Pastors, guard yourselves and the entire flock
Last week we ended with Paul addressing the pastors of the church of Ephesus. Again I stress the plural and the singular of that passage. Church singular – pastors plural.
I remember when I was studying the subject of pastors years ago and remembered the shepherds mentioned at the birth of our Lord. Luke tells us that, “shepherds (plural) keeping watch over their flock (singular) by night.” Hmmm!
What were they doing? The SAME thing Paul told the Ephesian elders to do…
“(28) Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that He obtained with the blood of His Own Son.
(29) I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (30) Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them.
(31) Therefore be alert”
We concluded last week that this is increasingly difficult in large churches growing to the point of completely impossible in a mega-church.
Many churches with large congregations also have a great number of people who wear the “title” of pastor. In these churches such is handed out as an honorary title with absolutely NO significance so that the word itself loses all meaning. If I can be 100% candid here, I would not at all be surprised if some churches don’t have a pastor of parking, who oversees the parking lot.
A pastor provides spiritual oversight for people which aids them in living their lives for Christ and understanding what that means in every day practical ways. They do this by first being themselves a living example of Christ and secondarily by teaching.
If you do not do these two things you are 100% unqualified for being a shepherd.
Does this mean pastors live perfect lives – no, of course not. But the overwhelming evidence of their lives if viewed by others is one in which Jesus and His words are held in the highest and most serious regard. They regulate their lives by what He has said and before His eyes they live as one which will one day have to render an account. The word Paul uses in Timothy and Titus is blameless. Meaning not that they are without blame for any sin, but that their lives are such that it would be very difficult indeed to make any accusation stick.
A pastor must also be able and available to pray with the sheep, visit them, speak with relevance into their lives as individuals and always be available to them.
Of course this last one is relative. In today’s world of instant everything, expectations for availability might be unreasonably high, but unless there are extenuating circumstances, a Pastor should generally be available sometime in any given week.
Among the jobs a pastor must fulfill, which requires this level of intimacy and availability, are judge & advocate and that is where we will camp for the rest of our time together today.
Now this is NOT a typical teaching, though it IS a very CLEAR biblical teaching which enjoys a long history in that it was part of the Old Covenant as well.
We will be considering what Paul told the Corinthians… (which by the way is simply a retelling and building upon the example the Lord Jesus gave us in Matthew 18) which is where we will begin this teaching on order & judgment in the church.
Now, as we go through this, please imagine how important the role of a spiritual undershepherd is in situations such as these and consider that Paul was telling these Pastors to protect and warn the sheep in their care. This would include addressing false doctrine as well as matters of discipline.
“(15) If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone.
If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. (16) But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established.
(17) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.
If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.
(18) “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.
(19) Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. (20) For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.”
Now there is a LOT more here than this isolated set of verses brings before you.
Remember – context is King.
Jesus had been teaching about…
- God’s pursuit of His Own who have lost their way
- THEN this issue about approaching a brother in sin.
- Then He addresses Peter question about how many times one must forgive
- He ends His teaching with the parable of the unforgiving servant.
This outstanding and amazing backdrop for our focus verses of 15-19 gives us a context for understanding the heart and tone of Jesus’ teaching and therefore of God’s heart.
If taken out of context it could be interpreted harshly or even with vindictive hatred, but hardly anything could be more out of step with the full counsel of Jesus’ teaching that day.
The entire pace for the teaching had been a question which seems to have never been too far from the surface of the disciples minds and that was ‘who was greatest in the Kingdom of heaven’.
Jesus’ reply was to call to Himself a child in the crowd and speak about humility being of great value in the Kingdom by saying,
Matt. 18:4,5, “(4) Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (5) And whoever welcomes a child like this in My name welcomes Me.”
Notice the words ‘in My name’, these words are significant and will come up again in these verses.
The teaching does not end there though – the next words out Jesus’ mouth are about not causing such a one to stumble.
“(6) But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea.”
Then He begins to talk about how stumbling blocks are impossible to avoid here on earth and that we should take sin seriously. If even a part of your body leads you in sin – remove it because lives spent in its pursuit lead to hell and it therefore stands between you and eternal life.
- But not to make this teaching too harsh, it is balanced by the love and pursuit of God the Father, by next mentioning the 1 lost sheep out of 99 and the rejoicing at its restoration by the Father, His household and His servants the angels.
- It is only in light of the balance of these teachings that He then mentions what we read about seeing a brother in sin.
- We begin by approaching our brother privately.
- Then with 2 or three others who either are familiar with the problem or at very least the people involved.
- Then it is brought before the entire church.
If they fail to heed ALL OF THESE – a judgment is rendered. They are excommunicated from the FELLOWSHIP of the brethren.
This is NOT excommunication from the body of Christ – but from fellowship with its members.
Remember, fellowship involves a sharing of thought, resources, experiences and life.
If a brother is living in darkness, we cannot have true fellowship, so allowing them to continue among the gathering of the saints would be to live a lie.
Outwardly we would be “acting as if we have fellowship” when in reality we are separate.
Have you ever been around a sibling in Christ who is living in sin and is not dealing with it (most of the time this includes family or a romantic interest).
