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The Childlikeness of Believers: Confronting Sin

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
May 28, 2021 4:00 am

The Childlikeness of Believers: Confronting Sin

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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Some people have the idea that church discipline is to throw people out of the church.

It is not. It is to keep people in the church pure. This is our Lord's priority concern for the church, that the church be dealing with sin within its own members. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst. Would it surprise you if I said when Jesus said that he wasn't talking about your church's prayer meetings or your small group Bible study? So then, what is that verse talking about?

Can you even know for sure? Stay here with John MacArthur as he unpacks the profound, and often missed, meaning of that passage from Matthew 18. John is continuing his study here on Grace to You titled, Mishandled, Setting the Record Straight on Frequently Abused Verses. As you'll see, getting to the accurate meaning of Scripture is within your reach. And now with today's lesson, here's John MacArthur.

JOHN MACARTHUR Matthew 18, beginning at verse 15. And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.

And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax gatherer. Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then I say to you that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst." I had great difficulty with that passage of Scripture because I in my entire life had never experienced a church, heard of a church that did that. No church that I had ever been did that.

People confronting people about their sin, people taking two or three witnesses, people telling the whole church about an impenitent sinning member. The only part of that Scripture I ever heard quoted was the part about two or three being gathered together in My name and there am I in the midst. And that was almost like a popular axiom to remind folks that when only a couple people showed up for prayer meeting, God showed up too. That was the universal exegesis of that verse. I didn't know any church that did this. I never heard of any church that did this.

And it consumed me in my thinking. I read extensively on that subject and I could find commentators and theologians who explained the text but I couldn't find anybody who actually applied it. So in my naivete in those days, I asked some pastors about that passage and if they ever applied it, or ever implemented it, or knew anybody that did. To which I received universal no.

No one did it, no one knew anyone who did it. But I said, this is the initial instruction to the church. This is where the word church shows up in Matthew 18. This is our Lord's priority concern for the church that the church be dealing with sin within its own members. If it is the first word of the Lord of the church to the church, then it is not something at the end of the list, it is at the beginning of the list which makes it top priority.

How is it that you can read it, understand it and not implement it? I was told by men much older than myself and much wiser than myself that if I tried to do this at Grace Church, if I tried to lead a church to do what it says in this passage, I would empty the place. I would empty the place. People wouldn't stand for that. I was told, do you think you can have people in your church walk up to other people in your church and confront their sin without driving them away? Do you think you could possibly get a little group of people to go after a sinning believer without frightening everybody out? And you certainly don't believe that you could announce someone and their sin to the whole congregation and anybody would show up the next week.

You just can't do it. And if you're concerned about church growth and if you're concerned about adding people to the church, forget that. But I was reminded of the fifth chapter of Acts and I want you to look at the fifth chapter of Acts for a moment. And it's a story about a man named Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, famous names. They were in the church and they sold a piece of property and kept back, verse 2, some of the price Ananias did for himself with his wife's full knowledge. Now he didn't have to sell the property but he had the freedom to decide to sell the property, so he decided to sell the property. He had every right to keep whatever he wanted for himself. There's no mandate from God to sell your property, nor is there a mandate from God to give all of what you get for your property to the church.

So he was making choices. But verse 2 says, bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the Apostles' feet. And Peter said, Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?

After it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart, you have not lied to men but to God? What was the lie? Obviously this man had said, I am giving everything to the Lord. I'm giving everything I received out of this transaction to the church.

I'm bringing everything and laying it at the Apostles' feet for the work of the gospel in the beginning of the church. You didn't have to sell it, Peter says, and you didn't have to give it all. And you didn't have to lie either.

You haven't lied to men, you've lied to God. And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last. Wow, dropped dead in front of the whole church. Who killed him?

God killed him. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. Of course, that is a great way to keep people out of the church. Don't go there, people die.

You don't want to have anything to do with that organization, people die in there. Verse 6 says, the young men arose and covered him up. After carrying him out, they buried him. Jews didn't embalm.

You died, they buried you. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours and his wife came in. Several things interesting about that. Church went on well over three hours.

This is a wondrous thing, I'm living in the wrong era. Second thing, his wife shows up three hours late. And as she's walking in, they're carrying her husband out. Peter responded to her and now we find out what they did, tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price. She said, yes, that was the price.

The price was far more than that, of course, and they had kept a portion. Peter said to her, why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have carried your husband are at the door and they shall carry you out as well. And she fell immediately at his feet and breathed her last.

And the young men came in and found her dead and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. What is the Lord trying to do? Is He trying to prevent the church from growing? Why in the world would the first instruction given to the church in Matthew 18 not be some kind of instruction that makes it a warm and fuzzy environment that people might like to come to? Why is it that at the very outset in the very first church in Jerusalem, the Lord does such a dramatic thing as execute two people who lied to Him right in front of the church so that everybody knows you can die in that place?

