Matthew 18:15-20 Part 2

There is a little community in East Texas, about ten or fifteen miles southeast of Marshall, called Elysian Fields.  I don’t know very much about the history of this community – it has three or four hundred people, I guess – but whoever originally settled there and named it knew something about Greek religious beliefs (mythology).  I suppose that they might, also, have been consciously aware of the Theological and philosophical presuppositions that lay underneath the naming of their settlement.  But we won’t prejudge that.

But man has but two systems of thought; and all human actions flow from one of those two systems.  He either thinks in terms of God or he does so in terms of self.  He either assents to the fact that there is a Sovereign God Who has created all things and Who has revealed Himself in Scripture and in the Person of Jesus Christ, or he thinks in terms of the creature.  He either defers to the epistemological priority of God’s thought, or he proceeds to favor his own rationality.  In other words, he is either God-centered, or he is man-centered.

And even though there are many varieties of expressions in man-centered faith, they are all one.  One faith, one belief.  And of the many things that they all have in common, the chief among them is antagonism to Christianity.  There may be points of disharmony among them, but they are all united in the life and death struggle against Christ and His Kingdom.  And they all have this in common – their belief systems defer to man and his abilities rather than to God.

God-centered faith understands the Creator-creature distinction, and it submits to the relationship between the Creator and the creature.  But man-centered faith will not submit to the authority of God – and His Word.  (So there is no common ground.)  God-centered faith rejoices that salvation is a gracious gift of God to dead men.  Man-centered faith pursues salvation by its own efforts!  God-centered faith looks to the sacrifice of the Perfect God-man.  Man-centered faith looks to anything else but Him.

Self produced, man-centered faith hunts for salvation and utopia (the Garden of Eden) in a great variety of ways, as I said earlier.  Some in drug-induced euphoria; others in hedonistic abandon; still others in wealth, fame and security.  There are many who believe in the state; many others trust in the evolution of man to a future perfection and paradise.  Some even produce an imaginary god in their own minds, one that can be manipulated in whatever way that’s desirable, and they worship that.

Many in the past (and still some in the present) have sought for a place on earth as yet untouched by defilement – that Garden of Eden – where all the creatures (including the people), and the environment, all live in unity; a paradise without labor and pain and death.  (For instance, new-age environmentalism – but by no means “new”.)

In ancient Greece that place, somewhere on the earth, was called the “Elysian Plain” or the Elysian Fields; the place of paradise on earth; the “fortunate place” where there was perpetual youth, no work, no sorrow.  This faith prompted a great deal of the exploration of the earth to find that utopia (and is now, at least in part, the motivation behind the exploration of outer space), because by man putting in the effort, he can escape his environment and cure his ills!  Salvation you see, is finding a new environment – a Garden of Eden paradise – nature left unspoiled by humanity – especially Christian humanity – nature, you see, is innocent and harmonious.  Christianity in other words, is that which has spoiled humanity!

We might say, before we go on here, that all of the attempts at man-centered faith and salvation are replacements for, or perversions of, the Revelation of the Truth!  Romans one explains that the Truth concerning God and His creation are evident all about us, and in us; and that God has further revealed all things – especially in His Word!  So all men are responsible and accountable for believing and submitting to the Truth.  But man, while knowing the Truth, will not believe it nor submit to it!  They replace it with a lie.

So all man-centered faiths and attempts at salvation are perversions of, or replacements for, the Revelation of God in His creation and in His Word!  The Revelation of God was prior to all of them.  There would be no idolatry if men didn’t know that they were to worship God!  There would be no man-centered faith or attempts at self-salvation if man didn’t know the Power and Glory of God!  There would be no ludicrous efforts to discover a perfect, natural environment if man didn’t know of the Garden of Eden and the Kingdom of Christ!  All the these attempts are to replace that which is True!

Mohammedanism of the middle east, Judaism of Israel, Zoroastrianism of India, Isis worship of Egypt, New Ageism of America, Buddhism and Shintoism of the far East; Satanism, freemasonry, spiritism, statism, libertinism – it doesn’t matter what it is, it is man’s effort to distort and replace the Truth of God with his own self-centered, self-effort, salvation!  All of which are his!

So we’re back to my original statement – there are only two faiths.  One centers upon the Glory of the One, True God; the other is man’s attempt to save himself by his own effort.  And in each one of the varieties of man-centered faith there is this commonality:  deep antagonism toward Christianity.  Why?  Because God says that man’s problem is his own dead depravity.  His own sin.

But man will not have the Truth!  His problem, he says, isn’t internal – it’s external!  Every variety of man-centered faith (it doesn’t matter which “ism” you name) views man’s problem as external to himself!  It isn’t here – it’s there!

