This article examines Matthew 18 on church discipline.

Source: Nader Bekeken. 3 pages.

A Closer Look at the Golden Rule of Matthew 18

Matthew 18 deals with discipline. Who is responsible for this discipline? All too quickly, one looks toward the consistory of the church. People say, it is the duty of the consistory to exercise discipline. However, discipline begins with the exercise of discipline among and between members of the congregation. Article 66 of the Canadian Reformed Church Order states this:

A Closer Look at the  Golden Rule of Matthew 18“Since church discipline is of a spiritual nature and, as one of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, has been given to the church to shut and to open that kingdom, the consistory shall ensure that it is used to punish sins against both the purity of doctrine and the piety of conduct, in order to reconcile the sinner with the church and with his neighbour, and to remove all offence out of the church of Christ – which can be done only when the rule given by our Lord in Matthew 18:15-17 is followed in obedience.”

In practice, we encounter an easy-going attitude creeping into the fellowship of believers. The rule of Matthew 18 is equally intended to activate members of the congregation towards each other. Church discipline is not only the task of the consistory.


Matthew 18 is also intended as a guide and a line of action for fellowship between individual members of the congregation. We must not immediately think of the duty of the consistory. Christ dwells, with his word, in the congregation. Discipline begins, therefore, in the relationship between two people. The congregation may not passively wait and see whether or not discipline will begin. Members of the congregation may and must understand that Matthew 18 is applicable in situations with which they are faced. Members need to view each other as fellow members of the body of Christ. The apostle Paul writes in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.”

Searching Shepherds🔗

In Matthew 18, we encounter disciples who have been wronged. The disciples have experienced injustice. Now, they are faced with the question as to how they should react. In a manner appropriate to their station, they desire to call to order the perpetrator of the injustice. It is apparent from the words of the Lord Jesus that he does not acknowledge rank or station. The disciples must become as a child. They may not regard themselves as superior to those people who shortchange them. What must rank high is the preservation of the sinner! One must render this service to the sinner: that one goes to him or her. Through the law of the Lord, the sinner is admonished because of the deed. Should a person be severe or harsh when he or she goes to admonish someone? Should one apply the axe? A person needs to be severe with himself and patient with regard to a brother. For the followers of Christ it is appropriate to seek the lost. All disciples of Christ need to be searching shepherds. With this in mind, the disciples receive the rule of Matthew 18.

Under Four Eyes🔗

Christ calls to action everyone who sees sin in his brother. This does not entail an offensive aimed at the entire congregation. When you see a sin in your brother or sister, according to Matthew 18, you must first go to speak with the person under four eyes, that is: with just the two of you. Often this procedure is not followed. Behind someone’s back, we often judge and condemn his or her actions. Gossip spreads from one person to another. When it finally comes back to the person thus judged, it causes great sorrow. What do you do when you hear gossip? You are not doing any service to the gossip monger when you absorb his or her criticism of the brother or sister like a sponge. It does feel good when someone says to you, “You understand me better than the other person.” Still, the criticism should not have come to you. As office bearer, you are not a conduit pipe. You must point out to the congregation member his or her duty to the brother or sister. Whoever has a criticism of or sees sin in a brother or sister, must, according to Matthew 18, go alone to speak to that brother or sister.

Good Conversational Attitude🔗

Before you go to admonish or exhort someone else, you must examine yourself under a magnifying glass. Examine yourself to see whether you are motivated by pride, to see whether you may have become guilty of false testimony or lying, or of using wounding words or of offensive deeds. Examine yourself to see if you are prone to forgive. In the following verses in Matthew 18, you read that the disciples were to forgive another person seventy times seven times. You may only go to admonish another when you yourself are ready to forgive. When you go to admonish someone, do that in love and in humility. That is a good conversational attitude.

