them.

Extra help was needed to answer Daniel’s prayer (Dan. 10:13). Gabriel was withstood by the “prince of Persia” (Satan) for 21 days until Michael came to help him. This incident shows that adversarial spirit powers are in tartaroo (around earth’s atmosphere). Even though limited to a certain condition or place (a “prison”), the fallen angels exercise great malevolent powers. It is like a Mafia member in prison who continues to manage with authority an illegal operation on the outside.

To us, 21 days (three weeks) is a long period of time, and Daniel fasted for three weeks just to get an understanding of a prophecy. For Gabriel to not come to Daniel for 21 days seems like an inordinate amount of time from our standpoint, but this incident reveals that angelic time is different from ours. Time is relative, so a long time to us is a short time to angels. A thousand years are as a day in God’s sight, and yet, if He so desires, a day can be a thousand years; that is, God can do many things in a short period of time, and He also does things over a long concept of time from our standpoint. Thus 21 days could be like 21 minutes to the angels. When the angels watch an individual from birth to maturity and old age and death, it may be like watching a flower that perishes overnight, whereas to us, it is 80 years.

Matt. 18:11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

Verse 11 is probably spurious, but the thought is proper because of the next verse. Perhaps that is why it was interpolated.

Matt. 18:12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?

A paragraph mark should have been inserted at verse 12, for Jesus said this on another occasion. In this parable, the shepherd momentarily leaves the 99 sheep in a relatively safe position and goes into the mountains to find the one sheep that is lost. The implication is that the search entails some difficulty. The shepherd takes great pains to retrieve that one sheep by going into rugged terrain. An artist usually shows the one sheep hanging over a precipice and the shepherd reaching down and embracing that sheep and pulling it up to safety.

The shepherd is Jesus. Even from the natural standpoint, much emotion is involved—that a shepherd would temporarily leave the 99 sheep to retrieve the one that is lost. Of course the shepherd is still concerned about the 99 sheep, but they are in relative peace and quiet.

The lesson is that Jesus, as the Shepherd, is concerned for the straying “sheep” and does not just write it off as lost right away. Many might rationalize on the difficulty involved in trying to find the one lost sheep, plus the jeopardy to the 99 left behind, and thus not go to recover the lost sheep, but this situation should not be rationalized. It is like a drowning person yelling, “Help!”

A rescue attempt should be made immediately. Rationalizing takes up valuable time, and the person could drown.

This lesson is being treated from an emotional, not an intellectual, standpoint. The concern of the Shepherd for that one “little one” is the emotional lesson and relationship. If a little one, no matter how feebly and plaintively, cries out emotionally in a prayer for help and deliverance, the Shepherd will respond. This lesson is intended to pull at the heart strings, for it shows the care and interest of God (the Great Shepherd) and Jesus (the Good Shepherd) in the sheep. It is their desire that not one be lost.

The significance of the 100 sheep is shown in Luke 15:4,5, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” On the highest level, there was a time when all of God’s creation was perfect in heaven and in earth. Then came sin on this planet, the one place where sin has occurred. God’s will has always been done in heaven. Thus the “100” sheep represent the period of time of perfection and purity of all things. When the earthly domain went astray, the 99 still remained perfect. In time, Jesus came to earth to rescue man, and he will ultimately bring the race back to the fold.

Matthew 18:12 has a little different emphasis in regard to the 100 sheep. The setting starts with the sin-cursed earth instead of showing deterioration from perfection. The “100” picture the pure Church in the beginning of the Ephesus period, collectively speaking, before leaven was introduced. (Judas was lost prior to Pentecost, so when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and later to Cornelius, the Church was pure and wholesome.) In the Matthew 18:10 context, Jesus was speaking emotionally from the standpoint of sympathy and showing God’s great concern for the sheep.

Matt. 18:13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.

If so be that he [Jesus] find it [the one lost sheep]” indicates that one might not be recovered.

Of course not finding the straying sheep would not be due to the inability of the Shepherd. One can go so far astray that recovery is impossible. There eventually comes a “point of no return” when one departs from the Lord and resists recovery and helpful providences. When the “sin unto death” is committed, rescue is impossible (Psa. 19:13). David prayed to be kept back from “the great transgression,” from which there is no possibility of extrication or retrieval. At that point, we are no longer to pray for the individual who has committed the sin unto Second Death.

This parable is an emotional theme regarding the great concern for even one straying sheep. Unfortunately, many go astray, and some to Second Death. The Great Company is included in this lesson, as well as the Little Flock and a Second Death class. One can momentarily fall and then be retrieved and energized either for the Great Company or the Little Flock, although generally speaking, those who stray and return would be the Great Company. The issue is life, and one would be rescued from the possibility of loss of life.

It seems contrary to reason to say there is more rejoicing over the one sheep that is found than over the 99 who never went astray. Actually, the 99 are more important than the one, but the parable states the matter in a way that will get the principle across. (The principle is the same with the prodigal son.) The one who strayed could have forever jeopardized his opportunity for the Little Flock, although his recovery would give him life in the Great Company.

Therefore, there would be more rejoicing over those who did not stray and made their calling and election sure. In other words, Jesus used this extraordinary illustration to emphasize his point. The rejoicing would be relatively momentary, for it would occur at the time of retrieval. Naturally, there is a more continuous joy for the ones who never go astray and make the Little Flock.

Matt. 18:14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

Taken out of context, verse 14 could be erroneously used to teach universal salvation. Instead, and in harmony with the lesson, this verse would be very encouraging if we found we had strayed. It shows that the Father wants very much to help us.

Why did Jesus use the phrase “even so”? In verse 13, Jesus, “the shepherd,” rejoiced over the recovered one, for he sought that which was lost. Verse 14 is saying that in a similar manner, the Father is concerned. While Jesus personally rejoices in the rescue of a straying sheep, the Father is also pleased.

The relationship and close affinity of Jesus and the Father are incomparable. In fact, Jesus has so much respect for the Father that he continually mentioned the Father in his teaching, looked heavenward, etc. Before accepting adulation, Jesus wanted all to know that the source of his power was the Father. A very tender relationship exists between them. No wonder Jesus can be trusted not only with the divine nature but also with every knee bowing to him and every tongue confessing (ultimately) that he is Lord. The Father and the Son have the utmost confidence in each other, and Jesus can, therefore, be trusted with a high degree of adulation.

Why is the same expression used in verses 10 and 14: “Father which is in heaven”? The expression shows the source whence salvation comes. The Luke 15 account states that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents and is found. In the Matthew 18 account, the Son comes down and the action is here, but the feeling of all the drama is heaven-oriented.

