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In the “Lashon Hara” study we saw that Yahweh wants our speech to edify, unify, and build up our brethren. If our speech does not actively help bring our brothers and sisters into a deeper relationship with each other and into a closer walk with Him, then something is wrong, and we need to pray for more wisdom.
As a general rule, our speech should always glorify the Intercessor of the saints, rather than the Accuser (or Accurser) of the brethren. However, as we saw in the study on lashon hara, there are times when we are ethically required to say negative things. For example, if we know that someone is a predator, or is selfish, we are ethically required to warn our brothers.
TimaTheus Bet (2nd Timothy) 4:14-16
14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May Yahweh repay him according to his works.
15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.
Warning someone so that they will not come to harm is the only legitimate reason for speaking negatively about a brother to a third party. Notice that this principle also applies when speaking to a brother’s face; the only reason to speak negatively to him is to help save him from coming to harm.
Yeshua spoke lovingly, yet acidly, to the Pharisees in order to wake them up, so as to keep them from coming to harm on the Day of Judgment.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 23:13-14
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”
Yeshua’s words do not qualify as evil speech because not only were His words spoken in love, they were also seriously intended to help. It is this attitude of loving and seeking to help others which is our first key to understanding the Matthew 18 process.
In an ideal world we would only ever have to speak positive and uplifting things. However, because the world is imperfect, Yahweh permits us to say negative things, but only in the course of righting a wrong. Similarly, while Yahweh ideally wants His people all to get along in perfect peace and harmony, some brothers and sisters are not safe to take into fellowship. Sadly, some of our believing brethren behave in ways that are inconsiderate, rude, hurtful, and even harmful to others. Yeshua gives us a means of discreetly correcting those who are humble and willing to change, and a powerful peer pressure mechanism to encourage the hardened either to reform or be barred from fellowship.
The Matthew 18 process is extremely powerful, and should only be used with the utmost of care. We need to remember that the goal is not to punish, but only to help a sinning brother repent. Ideally, we need to rejoice when this process succeeds, and to mourn when it does not.
Before we discuss the specifics of Matthew 18, let us first discuss the system of justice described in the Torah. Sometimes it is said that the Tanach (“Old Covenant”) gives us a “masculine” view of the covenant which focuses on specifics and details, whereas the Brit Chadasha (“Renewed Covenant”) gives us perhaps a more “feminine” view that explains the spiritual aspects of righteousness. First the Torah lays out a system of justice we are to follow whenever we live in the land, then Matthew 18 shows us principles of justice we can use even when we do not have a temple. However, the Matthew 18 process will still apply even after we come back to the land of Israel, because the principles always apply.
The Torah emphasizes the need to purge the camp of those who do not obey Yahweh, by stoning.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 24:7
7 “If a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and mistreats him or sells him, then that kidnapper shall die; and you shall put away the evil from among you.”
However, notice that in order to qualify for the death penalty, the infraction has to be very serious. One reason adultery may qualify is that it breaks down the family unit, which is the basic building block of society.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:23-24
23 “If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and
lies with her,
24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.”
Before we go further, let us note that the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) does not appear in any of the four oldest Greek manuscripts, or in the Aramaic Peshitta or the Old Syriac. For this and several other reasons, many scholars believe John 7:53-8:11 was added later. This is important because the presence or absence of this passage can radically alter our vision of who Yeshua is, and how He wants us to behave.
Christianity alleges that the story of the woman caught in adultery proves that Yeshua taught a new and different Torah; but when we understand that this passage was a later addition, we can see that the Matthew 18 process is really the same system of justice as laid out in the Torah, just transferred to the Melchizedekian Order (which does not need a physical temple in which to operate). Thus the two systems are really just two different faces of the same system of justice that Yahweh wants us to keep. Both of these systems apply when we live in the land and have a standing temple, while the latter can still function even in its absence because it focuses on principle, rather than on specifics.
The Torah specifies that we are to take all issues of justice before the priests and/or the judges who are appointed (or anointed) to serve in those days.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 19:15-21
15 “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.