Do Not Judge🔗

When you have witnessed something that is wrong in someone else, you must go to talk with that person. Begin the conversation carefully. You may not immediately condemn the other person. That which you have seen may appear wrong to you, but you don’t know if you are right. You don’t absolutely know that sin is being committed. Sometimes, it is just gossip or half-truths. The brother or sister concerned has the right to be heard. He or she has the right to present the issue from his or her point of view. This prevents rash condemnation.

Under Six or Eight Eyes🔗

A Closer Look at the  Golden Rule of Matthew 18Next, Matthew 18 gives a line of action when speaking in private with a person who has sinned does not work. Your inclination may be to avoid the other person when a conversation has not had a good outcome. So many conversations have already taken place with the brother, the sister, with the minister, with the elder or deacon. Nothing helped. Now, it is indeed possible that the other person was not open to exhortation. In the long run, it is however possible that an amount of laziness can sneak into oneself. It is so easy to say, “With that person, I have said everything I can say.” However, serving another is never easy. The wronged disciple must make a second attempt to rescue the sinner. He must make the effort to start over. Once again, he must, as a shepherd, go to seek the lost, only now with one or two others. This command to make a second attempt is sometimes ignored! You suggest to the brother or sister a further conversation involving three or four people. This second conversation can happen in the presence of an office bearer or another member of the congregation. Perhaps, using this method, someone can be turned from a sinful path. Possibly, the chances that someone will let him- or herself be persuaded to listen and cooperate, increase. Together, you will receive the gift of a solution.

Then Present It to the Congregation!🔗

If the sinner is not willing to listen to one or more people, then lay it before the congregation! That is to say, lay it before the consistory of the congregation, the office bearers. Do not act in the following manner, that someone during the church service trumpets the sins of one brother or sister in the hearing of everyone. Rather, in an orderly manner, present the problem to the consistory. He will be accompanied by one or two witnesses. You will ask the consistory for help in order to come to a solution to this problem. Perhaps you will find a solution here and together experience a rich blessing!


If the sinner is not willing to repent and turn from deliberate sinning, only one reasonable solution remains: excommunication. When that happens, your relationship with that person becomes as with a tax collector or unbeliever. What did that mean in the past? What does it mean now? Dealing with someone as with an unbeliever means that you have no respect for his sin. The person now exists outside of the circle of brothers and sisters in the Lord. The purpose is that he would feel that he must come to repentance. You do need to strive to maintain a respectful relationship with the person in question. As much as a person feels that he is being treated with respect, so much sooner will this make it possible for him to return. The door remains open. Now, that which remains when the person is excommunicated, is prayer. Only God can grant repentance as an answer to prayer.

Positive Intentions in Oversight and Discipline🔗

Dealing with someone as with an unbeliever has three positive objectives. The name of the Lord is kept holy over against the revilement that is brought about by the sin. Further, other brothers and sisters are forewarned against following the sinful example and walking in the way of the sin. Also, being excommunicated from the congregation can help the sinner see the seriousness of the sin. Discipline expresses love. Love draws. The intention of church discipline is positive! In the “Form for Readmission into the Church of Christ” found in the “Book of Praise”, the following prayer is printed: “Gracious God and Father, we thank and praise you through Jesus Christ that you have granted this brother (sister) godly grief and repentance unto life and have caused us to rejoice in this.” This is the ultimate purpose of oversight and discipline.

Safe Fellowship🔗

The rule of Matthew 18 is intended to engage church members with each other in an active fellowship. That is not only the task of the office bearers. All members of the congregation must be seeking shepherds. When the congregation adheres to the rule of Matthew 18, it results in a cleansing of relationships. In this way the Holy Spirit works through the word. A Closer Look at the  Golden Rule of Matthew 18When the congregation knows that the rule of Matthew 18 is maintained, this gives security. The fellowship of holy people is a safe, secure fellowship. You don’t risk being criticized or condemned behind your back. You know that if necessary, you will be addressed by fellow members. The rule of Matthew 18 is a golden rule, an enduring mandate.

This article was translated by Elizabeth DeWit.

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