Church: The Good, The Bad, and The Beautiful

Church is an amazing thing—created by Jesus, yet made up of sinful humans. It’s easy to overlook the essence of Church, especially when things aren’t “working” like we want it to. So, let’s step back for a few minutes and consider what an Amazing thing this is.

The Good: Jesus Christ Builds the church

The Greek word for “church” only occurs in two places in the Gospels: Matthew 16 and Matthew 18. In Matthew 16, we read,

He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matt. 16:13-14 CSB)

Certainly a worthy group of people for Jesus to be included. But Jesus presses them for their own thoughts about who he is:

“But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:15-16 CSB)

Peter moves beyond the accolades of the crowds, to confess who Jesus really is, the Messiah [Christ], the Son of the living God. Jesus accepts Peter’s confession, while adding further to it.

Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. (Matt. 16:17 CSB)

That is, for someone to realize who Jesus is means that only God could reveal it. On our own any evaluation of Jesus will fall short. We miss who Jesus really is, and we miss what that confession really is.

Jesus not only acknowledges Peter’s confession and shows him the basis for his confession, he extends it to be the basis of church.

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock [your confession] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matt. 16:18 CSB)

That is amazing, the good.

The Bad: Church is made up of sinners

The reality of the church is that church consists of sinners, only sinners. It doesn’t take us long to be in a church to come to that realization: we are all sinners. We can mess things up in church.

Sinners do sinful things, and it may be easy to spot the sin and sinner. The spotlight helps us identify the sinner, or at least we think it does. If only we could get rid of “those sinners” then church would be acceptable.

Jesus builds the church, and he knows exactly who the people of the church are: sinners. So, he is not surprised by it. Amazingly Jesus still works in and through the church. Jesus does not advocate for the latest and greatest leadership practice, nor the latest conference. Rather because sin is a persistent problem with sinners, even in the church, Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom to the Church to deal with sin (Matt. 16:19).

Jesus does not leave the church to fend for itself. He builds the church and he cares for the church. Sin does not surprise Jesus. Rather, he anticipates that people in the church, sinners, will sin. Thus, in the other mention of “church” in the Gospels, Jesus provides the remedy for the church to continue to be the church.

[Jesus said:] 15 “If your brother sins [against you], go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. (Matt. 18:15-18 CSB)

Sadly this process of dealing with sin is often ignored in the church. The church either thinks the sin will go away, or it hopes that it won’t be noticed, “We don’t want to ruffle feathers.” Or even worse, “church rules” become the basis for getting rid of people, especially those who question church organization leadership. Jesus knows that sin can only be dealt with by confronting the sin and forgiving the sin.

By following these steps, the church can only do one of two things: bind the sin or loose  (forgive) the sin. Note that in v. 18, in either case, the church declares what God has already declared: “whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”

In other words, this is not the church acting as an independent organization for its own good. Rather, the declaration regarding sin is something that God has already determined, and the church speaks that (which will have been already bound/loosed in heaven). The church is not arbitrary in the announcement, but follows the lead of the One who builds the church.

The Beautiful: The Church Lives in Unity

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, chapter 4:

1 Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

He emphasizes that the church living together is not marked by a laundry list of things to do. Rather the church exhibits the character of Christ: humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Elsewhere Paul describes these as “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23).

It’s is amazing when the church begins to live out that reality. Humility means the other person is more important than me. Gentleness means we treat those who have been wounded, abused, shaken by sin not with indifference or judgment, ridicule, “discipline.” Rather we treat them with the same gentleness Jesus demonstrated to people: the woman at the well (John 4), the one caught in adultery (John 8), even Peter who rightly confessed who Jesus is, and yet who also denied Jesus. Bearing with one another in love means walking with another, who struggles, who lives in fear, doubt, anger.

The life of the church is guided by the one who built it. Note in Eph. 4:3 the church “makes every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” The church does not establish unity, only the Spirit can do that. But the church does strive to maintain what the Spirit established. Note how this is the outcome of the church rightly dealing with sin.