16 If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing,
17 then both men in the controversy shall stand before Yahweh, before the priests and (or) the judges who serve in those days.
18 And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother,
19 then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you.
20 And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you.
21 Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
However, since Yahweh knew that His disciples would be expelled from the land, and that they would not keep Torah while out in the nations, another means had to be given for establishing justice within the body.
Matthew 18 describes more than just the principles of justice. It also explains the correct attitude we are to seek, so that we do not come into judgment before our good heavenly Father.
Before the great adult competition for power, status, money, and sex begins, a child’s chief concern is an innocent desire for friendship. Children need a safe, stable environment in which to learn and grow. It is precisely this environment that must be first established and then safeguarded within the borders of Israel (in the land) or, in the least, within the confines of fellowship (in the dispersion).
Mattityahu (Matthew) 18:1-17
1 At that time the disciples came to Yeshua saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 Then Yeshua called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them,
3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Before puberty children are generally humble before adults, and they do not typically compete against them. While brethren might compete in an economic sense, we must avoid interpersonal competition between brothers. We should humble ourselves, and focus upon hearing and obeying Yahweh’s voice, so as to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.
One major goal of life is to be refined in the fire, so as to become more pleasing and pure before Yahweh. Because of this, offenses and challenges must surely come. However, woe to us if those challenges or offenses come through us, for Yahweh does not leave unpunished those who cause others to stumble.
5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!
8 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.
9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.
Yeshua asks us to lay down our lives for His sake. In order to do this, we need to die completely to the lusts of our eyes, the lusts of our flesh, and the pride of our lives (which includes competition). It does no good to claim the blood of Yeshua unless we are willing to die to our ego, and whatever problems our ego might have.
10 “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their messengers always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.
11 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?
13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.
14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
We are not to despise even one of the “least” of us. When one of our brothers strays into sin, our Good Shepherd searches for him until he is found; and then He rejoices greatly. Our heavenly Father has more concern in that moment for the one who is lost than for the one who is not lost. We see the same thing in the parable of the prodigal son, where the father’s concern is more toward the backslidden son (Ephraim) than to the faithful one (Judah). The reason all these things are connected to the Matthew 18 process is that Yeshua then says, “Moreover….”
15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’
17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the assembly. But if he refuses even to hear the assembly, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
- If you know your brother has sinned,
- Go speak to him humbly, and in private.
- If he humbles himself and hears you, then you and your brother can be restored to fellowship without any lashon hara, and no one’s reputation (or name) has been tarnished. (This is the ideal.)
- If your brother does not humble himself, and he does not yet hear you, then you are to take one or two or more who can explain to him from Scripture why what he did was wrong. Ideally these should be elders in the assembly, but not for authority’s sake. Those who have been in the word longer should (at least hypothetically) be calmer, more mature, and better able to help all parties arrive at an understanding of what Scripture says, in a completely Berean fashion. The idea is to establish Yahweh’s righteousness, rather than any man’s authority.
- If the accused believes he has done nothing wrong, it is vital that he has the opportunity to defend himself. Thus the idea here is not one of “ganging up” on the accused party, or “outvoting”’ him in any way, but one of brothers getting together to study the Scriptures, so as to see what Yahweh’s word tells us to do.
- If the accused still does not humble himself, but refuses to hear Yahweh’s word, then for his sake (and in the name of fellowship) the matter needs to be brought before the people. In a smaller assembly, all of the people might actually meet, while in larger assemblies Judah traditionally convenes a formal beit din (court). No matter which means is used, it needs to be accessible to all of the people, as the emphasis is never on the imposition of authority structures, but on discussing what Yahweh wants in calmness and in love. The issues need to be brought to light, so they can become subject to scrutiny from the people. If there is anything that the sinner does not want made public, then he needs to make amends before things are made public, and his reputation (or his name) is tarnished. If the sin is serious enough (such as child abuse, adultery, or some other evil), then the people can make a decision as to whether they feel they should remain in fellowship with him.
