Matthew 18:15-20 Part 1

Heretofore in Matthew eighteen we’ve dealt with the necessity of being “reborn” into the body of Christ, and the Father’s love for each and every one of His newborn “little ones”; the inevitability of entrapments in the world order, and our faithful defenses and battles against them; and the requirement of Christ for us to avoid “despising” (or underestimating the significance) of even one of these newborn babes.  Our regard and concern for each one of them is to be due to the fact that God has declared us His; He is our Lord and our Judge, and He has given us a new origin in the body of His Son Who was humiliated for us.  And that intimacy in His body is illustrated by the fact that if one of us is received, then Christ, Himself, is received!

And now, with all of that in mind, and with all of it as our context, we proceed to these next six verses – the primary issue being the sin among those who are joint-heirs with Christ to the love of God!  If we’re not to be entrapped; if we’re not to be despised; if God has set our value so high in Christ Jesus and preserves us to the end; and if no man is to judge us by human judgment (since God is our Father and our judge), then what Jesus says next has to be understood in that light.

So, how is our sin as newborn babes to be dealt with in the body?  Listen to verse fifteen again:


“But if your brother should sin, go put him to the proof (convict him) between you and him alone.  If he will hear you, you have gained (won) your brother.”


Remember that these are newborns, now; those who have been “changed”, as Jesus said we must be, and who have humiliated themselves before God and have turned from their old depravity.  So these are “born-again” brothers in the faith!  These are all joint-heirs with Christ in His suffering and death – and in His life.  And since God is their Father and their judge, they’re significance is not to be underestimated – not even one of them!

So if a brother becomes entrapped in a snare of the world order, or if he walks right into a trap of his own making, or if he should revert back to the lusts of his old depravity, then what should be the attitude of his other brothers?

Jesus said, “If your brother should sin, go put him to the proof….”  I’ll come back to that in a minute; but first what is the purpose for doing that?  Jesus says to advantage him; to gain him; to win him over!  The purpose isn’t to “judge” him by your personal standards, but to gain his return to obedience!  You see, to ignore his reversion to depravity is to underestimate his significance!  Jesus said “see to it you don’t despise even one of these little ones!”

Don’t you dare underestimate the significance of even one of these who the Father loves; “if your brother should sin, go put him to the proof….”  And do it for the purpose of winning him over.  Do it because he is significant as a joint-heir with Christ to the love of God.  Do it because God the Father loves him and has paid a high price for him in the sacrifice of his Son.

Don’t devalue him by ignoring him and leaving him in his lust!  What measurement are we using to assess his value if we are unmindful and inattentive and careless when our brother is in sin?

Jesus said, “you must be changed”; you must enter into the Kingdom by being reborn into a new humanity; you must have a new origin – forsaking and killing the old and living in newness of life.  So is it an insignificant thing for a newborn in Christ to revert back to the old man?  No – it’s not!  Then don’t “despise” one of these babes by being indifferent to his sin!  Go put him to the proof in order to win him over from his rebellion!

This is what the world ought to see when they look into the community of believers – that we love one another in Christ.  That the glory of the body of Christ – and His Kingdom – are so important to us that we work for maturity in Him.  And that our love and patience and concern for each other extends, naturally, to mutual correction!

It must be natural!  The humiliation and mortification of the sin among us is the single most critical issue in the Kingdom – as is evidenced by Jesus’ words, “you must be changed”.  And, you must humiliate yourselves as the babes – killing the old man.  That is the Kingdom life; and it can be described in no better way.  So the most desired thing in life is to stop sinning against God and become perfected in Christ’s body!  The whole group is to work for it, and it requires mutual correction of each other.  Otherwise we diminish the significance of our brother – and the significance of the body as a whole!  “If your brother should sin, go and put him to the proof between you and him alone….”  Don’t reduce him to insignificance by leaving him alone in his sin!  He’s not outside the body of Christ!  God is his Father and his Judge as well as yours!  Why would you leave him on the outside of the body which is being perfected?  Why would you treat him as if he didn’t belong?  Is he a meaningless, vacuous, piece of rubbish? – unimportant, irrelevant, common?  Who are you to judge him in that way?  Do you love him?  Are you not concerned for him?  Are you not concerned for Christ’s body?  “See to it you don’t ‘despise’ even one of these babes.  If your brother should sin, go put him to the proof between you and him alone….”  Don’t despise him; love him as a joint-heir to God’s love by “winning him over” – for the sake of Christ and for the sake of your brother!

