Reconciliation defined based on God's way of reconciling us to him.
[Gary Petty] We've been going through a series of sermons – this will be number six, the final sermon – and when we get done with it you'll know that we have lots more to cover – but the final sermon in the series on the ministry of reconciliation. As we've gone through this – the study of this – and we have not by any means, exhausted it…. In fact, when we end today, we will have many, many more questions of how this applies, not just in our personal sense, but in our communal sense. But we realize that without being reconciled to God personally – each of us is not reconciled personally to God – then nothing else really matters – that we must personally be reconciled to God through Christ. And so that was the first two of the sermons – how that happens, how that takes place.
Now we talked about how we must do that with each other personally, as members of the family of God. We must see each other as brothers and sisters, and we have a command to reconcile. And we went through what that means – to be the person who is offended, and how there's actually more in the Bible about the person who is offended – or instructions – because more people have been destroyed, seriously, by being offended by something and becoming bitter than even just going out and committing a sin. And so, there are a lot of instructions to people who have been offended or sinned against. You know, there are two different things: you can be offended, you can be sinned against – they can be two totally different things. Sometimes we can be offended and it's our own fault. Then sometimes we're actually sinned against – a person can do something terrible against us or to us. Then we went through what it is to repent, and how we must repent when we have sinned against someone, and how we are required to repent before God, and we are required to repent and confess to that person. This is one of the most ignored aspects of marriage – of a good marriage – is a willingness to confess when we've hurt the other person, or we've somehow mistreated the other person. We actually go confess. “I did this wrong. I hurt you. And what I did was wrong, and here's what I did that was wrong. And I ask your forgiveness.” One of the fundamental keys to marriage that we don't understand, so we…you know, reconciliation goes into marriage – we didn't even go into that part – how reconciliation between husband and wife as Christians is a primary command in the scripture, especially when we realize that, from the very beginning, marriage was one of the first things created by God, when it comes to human beings. And so, this whole concept of reconciliation, and how this takes place, enters up into every aspect of our lives.
Now what we talked about last time is, we began to look at Matthew 18, and there we began to look at the communal aspects of it. Now, when I say the communal aspects, we have to understand now that reconciliation becomes part of what a church is, what a community is, what a group of called-out people – what they are. Because, any time you put a group of people together, even with God's Spirit, they will offend each other, they will hurt each other, they will be offended, they will even sin against each other. Because, unless you have perfect people, it's going to happen. So since that's a reality, then we get down into, “Okay, let's talk about the communal aspects of reconciliation.” How does a community – how do members of a community – reconcile with each other? We went through that there are three stages that are mentioned in the scripture. So let's go to Matthew 18, where we left off last time. Matthew 18. So we have to understand that it will happen. Remember, Matthew 18 has to do with Christians and relationships with each other, because, He picks up the little child and He says, “Unless you become like this little child…” – and then the rest of Matthew 18 talks about when children offend children, when children misuse children, when children abuse children – He's talking about His family – God's family. When this happens, how do they deal with it? As we went through all the instructions that talk about the offender and the gravity of what it is that's sinned against – a fellow Christian – God's viewpoint of protecting and looking out for each other, and going after the one, you know, and then we got to this – verse 15 – where Jesus now explains. Here are the three stages of reconciliation. He says:
Matthew 18:15 – “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” First step.
Now that's huge, because to really do that, we have to go through all that we talked about in the first four of the sermons. Before you go to your brother, you have to go make sure that you are reconciled to God, personally, through Christ. You have to understand your own corrupted human nature. You have to understand that you are a sinner, which of course, puts the other person in a totally different light. You know, if I am the righteous and you are the sinner, you'll approach the person one way. If you understand and go come to grips with your own corrupt human nature, you approach the other person with a totally different viewpoint. And so, we have to do all four of those things. We have to study what that means, we're supposed to pray for the other person, we're supposed to make sure our attitude is right, we're supposed to approach the other person with an attitude of wanting to reconcile, not an attitude of wanting to punish. We have to pick the time and place carefully. We must listen to the person that we're going to – to understand their viewpoint. That's hard when you're hurt, isn't it? To go listen and say, “Okay, let me hear your viewpoint. Let me understand where you're coming from.” We must go to that person with a desire to restore relationship. Not just a desire for justice, but a desire to restore a relationship.
Now as I said, when we get to this first step, He didn't say we just do it once and never have to do it again and again and again. Many times, you keep going back to that person. You keep going back to this person who has sinned against you, and say, “Look, we need to talk,” until the person says, “That's it. You're wrong. I'm right.” Then you have a couple of choices: one is to say, “Okay, I will pray about this, intercede for you, and I will just let it go.” We talked about. There are times just to let sin go – another person's sin – if they won't listen to you. There's a time to say, “Okay, that's between you and God.” There's a time to do that. We showed in the scripture when there's a time to do that. I mean, even when the apostles or the disciples talked to Jesus about certain people, He said, “Look, there's always going to be tares among the wheat.” So even Jesus said, “Look, even in the Church, there are going to be people who don't get it.” And sometimes you leave them alone. That's what He said. Sometimes you leave the tares there. You leave it alone, because you'll damage the wheat if you tear them out. He will sort it out. There are times you say, “Okay, God, you will have to sort this out,” and you step back. There's other times you say, “No, this can't be fixed that way. This sin demands something else.”