One reason this process is best handled by mature elders in the assembly is that it takes maturity to handle confrontation without allowing it to degenerate into open conflict (which Satan loves). Another reason is that while Yahweh ideally wants His people to keep all of His Torah, the Torah is written at more than one level. Since none of us are perfect, and since the Ruach HaQodesh (Holy Spirit) is the only One given the power to convict, the decision as to whether the assembly should turn out any given individual needs to be overseen by those with the necessary maturity to recognize that the focus cannot be on snooping out every sin of others, but upon bringing the relevant facts to light, so the body can make an informed decision by Yahweh’s word.
Just as every sin does not warrant death by stoning, every matter does not call for disfellowshipping. The line can be very difficult to determine, especially when dealing with Ephraimites in the dispersion. Whereas matters were clear-cut in the wilderness of Sinai, until all twelve tribes are safely back in the land and our children are once again raised with Torah in the schools, it would be counterproductive in many cases to apply such a flat standard of obedience. As we discuss in Nazarene Israel, converts to the faith can enter the assemblies by agreeing to abstain from idolatry, adultery, blood, and strangled (or unclean) meats; and if this is where the apostles set the standard (in Acts 15), we must not set any other standard for fellowship, for to do so would be to reject those that Yahweh has called.
As we discuss elsewhere, Acts 6:1-6 and other passages show us that there must be higher standards for leaders and teachers. There is disagreement as to where those standards should ideally be set; but no matter where one sets those standards, because no two people agree exactly on how to interpret each and every point of Scripture, it logically follows that some matters are not worth breaking fellowship over. Unless there is some tolerance, there will be no fellowship, no unity, no assembly, and nobody within the body.
Ephesim (Ephesians) 4:1-6
1 I, therefore, the prisoner of Yahweh, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,
2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,
3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;
5 one Adon, one faith, one immersion;
6 one Elohim and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Since Yahweh leads and guides each of us differently, and because shunning from the body is essentially the spiritual equivalent of death by stoning, the standard for disfellowship has to be set at death penalty offenses. For example, fraud, adultery, murder, rape, lying, theft, abduction, and the like are all serious ethical issues, and they indicate a lack of concern for others, which is a wrong spirit. Adultery shows a lack of regard for one’s spouse, one’s children, and for society in general. Those who commit such moral and spiritual crimes must repent of them, or else it is not safe for us to let them into our assemblies.
In contrast, whether or not a returning Ephraimite obeys the commandment to wear tzitzit, rests completely from doing business on the Sabbath, or refrains from smoking does not directly impact anyone else. While it can be argued that such a lack of fear and obedience puts his salvation in serious jeopardy, and that we should not want our children growing up around those who lack fear and obedience, there have to be some forms of toleration made, or else one’s children will grow up with no fellowship at all (and will have only the outside world to turn to). Therefore some form of delicate balance must be achieved; and this delicate balance point is normally best established by respected elders in the assembly, who have more life experience, and more time in the word.
Because each and every person is different, and the situation in each assembly is different, what all of this boils down to is simply whether the parties involved are hurting (or influencing) anyone more than themselves.
So long as we remain in the dispersion, we have no control over our legal and/or judicial systems. While we are not allowed to apply the punishment prescribed in Torah, we must not allow sexual predators, murderers, drug dealers, unrepentant adulterers, rapists, liars, and the like into our fellowships. People become like those they socialize with, and the assembly is supposed to be a “safe zone” that is set apart from all of these kinds of ills. Therefore, for the good of all parties concerned, we must put those practicing these sins outside.
Qorintim Aleph (1st Cor.) 5:1-5
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles — that a man has his father’s wife!
2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.
4 In the name of our Adon Yeshua HaMashiach, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Adon Yeshua HaMashiach,
5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Adon Yeshua.
In this situation Shaul wrote to the assembly directly, perhaps performing the duties of a prophet, calling the people into repentance for allowing wanton sin. While Shaul did not follow the specific procedure, going first to the man in private, and then taking more witnesses, his letter still fulfills the spirit of Matthew 18, which tells us that somehow or other, the people must be sure to take steps to put sin outside the set-apart place, or else the faith stands for nothing.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 18:18-20
18 “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.
