Okay, the title of this blog entry is meant to be provocative, but it comes from something I have a remembrance of that Bill Bright from Campus Crusade (may he rest in peace) said about a chapter of the New Testament. It went something like this:
"If we all practice the principles of Matthew 18, then three things will immediately happen:
1. Disloyalty in the body of Christ will cease.
2. The world will really see how we love one another.
3. The kingdom of God will immediately come on the earth."
Provocative, for sure. His predictions may not be true (and #2 surely oversimplifies and reduces love to a few behaviors), BUT his quote highlights the importance of:
(A) Forgiveness as a standard way of living with each other...over and over and over. "How many times should I forgive someone when they hurt me?" Peter asked Jesus. "Seven times?" Peter was obviously feeling Jesus on this forgiveness thing, but he had not yet grasped how radical Jesus was on this subject: "No, 70 x 7!" Forgiveness is a posture that puts us in a very vulnerable position toward the users and hurters out there. But, Jesus got that. How much more vulnerable can you be than naked and nailed up in shameful display in a public execution so that forgiveness of sins can happen?
(B) If someone wrongs us, we are to go to them one on one, just the two of us. This has two parts, and may be the most disobeyed command of Jesus by those of us who claim to follow him. The first part is that we are to go to them. Not wait for them to figure it. Not cut them off and cut them out. Proactively go to them. The second part is privately. We are not to involve someone else (or talk about it with others--gossip! slander!) until we have had a chance to work it through. A lot of times I discover in this Step 1, that I wasn't actually wronged but either that I had misinterpreted words or actions, or that what I thought had started the problem (their behavior) was actually a response to what had really started the problem: something I had done first that I was blind to.
(C) Step 2, if Step 1 fails (B above), is to take one or two others with you and all of you talk together with the person involved. This is not a tribunal or a grand jury. This is taking loving people to lovingly work out the normal friction that comes with broken people living with broken people. The log in my eye gets in the speck of your eye and irritates the heck out me :-). My log makes your speck look like a log to me. Sometimes it is your log that needs cutting out, sometimes mine. Wise, caring friends can help us sort it out. But, not always...
(D) Step 3 involves a larger group of 10 or 20: "If they won't listen, tell it to the gathering." The Greek for "church" is "gathering," and this usually happened in homes in the New Testament period, and surely did not involve the modern conception of a stage/performance/spotlights. Jesus is not talking about an auditorium where you shame and shun someone, but a living room where you have a family meeting.
(E) Step 4 needs some thoughtful application: "If they won't listen to the family gathering, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector." Back then, Jesus' Jewish listeners would have avoided and mistrusted people who did not follow God (pagans) and those who had sided with the Roman military government (tax collectors). That is probably what Jesus is implying. Be wary and watchful of them.
All of Matthew 18 is very important and needs a lot of thinking on and acting on. I think we can all agree with at least that much about what brother Bill said.