“It’s the environment.”  “It’s my childhood.”  “It’s my parents.”  “It’s poverty.”  “It’s the situation.”  “It’s intolerance? – let’s build a peaceful community where everything is tolerated!  (except Christianity, of course), that will be utopia (the garden of eden).”  “It’s education? – let’s fix education.”  “It’s guns? – let’s fix guns.”  “It’s drugs? – let’s fix drugs.”

Salvation and the garden of eden can be achieved by the efforts of men by fixing that which is external to himself!  (or by getting away from that which is causing his problem)

But God has said that man is dead in sin, and that he must reject himself – the man is the problem!  He needs to humiliate himself, and be reborn in newness of life.  It is the “gift” of God, by grace!  Then abide by God’s Law.  But man will have anything but that.  And whatever “belief system” he comes in contact with, which will support his self-centered view of himself – either intellectually or emotionally – he will hold to it!  He will reject his Creator’s sovereignty in favor of controlling his own life by his own efforts.  He will reject the free gift of salvation in Christ in favor of his own efforts to save himself!  He will hate God and disobey His Commandments in favor of his own law!  And he will despise God’s earthly authorities because they limit the freedom of his own self-interest  and needs!

So, man-centered faith is the result of the depravity and deadness of man.  And Jesus said to His disciples, “you must be changed.”  You must humiliate your self and turn from it, and you must kill it.  You must be reborn and become as the babes.  He said, “I must go and suffer humiliation and persecution and death, and you must suffer humiliation in Me.”  “You must be changed.”  Your old self must be mortified, and you must have a new origin – a new Genesis – a new Second Adam.  And, thereafter, you must be God-centered rather than self-centered.

And as a newborn babe in Christ, whoever receives you will be receiving Me, He said.  And let none of you diminish the significance of even one of these newborn babes who now have life in Me.  They are adopted sons of God, and joint heirs with Me.  And you may not “think down” on even one of them.  And you may not judge them by your own standards. 

Now you will live by My standards!  And if one of your adopted brothers, joint heirs, members of the body of Christ, should sin, go put him to the proof.  Do it alone, between you and your brother, and bring the full weight of God’s authoritative Word against him and convict him of his son.  “If he will hear you, you have gained your brother.”  He will suffer the shame and humiliation of sinning against God in the body of Christ, and he will humble himself before God and beg for His forgiveness; and he will repent, and put the sin out of his life.


“But if he will not hear…” verse sixteen, “take with you yet one or two, in order that upon word of two or three witnesses shall each word be made firm.”


Your brother has sinned against God; he has reverted back to his old origins; he has been entrapped by sin; he has grieved the Spirit and shamed the body of Christ; he has abandoned his joint heirship with Christ to the blessings of God the Father in order to reassert his depraved “self”; he is “denying” newness of life in Christ and “re-crucifying” Christ on the cross….

And if he will not hear the authoritative Word of God and turn in faith from his sin, then “take with you yet one or two….”  Why does Jesus say that?  Well, first, we are not to despise our brothers!  As we heard last Lord’s Day, we are to love one another so much that we don’t effectively reduce (diminish) our brother’s position in Christ by leaving him in his sin!  True Christian love centers itself in the glory of God, the honor of Christ, and our brother’s advantage!  And leaving him entrapped in sin accomplishes none of that.

Secondly, both Older and Newer Testaments herald the justice and righteousness of God.  And His Law says that a thing is “made firm” by two or three witnesses.  God, Himself, is Triune witness to the Truth.  No man can be convicted of a capital crime without multiple witnesses.  An elder in Christ’s Church cannot be accused of sin without multiple witnesses.

And in the case of a brother’s sin, more than one witness to the truth makes a thing “firm” and causes it to stand strong.  A thing is “established”, word for word, when several brothers speak the truth; and the righteousness and justice of God is enhanced and potentiated against the one who has sinned.  And it is all for his “advantage” toward conviction and repentance.

Now, the rest of verse sixteen makes it clear that a “witness” is not one who watches and listens to what’s going on!  Jesus says,


“if he will not hear, take with you yet one or two, in order that upon word of two or three witnesses shall each word be made firm.” 


A witness isn’t there to “observe” what’s going on.  He’s there to speak!  Two or three brothers are there to convict another brother of his sin!

It seems that this command of Jesus is wrongly used most of the time, doesn’t it?  One party who’s been “wronged’ will take somebody else with him to observe what goes on so that the one who has sinned won’t be able to avoid the problem, or extricate himself from the situation so easily!  In some cases that might not be a bad thing to do; but that’s not what Jesus Commands here in verse sixteen.

He says that the “word” of two or three witnesses shall make each word firm.  He says that if a brother in sin will not hear when he is “put to the proof,” then another brother, or two, should be brought in to speak to him.  They should be “witnesses” to the Truth!