19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
As we explain in Nazarene Israel, the actual language in the Greek reads differently than it does in most of the mainstream versions. It tells us that what the apostles bound or loosed would already have been bound or loosed in heaven.
The idea is not that human authorities have the right to bind whatever they wish, far from it. Rather, respected elders in the word should be listening attentively in the Spirit for His voice, so that they can bind or loose what Yahweh is telling them to bind or loose, just like a judge, such as Samuel, would have done in ancient times.
Notice also that verse 19 tells us that there needs to be at least two or more judges, as practiced in the Jewish beit din. Thus it is as the Torah says; those who are brought before the priests and/or the judges that are in those days shall obey what the priests and/or the judges have to say, for they are not to speak their own words. Rather, they are very carefully and fearfully to speak only what they hear from Yahweh.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 19:17-19
17 “then both men in the controversy shall stand before Yahweh, before the priests and (or) the judges who serve in those days.
18 And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother,
19 then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you.”
The idea behind having at least two or (preferably) three judges is to help remove any inherent prejudice or emotion that might be present if there was only one. Even with the best of intentions and the best of desires to serve Yahweh, none of His servants is worthy to make rulings on his own.
Notice that the standards for disfellowshipping are high. While it might be wise to question whether or not a man should teach if his marriage is on the rocks and his children all fall out of the faith, this should never be considered as grounds for disfellowship. While a man with difficulties at home perhaps should not teach, he is probably all the more in need of fellowship and help.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 18:21:35
21 Then Kepha came to Him and said, “Adon, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22 Yeshua said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
We all err in many things, and it is not for us to judge our brothers. It is true that we are to confront them in love whenever they do things that are hurtful, but apart from making decisions as to whether or not we can safely allow them into our fellowships, we are not to judge; and neither are we to hold grudges. If Yahweh forgives us for all of the evil we have done (for which His Son had to die), then certainly we can forgive others whatever debts they owe us.
23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.
26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’
29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.
32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.
33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’
34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Yeshua tells us to put unrepentant sinners out of the assembly. However, even when people lie to us, cheat us, steal from us, murder, commit adultery, or worse, once there is sincere repentance, we must let them back into the fellowship, lest they be swallowed up in grief at being shunned; for it is not good for men to be alone.
Qorintim Bet (2 Cor.) 2:5-11
5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent —
not to be too severe.
6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man,
7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.
10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Messiah,
11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.
If we punish beyond the minimums needed to bring the sinner to repentance, then we have gone beyond intervention, and are essentially exacting revenge.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 32:35
35 Vengeance is Mine,
Their foot shall slip in due time;
For the day of their calamity is at hand,
And the things to come hasten upon them.’
While we are never to be doormats, Yahweh also tells us not to take revenge, or bear any grudge. Instead, we are to forgive our brothers their offenses towards us, rising above the hurt and the pain, just as Yeshua did.
Vayiqra (Leviticus) 19:17-18
17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, (so as not to) bear sin because of him.
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.”
When dealing with our brothers, even when evil has been done to us, it is imperative that we look for the good, and stay focused on the positive. Because we realize that we ourselves are not perfect, we must err on the side of love and generosity; for with the same measure we use, so shall it be measured back to us.
Luqa (Luke) 6:37-38
37 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
If we will establish and maintain Yahweh’s standards for fellowship, our families and children will have a safe and comfortable environment in which to learn and grow. While we must put out those who prey upon others, and who cause problems within the fellowship, judgment is not ours, and neither is revenge. We need to trust that Yahweh our Elohim is in perfect and complete control of the universe, and that when it is His time, He will cause sinners to repent and turn back to Him.
Yeshua tells us that the first and greatest commandment is to love Yahweh with all of our being; and the second is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The first is much easier than the second, for Yahweh is always fair and kind with us, while our brothers, being imperfect, are not always so
It is very difficult to establish and then firmly maintain Yahweh’s standards in love. This challenge alone is worthy to refine us in the fire, and make us purer and more pleasing to Him.