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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Friday, October 09, 2009
The Pursuit of Christ
In Matthew 18:12-14 our Lord describes a man who has an hundred sheep. The ninety and nine are gathered together but one has strayed. Our Lord leaves the ninety and nine to go and recover the strayed sheep.

We all understand that this is a metaphor. That the story Christ is telling is about more than sheep.

Typically I hear the metaphor explained thus: the man represents Christ, the flock represents His church, and the stray sheep represents an unsaved sheep whom Christ is pursuing. How many pictures and songs depend upon that understanding? Plenty.

How many of us have noted the post positive conjunction at the beginning of verse fifteen? You know, it is usually translated as "but" or "yet" - and tells us that what is about to be said is related to what has just been said.

In other words, when we read, "but if a brother should sin..." (εαν δε αμαρτηση) we are reading a passage that is directly related to, and expressing/expounding the same thought as, the man with the hundred sheep going after the one that strayed. What was spoken in metaphor is now exposed - and (sadly) most people miss that.

We have "section A" cut out with a nice border around it: Here is a story about what a dedicated Savior we have. Then we have "section B": Here is some other thing that tells us how to discipline sinning believers... The grammar says these two things are related, but our translation puts white space and thematic headings between the two and we (naively/ignorantly) conclude that they are not related at all, and then we build both our theology and our practice upon a half understood passage that has been artificially spliced for us.

Is it not so?

You see, the picture of the man who leaves his sheep to pursue his stray is the picture of the one believer who goes to his brother and shows him his sin. That is what it is a picture of. It is the Spirit of Christ in the first brother, pursuing the wayward believer through the conviction of sin.

Why is that important?

It is important because the modern church has turned Matthew 18:15-17 into the "church discipline" passage, rather than the "Christ pursuing his stray lamb" passage, so that when one believer goes to another believer and exposes his or her sin in private - the whole thing is regarded as disciplinary by the church - when it is not disciplinary, but restorative - it is how Christ has said He will pursue His stray lambs.

People love to talk about "doing the work of Christ" or "letting Christ live in and through them" - but many who parrot these lines haven't the first clue that Christ does these things in accord with His word - that is, He said beforehand "HOW" He would accomplish these things in us, but we miss it because we have learned to read without understanding.

Do you not see it, I have laid it bear I think, Christ has said that He will pursue His straying lambs through believers. Those who obey the commands of the Lord -will- , should a brother sin, approach that brother and expose the sin. That is how Christ has described Himself as pursuing His wayward lambs. That isn't "church discipline", it's Christ pursuing a wayward lamb.

If the lamb is not found, there is no rejoicing. Note the structure in verse 13, "If it turns out that he finds it [the sheep], truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray". Did you catch the fact that it isn't always a given? The metaphor is not a man finding a sheep, it is a man searching for a sheep. If he finds it [1] there is rejoicing, and [2] the sheep is carried back to the fold - but if he does not find it [1] the search is abandoned, and [2] there is no rejoicing.

If a believer should sin we, as fellow believers, are expected to expose that sin (i.e. pursue the straying sheep). If the believer repents of the sin (is no longer straying, but becomes "found") he is restored (taken back into the fold), but if a believer refuses to repent (cannot be found), he is not taken back into the fold.

When we use this passage, I hope we come at it the way it is meant to be understood - it is Christ pursuing the wayward sheep through believers who in obedience are willing to expose sin for what it is, for the sake of all (Christ, the church, and the even the wayward believer).

If we think of Matthew 18:15-20 as a passage on how to administer a proper "spiritual spanking", we don't get it - whether we be on the giving or the receiving end. Christ has expressed exactly what He is doing in that situation to everyone who has ears to hear it. If you plan to "go all Matthew 18" on someone - I hope you understand what you are doing - and again, if you are on the receiving end of someone who is going to Matthew 18 on you - receive it from Christ for what it is, and not from the one who is handling it. Whether it is done in love, or is a bungled hatchet job - the one who is at work in it is Christ.

One final note: When Jacob had made up with Esau, he bid Esau go on without him; because Jacob had with him some little lambs, and would not drive them as hard as he would a mature flock, because doing so would only kill them. When it comes to expectations in this matter, as in any spiritual matter: be discerning. Expectations must reflect the maturity of those involved.
posted by Daniel @ 2:43 PM  
3 Comments:
  • At 5:48 PM, October 09, 2009, Blogger David Kjos said…

    Excellent. We need this lesson.