Q: What is our responsibility as brethren to try to recover one who has gone astray?

A: That would depend on the circumstances and the degree of going astray. For example, Jude made a distinction in showing two classes who go astray. A serious effort is made to rescue one of those classes, but the second class is another matter. How do we know one who has gone into the Second Death category? This class is not to be prayed for; hence this class can be seen (1 John 5:16). However, many refuse to recognize the Second Death class because they are more noble than the instructions of God’s Word. On the one hand, we must be careful not to shirk the responsibility of trying to rescue a brother, and on the other hand, we must not be overly sympathetic. If God and Jesus are interested, then certainly we should be too—within Scriptural guidelines and definitely in prayer. If someone stops attending meetings and we do not really know what is occupying his time, it is always good to invite him home for a little supper and/or fellowship to create a relaxed atmosphere that is conducive to one-to-one talking. That is one suggestion. But if gross sin has been committed and no repentance follows, there can be no close fellowship. We are to reason on each issue as to the degree of involvement in sin. Concern is in order unless the matter is irretrievable.

In trying to retrieve one enmeshed in sin, we must be careful even of the garment (Jude 23). Sometimes all efforts to communicate are rebuffed. Even in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father did not go to the son until he saw the son coming home in a repentant attitude (Luke 15:11-32). Then the father ran to the son, whose first words were, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before [against] you.” Just remember, the Father is always interested in our welfare—even if it seems that the brethren are not.

Matt. 18:15 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.

Some very important principles are enunciated in verses 15-20. However, before the subject can be reasoned on with regard to principle, certain primary things, certain contingencies, should be noticed.

“If your brother trespasses against you….” This is a trespass by a consecrated individual against you personally, so both trespasser and victim are consecrated. Also, the trespass is against you (and not against another party or against God). Therefore, Matthew 18:15-17 cannot be used as a formula to cure all situations. Some brethren incorrectly use these verses like a Band-Aid® for all kinds of wounds.

The victim goes to the perpetrator alone to voice his grievance. Notice, the Scripture does not say, “If you think your brother has trespassed against you.” This is a real trespass, not an imagined one, and it is serious enough not to be overlooked. This would not be a rumor, for instance, for all down the age, Christians have been evilly spoken of. This trespass would be doing damage to you personally, so you would want to have the matter resolved before it deepened into an irreparable scar incapable of healing.

This trespass would not be against God, for in such a case, the matter would be handled differently (see 1 Corinthians 5); the victim would not go to the party alone. Matthew 18:15-17 pertains to an individual trespass, one against the other. With both parties being consecrated, they are equal before the brethren. If the accused says, “I did not do that” or “Bro. A is telling a falsehood,” it is a one-against-one situation. That is why one or two witnesses are called in the next step (verse 16). Other consecrated one(s) are needed to see if the stated facts are really accurate.

“If he shall hear thee” means that the trespasser not only will admit to the action but also will agree that he misbehaved on that occasion and says, “I am sorry.”

Q: When one is publicly slandered (that is, before others) and the victim sooner or later, depending on the circumstances, goes to the perpetrator but the perpetrator refuses to hear him, should the victim take one or two witnesses and continue to follow the steps in Matthew 18:15-17?

A: No, because this is a public trespass before many brethren (witnesses).

Q: Why would one brother slander another brother and not apologize when the trespass is pointed out?

A: For one thing, each one feels superior to the other—that is part of human nature. The tendency is to feel that our own reasoning on a given subject is superior to the reasoning of those who differ. Sometimes the evidence is so overwhelming that we know we are right, and Paul did say to speak with a “trumpet” (with distinction) and not be wobbly. However, there are other matters we should not be dogmatic on. Then, too, especially if a brother is esteemed, the temptation is even greater to always think he is right. Incidentally, the ones who hear a slanderous remark being made have a responsibility.

Paul rebuked Peter before all for dissembling from the table. If Paul had waited and gone privately to Peter afterwards, untold injury would have been done, for the others who had witnessed Peter’s action would have returned to their respective ecclesias thinking he was right in refusing to eat with Gentiles. “Dissembling,” or dissimulation, meant that Christian Jews made a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, whereas Paul correctly taught that in the body of Christ, there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, Jew nor Gentile, for all are one. James and Peter were very highly respected by the brethren, so it was essential that Paul give a public rebuke for Peter’s dissembling. However, on another occasion, pertaining to the same issue, Paul went privately to the apostles lest they be stumbled. Paul had been teaching on this subject, and since others had trouble seeing that the Christian was not under the Law, he went to them as individuals. But that situation was different. When the issue occurred right in front of him, he had to act immediately.

From the platform today, the thought is often presented that we forgive—period! It is not mentioned that a rebuke followed by repentance precedes the forgiveness. The philosophy of love and forgiveness is generally not understood among the brethren. We should not be fearful to take a stand. We should not fear being thought of as critical or siding with somebody. We should not be fearful of disrupting fellowships or opportunities of service.

If a wrong comment is made, we can go to the brother and ask, “Did I hear you correctly?”

Sometimes we do not have to ask, for we know the statement was wrong, since it was backed up by two or three examples. Incidentally, those who are in a position of influence (such as money, education, or reputation) sometimes treat others not similarly circumstanced as inferior, even though the latter are well versed in Scripture.

This whole subject of forgiveness should be studied and discussed in depth by the brethren, for many times it is said from the platform, “We should never rebuke!” Then Matthew 18:21,22 is quoted to forgive “seventy times seven.” And the problem is that we cannot raise a furor with the speaker in the middle of a convention. Perhaps there is an intermission of only ten minutes (after the hymn and prayer), which is not enough time to talk to the brother alone. At other times, the brother may be waiting in the food line with his family, so there are all kinds of complications. Nevertheless, one way or another, we should alert the brother to the error he just uttered, and that is about all we can do.

In previous times, it was permissible to interrupt a sermon or discourse for purposes of clarification: “Brother, did I understand you to say such and such?” “Would you mind repeating that, please.” At least today we should have a question period either following each discourse or following all of the discourses. To just go alone to the speaker afterwards does not allow the others who heard the discourse to benefit from the correction and/or questioning.

In summary, there are circumstances when we should go to the brother alone, and there are times when we should speak immediately, in situ and on the occasion the remark is made, before all who are present.

Matt. 18:16 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.

Notice that the one or two witnesses do not go with the purpose of correcting the perpetrator.

They go to see whether the brother who feels he was victimized is stating the matter truthfully.