Is there not something in you that is uncomfortable around them and is it not difficult to find something agreeable to talk about other than surface things?
Why is that? Because your spirit is aware of their darkness and you cannot commune with them until they have a change of mind and heart.
That is why WHAT you are commanded to talk about when you are around them is their repentance.
The grace movement and other, touchy feely sensitive distortions of God’s word would have you talk about their righteousness. While they are in fact stil righteous In Christ, their actions and thoughts are OUTSIDE of Christ and are in high rebellion against Him which is why this passage tells us, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault“
If this sibling in Christ does not repent, but rather digs in their heels and hardens their heart, we are told to “treat him like a gentile or a tax collector”. But what did Jesus mean by that?
Here is one of the few places I would disagree with our dear brother David Guzik who only says,
“Even so, the unrepentant one must be treated just as we should treat a heathen and a tax collector – with great love, with the goal of bringing about a full repentance and reconciliation.”
Yes we are to love them, but this suggestion pulls away from the center focus of what Jesus was saying.
What was the way Jews treated Gentiles and tax collectors?
Remember, Jesus said this BEFORE the New Covenant, at a time when Gentiles were not permitted into the fellowship of the Jewish saints.
To get a glimpse of what Jesus meant, remember what Peter told Cornelious when he came to him with the gospel.
“You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile…” – Acts 10:28.
And tax collectors were seen as Roman collaborators making them less than popular. They were not typical dinner guests or friends.
So what was Jesus telling them to do with this unrepentant brother?
Do not fellowship with him! Do not associate with him or visit with him!
Well that would make it hard for them to enter into Jewish activities with them wouldn’t it?
In plain language this is excommunication.
THEN Jesus said, “I tell you the truth – whatever you declare lawful on earth or unlawful”.
We have discussed this topic of things being lawful or unlawful by teaching on the topic of binding and loosening. We have done this at SOME length at other times and again I will provide a link to an article on this for your further study, but the words bind and loose were LEGAL terms among the Jews and simply meant to declare something as lawful or unlawful. [See article – Binding & Loosening]
So, what was Jesus saying here?
If upon seeking the repentances and restoration of a brother, you are met with obstinance instead, you are to declare it unlawful to fellowship with him and he with you until such time that he may repent and be restored.
Then Jesus ratifies this statement by saying if only two or three of you gather together in His name, He will be there among you and if you ask the Father for something together in one mind, which represents Jesus, His will and kingdom it will be done.
“Where two or three are gathered together in My name”: Gathering in the name of Jesus means gathering according to His character and will, and gathering in a manner Jesus would endorse. This is when Jesus is really present (I am there in the midst of them).
Of course this verse has been misused and misappropriated so as to make it fit anything and everything.
Even silly things such as like “If two believers agree about becoming millionaires our Father in heaven will do it for you”.
Again, context is king!
We are talking here about PEOPLE IN SIN and what is lawful and unlawful in terms of our relations with them.
The binding could be worded – “these are to be removed from the fellowship of the saints”. Such a decision on earth must first be in step with the decisions in heaven and we know what those are due to this teaching.
But again, Jesus’ teaching does not end here – He goes on to talk about the heart.
Peter asks how many times one must forgive and Jesus tells him 70×7 and then illustrates this truth by the parable of the unforgiving servant.
In that parable the servant begged for mercy and was forgiven a debt so large it would have taken the average person 10 lifetimes to pay it back, but then this same forgiven servant would not forgive his brother a day’s wages.
This places everything into perspective!
This day of teaching regarding being great in God’s kingdom and judgment touches on…
- Being humble
- Do not be a stumbling block to others but rather deal with your own sin – removing temptations and weakness out of your way
- Know that your Father values His children and will seek after any who are straying and lost and will rejoice over them when they are restored
- One way of restoring a brother is to confront them in their sin.
- Alone at first
- With 2 or 3 others second
- The whole church third
- Excommunicate after that
- Do not hold a grudge against them, but love and forgive them in your own heart.
Included in this is a heart of love which would undoubtedly pray for them and their repentance.
Paul takes this a step further in terms of explanation and practice in his letter to the Corinthians.
“(1) It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife.
(2) And you are proud!
Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? “
Why would Paul believe they should have known to do this? Because! They had been taught the old testament and they knew the teaching of Jesus!
In short, they knew what we just read in Matthew (though they probably did not have access to that written gospel yet, and it was probably written about the same time as Luke was writing Acts which was around 63 AD).
Nevertheless, Jesus’ teachings were in circulation and remembered by many. No one is claiming that the words Jesus actually spoke word for word were remembered in general, but a clear recantation of His teachings were readily available and spoken of among and within Christian circles.
In any case, it seems as if Paul speaks as if he believes they should have known this!
“(3) For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present.”
Carnal Christians and the world alike have brow beaten the church with partial and misquotes of verses about not judging.
Paul here clearly and unambiguously says “I am not even physically there and I HAVE judged this man!”
But I thought we were told, “Judge not lest you be judged”
Is that really what Jesus was teaching in Matt. 7:1-6? We will find out next week as we continue our study on this truly great, necessary, timely and amazing passage of scripture.