So then you take it to step number two. Now we're into community. We've moved beyond personal. We've moved into community. So now, reconciliation becomes an issue of how the community interacts with itself. Verse 16:
Matthew 18:16 – “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”
Now remember, verse 15 – I went to the Old Testament and showed that that was a law in the Old Testament. Verse 16 – I went to the Old Testament and showed that that's a law in the Old Testament – Jesus pulling right out of the teachings of the Old Testament to make His point, then expounding it into the Church. Notice, He's taking these communal ways of dealing with things that existed in Israel, and saying, “Okay, these things now, how do we apply these same principles in the Church?”
Now remember, I said, witnesses are very important. Now a witness can be someone who also witnessed what happened. The witness can't be your best friend who is mad and says, “Let's go talk to that person, so we can both beat him up.” That's not a witness! A witness has to be somebody that either saw what happened or – the one example I gave – okay, you have a young woman. She dates a Christian young man, and he makes wrong advances towards her. Now, there was nobody there to witness that. But, she thinks about it and says, “You know, as my brother, I need to go and tell him that was wrong.” Well, in that case, she can go to, say, an older man in the Church that she respects, and talk to him. And then the older man goes with her and sits down and says, “This is what she says. I want to hear your side of the story.” See, there are cases in this second step that every one of us can be any of the three parties involved. We can be the person who is offended. We can be the person who committed the sin. And we can be the witness. So in the community, we will probably alike be all three of them. If we do this properly, sometime in life – if you're in the Church long enough, in the community long enough – you're going to be all three of these things. You're going to be the person that's saying, “I need to go to you. You've sinned against me and I brought a witness.” You're going to be the witness, or you're going to be the person who committed the sin. This is messy stuff, and it's easier not to do this, by the way. It's easier when you're offended to simply leave the community, or, stay in the community and despise the other person, because we don't like the work involved – it's what we do. In the long-run it's the hard way. It destroys us, it literally destroys us. But it is, in the short-run, the easy way to do it. It won't work, because it's not Godly. It's not God's way. And so you go and you take the witness. You have to pick those witnesses very carefully, because remember, under the law of God, you could not convict somebody on the word of one person. There had to be two or three.
So that happens. Now, the great majority of the time – the great majority of the time – if we do this right, it'll never go beyond that point. In the overwhelming majority of the time, it'll never go beyond that point, because it's either fixed the first time…. But, this gets real messy too – I've seen people go, get an apology and a confession from somebody, and it seems fine, and then, later, they think about it and get mad again. So they want to go back and get a second confession, and a third confession, and a fourth confession. And then pretty soon, the person who originally did wrong is now the person who is being wronged, because they're constantly being attacked, so that person says, “I've got to come to you and say, ‘You're sinning against me, because you keep grinding confessions out of me – I've already given you 48, what more do you want?’” That's how messy this gets. But, if we have the right attitude – we repent, we confess, we repent and we forgive – all those things come together – what happens? We're restored. The relationship is restored. Over time, trust is built up again, and the people continue to act as brothers and sisters. Now, I grew up with two little sisters, and there were times we fought all the time, but we were still brother and sisters, right? You couldn't separate that. We must come, in the Church, to a point where the spiritual bonds between us are such that we cannot be separated. We will try, constantly, to reconcile, until we cannot – until the person won't let us.
Now when we do those first two then we come to number three. And that is in verse 17 – Matthew 18:17.
Matthew 18:17 – “And if he refuses to hear them...”
Now you can do the second step numerous times also – just like you can do the first step numerous times. But if it reaches a point where the sin continues – okay, the girl: she took this young man…he took her out. He made wrong advances. She says, “As a brother in the Church, he shouldn't do that.” She goes to an older man…or she goes to him, he won't listen. She goes a second time. He won't listen. She prays about it. She worries about it. So, she finally gets an older man. He goes. He won't listen to her or the older man. So she goes and gets one of the women in the Church who has been through a similar thing. She goes and gets the man's father, maybe, and they all sit down. And he won't listen. And then you find out he's starting to do that with other women in the Church. At that point, something has happened. The private sin between these two individuals has now become a community sin. Once you start involving other people – this is a great problem, by the way, with gossip. When we gossip about other people's sins, we now begin to make the sins community sins. We've gone beyond the point of a private matter between brother and sister, and we move it into the realm of take it to the Church. So He says:
Matthew 18:17 – “...if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
In other words, when a sin has become so grievous between these two individuals – and now it's involved other people – it's now become a community matter. Because, once you take witnesses, you've now involved the community, right? Between you and your brother, you haven't involved the community. Once you start bringing witnesses in, you've involved the community – if the person keeps perpetrating the sin over and over again, or the person now does it to other people.
Now we are to take it to the Church. Now what does it mean to take it to the Church? Actually, when you see how the Bible tells us to do this – just like all other aspects of reconciliation – we have not done this very well. We have not done it the way we're supposed to. Now, as we've been going through the reconciliation and we post it on the Internet…. I'm amazed how many emails I get from all over the country – well, all over the world – I've been getting them from different countries saying, “I somehow knew this, but I didn't know it. And so I really didn't do it.” Over and over again, we somehow got it, but we didn't get all of it, so we really didn't live as if we're reconciled to God, which means we didn't know the depths of reconciliation with God. So we haven't lived like we're reconciled to God. When we go through this today – and we're just going to scratch the surface of it – you're going to see we haven't done this very well either.
Now, just like the first two of these stages that Jesus says – we found that they come right out of the Old Testament – what is the third stage? How is that handled in the Old Testament? Let's go to Exodus 18. We can actually begin before this, but I find this interesting because of a shortsightedness that Moses had. And because of that, what happened. Exodus 18. Now, Moses was an incredibly wise man, but you also see – like every other human being – he had his times where he was short-sighted or made a bad decision – didn't understand something – lost his temper – Exodus 18, verse 12:
Exodus 18:12 – Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to God. And Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law before God.