Thus the witnesses do not prejudge the situation, for how would they know beforehand that the supposed victim was telling the truth?

The victim should try to take independent witnesses who know nothing about the matter and thus do not have a prejudiced mind, witnesses who are respected by both parties. The witnesses go with the intent of seeing whether the accusation is correct. Only if the trespass is deemed worthy of pursuing would the witnesses go to the perpetrator. Moreover, this trespass or grievance should be a recent incident, something pertinent to current conditions, as opposed to something that has been harbored for years.

First, the one or two witnesses listen to the alleged victim to hear what the grievance is. If it is a trivial matter, the witnesses would nip the matter in the bud, and it would be dropped. But if the accusation is judged worthy of attention if it be true, then the witnesses go to hear the alleged perpetrator’s side of the story. If the witnesses find the accusation is true—that the victim has been injured and has stated the case fairly (not exaggerating it)—they would try to help the perpetrator to see the error of his way. However, the witnesses do not start out with that motive, for at first, they do not know who is right. (Some claim injury when it is really a figment of their imagination.)

If the perpetrator will not acknowledge his error and the matter is sufficiently serious, it must be called to the attention of the ecclesia. This error would not be just a little dig or an impulsive statement, but perhaps it is a statement or action that has really adversely affected the ministry or influence of the injured party. In that case, the incident would be of a serious nature.

Incidentally, there are all kinds of rare situations. Matthew 18:15-17 is like a test case. The Law in the Old Testament makes a statement of God’s will or commandment and then gives two or three test cases. These test cases do not fit every condition perfectly, but they provide the gist of God’s thinking. A sufficient number of examples are presented so that when a peculiar case arises, we can adapt our thinking to what the overall Scriptural viewpoint would be.

“Take with thee one or two more [witnesses].” Sometimes it is advisable to have three witnesses, but it may also be impossible to take more than one other witness because of rural conditions, paucity of brethren, etc. At any rate, if the victim takes one or two witnesses with him, then he has a total of two or three witnesses. At least two witnesses are essential to decide an important issue (see Deut. 19:15); this procedure eliminates prejudice.

Luke 17:3 might seem to be a contradiction: “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” Matthew 18:15 says, “Go and tell him his fault … alone,” whereas Luke 17:3 says, “Rebuke him.” The purpose of going to the brother alone is to try to persuade him in a friendly manner and thus resolve the issue without either party being injured further. However, Luke 17:3 calls for open rebuke. Thus the two treatments are different: secretiveness versus open rebuke. The difference is a time element, and there are several incidents in Scripture. When a brother trespasses against a brother, the most effective method of correction is immediately, right then and there, not later. Suppose the injury is a false accusation, and it is done openly before others. Some who would never gather with those brethren again might hear the remark. Therefore, to wait and later go to the brother alone would do irreparable damage (unless, of course, the victim also later went to each one who had attended that meeting, which is absurd and would make him appear to be a troublemaker).

Silence at the time such a remark is made would imply the false accusation is partly or wholly true.

A trespass is committed in two ways: (1) in the victim’s presence or (2) at a meeting where the victim is not present but hears of the remark later. If the trespass occurs in his presence, it is best to do the rebuking immediately so that the witnesses will know he is not consenting to the false accusation. Then, when the witnesses depart for home, even if they do not know the whole matter, they will at least be aware that they have to exercise reserve. Silence would be a tacit acknowledgment that the victim may very well be guilty of the false accusation. However, in a case where the victim was not present but subsequently hears of the trespass, he cannot rebuke the trespasser before all but must go to him alone to ask if he said such a thing. If he says “yes,” then the victim would reason with him. Hopefully, the trespasser will apologize, but sometimes the trespasser becomes resentful.

One or two witnesses are taken so that “every word may be established.” The witnesses go to ascertain whether the grievance is valid or whether it has been misstated or exaggerated. The witnesses agree to go because the alleged grievance is worthy of investigation. Sometimes the witnesses are not informed beforehand. Out of fairness, it is good for the witnesses to be taken “cold,” that is, without the matter being previously discussed or their minds being prejudiced.

At other times, the witnesses should be talked to alone first, and then they would go to the alleged perpetrator.

In other words, sometimes the victim can go separately to the one or two witnesses. For example, he does not have to go to the witnesses in the hearing of Bro. A, whose trespass was making a particular statement from the platform. This situation actually occurred. Bro. B quoted the statement later to some who had heard the discourse. The others all denied that Bro. A had made such a statement and even looked at Bro. B unfavorably. Bro. A then walked into the room, and Bro. B asked him if he had made that statement in his talk. The answer was “yes,” yet none of the others apologized.

This incident shows that as a people, we need cleansing, healing, and instruction. Generally speaking, there is a weakness on these matters. The Scriptures are explicit, and we need to learn them.

Matt. 18:17 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.

This procedure does not have to take place within one ecclesia. Suppose that the injured party is from one ecclesia and the trespasser is from another ecclesia. Out of fairness, the victim can then get a witness from each ecclesia. (Matthew 18:15-17 does not specifically cover this situation, so we have to use a little wisdom.) Also, getting witnesses from both ecclesias can prevent a misunderstanding. If the trespass is verified, then the ecclesia of the perpetrator should handle the matter. There are other possibilities too. For example, one brother could be in an ecclesia and the other brother not, or perhaps neither is in an ecclesia.

The application here in Matthew 18:15-17 is limited. Other circumstances that are quite different must also be considered as we go along.

Verse 17 describes excommunication. “If he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” Some say, “I could never refuse to shake hands,” or “I could never excommunicate a brother.” But Matthew 18:15-17 leaves the door open for many reasons for excommunication. The trespass may be something other than what the Apostle Paul listed in 1 Corinthians 5 (adultery, drunkenness, railing, etc.); it could be fist fighting or any number of things that would constitute a trespass worthy of attention (1 Tim. 3:3). Matthew 18:15-17 goes beyond 1 Corinthians 5 and covers an unknown quantity of trespasses. The point is that the trespass is serious but unnamed. Hence there could be perhaps 50 different grounds for excommunication.

Q: What does it mean to regard one as a “heathen man and a publican”?

A: The excommunicated individual should be treated as one in the world. He is not welcome in the ecclesia because he has disregarded the law of God. He is to be treated exactly like public— but not public with a “hearing ear.” Some deference is shown to public who have a hearing ear in the hope that their interest will increase, but such recognition is not given to a “heathen man” or to one who is excommunicated (until forgiveness is asked).