Now, the language is very important here in verse sixteen.  There are two different “words” here for word… “that upon word of two or three witnesses shall each word be made firm.”  The first one simply means the speech, the language, the “words” that come out of their mouths.  A witness to the Truth is to go to a brother in sin and speak to him.  He is to say words to him.

But the second occasion we see the English term word, the Greek word is different.  And the change is there for a reason.  This time the Greek “rhema” is used, and it means the Truth that comes from God to which Christ bears witness!  So if we read this verse again, and this time fill out the meaning of this word, this is the way it sounds:


“But if he will not hear, take with you yet one or two, on order that upon word of two or three witnesses shall each utterance of God’s Truth (rhema) be made firm!”


And since Christ is the witness to God’s Truth, He is there amidst them, according to verse twenty.  “Where two or more are gathered in My Name….”

So, now, instead of having one brother who comes to convict a brother in sin, we have an additional speaker (witness) or two, in order that the “rhema”, the Truth of God, might be spoken – Christ Himself as witness!  And since Christ is witness (and witnesses don’t just observe) the Word of Truth is spoken with the full authority of Christ!  The intimacy which exists between Christ and His newborn adopted brothers is such that when two or three utter the Truth of God against a sinning brother, it is Christ Who speaks with authority!  That’s the reason for the “binding” and “loosing” statements, in verses eighteen and nineteen, which we’ll get to next Lord’s Day.

Now it ought to be obvious to all that should two or three approach a sinning brother, and they speak to him, but the words which come out of their mouths are not “rhema” – the utterance of the Truth of God – then they do not speak with the authority of Christ, and Christ is not witnessing the Truth of God.  That should go without saying.

But as you can see, this is a very serious matter.  A brother in Christ has reverted to his self-centered depravity and has sinned against God.  A brother has come to put him to the proof – to convict him of his sin by bringing the full weight of God’s Law against him.  He loves him enough not to despise him, and he desires his brother to be humiliated again in Christ.  And he seeks with all his heart for his brother to be gained for Christ and His Kingdom.

But the brother has hardened his heart in his sin; and he will not hear, and he will not be convicted.  He has turned into himself in order to rebel against God, and refuses to repent and kill the sin.  So the brother who seeks to win him is undaunted in his love for his errant brother; he goes and gets another brother or two to come with him.  So, now there are two or three who have been brought together in the Name of Christ (under His authority), verse twenty.

And each of them speak to the brother in sin; and they do so in the power and authority of Christ as Witness to the Truth of God, not to spare him humiliation, but that he might be humiliated before God!  And since there are two or three of them, with Christ amidst them, the fullness of the righteousness and justice of God in His Holy Law establishes each word! 


“For where there are two or three having been brought together in My Name, there I Am amidst them.” 


“By the mouths of two or more witnesses shall a matter be made firm.”


“…upon word of two or three witnesses shall each word be made firm” – shall each utterance of the Truth of God be made firm.



By the authority of Christ, (the Witness to God’s Truth), every word is set firm – every word is established!

And the position then, which the brother in sin occupies, becomes very grave indeed; for the plenary authority of the government of Jesus Christ the King is exercised against him.  [And if he should still fail to hear…]

There truly are only two faiths.  One hates God and rejects His sovereign authority over every creature.  It is man-centered faith, and it teaches self-esteem, human betterment, and utopia – an Elysian Field – by human works and personal power.  It reacts in rebellion to the authority of God’s Word, and it loves freedom from constraint and control.  It is a human faith that desires to sin and remain in sin.  While it is self-centered it will not hear, for man’s troubles are only “external” – not internal.

And there is no common ground between it and God-centered faith.  A man, or woman, or child – dead in sin – must be changed by the love and grace of God.  He must be forgiven his sin in Christ and be reborn as a new babe.  And as he humiliates his old depraved self, he turns his faith unto God in obedience.

And should he sin against God, he hopes he has two or three brothers who will speak the Truth of God with the authority of Christ – because they love him; and because they desire to win him back from his sin.

But it isn’t their friendship and love and concern that will cause him to be humbled in repentance before God.  It is the “rhema” – the Truth of God, witnessed by Jesus Christ.

And it isn’t two or three brothers who ask him to “think rationally” about what he’s doing that will humiliate him before God, it is the “Word”, the rhema, witnessed by Jesus Christ.

It isn’t two or three who will “shy away” from shaming him that will cause him to be convicted of his sin.  It is Christ the Witness Who speaks in the “rhema” – the Truth of God.

So, there is no Elysian Field to which a brother can retreat to in order to avoid his circumstances.  He must deal with his own person in the light of the Truth of God.

Next Lord’s Day – “if he should fail to hear them…?”