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Matthew 18:17

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Tell it to the church - See the notes at Matthew 16:18. The church may here mean the whole assembly of believers, or it may mean those who are authorized to try such cases - the representatives of the church, or these who act for the church. In the Jewish synagogue there was a bench of elders before whom trials of this kind were brought. It was to be brought to the church in order that he might be admonished, entreated, and, if possible, reformed. This was, and is always to be, the first business in disciplining an offending brother.

But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be … - The Jews gave the name “heathen” or “Gentile” to all other nations but themselves. With them they had no religious contact or communion.

Publican - See the notes at Matthew 5:47. Publicans were people of abandoned character, and the Jews would have no contact with them. The meaning of this is, cease to have religious contact with him, or to acknowledge him as a Christian brother. It does not mean that we should cease to show kindness to him and aid him in affliction or trial, for that is required toward all people; but it means that we should disown him as a Christian brother, and treat him as we do other people not connected with the church. This should not be done until all these steps are taken. This is the only way of kindness. This is the only way to preserve peace and purity in the church.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
If a professed Christian is wronged by another, he ought not to complain of it to others, as is often done merely upon report, but to go to the offender privately, state the matter kindly, and show him his conduct. This would generally have all the desired effect with a true Christian, and the parties would be reconciled. The principles of these rules may be practised every where, and under all circumstances, though they are too much neglected by all. But how few try the method which Christ has expressly enjoined to all his disciples! In all our proceedings we should seek direction in prayer; we cannot too highly prize the promises of God. Wherever and whenever we meet in the name of Christ, we should consider him as present in the midst of us.
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

3. Tell it unto the Church - Lay the whole matter before the congregation of Christian believers, in that place of which he is a member, or before the minister and elders, as the representatives of the Church or assembly. If all this avail not, then,

Let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican - To whom thou art, as a Christian, to owe earnest and persevering good will, and acts of kindness; but have no religious communion with him, till, if he have been convicted, he acknowledge his fault. Whosoever follows this threefold rule will seldom offend others, and never be offended himself. - Rev. J. Wesley.

Reproving a brother who had sinned was a positive command under the law. See Leviticus 19:17. And the Jews have a saying, that one of the causes of the ruin of their nation was, "No man reproved another." On the word Church, see Clarke at Matthew 16:28; (note).

Ellen G. White
Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce, 219.1

I advise that these unfortunate ones be left to God and their own consciences, and that the church shall not treat them as sinners until they have evidence that they are such in the sight of the holy God. He reads hearts as an open book. He will not judge as man judgeth.—Letter 5, 1891. [Just twenty years later W. C. White wrote another correspondent: TSB 219.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 269

The words given me were of that character that I knew the people needed, and which would benefit them if they would hear. One discourse was upon how to treat those united with us in church capacity if they erred. They were not to permit their minds to be affected to action by the words of the Lord's enemies against His children. If complaints or murmurings or charges are made they must study in Christ's school as to the course to be pursued toward the ones of whom complaints are made. Tell the matter between him and thee alone, and if he will not hear, then take two or three others; if he will not hear these, tell it to the church. TM 269.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 52-4

Sister F, if you are grieved because your neighbors or friends are doing wrong to their own hurt, if they are overtaken in fault, follow the Bible rule. “Tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” As you go to the one you suppose to be in error, see that you speak in a meek and lowly spirit; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. The erring can be restored in no other way than in the spirit of meekness, gentleness, and tender love. Be careful in your manner. Avoid anything in look or gesture, word or tone, that savors of pride or self-sufficiency. Guard yourself against a word or look that would exalt yourself, or place your goodness and righteousness in contrast with their failings. Beware of the most distant approach to disdain, overbearing, or contempt. With care avoid every appearance of anger; and though you use plainness of speech, let there be no reproach, no railing accusation, no token of warmth but that of earnest love. Above all, let there be no shadow of hate or ill will, no bitterness or sourness of expression. Nothing but kindness and gentleness can flow from a heart of love. Yet all these precious fruits need not hinder you from speaking in the most serious, solemn manner, as though angels were directing their eyes upon you, and you were acting in reference to the coming judgment. Bear in mind that the success of reproof depends greatly upon the spirit in which it is given. Do not neglect earnest prayer that you may possess a lowly mind, and that angels of God may go before you to work upon the hearts you are trying to reach, and so soften them by heavenly impressions that your efforts may avail. If any good is accomplished, take no credit to yourself. God alone should be exalted. God alone has done it all. 2T 52.1

You have excused yourself for speaking evil of your brother or sister or neighbor to others before going to him and taking the steps which God has absolutely commanded. You say: “Why, I did not speak to anyone until I was so burdened that I could not refrain.” What burdened you? Was it not a plain neglect of your own duty, of a thus saith the Lord? You were under the guilt of sin because you did not go and tell the offender his fault between you and him alone. If you did not do this, if you disobeyed God, how could you be otherwise than burdened unless your heart was hardened while you were trampling the command of God underfoot, and in your heart hating your brother or neighbor? And what way have you found to unburden yourself? God reproves you for a sin of omission in not telling your brother his fault, and you excuse and comfort yourself by a sin of commission by telling your brother's faults to another person! Is this the right way to purchase ease—by committing sin? 2T 53.1

All your efforts to save the erring may be unavailing. They may repay you evil for good. They may be enraged rather than convinced. What if they hear to no good purpose, and pursue the evil course they have begun? This will frequently occur. Sometimes the mildest and tenderest reproof will have no good effect. In that case the blessing you wanted another to receive by pursuing a course of righteousness, ceasing to do evil and learning to do well, will return into your own bosom. If the erring persist in sin, treat them kindly, and leave them with your heavenly Father. You have delivered your soul; their sin no longer rests upon you; you are not now partaker of their sin. But if they perish, their blood is upon their own head. 2T 53.2

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Ellen G. White
Christ's Object Lessons, 248-9

The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul charges us: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:1-5. COL 248.1

But sin is not to be lightly regarded. The Lord has commanded us not to suffer wrong upon our brother. He says, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him.” Luke 17:3. Sin is to be called by its right name, and is to be plainly laid out before the wrongdoer. COL 248.2

In his charge to Timothy, Paul, writing by the Holy Spirit, says, “Be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” 2 Timothy 4:2. And to Titus he writes, “There are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers.... Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” Titus 1:10-13. COL 248.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 15

Her husband seemed to feel unreconciled to my bringing out her faults before the church and stated that if Sister White had followed the directions of our Lord in Matthew 18:15-17 he should not have felt hurt: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” 2T 15.1

My husband then stated that he should understand that these words of our Lord had reference to cases of personal trespass, and could not be applied in the case of this sister. She had not trespassed against Sister White. But that which had been reproved publicly was public wrongs which threatened the prosperity of the church and the cause. Here, said my husband, is a text applicable to the case: 1 Timothy 5:20 : “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” 2T 15.2

The brother acknowledged his error like a Christian and seemed reconciled to the matter. It was evident that since the meeting of Sabbath afternoon they had got many things about the matter wonderfully magnified and wrong. It was therefore proposed that the written testimony be read. When this was done, the sister who was reproved by it, inquired: “Is that what you stated yesterday?” I replied that it was. She seemed surprised and quite reconciled to the written testimony. This I gave her, without reserving a copy. Here I did wrong. But I had such tender regard for her and her husband, and such ardent desires and hopes for their prosperity, that, in this case, I broke over an established custom. 2T 16.1

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