The problem today is that the terminology “heathen man and a publican” is modified. The argument is that the public come to our meetings and we shake hands and greet them; therefore, we should always shake hands and speak to one, even if he is excommunicated. To not say “hello” or to put such a one out of the meeting would be unkind, they say, because we allow the public to attend our meetings, but Matthew 18:15-17 is teaching just the opposite.

There is a double emphasis: (1) “heathen man” and (2) “publican.”

“Heathen” is a strong term that does not mean a believer, one who has accepted Jesus but has not consecrated. Rather, it means one who has no belief and no interest in the Lord. And a “publican” back there was regarded very odiously by the Jews, being almost like anathema. Hence these terms are strong; they do not just mean a worldly person but one who is considered hands off.

Q: If an excommunicated brother did come to the class, should the elders tell him he is not welcome?

A: The class would have to interrupt whatever they were doing and take up the matter, telling the individual he is not welcome. (This applies to an ecclesia meeting, not a convention, for a convention is a well-attended public meeting and we are not detectives to know just who every attendee is and what his status might be.) In ecclesia meetings (studies, testimonies, etc.) where there is more intimacy of fellowship, the excommunicated one is to be barred. The elder could go right to the disfellowshipped individual as soon as he entered, explaining that he was not welcome until there was a change of attitude and an evidence of repentance. And if the individual should try to enter an ecclesia other than the one in which he was banned, the excommunication decision still holds. We are to honor the decision of the excommunicating ecclesia. Unfortunately, some do not seem to recognize that principle.

While the elder has the unpleasant responsibility, the congregation should support him—and not smile and welcome back the unrepentant offender. Barring the excommunicated one is a distasteful duty that sometimes has adverse effects on the elder who is responsible for doing it—because of lack of support from the other brethren and even opposition.

This responsibility also brings out the necessity to inform other ecclesias if an excommunicated individual is in their area. For example, if an excommunication occurs on the East Coast and the party moves to the West Coast, the West Coast ecclesias should be informed, lest the person start attending meetings as if nothing has happened.

Unfortunately, it is sometimes questioned whether the ecclesia that does the excommunicating is even in the truth. However, if the individuals comprising the ecclesia are consecrated, having given their hearts to the Lord, and are trying to lead consecrated lives, we have no right to disparage them. Just because they do not subscribe to certain doctrines does not mean they are not consecrated. What matters is whether they see the truth of God’s Word on the issue of excommunication. And attitude is important—it should always be distasteful to have to perform an excommunication procedure.

Q: When an excommunicated individual repents, can he go to any ecclesia with this information regarding his changed heart condition?

A: If such a one tried to enter a different ecclesia, the elder should quickly intercept him. If the party said he repented, the elder should tell him to return to the ecclesia where he was excommunicated to rectify the matter and make apologies. Otherwise, to not have to face the victim in person makes “repentance” too easy. Remember, this was a serious wrong. And there is another reason too. If one is publicly excommunicated, he should be publicly welcomed back by the class when he repents. He should be received back with joy by the original ecclesia.

Matt. 18:18 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.

Matt. 18:19 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.

Matt. 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Now we begin to see how verses 18-20 apply. (Usually there is a misapplication.) When an ecclesia excommunicates an individual, that excommunication is binding. Jesus was saying, “I back you up.” He was also saying that there may be only two or three members, yet they constitute an ecclesia. Jesus purposely stated the principle with a minimum number of brethren in an ecclesia so that his words would fit all circumstances, whether there were 3, 10, 50, or 100 in the class. The ecclesia hears the matter and verifies that the transgressor should be disfellowshipped, judging that such would be the Lord’s will. However, verses 18-20 do not mean that the collective majority of a class is always right.

The verification of a grievance would be easier than, say, the verification of a nebulous doctrine. For example, a person might be excommunicated from an orthodox church because his belief conflicts with the dogma of that group. In such a case, that individual might be received into another group who would regard the particular doctrine in question as correct.

Thus the decision of a majority is not necessarily the Lord’s mind on the matter. If we are in a class and find we are out of harmony with the majority, we should do one of two things. Either (1) accede and give in to the majority, or (2) if a vital principle is involved, leave the ecclesia.

Then our conscience will not be troubled, even though we may have trials in other ways.

It could be a problem if other ecclesias upheld an excommunication that was not merited.

Although this situation is highly unlikely, it could more easily happen in nominal circles. Jesus said we would be cast out by our brethren for his name’s sake (Luke 6:22). Down through history, true Christians who were excommunicated found fellowship elsewhere.

Paul said, based on Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:11, “any man that is called a brother” is subject to excommunication for a grievous trespass. When a serious sin is committed, it is wrong to suddenly say, as an excuse, “His consecration was never accepted.” That thinking does not justify the situation. Up until that point, the individual was considered a brother and no one questioned the matter, but as soon as the sin is committed, it is presumed that the party was never really consecrated. Such reasoning is wrong! “He did not understand what he was doing” is no excuse. How easily such statements would “butter over” the grievous situation and release brethren from their responsibilities—both for the trespasser to repent and for the ecclesia to excommunicate. Especially in family relationships, this tendency occurs.

Thus here, in the context of verses 18-20, to “agree” pertains to excommunication. Sometimes this statement is found in another context. Back in the early Church, the apostles and elders at Jerusalem were in agreement, and the injunction they made on that occasion was considered the Lord’s will. The point is that among the consecrated, an excommunication should be honored unless there is a truly valid, justifiable (Scriptural) reason for not doing so.

Q: If the trespasser was the husband and the victim was the wife, both being consecrated, and if the grievance went all the way through to the excommunication stage, would the wife have to separate from the husband until there was repentance?

A: Yes. If she remained in the same home with him, she would constantly be violating the excommunication decision.

Q: Are the standards lower today than they used to be?

A: Obviously, yes, because we do not see excommunications occurring to the degree that there are gross immoralities. If gross immoralities and other matters of Christian living were Scripturally discussed more often (and not considered hush-hush), many cases could perhaps be healed before they got to the explosive stage. A sin should be recognized right away. Then perhaps some of the consecrated brethren who have separated would see their shortcomings and be able to maintain their marriages. The brethren should be willing to take a stand and excommunicate where necessary. Otherwise, erring individuals either leave the truth, forsaking their consecration, or remain in the fellowship without repenting.

Verses 18 and 19 are more or less saying the same thing. If there is agreement, it is recognized in heaven—and even by the Heavenly Father. Verse 20 is saying that two or three brethren can be considered an ecclesia: “where two or three are gathered [meet] together in my name.”

It is significant that the ecclesia is brought down to a very small unit in this Scripture.