That is not exactly putting out the welcome mat. I was grappling with these passages. But there's a very important verse that follows in chapter 5, verse 13. None of the rest dared to associate with them.

However, the people held them in high esteem. One of the objectives of the church is to make the church's commitment to holiness so crystal clear that on their own people don't join. This has been turned on its head in our society and our brand of evangelicalism. One of the objectives of the church is to be so committed to holiness, so committed to purity, so committed to virtue, so committed to righteousness and that that is so clear and so obvious and so open that people who are not interested in that won't show up. This is the absolute opposite of the contemporary approach to hide our commitment to righteousness, hide our commitment to holiness, hide our commitment to virtue so that nobody will at all think we aren't the most loving, accepting, open, embracing people on the planet.

It's the absolute opposite. You say, well in the world is the church going to grow? Verse 14, and all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number. So you want to do church growth, do you? Here's the strategy.

Here's the plan. You would like a church, wouldn't you like verse 14? Wouldn't that be...wouldn't that be the model church for the modern evangelical movement? That ought to be their verse. All the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.

How do you make that happen? Oh, have God kill a few people at the offering, become vocally, verbally, visibly concerned about holiness, be so righteous and so committed to obedience to the Word of God that no one on his own will join. And then what will happen is the Lord will add to the church. And that's the way the church grows legitimately. The Lord adds to the church. Go back to chapter 2 and verse 47, end of the verse. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. The church is a group of people who have been what?

Saved. It is not a place that accommodates the unsaved. It is the place that looks like the most to be avoided if you are unsaved. It is not a place designed to make the unsaved feel welcome and feel comfortable. I had been in lots of churches and seen lots of churches where they preached against sin. I had never seen one where they did anything about sin. It just seemed to me that you were undermining everything you said. If people got the idea that you were good at preaching against sin but indifferent to dealing with it, that was a very serious lack of integrity. The end result of that, we have to understand this passage.

So let's take a look at it. Chapter 18 and verse 15. What's the context here? Well the context is the childlikeness of the believer. Remember, we're very likely...we are in the city of Capernaum in this particular section in the ministry of Jesus.

We well could be in the very home of Peter. Jesus has on His lap a little child as an illustration. He's talking about the childlikeness of the believer. The child is an illustration of childlikeness and He begins this wonderful, wonderful presentation by saying we all enter the Kingdom like children. We all come in as children. If you don't become a child, you can't even enter the Kingdom.

We come in humble and dependent and without accomplishment and without achievement, etc. Now that we're in the Kingdom, we remain as children. We need to be cared for as children. We need to be protected as children. We need to be respected as children. All of that is in the opening fourteen verses. And now He turns to say, and we need to be disciplined like children. That's not a stretch. We all understand that, Lord, deliver me from a home with undisciplined children, right?

Wow! And we've got a lot of them these days. And this is obvious. Children need to be disciplined. When they do what is wrong, they need to be confronted and corrected and restored. The Word of God itself does that. It is profitable for correction and instruction, 2 Timothy 3.17.

It is profitable, 16 and 17, for correction and instruction, for reproof. It is the Word, Jesus says, that cuts, cleanses, purges. It is the Word that washes. So it is the work of the Word to purify the church by confronting sin and dealing with sin and showing the path of obedience and restoration. It is the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is none other than the Spirit of holiness who desires His church to be holy.

That's why He does His sanctifying work in us. This is the work of the Word. This is the work of the Spirit of God.

And so it has to be our work. Paul says he desires to present to Christ, the church, like a chaste virgin. It is not a surprise to us then that our Lord starts out by saying, my concern in the church is the holiness and righteousness and purity and obedience of my people.

I think this is the...maybe the greatest grief that I have, and I've had a lot of griefs about the state of the church today, but maybe the greatest grief is the unholiness of the church and its accommodation to the unsaved. In that situation, if you ever brought any of this into such churches, it would be destructive of that system. I might add, to its ultimate benefit, but not likely to happen when spiritual leaders aren't committed to everything in the Word of God.

We have no choice. This is the Lord's will for His church. And even if people started dropping dead in front of this pulpit on Sunday for lying to the Holy Spirit, which was unique to the apostolic era, but even if it happened, the Lord would not be restrained in His divine purpose and power to add to His church cause that's His work. You see, the illusion is that you and I can grow the church, that we have the power to grow the church by our cleverness, by our ingenuity, by our style, by our winsomeness, by our words. But this is the plan, simple one.

