9. In love and forgiveness, 17:24-18:35
iii] The lost brotherSynopsis
The 4th Discourse continues to present Jesus' teachings on life lived in Christian community. In the passage before us Matthew records Jesus' parable of the lost sheep and instructions on the restoration of a believer who goes astray.
The Father is passionate for the perseverance of believers, a passion we should all share. So, reconcile and forgive a fallen brother or sister.
i] Context: See 18:1-10.
ii] Structure: The lost brother:
Parable / illustrative saying, v12-14:
The lost sheep
"it is not the will of my Father .....
that one of these little ones should perish."
Restoring a lost brother, v15-20:
"if your brother or sister sins ....", v15-17:
"whatever you bind on earth .. bound in heaven ....", v18;
"if two of you agree on earth", v19;
"where two or three are gathered in my name ....", v20.
In this 4th Discourse, with its pastoral purpose of enhancing Christian community, we are first reminded that membership of the kingdom of God belongs to those who are dependent on God's grace for their salvation, v1-5, so, it is essential to welcome / accept and not to lead such a person away from God's grace, v6-10, nor allow them to stray from it, v12-20, and to constantly forgive as God forgives, although with a recognition that perfection is only found in Christ, v21-35.
The passage begins with the Parable of the Lost Sheep, v12-14. The missionary idea of searching out the lost sinner seems unlikely here since the context is pastoral. Yet, even if we approach the parable from a pastoral standpoint, it is unclear whether we should take this parable with the preceding sayings, or the sayings that follow. In attaching the parable to the preceding sayings Carson says "here is another reason not to despise these little ones: the shepherd - the Father (v14) - is concerned for each sheep in his flock and seeks the one who strays. .... With a God like that, how dare anyone cause even one of these sheep to go astray", so D&A, Nolland, Mounce, ...
Yet, it seems more likely that the parable serves as a linking illustration for both v6-10 and v15-20. The modern approach to the interpretation of parables involves the identification of a single idea rather than a many-faceted allegory (See Luz, p444-5 for the history of the interpretation of this parable). The single idea is stated in v14; our heavenly Father desires that not one of his little ones should be lost - either by being driven away, v6-10, or falling away, v15-20. God is like a shepherd who is so focused on the preservation of his flock he is willing to do anything for a lost one and goes into party mode when he finds one. We should develop the same concern for the perseverance of a brother or sister. On the negative side, we must take care not to undermine the faith of a fellow child of grace, v6-10, and on the positive side, we must go the extra mile for a brother or sister whose Christian life is starting to come apart, v15-20.
Matthew now presents three linked sayings of Jesus which tackle the subject of restoring a lost brother or sister, v15-20:
The first saying - A brother / sister found in a state of sin, v15-17: This saying is often treated as a method for dealing with a brother who has hurt us - sinned against us. This method is constantly used in Christian fellowships with varying degrees of offense. Although a definitive interpretation is not possible, there are some important clues to note. Some major texts leave out eiV se, "against you", v15. Also, the word ekerdhsaV, "won ... over (gained)", may well mean "restored", cf., 1Pet.3:1. Finally, although the sin is undefined it is obviously serious, and given the context (the issue of "stumbling blocks", v6-10) it is likely to be a loss of faith. A believer / little-one has wavered in their faith, and as a result their standing before Christ needs to be restored. To this end the brotherhood must bring the brother / sister face to face with the gospel again.
The second saying - Binding and loosing, v18: This verse is the first of two linked sayings, and like v15-17, it is not possible to arrive at a definitive interpretation. In fact D&A provide thirteen possible interpretive approaches to this saying. See Matthew's first use of this saying, 16:19, for some worthy examples. Given the indefinite nature of the sayings, a contextual approach seems best. An interpretation in the terms of John 20:23 may well be Matthew's intended meaning, where "binding" is "retaining" the sins of the unrepentant, and "loosing" is "forgiving" the sins of the repentant. In seeking to restore the brother or sister who is straying from the faith, the Christian community seeks to refocus them on the gospel - the bad news of God's impending judgment along with the good news of his unconditional grace. Depending on the brother's response to the gospel, the brotherhood confirms God's condemnation or forgiveness. The purpose, even of condemnation, is restoration within the context of the perseverance of the saints.
