SOAP on Matthew 18:15-17 – The Rule of Christ

Colorcover_6Scripture: Jesus said, "If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him–work it out between the two of you.  If he listens, you’ve made a friend.  If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again.  If he still won’t listen, tell the church.  If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love” (Matthew 18:15-17, The MESSAGE).

Observe the Context: This lesson occurs in a series of teachings about how Christians are to live together in community. It is helpful from time to time to stop and review our Lord’s teaching on community. Why? Because, “Where two or three are gathered together, there is Eris” (the
Greek goddess of discord). The early church lived out these lessons when Antioch and Corinth did not get along, when Paul and Peter were at odds, and when Paul and Barnabas later parted ways.

Review the following lessons (little ones are not just children):

  • Matthew 18:1-5 – Who is the greatest? Whoever is humble like a child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
  • Matthew 18:6-9 – We are warned against placing stumbling blocks in the way of the little ones by our teaching or example.
  • Matthew 18:10-14 – A good shepherd will look for one lost sheep and our Father will look for the little ones who are lost.
  • Matthew 18:15-20 – How to reprove one who sins.
  • Matthew 18:21-22 – Forgiveness is offered not 7, but 77 times.
  • Matthew 18:23-35 – A servant, whose debt is cancelled, is judged for not showing similar compassion to another.

John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite ethicist, suggests that this portion
of Scripture be called the “Rule of Christ.” This is not the typical
resolution process followed by “little ones” on the playground, but it
is the process that Jesus proscribes when relationships are broken. It
bears noting that the end result of this process is not about “correct”
opinions or judgments on the facts. Jesus tells us that the proper
resolution is the restoration of relationships. So what are the steps?

  • If there is a broken relationship talk one-on-one with the other person (gossip does not seem to be in Jesus’ vocabulary).
  • If a one-on-one conversation does not work, have friends join the conversation as a witness (again, gossip is out!).
  • If that does not work, work with others in the community.
  • If that does not work, then write a letter to The PILOT (HA!).

Jesus’ promise that “where two or three are
gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20) reminds us
that a gathering of the church is marked by his presence, not our

Apply the Lesson to My Life: It is sport in our time to have
an opinion about everything and to share it with as many people as
possible. The web, blogs (you’re checking out mine!), talk
shows, radio call in shows, message boards, letters to The PILOT all
invite us to share our wonderful opinions. Steve Sample, president of
the University of Southern California, reminded me recently that I do
not have to have an opinion on most things. He said, “don’t form an
opinion about an important matter until you’ve heard all the relevant
facts and arguments, or until circumstances force you to form an
opinion without the facts (which happens less frequently than one might
imagine)" (The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, 2002, 7-8).  Sample calls this habit of not forming opinions "thinking gray"  … a habit worth forming in our time.  I can think of many moments in my life when thinking gray (not voicing an opinion) might have saved myself from a later disappointment.  Think about it (I mean think gray about it)!

Prayer: “Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control, our spirits
long to be made whole. Let inward love guide every deed; by this we
worship and are freed” (“The Gift of Love,” The United Methodist Hymnal, #408).