Now the elders of Israel – they had a tribal system – and there were two sets of elders, or two types of elders. At this point there's only one, but there will eventually be two. One, there's these tribal elders. Tribal elders were the leaders of the tribe. You know, elder means older, because to be a tribal elder, you had to have lived long enough to earn the right to be a tribal elder. It's not something you generally just brought a lot of teenage boys or young men into. They had then lived long enough to be a tribal elder, and the tribe had elders and they came from the prominent families of the tribe – and when we get into Gideon this afternoon, you'll see one of his arguments with God was, “My Lord, You can't pick me to lead. I'm not of a prominent family. My families aren't the elders of the tribe. You can't pick me to do this.” So, you have these tribal elders, but Moses had been given the law. So, what did Moses conclude? It was his job to judge the law, which was true, but he came to the conclusion it was only his job to judge the law. Can you imagine being the only judge for an estimated anywhere from 1-1/2 to 3 million people? So he figures, “I'm the judge. God gave me the law.” The elders were used to judging tribal matters in accordance with what they understood of the law of God, and what they understood as tribal traditions, but Moses had the law. So notice what it says in verse 13:
Exodus 18:13-19 – And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?” All day long, that's all he did. Long lines of people – hundreds, maybe thousands. And the next day, guess what it was like? And the next day, guess what it was like? Verse 15: And Moses said to his father-in-law, Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another – in other words, when there's conflict – they come...and I judge between...their conflicts...and I make known the statutes of God and His laws. “So I look at their conflicts and I say, here's how you apply the law to the conflicts.” And that's what he was doing from morning to night, every day but the Sabbath. That's all he did.
Verse 17: So Moses' father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out” – he says, “You can't do this.” He says, “You will wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you.... And he gives him three things to do. And what you find is, from this point on, this is central to how, in the Old Testament, issues are dealt with in a communal sense – not an individual sense, or told individually – so you have something against your brother, you go to him, right? You can't make an accusation without two or three witnesses. He says, “Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. He said, “The first thing, Moses, is you've got to be spending more time before God, asking for God's help.”
Now remember, we've already talked about intercession as part of what it is to reconcile. So the first thing he tells him is, “You need to be spending more time reconciled to God, interceding for these people for God, bringing the problems before God, and getting God's help.” That's the first thing he should do. This is great advice. Then the second thing you should do is verse 20. And this seems so obvious, you'd think Moses would have thought it:
Exodus 18:20 – And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. So he said, secondly, why don't you just teach everybody the laws, then they'll do it – the work they must do! If you teach them the laws, then you don't have to be making all these judgments all the time – they will judge by the law. “Oh, I can't do this. I can't move my, you know, my neighbor's marker, because the law says I can't move my neighbor's marker of his land.” So he says, “Teach it to them so they learn how to apply the law.” And you know what? They won't be coming to you that often. They'll be doing it themselves. Now, that seems so obvious, you wonder why Moses didn't get it. But somehow…“Okay, I have the law; I've got to judge everything.” He said, “No, teach that to them. Go to God, intercede with God, get God's direction, then spend more of your time teaching them God's way, so that they live it – they apply it themselves.” And then in verse 21, he says:
Exodus 18:21 – Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people...” He said, “What you need is a court system to handle all the lessor issues.” And it says, they “...judge the people at all times, then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge.
So he says, “You can't do it this way.” It goes on. And that's exactly how Moses set it up. And so, what he did was, he said, “Okay, I have to spend more time with God – interceding, learning, standing before God, getting His answers – and then I have to spend my time teaching, so the people will learn God's way and apply it themselves” – instead of having him as their judge over them all the time. And then third, “I have to have judges that handle all these littler matters that come along.”
And so, what you see in the course of Israel, is that when they got into the Promised Land, you had three different court systems in the Promised Land. You had what are called elders in the city – sometimes they're called elders at the gates – and these elders – and you look, there's a lot of things they do: some are administrators, occasionally there's one or two of them in the mix; there will be military men, but they rule over the city. But they also comprise judges. So there's elders in the cities and they're to judge issues. Then there's the tribal elders, and they're to judge issues. And then there was the Levitical priesthood that was supposed to assist in all this. And, when a matter couldn't go through – it was like an appellate court system – it eventually got to the Levitical priesthood and, during the time of judges, the judge. Now remember, as we were going through the book of Judges, what's so interesting about the government that God gave Israel at the time of Judges is, that there is no legislature. They already have all the laws that they need. They made no more laws. What you have is a judicial system. You have a judicial system in which people/everybody...you know, this is so different than ancient times, where the king was the law, okay? – the monarch was the law.
Everybody was supposed to learn the law. Everybody was supposed to learn it and apply it. When there was a problem, you went to the nearest city – and it's very interesting, there's one place in the Bible where, say someone was killed in the country. Who investigates the murder? You actually had to measure off to where the nearest city was, so you could go to the elders of the city to have them investigate the murder. If they couldn't figure it out, it went up. During the time of Judges, it eventually came to “the judge.” Finally, there was this one last appeal, and at this level, the judge looked at the law of God and said, “This is what we're supposed to do.” And you had good judges and bad judges. Now I'm not sure I would have wanted Samson making a final decision. He wasn't necessarily the most…you know, but he was a judge. For a long time – for decades – he was a judge. Look at Deuteronomy 17. So what we look at in the Old Testament – before there was a king – what we have is basically a judicial system. God is their King, and you would have a system by which God's law is learned by everybody, and a system of courts. Verse 8 of Deuteronomy 17 says:
Deuteronomy17:8-9 – If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates... – he says, “You're at that level at the city,” and he says, “you've got a legal matter you can't fix with the law of God, you can't figure out how to apply it or, you've got a controversy you can't fix, you've got two people in conflict and you can't figure out the law that fixes that – ...then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days – and this is how he established what became known as the time of the judges – and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment.
