The Community of Forgiveness

Steve Viars October 18, 2008 Matthew 18:1-35

 

- what would you think of a football player who said that he only wanted to be associated with the team on game day?...

- he didn’t want anyone checking up on him during the off-season…

- he didn’t want to come to practice during the week…

- he didn’t want to spend time with the other players or build relationships with them…

- but on game day, he assured you that he would be there ready to play…

- is there such a thing as a lone-wolf football player?...

- what if a soldier took that position?...

- I’m not interested in basic training…

- don’t expect me to drill with the rest of the squad…

- don’t test me or hold me accountable for anything…

- I don’t really want to be or need to be associated with the rest of the unit?...

- other than Rambo movies (where they don’t use real bullets by the way), is there such a thing as a lone wolf soldier?...(or at least one that’s still alive)…

- what about agriculture?...

- can a farmer make it on his own?...

- I don’t help and advice from others…

- I’ll make my own seed and develop my own methods…

- I not need/want advice or input from anyone else…

- could a lone wolf farmer make it in the day and age in which we live?...

- I think we would all say that in an incredible number of endeavors…lone wolves seldom survive…

- we need the help, and advice, and oversight, and accountability of others on the team…

- now, let’s bring that down to the family of God…

- the reason I used those three illustrations is because Christians are likened in Scripture to athletes, soldiers, and farmers…(along with quite a few other things by the way…)

- but what about the issue of lone wolf Christians?...

- people who believe they don’t need the family, or they don’t need any accountability?...

- is that a biblical way to think about one’s relationship with God?...

- there are two trends in the American evangelical church today that ought to greatly concern us…

1. The first is churches that do not put the time and effort into providing meaningful and loving accountability for its members…

- we are an independent church here, so we are not part of the Southern Baptist Convention, but we do have a lot of friends in that denomination…

- the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest protestant denomination in the United States…

- they have 42,000 churches with a reported 16,200,000 members…

- however, at their conference here in Indianapolis this summer, they reported statistics that some leaders agreed were “scandalous…”

- on a typical Sunday, if you added up all the people who actually attended a Southern Baptist Church in a given week…it would be just over 6,000,000

- so on average, there would be over 10,000,000 of their members who were not in church anywhere…and in most cases, no one knows where those persons are or how they are doing spiritually…in other words, there is no accountability…

- another speaker suggested that as many as 7,000,000 of their 16,200,000 members fell under the heading of “non-resident”…

- that’s “church talk for” – this person is a member of our church but they don’t live here and we have no idea where they are…again, no accountability…

- the southern Baptist convention actually passed a non-binding resolution suggesting that its 42,000 go back home and clean up their church roles…

- and of course part of the challenge is financial because some of the funding for various programs is dependent on the size of the church roles so it is financially advantageous to have an inflated membership…not to mention bragging rights at the next pastor’s meeting…

 

- but the real issue, this study suggested, was that many pastors and church leaders feared the repercussions if they started holding people on their membership roles to even minimalistic standards for Christian conduct…

- one specific illustration that was given was the possibility of a child growing up in a church leader’s home and then going off to college and later getting a job but never being in a church anywhere or giving any evidence of knowing or living for Christ at all…

- by holding such a young man accountable for either changing or being removed from the church’s role could potentially anger his parents…

- so many churches would rather ignore their responsibilities to the young man than deal with the possible ire of his parents…

- so the first trend that ought to concern us is churches that will not (either because of fear or laziness or disobedience) hold their members accountable for even the smallest level of commitment to Christ…

2. The second trend comes from the seeker driven church movement that has made accountability a purely optional thing…

- in other words, if you don’t want to associate yourself with a team, don’t…

- forget about accountability…forget about being part of a family…

- if you want to be a lone wolf Christian…that’s a perfectly legitimate path to take…

- the problem with that approach is it completely ignores major emphases in Scripture…

- the notion that a person could be in right relationship with Christ but have no formal accountability to a body of believers on earth is unheard of in God’s Word…

- that category of person does not exist as a biblically legitimate option…

 

- and what is interesting is that seeker driven church performed a self-study a year or so ago and came to the conclusion that had gobs of people attending their services on Sundays but the level of spiritual maturity and devotion was Christ was seriously suspect…

- they said of themselves that in way too many cases they had made terribly thin soup…

- so on the one hand, you have churches that will not do the work of providing accountability…

- and on the other, you have churches filled with people who don’t even want it…

- the question before the house this morning is, Is accountability biblical, and what is the relationship between answering that question correctly and being in a position where we can practice the art of forgiveness well?...