Let's see how it unfolds. By the way, just a footnote before we start. There is no higher court than the church. And what we mean by the church is any duly constituted body of redeemed people. The actual church is not born until the day of Pentecost, Acts chapter 2. This is preliminary technically to the church, but it is still an ekklesia, it is still called out ones assembled together under God as redeemed people. And the instruction here is for any assembly of those people and looks forward, of course, to the church. At this particular point, there were assembled believers together in Capernaum who would constitute the body of redeemed people with this kind of responsibility.

Not long after this, of course, the church is born and this becomes the mandate for the church's life. There is no higher court. There is no higher court.

I say that because through history there have been all kinds of authorities developed. The New Testament knows nothing of that. All it knows is a local church, an assembly of believers who have been ekklesia, ekkaleo, called out, a saving efficacious salvation call, they constitute a body of people who are responsible to pursue their own holiness. There may be times when a collection of ministers has to move in to a church and deal with it because that church has so defiled itself, or so drifted into error, but the church locally remains the highest court. Here's the plan, verse 15, if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private.

Anybody have a hard time understanding that? If your brother sins, implied your sister as well. People say, what sin?

To what degree? Well the whole point here is it doesn't tell us what sin and it doesn't tell us to what degree because any sin to any degree is a defilement. If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private. Don't talk about it to other people which is the tendency, isn't it?

Whoa, did you hear about what she did? That is not according to Scripture, that is in itself a sin. If your brother sins, any sin is a defilement. Any sin not only defiles his life, not only because it may involve you personally defiles your relationship, but any defilement of any believer becomes a defilement of the whole because we are one body. So you go in private and then verse 15, if he listens to you, which would mean I understand that, I regret that, I want to turn from that, that's what you're looking for. I love this, you have won or gained your brother. Do you know that inside the very church you can lose people? That's implied here, isn't it?

You can't win him back if you haven't lost him, you can't gain him if he wasn't a loss. This word, by the way, won or gained is a commercial word. It's a word taken out of the marketplace. And it tells us right at the very beginning what the purpose of this confrontation is. It is to win the brother, to gain the brother. Some people have the idea that church discipline is to throw people out of the church.

It is not. It is to keep people in the church pure. That's John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, continuing his series on Grace to You, titled Mishandled. It's a look at some of the most misinterpreted and misapplied passages of God's Word. John, with the subject of correcting false interpretations of Scripture in mind, I'm wondering, you preach with conviction and confidence and boldness maybe more than any other preacher I've ever heard, but have you ever thought that you understood a biblical passage correctly and then discovered later, no, that's wrong and you need to go back and change it?

Well, of course. In this sense, I don't think I've ever taught something that's heretical. I don't think that I've ever had to go back and say that that was heresy, so I have to get rid of that. But there are times when I have missed the true intention of a passage of Scripture because I didn't look deeply enough into it. But a misinterpretation and heresy are two different things. In other words, you can make a passage say something that is true, but it's not what it says.

It's not the intent of the passage. And I think what guards me from the heresy is the theology that I have. Your theology, what you understand about the doctrines of the Scripture collectively, becomes the wall in which you're confined.

So you don't run amok. You don't go out of the zone of biblical fidelity into some heretical teaching. The systematic theology locks you into sound doctrine.

But that doesn't mean that you're not going to get a verse wrong and make it say something it doesn't say—not something that's untrue or unorthodox, but just not what the text is saying. And sure, through the years, there have been times when I've come back and said, you know, I didn't understand that accurately enough, or I didn't understand it deeply enough. That's probably more common that I go back, and I did have a sort of superficial understanding of it, but nowhere near the depth of the passage that I needed to have. So yeah, I think the thing that's most common for me in all these years is, every time I go back to passages I've taught in the past, I find a depth that's fresh and new.

It's not that it's different, it's just that it's so much deeper. Tom Let me recommend a resource that can help you do just that—the MacArthur Study Bible. With 25,000 study notes written by John that explain virtually every passage, the MacArthur Study Bible makes a big difference in your understanding of Scripture. To get the Study Bible, contact us today. Call toll-free 800-55-GRACE or visit our website, The MacArthur Study Bible is available in the English Standard, New King James, and New American Standard versions of the biblical text. And with our reasonable prices, we're sure to have an option that's right for you.

It also comes in many non-English translations. Again, to order the MacArthur Study Bible, call 800-55-GRACE or visit And at, you'll find thousands of Bible study tools available free of charge. That includes previous broadcasts of this program, video clips of John's various conference and television appearances, and more than 3,500 of John's sermons, all free to download in MP3 or transcript format. Our web address one more time, And thanks for remembering, it's the support of friends like you that allows us to connect people in your community and the world with verse-by-verse Bible teaching. Now for John MacArthur and the entire Grace To You staff, I'm Phil Johnson. Look for Grace To You television this Sunday on DirecTV channel 378, and then be here next week for another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace To You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-12 10:38:35 / 2023-11-12 10:47:39 / 9

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