Now he also says, “You know” – basically, he gives them a warning about doing that, because he says – “when you do that, you must do what they tell you. If you work up to that level, you have to do what they tell you, and if you don't, you could be put to death.” So it's a whole lot better to learn the law and solve it with your neighbor, or a whole lot better to solve it at the gates of the city with the elders, or a whole lot better to solve it with tribal elders. It was a whole lot better to work it out before you ever got to this point. But he said, “If you can't, then that's where you go. And that's how you solve it.” Deuteronomy 19 – I just want to show you a couple of places of the instructions that were given, because in Deuteronomy 19, the elders were actually the ones who would initiate the death penalty – Deuteronomy 19:11:
Deuteronomy 19:11 – But if anyone hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises against him and strikes him mortally, so that he dies, and he flees to one of these – this is one of the cities of refuge – then the elders of his city shall send and bring him from there, and deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.
Now you have to understand something about this level of judicial sentencing. Judicial sentencing at this level, or even at the level of the local city, involved the entire community. The elders would sit in judgment, but when they pronounced the death penalty, the witnesses had to throw the first stones. And then everybody in the city – every adult male – threw a stone. It was bloody and ugly and everybody participated. You wanted to be really careful about dragging your neighbor before the judges – when it had to do with the death penalty issue – because you had to help kill your neighbor. So, the whole point is, everybody better be really careful about what you accuse somebody of, because you see, that's why throughout – throughout the Torah – bearing false witness is condemned over and over and over again. Slander – publicly slandering somebody – is condemned as a grave sin against society. Why? Because, if it's brought before the judges and you've condemned somebody to death, only to find out that they didn't do it, or you were lying, guess what happened to you? So this is very serious. This communal aspect of certain level of judgment. Now remember, this was only the very most serious things that ever got there.
But, there was something else that got to the gates of the city – not just the serious sins that were communal – you know, if you committed a sin against God that was not communal. You went and offered a sacrifice, right? There's no need for the judges to condemn you. If you had committed a private sin, you went and you offered a sacrifice between you and God – that's all there was. These were when community sins had taken place – someone had killed somebody, someone, you know, just stole against somebody in the community, someone kidnapped somebody – these were community-level sins in which the community was involved. Then they went to the elders of the city, and the elders of the city would judge, in accordance with the law of God, and which everybody was supposed to know. Once again, that's what makes this so different than any ancient system of law. We owe a lot in our system of law to this – the way this was. Deuteronomy 21, verse 1 – well, I won't read this. This is where if they/if someone was murdered outside in the country, then they had to measure off and find out where the nearest city was, and then they had to bring in the priest, because the priests were always the highest court. So the priests had to figure out which set of elders this had to go to. But notice verse 5:
Deuteronomy 21:5-6 – Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to bless in the name of the Lord; by their word every controversy and every assault shall be settled. And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer…. In other words, if the leaders of the city said, “There's no way we can figure out who committed this murder,” the Levites had to come, do a sacrifice to God, and sanctify the elders, that they couldn't make a judgment. That's how serious it was not to be able to make a judgment in this issue. Of course, we're talking about murder. The Levites had to come and sanctify those elders for not being able to make a judgment.
So it's a fascinating system that much of the US system of courts, as inefficient as it is, there's a lot of elements that come from there. There's a lot that don't, but there are a lot of elements that do. You know, the difference is, they had 613 laws – most of them were laws that no one was ever brought before an elder for, or the council of elders, as they were called. But, in our country, we have, literally, hundreds of thousands of laws – conflicting laws, stupid laws, right? But, the idea that the system was rigged to try to make sure a person who was not guilty wasn't punished – that decisions were made in a communal sense – is where we get the idea – part of the idea – for a jury. Now we actually have a case where we can see in the Bible where this was done.
In Deuteronomy chapter 25 – and I won't read it – but there's a law that states – now this is a communal law – this is the law – there's plenty of laws in the Old Testament that say, “When you do something wrong, here's what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to take a sacrifice and go to the tabernacle. It's between you and God.” Most of the laws are that way. But in these communal laws, it says, “Okay, here's what you must do.” And there are times when it says, “You must go to the elders of the gate – the elders of the city – and they must decide this.” Or, at times, it says, “You now make a contract with each other.” And one of the laws states, “If a man dies, and his widow has no children, that the widow – or his brother – has to marry her and give her a child, because the property stays with her.” All the wealth and everything of that man stays with her and that son. Now what's interesting, of course, is, if the brother didn't want to do it, she got to spit in his face publicly. If the brother said, “No, I don't want to do this,” she got to spit in his face, because you're not doing what the law says for you to do. It's actually part of the instructions. All the elders would gather around and she has to spit in the man's face. Then what happened was, “Okay, who's the next of kin that will marry her?” So that you finally got a man who would marry her and give her a child, and so, the wealth of her husband would stay with her and her family. And she would have an heir. She would have someone to pass it on to. She became sort of a matriarch of that family until her son…she could pass it on to. Now, once again, that seems strange to us, but that's because we don't come from patriarchal society. We always assume what we do is better, don't we? We always assume that what we do is better.