“Bind” means to excommunicate. “Loose” means to exonerate. Someone could be brought up in a church trial and then be exonerated. The exoneration might or might not be valid in the eyes of the Lord, for the class could be wrong. However, one who is exonerated has the right to fellowship in that ecclesia according to the decision made.

Matt. 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

Matt. 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Matthew 18:15-17 tells the three steps for treating a trespass (a personal grievance) of a brother against a brother, no matter how large or small the class is. Luke 17:3,4 reads, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” The two accounts (Matthew and Luke) need to be harmonized. Forgiveness is not automatic but is based on repentance. Even if a brother says seven times in one day, “I repent,” he must be forgiven. This shows the need for the erring one to (1) recognize his error, (2) repent, and (3) obtain forgiveness. Saying “forgive me” shows that some shred of conscience is left. It is to one’s credit to realize he has done wrong instead of being brazen in a situation. However, just because one is forgiven by a brother seven times in a day does not mean he will make his calling and election sure, for the Lord may not forgive.

The Bible must be our instructor—it is the ultimate word. Brethren frequently search the Pastor’s writings to see what he said here and what he said there, and they end up plucking statements out of context. That is what lawyers do to win cases. They extract information from previous cases that are not pertinent and use the information as a precedent to exonerate their client. The point is that God’s Word comes first.

The Pastor understood well the subject of forgiveness and was quite strong in his statements. He explained that excommunication meant to withdraw all fellowship. However, brethren modify this to mean that the excommunicated individual cannot vote in an election or hold an office and that he cannot be invited to homes, but they still permit shaking hands, attending meetings, and exchanging greetings. The final analysis is what the Scriptures teach. We can get instruction and advice from others, but we should follow that advice only if it squares with Scripture.

“Then came  Peter … and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? … Jesus saith unto him, … Until seventy times seven.” The emphasis usually given is that we should forgive a brother who trespasses at least “seventy times seven” (or 490) times. That is a lot of forgiveness! However, the conditions of forgiveness are usually not brought in.

Notice that Jesus gave an answer to a specific question. The question was not “How shall I forgive?” or “Under what conditions, shall I forgive?” but “What is the limit in times?” In other words, “How many times shall I forgive?” Luke 17:3,4 gives the conditions for forgiveness. If the trespasser turns to us and says, “I repent,” after being rebuked (if necessary), we are to forgive him. If a brother trespasses against us seven times, we are to rebuke him seven times.

However, if he turns to us and says he is sorry seven times, we are to forgive him seven times. Therefore, rebuking and repentance precede the forgiveness.

Matt. 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.

Verses 23-35 cover the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, which is a very potent lesson. The beginning, “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven,” suggests the lesson of this parable is especially for the consecrated. Jesus was implying that the condition he would describe exists in the “kingdom of heaven” class. Some with an unforgiving spirit are called, as well as some who are overly forgiving. All need to be balanced to a greater or lesser extent. The “king” (God) was to “take account of his servants.” Accordingly, we go to God for forgiveness.

Matt. 18:24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.

Matt. 18:25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

A servant was brought to the king who owed 10,000 talents, which was a tremendous amount— like the national debt. To give us an idea of the amount, one talent weighs 100 pounds. Each silver-talent socket of the Tabernacle had to be sufficiently heavy in weight to hold up a 15- foot-long by 27-inch-wide board covered with gold plating.

Thus the parable is emphasizing the great debt owed to the king by a certain individual.

Trillions of dollars were owed—an excessive amount. Jesus purposely exaggerated the parable to teach a valuable lesson.

When the individual was brought before the king to give an accounting, he did not have the wherewithal to pay. Then the king commanded that the servant be sold, plus his wife, children, property, and all possessions, so that some payment could be made. All of his assets (including human ones) were to be liquidated to obtain cash to apply against the debt.

Matt. 18:26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

Matt. 18:27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

The servant pleaded for time to repay the debt. The king could have reasoned, if he were hardhearted, “The servant could never repay the debt, no matter what.” From a practical standpoint, the king knew the servant’s reply was more words than substance, but the king was moved by the servant’s humility and worship. Out of compassion, the king “forgave him the debt.” Talk about largesse! The king did not say, “All right, I will give you 60 days,” but was so moved by the repentance that he completely forgave the huge debt. The king’s attitude tells us that the Heavenly Father so appreciates our humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness that He will forgive us to the uttermost.

Matt. 18:28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.

After first seeing the king’s attitude, we now see the servant’s attitude following his own experience of being forgiven. A fellow servant was found who owed the servant 100 pence (100 days’ wages), which was a fairly sizable debt but nothing compared with the 10,000 talents the servant had owed. We are reminded of the splinter versus the heavy plank in the eye (Matt. 7:1-5). The plank would be comparable to the 10,000 talents and the mote to the 100 pence. The same servant who had prostrated himself before the king and pleaded for mercy now grabbed the fellow servant by the throat and made demands. This scary situation shows that in each of us there exists this technical possibility of irrational, incongruous, unmerciful behavior.

The nearest analogy to the king’s forgiveness of the servant’s debt is our initial consecration.

When we give our heart to the Lord and repent for our past sins, we are forgiven an accumulative debt of sin from the past, and this debt is huge. If we had a playback of prior misdeeds, we would be very shamefaced. After consecration, and onward in the Christian walk, there is a difference of behavior. Although we still commit sins in the Christian life, they are of a lesser nature than the previous accumulated sins.

As stated, at one’s initial consecration, a person’s past debt is forgiven. And even the person’s family (husband or wife plus children) receives a measure of protection. For the world of mankind, willful sins committed in the next age as well as now, in the present life, will have to be paid for with some penalty. For example, one who commits murder now will get “stripes” (retribution) in the Kingdom.

Matt. 18:29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

Matt. 18:30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

The fellow servant likewise pleaded for mercy. He fell down at the servant’s feet and besought him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” The same words were even used. The servant’s words and actions make the parable very startling, for he who was forgiven earlier now cast the fellow servant into prison. The servant would not forgive the debt or even grant a time period but imprisoned him and said there would be no release until the debt was paid entirely.

The principles of this parable should be combined with those of the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-8). The unjust steward was commended for his wisdom in obtaining partial payments from the Lord’s debtors.

Matt. 18:31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.

The other fellow servants told their lord what the servant had done; that is, this incident of unmercifulness did not go unnoticed. Others who observed the situation and were very sorry reported the incident to their lord.