In our eyes, we see the church: battered, torn, weak, divisive. From that perspective it is tempting to walk away from the church.

In Christ’s eyes, he sees the church: forgiven, restored, and his voice in the world.

Walking away from church is not the answer. Being the church, as Jesus creates and sees the church means that we stay in the church. Broken sinners, forgiven. Weak yet strong in love, bruised, but not abandoned. That’s how Jesus intended the church to be.

Christ’s Church is amazing and beautiful

Who heard and was troubled?

I again have the privilege of teaching Matthew this quarter in our seminary. As part of my preparation I read four chapters a day, hence the entire book of Matthew every week. Each week I use a different translation. So this week (starting on Friday) I began reading in God’s Word (GW) Matt. 1-4.

Matthew 2:3

Appropriately I read the section that fits with the Epiphany (January 6), namely the visit of the wise men to Jesus in Bethlehem. I noticed something different about this verse:

Matt. 2:3 When King Herod and all Jerusalem heard about this, they became disturbed. (GW)

So, it appears according to this translation that King Herod and all Jerusalem were together in hearing and reacting to what they heard. But is that accurate? Looking at the Greek text,

ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης ἐταράχθη καὶ  °πᾶσα Ἱεροσόλυμα μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ, (NA28)

The first word is an aorist participle, nominative singular (“having heard” implying “he” or a singular noun of the sentence).  After the conjunction, δὲ (“now” “when”) we find the subject of the sentence: “[The] King Herod,” which is followed by the main verb (ἐταράχθη) which is aorist indicative, singular, “he was troubled.” So we could easily translate the first part of the sentence:

“When having heard [about the wise men] King Herod was troubled.”

The second part of the sentence is an additional clause, not a complete sentence, which can be translated:

“and all Jerusalem with him.”

This suggests that “all Jerusalem” did not hear [the report] but was reacting to King Herod who heard and was troubled. When the king is troubled, then all Jerusalem is troubled with him. Thus, the threat of a king-challenger is of immediate concern to Herod. It is a troubled Herod that is of immediate concern for the people.

Other translations:

I could find only one other translation that was even close to GW, namely NLT:

NLT King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.

Unfortunately the way the sentence is awkwardly constructed in NLT, the additional clause at the end is closely connected with “hearing” and not “deeply disturbed.” Yet the helping verb (“was”) suggests a relationship with “deep disturbed.” But who would stop and analyze that structure?

The following translations catch the sense of the Greek sentence, that Herod heard the report, and that was troubling to him, and that then as troubling to all Jerusalem, contrary to GW (and NLT).

NAS When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

NET When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him.

NIV When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

HCSB When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

NAB When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

NJB When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.

REB King Herod was greatly perturbed when he heard this, and so was the whole of Jerusalem.

It seems that GW (and somewhat NLT) confuses the problem by making Herod and the people as the ones equally who heard and are troubled.

Matt. 18 mercy, binding, and loosing

Daily reading today is Matthew 17-20. Here are some thoughts on MEV translation.

Matthew 18:33

οὐκ ἔδει ⸂καὶ σὲ⸃ ἐλεῆσαι τὸν σύνδουλόν σου, ὡς κἀγὼ ⸄σὲ ἠλέησα

MEV: Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, even as I had pity on you?

Note that same Greek word in a parallel construction is translated two different ways. NKJV does the same as MEV.

NKJV: Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?

Consider other translations

NAS: Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?

NET: Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?

ESV: And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?

HCSB: Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?

NIV: Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

GW: Shouldn’t you have treated the other servant as mercifully as I treated you?