So what happens is, we have Boaz. Boaz wants to marry Ruth, and he's really excited when he finds out, of course, she's a widow with no child. And she's a very young woman, very beautiful, very smart, very loyal – a woman of character – and he says, “Wow, I've been waiting all my life for a woman like this,” because he's an older man. And he finds out that they're actually distant relatives, so that, by the law, he has to marry her. Man, this gets better all the time, right? And then he finds out there's another person between them. There's another relative that's closer to her. So let's go to Ruth chapter 4, and I'll show you how he fixed it. Did he just fix it himself? No, because this was a communal issue – the passing on of land – that was a community issue – it was a tribal issue – and because it was a community issue, it had to be handled in the community sense. Ruth 4, verse 1:
Ruth 4:1 – Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there; and behold, the close relative...comes by. So he sets this all up. Now, they would hold court at the gate of the city, which means that anybody could come watch what was going on. In verse 2, though: And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.
So Boaz went – there's the elders of the city – and he says, “I'm going to need a jury here – a judge and jury”. And ten elders say, “Okay, we will be your judge and jury.” And he waits until the relative comes by. And he says, “This is the law. You've got to marry her. And he says, I don't want to marry her.” He says, “It will mess up my inheritance.” He says, “Well, then you have to redeem her.” He says, “I'll redeem her.” Boaz says, “Well, okay, I'll marry her.” But it's interesting because, then you get down to verse 11. It says:
Ruth 4:11 – And all the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. The Lord make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah” – is coming, for this is a blessing, in hopes that she is made like Rachel and Leah – the two who built the house of Israel.
And so all the elders – and, there are actually people watching this ceremony take place – and they all say, “Wow, you are a very wonderful man and you're obeying the law. You're doing what's right. She's a wonderful girl. You're going to have a great life. And we hope you have a blessing – you’ll live a blessed life.” But he's applying the law. He goes to the city gates just like he's told – there's this communal thing – and the law is applied.
Now, it's interesting in the book of Ruth, when he calls all the elders of the city together and he says, all the elders and the judges – not every elder was a judge – you'll find that – but that's where the judges came from. They came from among the elders of the city, and they would judge these matters. Boaz had to know the law for this to happen. They had to be educated. That's what Moses learned from Jethro. You're supposed to stand between them and God, then you're supposed to teach them what God says. Then you set up other judges – applies to the law. And so the system worked. Well, it worked as good as any system does with imperfect human beings.
I have to tell you something – something we all have to come to grips with. God's way on earth has never worked since Adam and Eve. And what we come to the conclusion is: God's way doesn't work. No, we don't work. God's way works just fine. We're the ones who are messed up. So God's way has never worked perfectly, ever. And until Christ comes back – or even then – it doesn't work perfectly. At the end of a thousand years, what happens? Gog and Magog revolt against Jesus Christ. That's hard to believe. No, that's what happens with human nature. It only works perfectly when everybody's changed – when everybody's changed and the Kingdom is given to the Father – that is, Christ gives the Kingdom to the Father – “Here's the family. Then it works perfectly. But, as long as there are human beings, it never works perfectly. Judges never worked perfectly. The whole system eventually fell apart, not because there was something wrong with it, but it's because there was something wrong with the people, which it even says in the book of Judges.
By the time of the New Testament, all the synagogues had a council of elders. And guess what their job was? To administrate the organization of the synagogue, to teach the people, and to judge matters of sin – but also, issues between the people – the conflicts between the people. They were to reconcile the people when there was conflict. That was part of what they were supposed to do. When we go…when we find in the New Testament – we find something immediately that happens, and here's where, in our culture, we have failed in some ways. We have not done certain things. We did this, but we didn't do entirely what we were supposed to do. What they did was, from the minute they moved out from Jerusalem – well, no, actually in Jerusalem – you see that from the very beginning – they ordained elders. Every place they set up a church, they ordained elders. It was the same pattern that we find. And what did they do? They administered the church there. They taught the people God's way. And they were supposed to reconcile people. And that's what we haven't done.
As elders, we haven't always reconciled people. It's a whole lot easier to administrate and it's a whole lot easier to teach. Reconciling people – that's tough. And we haven't always done that. Now, they didn't always, in the New Testament, either. The reason I say that – read 1 and 2 Corinthians. In fact, the elders aren't even mentioned. That church is in such a mess, it's amazing. They're not even mentioned. But we were supposed to. We are supposed to be reconciled to God; help you become reconciled to God, be reconciled to you; and help you reconcile to each other. That's part of what we're supposed to do. That's what the Old Testament elders did. It's what the New Testament elders did. It's why they ordained them every place they went. They ordained them to do those things. And we haven't always been good at doing that last one. I mean, I've received lots of training as a minister in administration. I've received all kinds of training in counseling people with sins. I've received all kinds of training on how to teach. I've received all kinds of training on how to preach. I have never yet received one class on how to reconcile people. And that is part of what we're supposed to do. That's what Matthew 18 is. It's a communal event. Now when we go back to Matthew 18 – let's go there – Matthew 18, verse 17:
Matthew 18:17 – And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church – now, the first step with that would be in going to the elders, but there are times when that goes beyond the elders. Because it says here: But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
Now I want you to remember something about Matthew 18. This is dealing with conflict between two people in the Church, in which one has sinned against the other. The reason I say that, you know, if someone comes to me as a pastor, or one of the other elders and says, “I need to talk to you,” and the person sits down and says, “You know, I've never told anybody this, but I have a drinking problem.” We're not going to get up and tell the entire congregation. It's a private sin. What we're going to do is help you be reconciled to God and overcome the sin. That's a private sin, just like in the Old Testament – those were private sins. So private sins aren't brought before the community. The problem we have is, what are we supposed to do with community sins? And we've never, ever done this right. In fact, I'm not even sure how to do it, if you want to know the truth. Because community sins are, in some cases, to be dealt with in a community sense – at least, if we follow what the scripture says. And how are we supposed to do that? If we think of Boaz and Ruth, there was a community issue, so it was involved in a community sense.