     
  • At 12:51 PM, October 19, 2009, Blogger Strong Tower said…

    It is important because the modern church has turned Matthew 18:15-17 into the "church discipline" passage, rather than the "Christ pursuing his stray lamb" passage, so that when one believer goes to another believer and exposes his or her sin in private - the whole thing is regarded as disciplinary by the church - when it is not disciplinary, but restorative - it is how Christ has said He will pursue His stray lambs.

    I think you conflate terms and in doing so make restoration and discipline exclusive categories when the reality is that restoration is a category of discipline. But so is excommunication. Restoration does not necessarily require excommunication, but excommunication would always require the pursuit of restoration.

    If you look at the beginning of Matthew 18, we get the context. This is in view of the world tempting the sheep. That translates that if the church does nothing about it, cutting off hand, foot, plucking out the eye, et cetera, it becomes as the world because it condones it. The zeal of the Lord for his church and her purity is in view. Those who would neglect that are in the Lord's words in danger of being thrown in to the hell of fire themselves.

    The reason I say you conflate the terms is found in the same section of Mat 18: "And if he refuses to listen even to the church, (attempted restoration) let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (ex-communication)." Two things to be noted about this is first, the ministry of reconciliation requires that we preach the Gospel to the Gentile and tax collector, which is a way of saying those in the world. A brother acting worldly is to be evangelized in that sense, and by disciplining we are preaching to the world, also. The brother should be disciplined, prayerfully, hoping that God will grant him repentance. Excommunication is the last ditch attempt at restoration. Hopefully, the severity will be enough to destroy the flesh. But it also tells us another thing. The keys which bind are judicial and the idea is that the one refusing to listen is to be made as one in the world. So the traditional rendering is right and that is, this speaks of disciplinary action- from going to the brother, to bearing witness, to trial and finally judgement. Then, in view of repentance, how many times should we be willing to do this, seven times seventy?

     
  • At 12:52 PM, October 19, 2009, Blogger Strong Tower said…

    (continued)

    Listen to the passage, while it is true that someone might wander away, this is about putting internal wanderers out. Which makes little sense if the passage is primarily about finding a wanderer who is out and bringing him in. It encompasses that, but not primarily. This is first, and foremost, about one who is in fellowship and establishing a adjudicatory means of disciplining them. Now, if we see what this means in reference to Paul's instruction about putting one out and that after the due penalty of separating and repentance the separated brother is to be brought back in and not cast away such that bitterness of soul would over take him, we see the Gospel being exercised. The world should see that we are disciples by our loving disciplinary handling of the church.

    So there are two things to discipline. There is the issue of negative punishments and positive building. Punishment should never be to the cutting off without the ministry of reconciliation, but as Christ never forsakes, Matthew 18 goes on in 21-35. We are to view the great debt that we have been forgiven as reason for forgiving our brother, for the debt they owe us (the church) is minuscule by comparison. But in that is the greater revelation of the forgiveness of sin which is the reconciling of the world to God by Christ.

    Our hangup comes from the term discipline. In this day we view it as negative. The root however is disciple. It simply means to train up in the ways of righteousness, and just like Hebrews 12 where it says that the Father scourges his sons who he receives, so Christ gave to the church the keys of discipline, both positive and negative. But in the end the Lord desires that none of his children perish, but all come to repentance. That is our goal, growth and maturity, not capital punishment. It is our goal also that the unity which the world sees is a truth spoken in love and love requires a father to train up by both rod and staff.

    When Jacob had made up with Esau, he bid Esau go on without him; because Jacob had with him some little lambs, and would not drive them as hard as he would a mature flock, because doing so would only kill them. When it comes to expectations in this matter, as in any spiritual matter: be discerning. Expectations must reflect the maturity of those involved.

    That was Jacob's claim, but I think it had more to do with his character. He was a wimp and did not trust his brother, irrespective of the Lord's promise. Remember, it was Jacob, not Esau who was the deceiver. It was Jacob who was the momma's boy who didn't respect the Lord's word, that he even brought back to and buried in the heart of Israel the gods of Abraham. Jacob will further prove his weakness in taking wrong actions against his son's for their violation of a covenant in which they practice deceit. Because of that he would be at war with enemies that needed not to be. For their lying covenant, the children of Jacob would spend 430 years in captivity (my interpretation of the reason for it). Jacob remained Jacob, regardless of the vision he had. His character was of a man whose manhood was disjointed. It was only because of God's intervention that he was anything.

    But I agree with the spirit with which you have written this. Not all sin, nor all individuals are alike, and we must be discerning, for our business is not to beat the servants but to disciple children as good fathers in the faith toward mature manhood in the likeness and knowledge of the Son of God, Ephesians 4:13.

     
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