ἐλεέω

Other uses of the same word (“have mercy”) in Matthew in MEV:

5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy

9:27 “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

15:22 Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David

17:15 Lord, have mercy on my son

20:30 Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David

Every occurrence of ἐλεέω in MEV in Matthew is translated as “have mercy.” It is even more strange then, in this passage (18:33) that it be translated two different ways, and neither consistent with the way it was translated throughout the book. Since the intent of the entire pericope (Matthew 18:21-35) is the parallel response between the master and the unforgiving servant, it would make better sense to translate the word the same way in this context (“have mercy”) especially within the same sentence.

Matthew 18:18

This verse has been a sort of litmus test. How do we translate the future perfect passive participles?

ἔσται δεδεμένα (bind)

ἔσται λελυμένα (loose)

The MEV translates as simple future passives, as do most other translations

MEV Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven

NKJV Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven

HCSB I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.

(with footnotes: earth will be bound… earth will be loosed. The text version catches the passive sense and prior action by God, “already done”)

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ESV Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

(with footnote: Or shall have been bound . . . shall have been loosed, which indicates future perfect passive)

NIV Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

(with footnote: Or will have been, in both uses, which indicates future perfect passive)

I think NAS offers a consistent translation of the verb forms:

NAS Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

What difference does this make?

In one sense it doesn’t seem to make much difference. As we explore the options, notice that most translations offer a future passive sense (“will be bound” “will be loosed”). Such a translation makes the authority rest on the person making the declaration. “I declare it… it will be done.”

Looking at NAS (and ESV and NIV with footnotes) the the focus of authority resides with God and His prior action, not the person making the declaration. In essense, when the person declares “it is bound,” he or she can do so because “it will have already been bound in heaven (by God) prior to the declaration.” Likewise, when the person declares “it is loosed” he or she can do so because “it will have already been done in heaven (by God) prior to the declaration.” It is God’s prior authority and declaration that is being announced, not the individual’s own authority. The person announces God’s already determined response.

This frees the person making the declaration from being the source of authority. And it let’s God Word be determinative.

Righteousness and Temptation

Our midweek Lenten service focuses on the tempations of Jesus in Matthew. The background of the temptation goes all the way back to Genesis 3:1–21. There Satan tempted Eve and Adam to rebel against God and His perfect creation. Likewise, Israel failed in meeting the temptations in the wilderness.

The sad reality is that because of Eve and Adam’s sin, we all have that heritage of sinning, submitting to the temptations of this world. Jesus takes on the human nature, not as corrupted by Eve and Adam, but as originally intended in creation. At His baptism Jesus begins to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15) now specifically by facing the temptations of unrighteousness. And the Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus is the One who leads (“drove Him” Mark 1:12) Him into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1–11).

Jesus does this so that He can face the temptations of being human, very real temptations. But instead of giving in to them, Jesus conquers the temptations. Tonight we look more closely at how He did that and the implications for our own struggles with temptation.

Matthew 4:1-11 (NKJV)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:

“He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and,
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ”

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”

Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

Thus, God’s plan of saving humans is not left to humans’ futile attempts. Rather salvation will be accomplished by Jesus, true God and true Man, who overcomes temptation for us. Not only does Jesus die for our sins (passive obedience), He also lives the perfect life for us (active obedience). And both are credited to our account which faith receives (Gen. 15:6; Romans 3:21–26, 2 Cor. 5:21, etc.)

From C. F. W. Walther

Lord Jesus, how great is Your love toward us who have deserved nothing but wrath! Because we have come short of the glory of God, You, the Lawgiver Himself, put Yourself under the Law, fulfilling it perfectly in our stead, to procure for us the righteousness that avails before God.

With our sins we called down upon ourselves the temporal and eternal punishments of the just and holy God. But You humbled Yourself unto death, even death on the cross; by suffering and dying for us, You bore our punishment to purchase for us grace and pardon for all our sins (Philippians 2:8; Isaiah 53:4)

O Lord Jesus, Who truly “first loved us” (1 John 4:19), indeed unto death, grant us grace not to remain indifferent to such love, but let Your love kindle within us true love for You, so that we will love You not merely “in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18)

Hear us for Your blessed name’s sake. Amen

[For the Life of the Church – C.F.W. Walther, CPH, 2011; thanks Lynda, for sending this]

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If you are in Frazier Park tonight, come to the soup supper at 6 PM and worship at 7 PM.