Is there a time when an issue would be brought to the entire church? Yes. What would those involve? There's only two cases that it's directly mentioned in the New Testament, and neither of them have to do with a conflict between people. But remember, if someone comes and says, “Hey, so and so are having an argument over this,” you know, and most of the time it's two minutes or five minutes of instructions, and they go fix it themselves. That's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about conflict that affects the community – that actually begins to damage people. I've seen husbands and wives do that. I've seen husbands and wives damage a congregation by involving all their friends back and forth, and so there are two sides of the congregation – half sitting over here, because they support the husband, and half sitting over here, because they support the wife. Now that's become a communal problem. There are communal problems, and we're not very good at dealing with communal problems. Now, when someone comes to me with many issues, I do not – and most of you know this, because maybe you've come to me with a lot of things over the years – I do not deal with that situation without talking with other elders. Many times I bring another elder with me. Many times I'll say, “I want you to go talk to this elder or that elder, too.” I've had some of you talk to elders that aren't even elders in this church, because I needed that person's expertise before ever making, you know, some kind of group decision over the issue. But even that's not exactly how it was done that we see in the Old Testament. There were certain things that were just brought before the elders of the community. And everybody came and watched it.
Now remember, they have to be…those are very specific issues, Okay? That's not everything, but they are very specific issues. We only have a couple of instances in the New Testament where that's talked about. One is in I Timothy, chapter 5. And I've started to wonder why, as I think through this – and like I said, I don't even…I wouldn't even pretend how to do some of these things – but I do realize why it's important. A community sin – remember, reconciliation requires something – what does reconciliation require on the part of the person who committed sin? They are required to confess, right? – repent and confess. Without confession, the relationship just…unless the person is just totally forgiving and says, “I don't need a confession.” But even God requires confession, right? So confession – if we have a community sin, and Matthew 18 is put into place, and the person is removed from the community until they repent, and they come back – how do they repent to the community? You know, a person can be put out of the Church for a legitimate reason, but never really accepted back – “I don't accept that person back.” Of course, if they made a confession, and you didn't accept them back, then you would be the person sinning. You see what happens now?
We don't think this way because we come from a Protestant world that has two issues: one, we don't believe in giving elders authority, and two, we don't believe in community. What we believe in is individual faith. The Bible is both. It's individual worship and it's community worship, and the two things come together. It's both. You know, one of the reasons why the Protestant Reformation happened is because they said the Catholic church was nothing but a controlling community. So what did they create? My personal faith alone, right? That's all this is. No, it's not. They were both wrong.
The truth is, we all have a personal relationship with God. Our salvation is dependent on that, but, if He's creating a group of called-out ones to become His family, then we come together in a communal sense, and there's all these instructions on what to do communally also. And those are the parts we don't necessarily do. Look at I Timothy 5. Here we have a place where a public issue is to be made public – verse 17:
1 Timothy 5:17-20 – Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain, and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses – we're back to basic Old Testament law. Those who are sinning – he's talking about elders here – those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.
Now, that doesn't mean the private sins of elders should be dragged before the congregation. I thank God for that. I really do! But, there are certain public sins by elders that are to be rebuked publicly, if we're going to follow the scripture. That's what is says. Why? And here's – remember why. Because we want reconciliation. Confession, repentance, forgiveness, restores people, right? It restores people. And if you had an elder that had somehow stolen some money – then to follow this, really what we would have to do is, that the elders would have to announce to you that the man had stolen money, and then removed from his office and from the Church. I'll show you how this should work. At which place, when the man repents, he must come before the entire community and confess and ask for forgiveness. And then you would be required to give him forgiveness. Now I'm not saying he's reinstated as an elder. Okay? Because we have a trust issue. But he had to be at least reinstated into the community.
That's how reconciliation…that's how it does personally. We've already gone through how it did personally, so how does it do collectively? It must follow the same example. It must follow just the same example. But we don't do that, do we? We have a real problem, because we don't understand reconciliation from the very beginning of it, let alone at this far end of it. You know, we're working through this whole concept. And you actually get into church discipline, because as a means of reconciliation, the person has to repent to God. Then the person has to repent to the community. And then the community is required to forgive.
Now, here's another example that's in the Scripture. This doesn't necessarily have to do with conflict between individuals, but it has to do with public sin. Let's go to I Corinthians 5. You know, a person can come to an elder and say, “I have committed a sexual sin.” A young person comes and says, “I've committed fornication.” And what we do is, we work with that person. We help that person repent, help turn that person's life around, and many times, no one ever knows, except that person and God, because they were able to fix it between them. But why, because nobody knew. But now we have a communal sin. Now see, that's not a communal sin. Here's a perfect example: let's go back to the elder parts. I'll beat up on elders, okay? Say you have an elder that you find out has an alcohol problem. And that elder got up from here and said, “I have an alcohol problem, and I'm stepping down from the ministry for six months. I'm going through all kinds of counseling. Other ministers are working with me. I'm getting my life straightened out.” And six months later, he had gone six months without a drink. He'd gone six months right with God. He'd gone six months with coming to church every week, and just being part of the community. And six months later, he got up and said, “I've made progress. That sin is behind me. I've moved forward.” And everybody can see it. And he says, “I ask forgiveness of the congregation.” Not only would you give forgiveness – the congregation – but most of the time, the congregation would actually accept him back as an elder, because his sin was private, and he took responsibility – he repented, he confessed – he did all he was supposed to do. In fact, everybody would be saying, “Ah, there's an example I can follow.”