- with those questions in mind, let me invite you to open your Bible to Matthew chapter 18…[page 15 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you]…

- this morning we’re concluding a series we’ve been doing the last month on Seeking God’s Plan for Forgiveness…

- today’s theme is all about how we can become A Community of Forgiveness…

- I’m going to read a bit more Scripture than I probably would on a typical Sunday morning, but please follow along carefully so that we can glean all we can about how a church can provide accountability for all its members, and forgiveness for those who need it…

- Read Matthew 18:1-35

- so we’re talking about how a church can be a community of forgiveness…’

- and with the time we have left…let’s think about 5 reasons accountability is necessary in the family of God.

I. Accountability is Necessary Because We Are Spiritual Children.

- that’s what the first six verses are all about…

A. Every person who comes to Christ must humble himself like a child – vv. 2-4.

- you understand that when Jesus called for a child…it wasn’t because He was making a point about physical children…

- He was the Master Teacher – and he was saying to his disciples and anyone else present that they had to become like this (pointing at the child)…Matthew 18:3-4 – and said, Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

- now, what was…

B. The reason Jesus made this point – v. 1

- it is because of the discussion the disciples had just been having just prior to this conversation…

- to pick up that detail, you have to bring in the parallel passage in Mark’s gospel…

- he fills out that aspect of the story…

- Mark 9:33-34 - They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.

- then Matthew picks up the story from there…

- they believed being great meant you knew everything, and you were in the one charge…you didn’t have anybody over you and you didn’t need anything…

- and the Lord makes it clear – that kind of lone-wolf attitude is unmitigated pride…

- and its evidence that a person has not truly been converted…

- a true follower of Christ humbles himself and becomes like a child…

- verses 5-6 look at the same idea from a slightly different perspective…

- not only do you have to become like a child, but you have to recognize that anyone else in the family comes that way…

- so of course they are going to need help, and of course they’re going to need nurturing, and of course they’re going to need loving accountability…

C. The importance of receiving every new person into the family – v. 5

- can you believe what verse 5 says?...

- when someone else practices faith, and comes into the church family…we have the privilege and responsibility of providing warn and loving care and nurture because in so doing…we are receiving…Christ…

- now, the men in this room may not get that metaphor (I’m certainly no expert), but the mothers in this room do…or all the people who faithfully serve in our nursery do…

- what happens when a physical child is brought into our nursery?...

- do the moms say – my baby won’t need anything…he’s potty trained…he can care for himself…he’ll patiently wait until church is over until we eat together as a family…

- no, some moms bring diaper bags as big as steamer trunks with a list on instructions a mile (which is perfectly fine)…

- but that’s the point of the metaphor…you assume that there is going to be a lot of care with babies and children…and spiritually speaking, churches have to understand that and be willing to take that responsibility…

- just think of some of the men and women who have come to Christ here recently…

- it doesn’t matter if they bring all kinds of baggage and needs into the equation…

- according to this text, as we receive them, we are receiving Christ…providing loving nurture and accountability isn’t a hassle, it’s a privilege…

- now, the take aways thus are that you’ll never get out of the child phase in the sense that you will never need loving accountability…

- and you should always enjoy the joy of God bringing other children into the family even with the realization that there is additional effort that will need to be expended to do our job well..now, how do the next verses fit into the equation?...

II. Accountability is Necessary Because of the Possibility of Causing Someone Else to Stumble.

- verse 6 is very similar to what we read in the first week of this study from Luke 17…

A. Causing (or allowing) another believer to stumble spiritually is a very serious matter vv. 5-7.

- Matthew 18:6 - but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

- you say, how could that happen?...

- well, how does it happen with literal babies?...