Sermon March 15, 2015

The Gospel reading and sermon text for today (Narrative Lectionary):

Sermon: Matthew 25:1-30

Text: HCSB

[Jesus said:] 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 
10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible. 
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take olive oil with them. 4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’

7 “Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 
8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

9 “The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.

11 “Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’

13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

14 “For it is just like a man going on a journey. He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one—to each according to his own ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. 17 In the same way the man with two earned two more. 18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

22 “Then the man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’

23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

24 “Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’

26 “But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

28 “‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Forgiveness for the fallen

Christ Calls to Calvary…the Fallen

This is our theme for tomorrow night’s midweek Lenten series: Christ Calls to Calvary. Tonight, Christ calls the fallen.

Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him.” Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. (Matthew 26:48-50)

This may be the hardest call to understand and accept. In the end it will be the most important call of all. Judas’ name has been attached to all kinds of images, stories, explanations, excuses, protests, and empathy. Judas is the one who betrays Jesus to the Jewish leaders and their guards.

Judas—was one of the twelve that Jesus called to follow him.

 Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. (Matthew 10:1-4 NAS)

Judas—sold his friend and master for some money.

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. (Matthew 26:14–15 NAS)

Judas—sat with Jesus when Jesus instituted the Supper. The Supper which continues to offer the body and blood of Jesus even today.

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26–28 NAS)

Judas—tried to deny his own plot. At the supper, Jesus says that someone will betray him. Judas joins the other disciples and asks the fateful question, a question that reveals his own plotting even before the meal began:

And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself.” (Matthew 26:25 NAS)

Judas—led the group to Jesus to fulfill his “contract” with the chief priests.

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?”  (Matthew 26:14 NAS)

While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests and elders of the people. (Matthew 26:47 NAS)

Judas—realized his sin, and he regretted what he had done. Instead of repenting, though, he was led to despair and ultimately his death.

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. (Matthew 27:3)

But…

Jesus—endured the betrayal of Judas, the denials of Peter, the abandonment by the other disciples, for our betrayal, our denials, our abandonment of Jesus.

He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25 HCSB)

Jesus—came to fulfill His heavenly Father’s perfect will.

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4 HCSB)

Jesus—came to be betrayed, by every one, including Judas—and me. He knew what waited for him, betrayal and death, death on a cross.

[Jesus said:] “Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Matthew 26:45 NAS)

Jesus—died on the cross for the sins of every one, Judas—and me.

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 HCSB)

Jesus—is God’s perfect amen to every promise he made—for the fallen.

For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in Him. Therefore, the “Amen” is also spoken through Him by us for God’s glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20 HCSB)

Jesus—came for the fallen, for every person—including me. There is hope.

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13 HCSB)

Jesus—has the last word, forgiveness for fallen.

PinosMtn2011

Forgiveness in the Church

How does the Church live together day in and day out? It isn’t programs, musicians, leadership, spiritual giftedness. Rather the Church lives and breathes in the environment of forgiveness. There is no short-cut, not a handy bypass to avoid dealing with sin. Ignoring sin will foster an atmosphere of approval of sin. Refusing to forgive leads to arrogance, on the one hand, and the desire to cover sins, on the other. No, dealing with sin can be done in no other way than through forgiveness. It means dealing with sin, not to “win” but to “win the brother” — that is, to restore the brother or sister to the fellowship. Thus, this process is for the purpose of restoring relationships. It means forgiving, even in the midst of a crises. It means letting God have the first word and the last word.

Forgiveness is not the same as saying, “Oh that’s okay.” No, the reality of sin is that it is destructive of people, relationships, and especially relationship with God. When we as Christians face sin, it can be unpleasant. But, forgiving sin is restorative, it is the mending of broken relationships, and it is foremost the bringing together the forgiven sinner and the God who forgives.