But what if that same elder with the drinking problem, on Saturday nights, had some of the young men come over to his house and got them to drinking too? Because of that communal problem, even if he repented, even if he changed, you would have a hard time accepting him back. In fact, the congregation probably couldn't. So we have to realize what happens when a sin moves into the community level. Does it make it a worse sin? No. What it makes, though, is it has different consequences. It has different consequences. So here we have a problem. Chapter 5. It has become communal. Now I want you to remember, this letter comes from Paul, and the leader of the church gets up and reads this – probably in Sabbath services. So Paul says what to them? Verse 1:
1 Corinthians 5:1-2 – It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles – that a man has his father's wife! So it's his step…his father's wife. It would be his step-mother. It doesn't literally mean his mother. It's a step-mother. And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.
Now he corrects the entire congregation. “You are wrong,” Paul says, “because you should be mourning, because the man has been taken from you.” He didn't say, “You should be celebrating, because the man has been taken from you.” “You should be mourning. The next Sabbath when he's not there, you should mourn because he's not there, and say, ‘We wish he was here, but because of his sin, he's been removed.” Verse 3:
V-3-6 – For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged…. Paul says, “Look, I'm the appellate court here. You've not handled it at your local elder's level, but I, as an apostle, I'm going to tell you something. I've already judged this matter. Here's my judgment. You do it” – fits exactly into the Old Testament model. They just reproduced it with some modifications, obviously, because Christ had magnified the law. He says, “...(as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. He corrects the entire congregation for their laxity in this matter. And then says, “Next time you come together, you are to have him ushered out, in front of everyone.”
Whoa – could we do that? Now there's a reason that he's doing this. We'd say, “Good, we got the sin out from among us.” Now that's called self-righteousness. “Good, there's justice.” That's called self-righteousness. What is the reason for this? Well, he said in verse 5, “...that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus...” – that he may be reconciled to God. That's why you do this. And it is a communal effort.
Whew! I don't even know how to get there until we get all these other issues of reconciliation dealt with first. You say, “Well, what would happen to the person? It would destroy the person.” It might. Of course, having an affair with your step-mother's going to destroy you, correct? And the fact that the entire congregation knows about it is going to destroy the congregation. But you know, that's not what happened in this situation. Go to 2 Corinthians 2, verse 5. You know, it's sort of hard – you forget where Paul's going, or you don't get where Paul's going right away, because he's just sort of writing through here, and he's talking about himself, and he suddenly changes the subject a little bit. Verse 5:
2 Corinthians 2:5 – But if anyone has caused grief, he has not...caused me grief. Now remember, he's responding to letters they wrote him. So he says, “I know there's someone who has grieved your church, but I want you to understand something. He didn't grieve me.” He said, “The man never sinned against me. He never caused me any harm.” ...but all of you to some extent. “Don't be too severe. He says, “I know that he hurt all of you in his sin, because his sin became public, and then you all just sort of ignored his sin.” In fact, the way he talked about it in 1 Corinthians, they actually took pride in themselves that they, you know, we're pretty merciful people here. Now remember, this isn't personal sin. This has become a public sin, in which the entire congregation now was participating in one way or another – not literally, but by not doing something about it. He says, “But don't be too severe.” Now, verse 6: This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man. He said, “When you gathered together, you all had – whoever it was, deacons or ushers – had ushered him out.” He said, “What more do you want? The whole congregation said, this is offensive to God, and it is offensive to us. And because it's public, you have not only sinned against God, you've now sinned against us. And you won't stop, and so this is what we're doing.”
The overwhelming majority of situations, where someone is asked not to come back to church, is done in private, because it does not have a public impact. People are surprised when I say this, but I know of no minister in the last 15 years who has talked more people out of coming to church than I have, because of their sins. They finally convinced them. They say, “You know, I don't think I'm coming back.” And I've said, “Well, I'm sorry. I want you to repent.” I didn't even have to do it. They did it to themselves, because they were committing adultery, or different things – where I tried to get them to repent, and they wouldn't. But it had an effect on the community. You know, love covers a multitude of sins. How many people have I sent to Mr. Foster and said, “I can't help this person,” sent to Mr. Kuver, or had Mr. Kuver go with me, or Mr. Thompson go with me, and sit and talk to somebody? He said, “Why don't you talk to one of the others?” Sometimes I realize now, there are cases when I should have the entire elders in the situation – in the room – every one of them. There are cases where I should have every one of them. And there are cases where we should bring this to the community. Now, these would be very, very rare, and like I said, I'm not even sure how to do it. But according to the Scripture, we're supposed to. Now, I don't know of anybody committing a community sin, like I said, but... and as elders, if we commit a grave community sin, it's to be brought before all of you. And our confession should be to all of you.