My take on this is that if the world saw this kind of love in the Church, there would be a much sharper and clearer distinction between the Church and the world order.  But the condition of the institutional Church right now is such that very little of this is going on; and, therefore, there is little “perfecting” of the body! (little maturing of the Church)

Unfortunately, Biblical love has been successfully redefined as “tolerant concern.”  There is plenty of help and concern and closeness and friendship; but the “ground” of all of it is tolerance.  The Church just tolerates those who are in sin.  But Christ’s Church isn’t built on tolerance.  Jesus said, don’t esteem your brother as insignificant.  If he should sin, go and put him to the proof in order to win him over!  The Church is built on the humiliation of self and the perfecting of the saints!  It’s built on loving one another with the supreme and pristine love of God Who seeks the maturing and final perfection of the Body of His Son.  And finding a brother in sin and winning him back to the body of Christ – for His glory – is the supreme example of that love.  “See to it you don’t ‘despise’ one of these little ones.”

None of this works in an atmosphere of self-esteem and tolerance – which is the direction the Church is moving in general.  In that kind of atmosphere you can’t have young people talking to their friends about their “sins” (it might injure their “psyches” and they’ll fall off the edge).  In that kind of atmosphere we must not lower the self-esteem of a young mother (she might beat her kids, and the state will have to spend money to come in and fix it!)  (Minirth-Myer Clinic)

But the Church must have its mind fixed on the Glory of Christ and His Kingdom; and, with humility before God and each other, provide the correction that is necessary for the whole body to mature toward the perfections of Christ Jesus.  The world, as usual, has it all upside down.  Every brother – men, women and children – needs, desperately, to be put to the proof when he is in sin!  Sin, which is the exercise of self against God, is the source of our problems!  And humble love and concern recognizes that!  Tolerating or ignoring your brother’s sin is despising him!  But winning him over to obedience is bringing him back to the One Who has declared his value!

Now, there are a number of secondary, but very important, issues that we can get to, if we want to, next Lord’s Day, such as the ones found in First Corinthians chapter six.  Paul deals there with disputes between brothers, law-suits, defrauding, how we should rather suffer wrong, and other things.  But first we need to go back to verse one in our text and make sure we see everything that’s here.

Right at the beginning Jesus says, verse fifteen, “if your brother should sin….”  Now the word for “sin” that Jesus uses here is translated “trespass” in the King James Version.  That’s not the best word to use, because this word means a human reaction to the direction of God.  A violation – a rebellion – a deviation from the way God has declared things to be, which brings guilt and culpability.  One who sins (using this word Jesus uses) turns away from God and His righteousness and acts according to his own desires.  And his guilt is worthy of the eternal wrath and anger of God.

I think the King James translators used the word “trespass”, a much less intense word than is required here, because of the insertion of two words which don’t appear in the oldest manuscript.  That translation says, “…if thy brother shall trespass against thee….”  With the insertion of the two words, “against thee,” it would be very difficult to find a word which expressed the serious nature of turning away from the righteousness of God!  So the word “trespass” was used.  To them, it “fit” better with “against thee.”

But, like I said, “trespass” is not the best word; and neither are the words “against thee” in the text.  So the words of Jesus are, “if your brother should sin….”  If your brother should act in contradistinction to the standard set by God; if your brother should turn away from God’s declaration of what is right and set his own course; if your brother should deviate, in rebellion, from the way; if your brother should violate the nature of the “new humanity” in Christ – reverting back to his old Adamic nature (self-esteem!); if your brother should incur guilt and culpability – either spontaneously or by design, “go put him to the proof between you and him alone.”