The third saying - Agreeing under the authority of Christ, v19-20: This two-part saying, unique to Matthew, can be understood in a number of ways. So, for example, the saying may promote the idea that when two or more Christians believe for something in prayer, it will be done for them. Yet, by adopting this interpretation many believers have had to wrestle with the problem of unanswered prayer. The saying may be teaching that when two or three meet in Jesus' name, he will be present, revealing his will to them through the ministry of the Word. The congregation can then pray, believing that it will be "done for" them. This approach is certainly more inline with scripture. Yet, a contextual interpretation is likely to be closer to the mark. The "anything" is most likely the promises of the gospel, both the bad-news promise and the good-news promise. In this sense the saying serves to reaffirm / restate the point made in v18, particularly the offer of divine forgiveness for all and every sin. So, the divine prerogative for the perseverance of the saints provides the context for the saying.
The exposition of this passage is affected by two particular exegetical problems (see 18:1-10). First: it is unclear whether v10 concludes the unit in v6-9, or commences the unit v12-20. It links well with the parable of the lost sheep, but also with v1-9. Second: The variant v11 is most likely not original and was brought over from Luke's gospel. The statement, "the Son of Man came to save what was lost", certainly aligns with the parable of the lost sheep within the context of Luke's gospel. In Luke's gospel the parable is all about the lost sinner and God's joy at their conversion, Lk.15:3-7. Is Matthew making the same point, a point he certainly makes elsewhere? Obviously someone thought so, which is why v11 was added, but without v11 the context implies a pastoral motif. If the parable serves to introduce v15-20, then the emphasis does seem to be upon the shepherd's concern for the perseverance of disciples. The preacher will understand how the resolution of this problem affects the application of the passage, giving either an evangelistic, or pastoral slant.
See 18:1-10 for general synoptic notes on chapter 18.
v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Text - 18:12
i] The parable of the lost sheep, v12-14. The story of a sheep-herder's determination to find his lost sheep serves to illustrate the Father's willingness to go all-out to restore a strayed believer / little one. The story serves as an invitation to all believers to go out of their way to restore all who have strayed from the family of faith.
uJmin dat. pro. "[what do] you [think]" - [what seems right] to you. The dative is adverbial, reference / respect; "Tell me", Moffatt.
ean + subj. "if" - Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd class, as a question, where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, ...... then ....."
tini anqrwpw/ dat. "a man [owns a hundred sheep]" - [a hundred sheep belonged] to a certain man. Dative of indirect object / interest, advantage. Possibly possession, so Olmstead.
ex (ek) + gen. "[one] of [them]" - [and one] from [them]. Here doing the work of the partitive genitive autwn, "of them". An example of the increasing use of prepositions in the language of the time to expressly state the function of the genitive. How easy it would have been for us had this process been completed before the composition of the NT documents!!!!
planhqh/ (planaw) aor. pas. subj. "wanders away" - lead astray = wandered. In the passive it is "go astray", therefore "wandered off". "Gets lost", TEV.
ouci "[will he] not" - [would he] not [leave the ninety nine]. This negation is used in a question expecting a positive answer.
epi + acc. "on [the hills]" - Spacial; "upon".
poreuqeiV (poreuomai) pres. aor. part. "go [to look]" - [and] having gone [seek]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "seek / look"; "go and seek."
to planwmenon (planaw) pres. pas. part. "the one that wandered off" - the one having wandered away? The participle serves as a substantive; "the wondering one", Barclay.
ean + subj. "if" - if, [as may be the case, he happens to find it then truly I say to you that he rejoices ....]. A second conditional clause, as in v12.
euJrein (euJriskw) aor. inf. "he finds" - [he becomes = happens] to find. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "he becomes." This verb is used to actualize the infinitive, so "if he actually finds it" BAGD. "Yet, if he should chance to find it, I assure you ..." Phillips.
amhn legw uJmin "I tell you the truth" - truly i say to you. The phrase is used to emphasize what follows.
oJti "-" - that. Introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing the truth Jesus wants to communicate.
cairei (cairw) pres. "he is happier" - he rejoices. "He is more delighted", REB.
ep (eou) + dat, "about [that one sheep]" - over [it]. Possibly causal; "because of that one sheep."
mallon h] "than" - more, rather than. Adverb of measure + a disjunctive with a comparative sense, here "rather than." This illustrative parable describes the determination of a shepherd to go all-out to find a lost sheep. Sometimes people get worried by the seeming disregard for the safety of the ninety-nine, particularly those who know something about the grazing of open-pastured animals. Of course, the point of the illustration is all about searching out a lost one, not disregarding the many.
toiV mh peplanhmenoiV (planaw) pas. part. "that did not wander off" - [over the ninety nine] the ones not having wandered off. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the ninety-nine"; "that never went astray", Moffatt.
