The average Lutheran is familiar with Matthew 18:15-20. Some Christians have seen Matthew 18 quoted in their church constitutions. They have heard that if any member had erred, such member were to be dealt with according to Matthew 18. No members were to be expelled from the congregation unless such a member had first been dealt with according to the rule laid down by the Savior in Matthew 18.
Possibly Christians have felt in their lives that Matthew 18 were a rather strange weapon that is called into use at some opportune moment. Possibly they have felt that it were safer never to say a word about anything and. anybody in order not to conflict with this mysterious Word of God. It seemed to be a sort of a muzzle that would not allow them to give free expression to their honest convictions. Or they felt that Matthew 18 had become a sort of cold, formal law which all that were Christians were to observe if they wished to follow in the footsteps of the Master, and they have had a hard time to rhyme such a cold, formal law with Jesus of Nazareth whose Life to them seemed to be free from such tactics.
Before you worry about Matthew 18, be certain that you appreciate John 3:16. You will never live Matthew 18 unless you first have experienced the joy of these words: “God loved the world in this way: that He gave His only begotten Son.”’ Be sure that you appreciate the Bible in miniature before you ask questions about the proper method of dealing with a fellow sinner. No matter how careful you are in ordering your steps according to Matthew 18, if you did not first drink ·of the waters of John 3:16 or some similar fount of the gospel, your steps will all be wrong in spite of it all.
Have you never been moved or strengthened by the words which you will find James 5:19-20: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins”? It would seem as though James were making a last strong appeal to our hearts and consciences that our hearts be filled with one great desire, namely, to save the erring brother, to keep him from falling into a multitude of sins, to restore life, strong, sturdy life to the soul that is beginning to go astray in one way or another. If you, see a person turning aside from the truth, from the Gospel, from the life that is a fitting tribute to the great Gospel of the Redeemer, then bear in mind that that soul is, not as yet dead in every respect, but it might die. There is a great service you can render that soul: You have the privilege to exhaust every possible resource to keep that soul from death; you have the privilege to stay the power of sin; you have the privilege to draw that soul from eternal misery into the home where Bliss and Peace and Strength shall reign supreme to all eternity.
The Old Testament evangelist Isaiah uncovered the sins of his people. Have you never felt just a little fear and trembling when you read from· that book? Don’t these words pierce your very soul: “Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the Lord, They have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, They have turned away backward” (Isaiah 1:4)? Of whom is this speaking? Listen to Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” That surely includes all. But the prophet is not a hopeless pessimist giving way to his sorrow, but adds with rejoicing. Voice: ‘And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.’
Every one of us has gone wrong, and the Lamb of God has purged us all, let that twofold truth become life in your souls, and you will rightly interpret Matthew 18. Yes, if a sinner speaks to another sinner; and a purged saint to another purged saint who is erring from the truth; if that be the attitude assumed by the one that is seeking to save a brother from the error of his way, then the tender words. of the Savior have taken on living form: “Learn of me, for am meek and lowly in heart.” Before you wrestle with Matthew 18, be sure that you read Isaiah 53, verse 6. And you will also be a true, loving evangelist whom sinners will draw near in moments when sin and conscience haunt them.