Now, “your brother” is one – man, woman or child – who gives every indication of having been reborn into the body of Christ.  Since we are “joint-heirs,” with Christ, we are sons of God.  And therefore brothers.  Christ Jesus is the Only-begotten Son; and we are adopted sons who have been removed from the lineage of our original father and have been given, by grace, a new origin – a new humanity.  And all of us who have been rebirthed into Him are brothers.  We become new babes again, having started over with a brand new heritage.  And that heritage includes “heir-ship.”  We are joint-heirs with God’s Only-begotten Son to all that He receives from His Father!

Now, I don’t wish to get into the evidences by which we recognize sonship and brotherhood, since that’s too far a-field from the subject.  The subject is, “if a brother should sin….”  But if one who gives every evidence of rebirth in Christ turns in rebellion against his own heirship, he, in actuality, turns on his own Father and disavows his Father and what his father has done!  It is sin; and the enormity of it can’t be underestimated!

And how can a brother ignore that?  How can one nonchalantly go about his business, seemingly uninterested in the fact that his brother has turned in rebellion against God his Father?  That’s what the word “despising” means.  God the Father has sacrificed His Only-begotten Son in order that His adopted sons might enjoy His love eternally!  But His adopted son then spurns that love and disobeys His Father, and his brothers don’t seem to care enough to do anything about it!

But Jesus tells His disciples that they had better not “despise” one of these little ones.  “If your brother should sin, go put him to the proof…” for the purpose of advantaging him; for the purpose of gaining him; for the purpose of winning him.  Don’t underestimate his significance; don’t discount him; don’t disparage his value; don’t ignore the situation – go and put him to the proof!  Don’t judge him according to your standards; he belongs to God!  And God is his judge.  Don’t you devalue him!

Now.  What does Jesus mean when He says to His disciples, “go put him to the proof”?  I want to examine a couple of the other instances in Scripture with you where this word is used.  And the first example is from John chapter three and verse twenty:


“…every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be ‘reproved.’”


The word is “laid bare” or “exposed”.  The “light” lays bare a man’s sin!

Here’s another.  Paul writes to Timothy in his second letter:


“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished unto all good words.” 


The word “reproof” is the same word in our text, and it means that the Scriptures expose our sin and convict us of the Truth – that we might be complete.

In writing to Titus concerning the qualifications of elders, Paul writes this in chapter one: 


that the elder should be one who “holds fast the faithful Word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convict the opposition….”


It is the exposure of evil to the Truth in order to convict.

In Revelation three, the Lord sends a message to the Church at Laodicea and says this:


“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten:  be zealous, therefore, and repent….”


The word which is translated “rebuke” in the King James Version is to put to the proof; to expose and convict.

I think that’s enough, now, for us to see what Jesus requires of us when our brother sins!  When He says, “go put him to the proof,” he is requiring us to go and expose his sin to the Light of Truth and convict him of his rebellion against God his Father!  And we’re to do that one on one!

And what it demands from us, as other parts of Scripture say, is that we humiliate “self” before God, in fear and trembling; that we recognize our own sin nature and our own propensity to rebel; that we desire more than anything to “gain” our brother; that we do not judge him by our own standard; and that we be completely prepared to expose him and his sin to the devastating and humiliating Light of his Father’s Word.

The purpose is to “convict” him of his sin in order to win him back.  “If your brother should sin, go put him to the proof.”  Be prepared to bring the full weight of God’s Law-Word against him in order that he might be convicted of sin.

I know that this is sometimes very difficult for young women and young men to do – and the younger children as well (as it is for us who are older).  But would you rather be guilty, yourself, of despising your brother in Christ?

Finally, let me say that this is directly opposed to everything that the world order believes!  And there will be some occasions in which you’ll be rejected.  But that’s not a reason to disobey Christ.  The standard course of action in “church” circles and “seminary” circles right now (with respect to the “spiritually challenged” – a euphemism for those in sin) is:  no criticism, no negativism, no guilt; be tolerant; involve them in conversation and listen; explore for reasons in their background, home-life and environment; build their self-esteem; help them “reason” through the problems; promote positive feelings and actions; push for commitments on those things which promote personal satisfaction and happiness; teach them to help others to do the same!  But our Lord Jesus Christ said “if your brother should sin, meet with him alone and convict him of his sin against God.”

Next Lord’s Day – some of the secondary issues with regard to this passage; and then a brother’s response to the full exposure of his sin.