 

Who are you to forgive?

You will often hear something to this effect: “Only God can forgive sins.” Or “Who do you think you are to forgive sins?” But Jesus says the opposite. Tomorrow our Gospel reading is Matthew 18:15-35 (also basis for the sermon)—see below. The theme is forgiveness; namely, Jesus tells us how to deal with sin: in love confronting the person about the sin (not attacking the person). When the person repents, we forgive the person, freely, even as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).

We do not forgive on our own authority but on the authority of Jesus himself. Note in 18:18

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

In other words, the forgiving we do is done on the basis that it has already been forgiven in heaven. We are not in control, but rather declaring what God has already done.

Also he says in 18:20

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

Note that 18:20 is often taken out of context and used to apply to any and every gathering of Christians—except forgiveness. However, in this context, Jesus’ promise to be there with us is in the forgiving of sins. Let’s not ignore the central aspect of the Christian life: forgiveness of sins. Let’s not downplay the role in the gathering of Christians. Let’s not pretend we are super pious by claiming “I would never dare take the authority to forgive sins.” Indeed, Jesus says the very opposite. We fail to live in Christian community when we do not confront sin (with the Law) and forgive (sin (the Gospel). And it isn’t self-appointed, it is Jesus’ description and commission of Christian living.

The text is Matthew 18:15-35 (NAS)

[Jesus said:] 15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’

34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

May we live together in community based on the forgiveness of sins!

Beatitudes in HCSB

In the Narrative Lectionary this is the year in which the Gospel According to Matthew is highlighted. One aspect of my preparation each week is to look at several translations (NAS, NIV, GW, HCSB, NKJV are the usual ones). This Sunday the text will be Matthew 5:1-20. Here is the HCSB translation of 5:2-10.

Then He began to teach them, saying:

“The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted.
The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled.
The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy.
The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God.
The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God.
Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

While this may be technically accurate, I stumbled through the reading. Even orally, it seemed awkward. Perhaps that is due to my 65 years of worship and Bible reading in which the KJV/RSV/NAS/NKV heritage was the traditional rendering of this text.

From a translation perspective, there is nothing technically wrong with the HCSB here. I do have two problems with the HCSB translation. The rearrangement of “blessed” to end of the first half of the sentences diminishes the impact of the repetition in each verse. It is difficult to see any pattern here. And from an oral reading perspective, it is awkward at best to read. It is just too jarring to the ear. Hence I did not use the HCSB for this Sunday’s reading.

This reads and sounds better.

Matthew 5:3-10
Matthew 5:3-10

Matt. 18:15-20 Pt 1

I will give the text in Greek, then in English (NAS)

15 Ἐὰν δὲ ἁμαρτήσῃ [εἰς σὲ] ὁ ἀδελφός σου, ὕπαγε ἔλεγξον αὐτὸν μεταξὺ σοῦ καὶ αὐτοῦ μόνου. ἐάν σου ἀκούσῃ, ἐκέρδησας τὸν ἀδελφόν σου· 16 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀκούσῃ, παράλαβε μετὰ σοῦ ἔτι ἕνα ἢ δύο, ἵνα ἐπὶ στόματος δύο μαρτύρων ἢ τριῶν σταθῇ πᾶν ῥῆμα· 17 ἐὰν δὲ παρακούσῃ αὐτῶν, εἰπὲ τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ· ἐὰν δὲ καὶ τῆς ἐκκλησίας παρακούσῃ, ἔστω σοι ὥσπερ ὁ ἐθνικὸς καὶ ὁ τελώνης. 18 Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν· ὅσα ἐὰν δήσητε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ, καὶ ὅσα ἐὰν λύσητε ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένα ἐν οὐρανῷ.