Matt. 18:32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:

Matt. 18:33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

“Then his lord … said, … O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” The “king” is Jehovah; the “lord” is Jesus. The relationship was so close between the two that the lord could say for the king, “I forgave thee.” Both the Father and the Son are in this picture, plus the fellow servants and the two principals. The fellow servants were properly sympathetic to the underdog in this situation. The unforgiving servant was brought into the presence of the lord and reprimanded. Incidentally, there is a distinction between pity, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Matt. 18:34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

The lord was angry and delivered the unmerciful servant to the “tormentors,” that is, to the Adversary for the destruction of the flesh. The individual received punishment, but there was hope of recovery if his heart condition changed. The unmerciful servant was delivered to the tormentors until he should pay all that was due unto the lord.

We pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and that is the principle. The fellow servant should have been forgiven because he asked for forgiveness.

Both the servant and the fellow servant asked for mercy, but only the former was forgiven.

This Parable of the Unmerciful Servant ties in Matthew 18:15 earlier in the chapter. If a brother trespasses against another brother, the wronged brother should go to him alone. If the perpetrator “hears” (that is, if there is repentance), the victim should forgive him.

Matt. 18:35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

The Heavenly Father is definitely in this parable, but so is Jesus, for it was the Master whom Peter questioned originally (verse 21).

Verse 35 is frequently quoted from the platform without a proper explanation. Forgiveness must be considered in context. Forgiveness from the heart is mandatory if there is evidence of contrition. In the parable, both the servant and the fellow servant fell down on their knees and asked for forgiveness. Therefore, verse 35 should be understood in connection with the parable just uttered. It is wrong to separate the verse and just use it as an axiom of behavior. Carte blanche forgiveness of the trespasser regardless of his attitude is not the Scriptural teaching.

The Scripture teaches the necessity for contrition and repentance.

Now we will consider verses 21 and 22 again and combine the thought of “seventy times seven” with Luke 17:3,4. A paraphrase of verses 21 and 22 is, “If your brother trespasses against you seven times in one day, and seven times in one day turns to you and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Suppose this exact situation occurred. A brother trespassed against you seven times in one day, but each time he apologized, so you were to keep forgiving him, and from the heart. It would be reasonable to think that because someone trespassed seven times in one day, his apologies were not sincere and he did not really repent— that the words were empty and just a formality. This example brings up another important principle; namely, if one follows God’s instruction and returns and repents, we must forgive regardless of the repetition. Therefore, this example shows the importance the Father places on the very act of asking for forgiveness, of saying, “I am sorry,” and admitting the wrong.

If a person is trespassing because the nature of the problem is incurable, such as a club foot, for example, it is still important for him to ask forgiveness because doing so creates the habit of recognizing a wrong. (This trespass would pertain not to trivia but to something that really does injure another party.) The Lord puts a priority on the asking of forgiveness.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant is forcefully exaggerated with the 10,000 talents in order to get the lesson across to our dull senses. It is as if Jesus were saying, “Let this lesson sink down deep into your hearts.” Therefore, Matthew 18—the whole chapter—should be considered in its entirety, starting with the discussion of the “little ones” who are stumbled. The entire chapter is the lesson, and the more it is fragmented, the less the lesson will penetrate. Moreover, Luke 17:1-4 should be considered at the same time.

Note: The lesson here pertains to forgiving what is done to you personally, not what is done to others. “If your brother trespasses against you, go to him privately.” Then, in the parable, the action changed to the one who committed the trespass (the one who owed 10,000 talents).

Matthew 5:23 reads, “If thou … rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee.” In other words, in this situation, you realize you did something wrong to your brother; you know you injured him contrary to the Scriptures. What, then, should you do? In such a case, you are to go to him—and haste before the day is done to make amends by saying, “I am sorry,” etc. If the trespasser does not go to his brother, then it is the responsibility of the victim to go to the trespasser. In other words, the wrong should not pass by unnoticed. If the trespasser does not ask for forgiveness on his own initiative, then the victim should act.

Matthew 18:17 shows that the final recourse is to take the grievance to the ecclesia. The parable teaches the same lesson by introducing the “fellowservants” (verse 31), who represent the ecclesia. The entire chapter is part of this drama.

With regard to Matthew 18:15-17, what steps would be taken in the following three situations?

1. The victim is in an ecclesia, and the trespasser is not.

2. The trespasser is in an ecclesia, and the victim is not.

3. Neither the victim nor the trespasser is in an ecclesia. (This situation would be the most difficult to handle.)

In all three situations, the time element is important. Action should be taken as soon as possible.

Hence contemporary grievances should be heard and not trespasses of years past. Another problem is that sometimes the ecclesia itself is not amenable to a review and/or a trial. If such is the case, then taking a grievance to that ecclesia would be like talking to a blank wall.

Matthew 18:15-17 tells how a grievance should ideally be handled, but there are times when a situation is so complex that it cannot be handled according to those instructions.

If the ecclesia is disinterested and refuses the responsibility, the victim will not get a hearing ear—especially if he is not in that ecclesia but the trespasser is. However, at least an attempt could be made to go through the procedure. Then the victim has discharged his responsibility.

If either the victim or the trespasser is in an ecclesia, it is usually the wiser course to try to handle the grievance through that ecclesia. After the victim has gone to the trespasser alone and the trespasser refuses to repent, the victim should go to the elders of that ecclesia (if he has confidence in them) and reveal the wrong. The trespasser’s ecclesia should rebuke him if a trial is necessary.

In review, Matthew 18:20 states, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This verse shows that just two or three brethren meeting together can be considered an ecclesia, even if it is not formally declared as such. If the trespasser is part of this small group, the victim should apprise the other(s) if the trespasser does not voluntarily disclose his weakness.

However, if an individual who transgresses is all by himself, alone, with no ecclesia attachment, that is another matter. Then not only the victim but also all the brethren who are informed of the misdeed should take a stand of disfellowshipping him. And remember, this should be a recent transgression. The trespass should be nipped in the bud, so to speak, so that the cancerous growth will not develop over a period of time into other extenuating circumstances that cannot be solved in the traditional prescribed manner.

If two or three meeting together differ with the transgressor, that would be considered a church hearing, even without any formal secretary, treasurer, etc. Suppose only three individuals are involved, and one is the trespasser and one is the victim. If the victim and the other brother (or sister) consider the trespass serious enough, Scripturally speaking, to disfellowship the trespasser, that would be an ecclesia judgment. Just make sure that the transgressor knows the grounds, the reason, for his disfellowshipping. In the locality where the misdeed occurred, other brethren should be apprised. Otherwise, if the transgression became a national matter, we would have full-time employment in trials and investigations that should be handled in the area where the transgression occurred.