- either by commission, or omission…

- some parents physically abuse their children…and when are horrified whenever we hear of such stories…

- some parents neglect their children…leaving them home alone while they go out boozing or whatever…and we’re equally outraged when we hear of such a dereliction of duty…

- the same is true spiritually…

- you can cause someone else to stumble by being a poor testimony in front of them, and that can take on hundreds of different forms in the home and in the church…

- or you can allow them to stumble by spiritual neglect…that is equally displeasing to God…

- that is why Jesus says -- Matthew 18:7 - …woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!...then He says…

B. You should go to great lengths to develop spiritual maturity yourself so that you are in a position to positively impact others – vv. 8-9.

- Jesus is speaking hyperbolically here…but the point behind these metaphors of cutting off a hand or a foot or plucking out an eye is that we ought not to let anything stand between us and the spiritual growth God wants us to achieve personally…because that affects your ability to in turn help other children who need to grow…

- in other words, you need the body and the body needs you…

- then Jesus explains that…

C. Even the angels of heaven have a stake in this – v. 10.

- they are ministering spirits and they have a vested interest in the care and growth and health of every person in the church…

- this is the building project of Jesus Christ Himself and angels stand before the face of God ready to be dispatched to provide aid to those who are part of the family…

- and if you say – what exactly does that mean?...

- I have no idea…but I’m know this much – I don’t want to get on the wrong side of that…

- now, what about the next part of the passage?...

III. Accountability is Necessary Because of the Value and Importance of Every Person in the Family.

- the point is – it is irresponsible for churches to have all sorts of people on their membership roles without putting the time and effort into providing a reasonable amount of watchcare for their spiritual well being…

- it is equally irresponsible for an individual Christian to fail to put him/herself under the watch-care and accountability of a local body of believers…

A. Every lost sheep is important to God – vv. 12-13

- metaphorically, that goes without saying…

B. God’s will is that no one will perish - 14.

- and of course the word perish there does not mean that the person will lose his/her salvation…

- it’s the Greek Word apollumi – and it sometimes meant nonpermanent ruin or loss

- now, let’s add some take aways to all of this…

1) I am very thankful for the many men and women in our church family who are greatly concerned that we work hard at discipling every person who becomes a member of our church…

- it is true that God has blessed us with significant numerical growth…[cf growth graph]

- and some have said, could that ever be a bad thing…that concern, gets after the very heart of God…

- that is why we have always shied away from the seeker driven church movement, because the bar of expectation invariably becomes low, and the emphasis is on comfort and entertainment, and you draw a crowd of people who very well may never have even been converted…

- that is also why a significant percentage of our initiatives on the 5 year plan we have just passed address the issue of seeking to improve all the ways we are trying to stimulate people to grow spiritually…and that is true at every age group in our body…

2) This is why it is so important for our church family to elect well qualified and committed deacons…

- might say – what does that have to do with it?...

- describe the deacon care list process…name quizzes (that’s why we need your updated pics)…monthly deacons accountability…reviewing the lists three times a year…thank those who are willing to have their name considered this year (including wives and children)

3) Are you part of a church family?...

- remember, there is no such thing as a lone wolf Christian…

- one Reformer used to like to say. No one has God as his father unless he has the church as his mother…and that could be overstated…but the Scripture does not recognize the existence of a person who says he/she knows Christ but who has not been publically identified with Christ through believers baptism and has not placed themselves in a local church family where they have ongoing accountability for their growth…

- [develop – Intro to Faith…]

- now in that context, we read verses 15-17 (some of the most neglected verses in all the Bible…)

IV. Accountability is Necessary Even When It Is Hard.

A. The occasion – v. 15

- see, what about, “if your brother sins?”...

- it’s not a matter of God’s people spying on one another…and looking for ways to get into each other’s business…

- but do spiritual people have a responsibility for one another when a person is about to go over the cliff?...

Galatians 6:1 - Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

- [if time, develop some of the exegetical ideas from this text]…

B. The steps – vv. 15-20.

- what the Lord says here is crystal clear…

- [walk through the specific steps]…

- if you talk to people who have been around here for any period of time and asked them, humanly speaking, how do you explain what the Lord has done at Faith?...

- one of the answers is going to be…obeying all of the Bible…

- submitting ourselves to loving accountability…

- being willing to address problems and getting them solved before they get worse…

 

- this is also one of the reasons why there is such a demand for pastors and deacons here to speak in other places…because the notion that a congregation would actually do this is such an anomaly in many places (develop the schedules of Doug, Dan Wickert, Doc Smith, Andy, Dave Selvey, yourself – Florida, Spokane, Moldova)…

 

- now you might say – what would be some reasons why this process might be initiated?...

