What if your brother sins against you? Jesus gives the divine directions for handling such a matter in Matthew 18:15-20. He bids you to first go to the one who has sinned against you and confer about the matter alone between the two of you (Mt. 18:15). If the one who has sinned will not concede to the offense, then one or two witnesses should be brought along to discuss the matter (Mt. 18:16). Yet, if the offender still refuses to confess his fault, then the church is to be informed; if he will not listen to the church, fellowship is to be withdrawn from the stubborn sinner (Mt. 15:17).
Matthew 18:17 is the second occurrence of the word church in the holy text. The first is located in Matthew 16:18, where our Lord promised to build the church. These two references in Matthew are the only two occurrences of the word in all four gospel accounts. It is evident that the church was not yet established when Jesus gave the instructions of Matthew 18:15-20, for the church was purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). It would not be until after the death, burial, resurrection, and coronation of Jesus Christ that God would be adding people to the church (Acts 2:47). Therefore, Matthew 18:15-20 is instruction that is anticipatory of the church’s establishment. Bible students must recognize that while Christ lived under the law of Moses during his earthly sojourn (Gal. 4:4), His instruction is applicable to the Christian age that was then on the horizon. This is why in regard to handling such sins between brethren, with the confession and forgiveness extended by once-conflicting parties, Jesus says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When Jesus spoke these words, He was bodily present with His disciples to judge such matters, but He was giving instruction for a time when He would no longer bodily be with them. To know that Jesus is present when issues are handled between brethren supports proper attitudes and gives assurance that such proceedings are witnessed by God.
While Jesus is certainly among the saints when they assemble on the first day of the week to remember His death no matter how small the number (Mt. 26:29), our Lord’s promise of Matthew 18:20, that He will be where two are gathered in His name, is not in context referring to a worship service. Much less should it be used to excuse oneself from the corporate worship services of a local congregation.
The Lord knew we would have problems with brethren. It is a part of different people coming together. Our Lord also knew that occasionally one of His saints would sin against another. Remember Jesus is among us when we handle these situations. Just as the disciples often had to swallow their pride and learn to have better attitudes when Jesus was bodily present with them, we often have to learn the same lessons today.