In regard to the third situation, where neither the victim nor the transgressor is in an ecclesia, an ecclesia can be informed, but the class will not have the same hold on the wrongdoer.

What about Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” All things being equal, we should try to be part of an ecclesia so that we will not find ourselves outside. The more one isolates himself, the more difficult retrieval becomes. The verses following Hebrews 10:25 show what can happen through the insidiousness of sin. Sin is so contagious that we are more liable to its disastrous results if we are not assembling together with others. In that context of not assembling, the penalty for willfulness is Second Death.

The more influence a brother has, the wider the disfellowshipping should be made known beyond the local area. Others should be alerted to the danger of a wolf. If a brother was excommunicated who spoke at conventions around the country, a form letter might have to be sent to all ecclesias, although alerting just certain key groups would probably be sufficient.

Word would then get around. Another factor that would aid in spreading the word is that there are family relationships in many ecclesias, so if one brother is told about the disfellowshipping, then all who are related to him in the various ecclesias would be apprised.

And there is another point. If possible, the transgression should be documented with proof so that if a trial does take place, the evidence is available.

Normally, we are not to listen to evil speaking but are to turn away. However, for a serious matter, the Old Testament Law gives the principle. If we hear a slander, we are now responsible to investigate whether or not the matter is true. We should go to the one who is slandered to find out. If the claim of the slanderer is false, and thus the victim truly was slandered or transgressed against, then we should tell the victim we will stand by him and support him if a church trial is initiated. We should also go to the slanderer to tell him that he has transgressed and told a lie.

Note: If the slander occurs publicly at a convention, then the convention has the responsibility to bring the matter to a trial. A “slander” can be either true or false according to the definition given in the Manna. Sometimes evil reports are true, but as a “slander,” they are mentioned with the intention of doing damage.

Luke 17:3,4 and Matthew 18:15-17 cover two different circumstances. In the Luke circumstance, the victim is actually present when the slander occurs and can rebuke on the spot and even publicly. With the Matthew situation, the victim is not present but receives a report of what was said. Then the victim goes alone to the supposed slanderer to find out if the report is true.

If we should be present at the time a slander is made, we can ask the slanderer to clarify what he said if there is any doubt. Of course if the slander occurs during a talk, it would be awkward to interrupt the discourse. If the speaker on the platform utters a blatantly unscriptural statement (for example, that Solomon’s Temple was of the Devil), then everyone who heard the error is responsible for bringing that brother to task immediately after the talk ends.

Today convention talks are taped and liberally passed around afterward. If in a subsequent testimony meeting, question period, etc., a brother either retracts, apologizes, or amends what he said in his discourse, then the one passing the tapes around is responsible for also including the correction lest a matter appear erroneous. If the testimony meeting, etc., was not recorded, then it would be better to withhold the discourse tape.

It is a good idea to have a question period following a discourse or at the end of a convention.

This communication is a healthy way for both speakers and audience to get clarifications.

Review of Matthew 18

Verse 7: “Woe unto the world because of offences! … woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” This verse shows the seriousness of committing a trespass.

Verse 10: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones [in the Church].” For one in the Church to be trespassed against is also a very serious charge.

Verses 15-17: “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. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more…. 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.” These verses give the formula in which the victim goes privately to the trespasser to inquire concerning the fault. This procedure applies only to the two who are involved in the particular experience, not to another or to the ecclesia or to an “offence” against God (one that is public in nature).

In a comparison of Matthew 18:15-17 and Luke 17:3,4, the instruction of the Luke text is to rebuke the brother who commits the trespass, and if he repents (saying, “I am sorry”), the victim is to forgive him. In the Luke situation, the victim is present when the trespass is committed. The Matthew text applies more to an offense done behind one’s back, where the victim learns about it later and then goes to the brother who did the misdeed to air the matter.

When this difference is kept in mind, these Scriptures make more sense. Luke 17:3,4 says nothing about going to the brother alone, for the offense occurs face to face. The Matthew 18:15-17 situation can be hearsay or secondhand information.

In the case of a trespass, we should ask ourselves, “Is it serious enough to warrant investigation by going to the brother alone?” In other words, trifles are not to be handled according to either Matthew 18:15-17 or Luke 17:3,4. Another criterion to be met is that the trespass must be recent. Also, did the trespasser go voluntarily, of his own volition, to the victim and ask for forgiveness, which would be the better, more desirable action?

Matthew 5:23,24, which addresses the trespasser, is paraphrased as follows: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has ought against you, leave your gift at the altar, and go your way. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” This passage is frequently misunderstood. The trespasser must apologize for the wrong he is conscious of having committed in word or deed. Not until then will his prayer offering be acceptable to God. Many misinterpret this Scripture, thinking the victim should go to the trespasser, but the reverse is true with regard to one’s prayer life being affected.

In Reprint No. 1693, entitled “Forgiveness Versus Malice,” the following comment is made concerning Matthew 5:23,24. “It should be noted that the one addressed is not the brother trespassed against, but the trespassing brother. He must leave the offering of his gift or prayer, until he has made amends to his brother for the wrong he is conscious of having done him, in word or deed. Not until then will his offering be acceptable to God.”

In the Lord’s Prayer are the words “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The subject is the same as “If thy brother trespass against thee.” Many would feel that the Lord’s Prayer attaches no conditions to our forgiving the trespasser, but that is not the case. We are asking God to forgive us, so if the trespassing brother asks for our forgiveness, we are to then grant it. Bro. Russell answered this situation with one sentence in the same Reprint article: “Hence the Lord assures us that unless we forgive those who trespass against us (when they repent), neither will he [the Lord] forgive us when we repent.” Thus the Lord’s Prayer has an implied condition.

The Pastor also said in the same article, “From these scriptures, it is evident that some of God’s people make the mistake of forgiving transgressors before they repent. It is as much the Lord’s command that we rebuke the transgressor, and that we do not forgive until he turns again and repents, as it is his command that we do forgive, from the heart, when he does turn and repent.

And if he trespass seventy times seven times, he should be rebuked as often (either by word or conduct or both), and should repent in words and turn in conduct just as often.” In discourses, we often hear that we should forgive seventy times seven, but we do not hear that seventy times seven rebukes should be given. Carte blanche forgiveness is erroneously advocated.