- I was actually looking back at some notes in preparation for this message today…

- as far as I could tell, I have not based an entire message from this text in ten years…

- that’s not to say that we haven’t discussed it…but as far as an entire message, as far as I can tell, it has been ten years…

- and the occasion was – a husband was physically abusing his wife…

- and we believe such behavior is a terrible violation of Scripture, and we followed this process to protect his wife and family, and to make a statement to him and to our community that we are not going to have people who call themselves members of this church (and more importantly, followers of Christ) and behave in that fashion, ever…

- and I do not understand a church that would not take that position…

- another reason we have had to take these steps is when a person is unfaithful to their spouse and will not repent…

- we believe in the sanctity of marriage and when couples are having problems, they need to get help from God’s Word and we have all sorts of resources to help people do that…

- that is why we average less than one divorce a year here…

- [cf. the skeptic who would say – that’s just because everyone is trapped in bad marriages]

- [also address those who have divorces in their past – we’re not that concerned how many times you’ve been married, we just want to help you make the one you’re in now a good one…and we want to insist that you be faithful to your marriage vows]

- another reason I can think of is a person unwilling to pay their bills…

- the challenge in a church like this is that people assume if a person attends church here and they also have some sort of a business, it must be safe to use them…

- and so they sometimes are careless about putting things in writing, having clear contracts, etc.

- that is not wise…

- if a person is unethical in their business dealings, we have to address that for a variety of reasons but one of them is to protect the rest of the church family, especially our widows and the single women in our congregation…

 

- now, this is the reason some people will not become part of a church family…because they don’t want this kind of accountability…

- but the better question to ask might be – does God want you to have this kind of accountability?

 

- now, please always keep this in mind…

C. The goal.

- restoration…

- now, how does all of this fit together with forgiveness?...

- the answer is – you can never have meaningful forgiveness without first providing loving accountability…there is no shortcut to what we’re studying…

- but that is where the rest of the passage fits in…

V. Accountability is Necessary Because It Creates A Community of Forgiveness.

- Peter is carefully listening to all of this and he says in essence, but what happens if the process is effective?...

- and that’s interesting, because Peter doesn’t view all of this the way many of us would…

- we get hung up on…I don’t want to deal with problems, I don’t want to confront…

- Peter gets it right when he says – I’m not sure I want to forgive…

- so he hedges his bet – would I have to do this up to seven times?...

- Jesus says – no, seventy times seven…

- and then he tells this marvelous parable to teach Peter, and us, that whatever way, and to whatever degree you are called upon to forgive someone else…it doesn’t hold a candle to way God has already forgiven you….

- and see, churches take on different reputations…every church is known for different things…

1. Some are known as being very harsh and legalistic…

- the new children are really not welcome, because they don’t automatically measure up…

- or because there are so many unwritten rules added to the Scripture that it snuffs out the life of the new follower of Christ…

- so there is very little new life in that church…

2. Other places have plenty of people…but there is a powerful but unstated rule…

- you don’t talk to me about my sin, and I won’t talk to you about yours…

- and there may be a lot of activity, and a lot of busyness…and a lot of apparent life…

- but it is very thin soup…

- because people do not value accountability…and they will not place themselves under it…

- it is a “flock of lone wolves”…and they associate together only in ways that suit them…

- so in this scenario, problems are not addressed…

- and they might consider themselves to be a forgiving congregation, but they’re not…

- you’ll never get to the end of this text unless you’re willing to take the hard steps at the beginning

3. In other places, the problem is with the church leadership…it is not that people don’t value accountability…

- it is that those who have been tasked to lead will not do the work that’s involved…

- and it may be an issue of fear….it may be a matter of laziness, or distraction…

- but for a different set of reasons, genuine forgiveness never really occurs…

- God wants us to be a forgiving community…and that means that we:

1. Are willing to submit ourselves to biblical accountability as outlined in Scripture

2. Are willing to hold one another accountable when the occasion arise

3. We deal with problems quickly and carefully and compassionately

4. And when repentance occurs (at whatever step of the process was necessary), we joyfully and comprehensively and eternally forgive…

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video