Reconciliation is hard stuff, isn't it? It's between husband and wife It's between each of us. It's between parents and children. It's between us and Christ, us and God – eventually, it's the whole world. And we have not done this very well. And we, as the elders, have not done this very well, but we're going to have to learn it. We're going to have to learn it. Verse 7 says:
2 Corinthians 2:7 – …so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him.... It doesn't just say, “Forgive the man.” Now remember what this man had done. He was having an affair with his mother-in-law. We'd say, “That's pretty sick,” right? He said, “Not only are you to forgive him, but you are to comfort him. You are to let this person know that he is forgiven. You are to let this person know that you love him.” When that person shows back up, they should go home sore from getting hugged! That's what it means. You say, “Well, how can I do that? That's such a rotten sinner.” Then you better go back to the very first sermon on reconciliation, because every one of us are rotten sinners – every one of us. Because he says, “...lest perhaps – the end of verse 7 – such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
Have there been people that would be part of our congregation today that aren't here because we wouldn't forgive them of their sins, or comfort them because of their sins? Now, there are people here that wouldn't…they are not here anymore because they wouldn't repent of their sins. We had a man here a number of years ago that told all the women that they were born with God's Spirit and all the men were demons. Some of you might remember that. I remember sitting down and talking to him, and saying – okay, he said, “All men are demons given a second chance” – I remember looking at him and saying, “Okay, well, let me explain this to you, so we know where we are. You may be a demon, but I am not.” He said, “I don't think I'm coming back to church anymore.” And I said, “I think that's a good idea.” We shook hands, and I smiled and walked away. Now, I don't know how to comfort that person, but if he repented and came back, we would. That's not sin though, that's just heresy. That's heresy. That's even a whole different subject. So that really doesn't even apply to what we're talking about. You comfort the person.
Galatians 6:1 – see, we're not even going to get into the fact that we're forbidden to take each other to court – Galatians 6:1:
Galatians 6:1 – Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.... He says, “We need to be very careful how we restore people who have sinned against the community, and we restore them back as part of the community, lest God allows us to be tempted in some way that the same thing happens to us.”
Like I said, we're not even getting into why we shouldn't take each other to court, as an aspect of reconciliation. But, let's go back to Matthew 18 now, and just look at the last verses. There are only a couple of verses we haven't covered here, so we'll have covered all of Matthew 18 in the course of these sermons. You see how we've just scratched the surface? Verse 18 says:
Matthew 18:18 – “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Now people have made that to come up with…well, that means that priests have, you know…in one church priests have the power to actually make decrees – to actually sort of make laws. And that's not what this is talking about.
Remember the context. The context is: once you have gone through this, now what is bound, is bound. It sort of reminds me of, back in the Old Testament, you know, solve it before you get to the priesthood level. Solve it before you get to there. But this applies to all three of these stages. When two people solve it themselves, and say, “I am sorry,” “I forgive you,” that is bound in heaven – that sin, that forgiveness – that when you say you forgive somebody, that God loosens that burden off of them in heaven. We all have God's Spirit. When we do these three stages, God is involved in all three stages – and what is happening and what He's doing is very important. He says in verse 19:
V-19-20 – “Again I say to you that if two” – or three – “of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Now I've seen people pull verse 20 out and say, “See there is no need for a communal church. As long as you have two people together, that constitutes a church. So every Sabbath, as long as two people meet together….” Verse 20 has nothing to do with the Sabbath – nothing to do with the Sabbath. The Sabbath isn't even the subject. And that's just a total twisting of the Scripture. He's talking about when you people solve these things – when you reconcile in your conflicts, because you're reconciled to God through Christ – when you reconcile…. He says, “When you get together – two or three of you – and fix this mess between you,” He says, “I'm there.” That's God's work right there. That's God's work right there. That's why I say – unless it's a gross issue – most issues never come before the community, but they should. They should. And there's been times, if we would have brought certain things to the community, the community would have been more protected from it, throughout the years. So we have to learn how to do that.
I read of a church – a Protestant church – that there was conflict within the church, and they brought the entire church together – and I think it was the pastor – he had had a conflict between him and the deacons and the elders. The deacons and elders were fighting, and the pastor was fighting with them, so they had three groups fighting each other. And the pastor was going to get up and apologize to the whole church. And one of the deacons said, ‘May I speak?” And he said, “Yes.” And he got up and said, “You know, us deacons have been acting real carnal, and we're so sorry, and all of us want to confess our sins before you.” And every deacon got up, and then every elder got up and said, “You know, we decided we wanted to apologize to you and to our pastor, to our deacons, because we have been fighting with the pastor and deacons, and we're so sorry.” And the pastor was standing there thinking, “I was about to do that.” So he did. But it was amazing! They all did it together. They'd all come to the same conclusion together. If Protestants can do that, cannot we do that? Cannot we do that? It starts one person at a time. It starts one person at a time. That's how anything starts.
So let it start with us. Let it start with me. That's how I view things anymore. If something's got to happen, let it start with me – except anything that involves martyrdom, then let it start with somebody else! If we as individuals are truly reconciled to God through Christ, then on that rare occasion, where stage three would be invoked, that rare occasion when it would, we would handle it properly. Those reconciled to God are careful to try not to sin against others, and very quick – very quick – to confess and try to change and repent when they have sinned. Those who are reconciled to God, because of their faith in God, sometimes just take the wrong. We just trust in God to work things out. Those who have a strong enough faith in God don't always have to fix a wrong. They trust in God to fix certain wrongs. And they find peace in that.
We seek the reconciliation through stages one, two and three. And if two people truly are reconciled to God, they'll never have to go past stage two, ever. If two people are truly reconciled to God, they'll never have to go past stage two. It'll never go beyond that. It will be involved then between those two people, and maybe a few other people in the congregation who come together and deal with it as witnesses. Let's pray for that time. Remember how we started this series. Let's go back to 2 Corinthians 5. I wasn't going to read this, but let's finish where we started, and realize that – I'm going to be studying this for the next year or so – we may have some other details fill in here as time goes on, but we will be taking a break from it now. Here's where we started: Paul says – verse 18 of 2 Corinthians 5:
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 – Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are to tell the world, “Your sins can be forgiven.” What we want to tell them is, “You are sinners, and God's going to fry you!” And what we're supposed to tell them is, “Your sins are going to destroy you, but God will forgive you.” Verse 20: Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you – Paul writes to the Church – we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.