In Matthew 18, right after the admonition to forgive seventy times seven (verse 22) comes the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. The king forgave a servant who owed him 10,000 talents after the servant asked for mercy. In fact, the king erased the entire debt. The following paragraph is quoted from Reprint No. 2294, “Forgive and Ye Shall Be Forgiven.” “[The Parable of the Two Debtors is] applicable to the kingdom of heaven class—the church—called to run the race and, by the grace of God, to win the prize of joint-heirship with their Lord in his coming Millennial kingdom. The generosity of the King in the parable, toward his servant who was so greatly in his debt, illustrates God’s magnanimity, mercy, toward us through Christ.

The debt, ten thousand talents, was an enormous one, representing in value about twenty millions of dollars: this debt fitly represents our great obligations to God as a race, and our utter inability to meet the obligations. Adam was already ‘sold under sin’ and his entire family was involved in the slavery, when God graciously had mercy on us through Christ and provided for our liberty. The liberated servant, whose prayer for mercy was heard, represents the Christian believer who has been made free from sin.” The entire chapter of Matthew 18 must be read in order to get the proper perspective. Luke 17:1-4 should also be considered.

The same article also states, “We are not to accept one portion of the divine direction and to ignore another portion: we are not to say that our Lord meant it, when he said, ‘Forgive him,’ and that he did not mean it when he said, ‘Rebuke him, and if he repent, forgive him.’”

Reprint No. 5134, entitled “Forgive Seventy Times Seven,” makes the following statement, which the Bible teaches as a law: “Forgiveness is obligatory when asked for.” However, in very rare instances, a modification has to be made to this statement. It is the same principle as David’s being allowed not only to enter the Holy but also to eat the shewbread, which was an exception to the general rule of death to any unauthorized person who entered the Tabernacle or Temple.

Here the general rule is to forgive—and from the heart—the transgressor who repents. The exception, where forgiveness would be given more slowly and conditionally, would be the categories of gross sin listed in 1 Corinthians 5. In the specific example given there, an old sin had been winked at for a long period of time instead of being handled with excommunication immediately. The class continued to retain the fornicator/adulterer in their midst and gloried in their magnanimous spirit. When eventually the party who fornicated with his father’s wife was excommunicated and sometime later said, “I am sorry,” he did not receive full forgiveness instantly.

The categories of sin in 1 Corinthians 5 are so gross that a demonstrated period of time is required to show a real changed heart condition before the errant one is welcomed back and fully reinstated to what he had previously. Take an exaggerated case: If a brother killed someone and then said, “I’m sorry,” full forgiveness would not be immediately granted. The seriousness of the crime (as in 1 Corinthians 5) is the determining factor. These sins are not personal matters between two individuals but are a reflection on the ecclesia or the Truth movement. Hence they do not receive mechanical, immediate forgiveness but require time to manifest the sincerity of the repentance.

Alcoholism is another example. If a brother or sister ever lapsed into that condition, a whole series of wrongs would be committed. Therefore, a period of time would be required to show that one really had given up alcohol after he said he was sorry. It is so easy to revert to alcoholism that time would be required.

Adultery is another category. If adultery led to divorce and then to marriage of the two fornicators, true repentance would require separation of the brother or sister from that party, even though, in the eyes of the law and the world, it would be a legal marriage. Dissolving the marriage might seem like an impossible thing to do, but that would be tangible evidence of repentance and contrition. A penitent action must accompany words of contrition for the grosser sins.

A brawler is also included in the categories of 1 Corinthians 5. These sins are not one incident but a series of incidents, a habit of behavior. “Brawler” comes under the term “railer” or “reviler” (1 Cor. 5:11; 6:10). If repeated evil speaking or reviling is so gross, then surely a series of physical fighting (brawling) and/or beating would also be so considered. Likewise, being “effeminate” would not be one act but a pattern or habit of behavior (1 Cor. 6:9). All of these categories are considered a basis for excommunication.

“Abusers of themselves with mankind” means obnoxious behavior of a brother or sister with regard to his or her association with other people, and it can take a multitude of forms that become a persistent pattern of behavior (1 Cor. 6:9). Being a “sexual pervert” (RSV) is only one aspect, and even that category would vary, sodomy being another form. The more embracive King James wording is best.

In summary, there are circumstances when time and evidence of contrition by certain deeds are required. Reprints Nos. 1693, 2294, and 5134 are all good and pertinent articles on the subject of forgiveness.

We read again from Reprint No. 1693: “God’s readiness or quickness to forgive and receive into fellowship depends upon the amount of light and favor sinned against…. In proportion as any have tasted of the good Word of God and been made partakers of the holy spirit, etc., and have sinned willfully against light and knowledge (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31), in that same proportion God is slow to forgive, and will not receive such back into fellowship, except they bring forth works proving their professed repentance to be sincere. And God assures us that there is a degree of willful sin, against full light and ability, that he will never forgive—’There is a sin unto

death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.’—1 John 5:16.” This excerpt bears out the thought of slow forgiveness, not instantaneous, depending on the seriousness of the sin.

These are unpardonable sins, and we do not pray for those who commit them. For example, if a consecrated one later denies Christ and the Ransom, we do not forgive him no matter what. That party could not be trusted, even if he later said he was sorry. Going to that extent would be like crucifying Christ afresh (Heb. 6:6).

Elsewhere the Pastor suggested that the right hand of fellowship may be withheld. This is not excommunication but a situation where you have a grievance against another. You thus show your reserve because of the nature of the sin committed against you, the truth, or certain principles of God’s Word. Withholding the right hand of fellowship would manifest your disapproval. You do not intimately fellowship such brethren as previously.

Continuing on in Reprint No. 1693: “We find no mention in the Scriptures of forgiving on God’s part without the requirement of repentance. The passage which reads, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34), might be considered to refer to a pardon without repentance; but we remark that these words are not found in the oldest Greek MSS.—the Sinaitic and Vatican.” Those who crucified Jesus did know what they were doing—they were putting nails in him, etc.—but to what extent they knew, God will determine the penalty. Many were involved in the Crucifixion—centurions, scribes and Pharisees, the people who cried out, “Crucify him!” and others—and God and Jesus will assess the degree of responsibility of each.

Many are careless in reading the Bible and then make erroneous statements from the platform.

We should study the Bible prayerfully, thoughtfully, analytically, and earnestly and not speak too quickly on subjects. A deep subject should not be treated with a cliché or a repetitious phrase but should be considered in a balanced way (in context and with other Scriptures on the same subject).

(1983–1985 study plus 1985 and 1997 discourses)

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  1. […] person confesses to be a Christian, we are given instructions on what to do. Matthew 18 (see our verse by verse study on Matthew), and also Matthew 5:23, 24 which states if we know someone has a problem with us, but that also […]

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