“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. “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
These verses, along with the ones that precede it, are sandwiched between two very important parables. One of them is the Parable of the Lost Sheep, which speaks about how it “is not the will of our Father in heaven that even one of his sheep be lost” (see Matthew 18:14). The other is the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, which speaks about how important it is that we forgive each other constantly. “How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”, Peter asked. Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21).
Now, this passage is titled “Reproving Another Who Sins” (NRSV), Dealing with a Sinning Brother (NKJV), Dealing with Sin in the Church (NIV), or something similar in different Bibles. This leads one to believe, especially if one looks at it without context, as instructions on how to deal with sinners in the church. But placed in the correct context, we see this passage actually contains instructions to the church to exhaust all possible options to make sure not one of its members is lost! And, although correction in the form of tough love might be needed, if Jesus is made part of the process, the offender can be saved!
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,” Jesus says, “and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). Where have we heard these words before? We have heard Jesus saying these words to Peter a little while back when he said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The unstated instruction in these words is to loose, that is, to forgive, and not to bind, because to repeat what Jesus said, “it is not the will of our Father in heaven that even one of the sheep should be lost”.
The church — that’s us — needs to be cautious about how it goes about treating "sinners" in the church. Our attitudes can cause people to be lost and that is not the desire of God. People can sometimes do some pretty awful things, and in our desire for “justice” — although in truth, it is often vengeance — we say or do terrible things. Let us do what Jesus instructs us first in today’s passage: “if another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (Matthew 18:15). Do it gently, with a lot of love, and see what happens.
If you bring Jesus into the equation and seek reconciliation in his name, wonderful things are gonna happen.
May the Spirit be with you.