19 Πάλιν [ἀμὴν] λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν δύο συμφωνήσωσιν ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς περὶ παντὸς πράγματος οὗ ἐὰν αἰτήσωνται, γενήσεται αὐτοῖς παρὰ τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς. 20 οὗ γάρ εἰσιν δύο ἢ τρεῖς συνηγμένοι εἰς τὸ ἐμὸν ὄνομα, ἐκεῖ εἰμι ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν.

15 “If your brother sins [fn: against you], go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that By the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

Textual and Issues:

There are really only two textual variants that call for attention. In 18:15, we have face the question whether the words “against you” (singular) is original. The manuscript evidence is divided, but early mss tend not to have the phrase. The listing of translations shows the variety; when a footnote is included about the manuscript differences, it is noted in parentheses.

omit clause   B 0281 ƒ1 579 sa bopt ; Orlem

NAS (fn), NIV (fn), GW (fn), NJB, REB, NET (fn)

“against you” D K L N W Γ Δ Θ 078 ƒ13 33. 565. 700. 892. 1241. 1424 M latt sy mae bopt

NKJV, HCSB (fn), ESV (no fn), NRSV (fn), NLT (no fn), NAB [bracketed]

NET has an extended footnote that is worth noting.

The earliest and best witnesses lack “against you” after “if your brother sins.” …However, if the MSS were normally copied by sight rather than by sound, especially in the early centuries of Christianity, such an unintentional change is not as likely for these MSS. And since scribes normally added material rather than deleted it for intentional changes, on balance, the shorter reading appears to be original. NA27 includes the words in brackets, indicating doubts as to their authenticity.

I think it is easier to explain the addition of the phrase as a later manuscript change, which would match Peter’s question in 18:21 “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” Thus, the original would seem to lack the two words. In a later post, I will consider the implications of this difference.

The other texual issue involves how to translate the verbs in 18:18. There are varieties of ways to translate this verse:

HCSB I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.

ESV Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

(fn: shall have been bound . . .  shall have been loosed)

NIV “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

(fn: “will have been” in both cases)

NKJV  “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

As a future perfect passive participle I translate it this way:

ἔσται δεδεμένα (will have been bound) ἔσται future indicative; δεδεμένα middle perfect passive, neuter, nominative, plural

ἔσται λελυμένα (will have been loosed) ἔσται future indicative; λελυμένα middle perfect passive, neuter, nominative, plural

The idea behind this understanding of the verbs is when the disciple binds or looses (forgives) it will have already been bound or loosed by God in heaven prior to the declaration. So, the disciple is not in charge but declaring what God has already done.

On the other hand, if we accept the ESV or NIV (text) reading, then it would change the dynamics dramatically. The disciple now becomes the determiner of binding and loosing. That is, the disciple would seem to have the power to go and do any binding or loosing with the expectation that God has to come along forgive because the disciple has done the first act. More will be mentioned about this implications of this understanding as we explore all of 18:15-20.

Limits of this section

Sometimes Matthew 18:19-20 is used as a proof text for Christ’s presence with the gathering of any two or three Christians. The principle is itself okay, as it is supported elsewhere in Scripture. But in light of the two verses intimate connection with the preceding four verses, we have to interpret them as part of the entire section 15-20, not as a thought independent of its context.

For this study we will examine and interpret the totality of 15-20 rather than as two independent pericopes. This approach also then provides a natural segue into the following section, vv. 21-35.

Context of Matthew 18:15-35

Limits of study

Obviously it is difficult to jump into the middle of a text without understanding the context. Our text comes at the end of the fourth discourse, which describes the ekklesia (church), i.e. the New Messianic people of God (13:54–19:1). There are two parts in this discourse.

The previous section (13:54–17:27) focused on the deeds as Jesus separates Himself and His disciples from the first century Jewish understanding of what it means to be God’s people. In other words, the former way of living (under the old covenant) is passing away, and Jesus begins to contrast what the new covenant [testament] means for living. This separation begins with the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth (13:54-58). The death of John (14:1-12) highlights that the prophetic preparation for the Messiah has been completed.

Then follows a series of miracles that demonstrate particular aspects of the Messiah’s work and what they means for His disciples. The feeding of the 5,000 highlights not only Jesus’ power and authority, but even more the heart of God— “He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them“ (14:14). Rather than the “shepherds” of Israel who saw the crowds as ones to be manipulated, used, and exploited, Jesus saw the people as they were, people in need.

In addition to the feeding miracle Jesus walks on the water, which only His disciples see, then heals the sick in Gennesaret. These miracles demonstrate his authority over all creation, extending compassion as needed. Yet, even then the disciples face the reality of their lack of faith. Contrast that with the two “outsiders” who are commended for their faith (Matthew 8:10-11; 15:28).

The conflict between Jesus and the rulers of the Jews increases as we move into chapter 15. The old way was to examine the externals as the measure of law-keeping, and obedience to God. The tradition of the elders is exposed when Jesus points to Word, namely Isaiah, to condemn them (Matthew 15:8-9). It isn’t what goes into a person that defiles, but what comes out, comes out of the heart (15:10-20).

Jesus ventures into another Gentile area, Tyre and Sidon. Note that while Jesus came to Israel, it is also true that Jesus was preparing for Matthew 28:16-20 by His own extension of the message beyond Israel. In this case the Canaanite woman reveals true faith. Two more miracles follow this story. Again, note the divine characteristic in 15:32, “And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, ‘I feel compassion for the people.’ ”

Yet remarkably in Matthew 16:1-4 the Pharisees and Sadducees ask for a sign. They see, but do not see. The contrast for the new people of God is that seeing comes from faith. After explaining the real problem of these leaders, Jesus now asks the disciples who He is—the context and object of faith. Peter gets the identification correct: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The source is not Peter’s deduction, but the revealing work of God. Sadly, in 16:21-23, Peter also exposes how little he knows what his confession really meant. Peter wants a Savior of his own making. He gets much more in Jesus.

Jesus explains more about what this confession Peter made when He said: “I also say to you that you are Peter (Πέτρος masculine referring to Peter), and upon this rock (πέτρᾳ feminine referring to his confession, not to Peter) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” This confession also leads to the issue of forgiveness of sins, a theme that is central in our main text, 18:15-35.

But the confession also includes Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus, thus, contradicts one of the major expectations of the Jewish people: the Messiah would lead them to victory over the Romans. Such a confession includes the disciples to deny themselves and follow Jesus, cross language that will be fully evident in chapters 26-28.

Chapter 17 adds to the disciples’ confusion. Jesus, the one who will be killed, is not transfigured in front of three disciples. Then He follows that with another prophecy of His death and resurrection. It’s like the disciples have been given a puzzle with many pieces, yet the pieces seem to come from many different puzzles.

Chapter 18:1-14

This text provides the immediate background and transition to our text of interest. The question in 18:1 reveals how the disciples are still thinking in the old paradigm. “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus clearly refutes such thinking when he uses a child (“a child, normally below the age of puberty” BDAG). In other words, the wisdom and superiority of an adult perception of greatness are not in the mix. It is an issue of faith, something the disciples have missed repeatedly.

In 18:5-9 Jesus goes even further. It is not a matter of (self-imagined) greatness, but rather how do the new people of God treat the “least” in the kingdom. Leading one of the least into sin has great consequences.

[Jesus said:] “…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. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! (Matthew 18:6-7 NAS)

The least includes the lost among them, those who go astray (18:10-14). Notice, too, that the finding of the lost is critical, but also the the resulting rejoicing. God desires that not one be lost.

With this background we see that Jesus will usher in a new kingdom, the church (ἐκκλησία). It will be far different than what the people had experienced under the old covenant. Relationships will reflect God’s perfect love and compassion. Anything that interferes with the relationship of the church is to be dealt with following the pattern of greatness in the new kingdom.

This then leads us into the text of 18:15-35.