ouJtwV adv. "in the same way" - thus / in this way. Inferential adverb of manner; drawing a logical conclusion. Possibly "thus /therefore", ie., "Matthew's redactional conclusion to the parable of the lost sheep", D&A; "so it is not the will of my Father ..." NRSV, or "in this way"; "in just the same way", TEV; "that's how it is", CEV.
emprosqen + gen. "[your Father]" - [it is not will] before = in the face of, in the sight of = in the opinion of [the father of you]. Here of "marking a participant whose viewpoint is relevant to an event"*.
tou "-" - the one. The article serves as an adjectivizer, turning the prepositional phrase, "in heaven", into an attributive modifier limiting "Father"; "my Father who is in heaven", ESV.
en "in [heaven]" - in [the heavens]. Local, expressing space.
ouk estin qelhma (a atoV) "is not willing" - it is not will, desire. Possibly "pleased", reflecting the Aramaic, but more likely, "desire"; "your Father in heaven doesn't want any of these little ones to be lost", Barclay.
iJna + subj. "that" - that. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what is not the Father's will.
twn mikrwn toutwn gen. "[any] of these little ones" - [one] of the little ones of these. The genitives are adjectival, partitive.
apolhtai (apollumi) aor. subj. "should be lost" - should perish. "The will of God concerning the little ones, that they should not perish, becomes an imperative for the believer. The disciple must be like God, that is, must act as God, the good shepherd acts and so share in his activity of saving the lost", D&A.
ii] Matthew now puts together three independent didactic sayings of Jesus, v15-20. The sayings seem to touch on church discipline, yet discipline is most likely not their point. Following on from the parable of the lost sheep, the sayings are all about restoring a strayed brother on the basis of forgiveness, and this under the authority of Christ.
a) A brother or sister in a state of sin, v15-17. Matthew now records a saying from Jesus which encourages believers to be proactive when a brother or sister drifts from the faith. A believer / little one, has sinned (a "stumbling block" of some kind has undermined their faith, v5-10). So, they need to hear the gospel again. If a single member of the Christian fellowship can't make any headway with the little one, then two members must try, and if that fails, the fellowship as a whole should apply themselves to the business of restoring the strayed brother / sister. If the little one refuses to listen, then they must be left to their own devices; another unbeliever among the many.
de "-" - but/and. Transitional; indicating a step in the narrative / argument.
ean + subj. "if" - if, [as may be the case, a brother of you sins (against you), then go reprove ......]. Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd. class, where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, .... then ....."
oJ adelfoV (oV) "brother / brother or sister" - Jesus uses the word to refer to anyone who is devoted to him, follows him, accepts him. Although later commonly used of a disciple, Jesus used it of seekers / the lost as well as followers. "If a member of the church", NRSV.
aJmarthsh/ (aJmartanw) aor. subj. "sins" - [of you] sins. Nominative subject of the verb "to sin." The sin is undefined, but given the instructions it must be serious, so surely stronger than "should do something wrong", Cassirer. If eiV se, "against you", is original, then the sin is "against a Christian brother" and is "both intended and serious", D&A, so also Hagner, Gundry. Taking the shorter reading as original the "sin" is best viewed as a serious non-personal sin committed within the Christian fellowship, so France. Carson, taking the view that the theme of despising a brother continues, suggests that without eiV se the sin is that very sin - a worthy contextual approach. At least in general terms the sin is that of "separating the perpetrator from the people of God", Nolland, but given the context it is surely the consequence of skandalizw, of having a stumbling block placed before a brother, so Luz. Taken this way the "sin" involves a loss of faith, while the brother's restoration involves a restatement of the gospel of grace. Paul's letter to the Galatians could be classed as an example of restoration at work. This sense certainly aligns with the word's use in 27:4, although not with its use in v21.
eiV se "against you" - Textual variant. The verse works better without it, but then that's a good reason for a scribe to leave it out. None-the-less, the shorter reading is to be preferred, so France. "If your brother sins" = "if your brother or sister turns their back on Christ."
elegxon (elegcw) aor. imp. "show / point out [their] fault" - [go] expose, reprove, convict [him]. Bring to light the problem, and here, to do it privately rather than publicly. "Have it out with him", JB, although the stronger "reprove" my be intended. Note how Luke uses the verb epitimaw, "to rebuke", Lk.17:3.
metaxu + gen. "just between [the two of you]" - between [you and he alone]. Here expressing association.
ean "if" - if [as may be the case, he hears you, then you gained the brother of you]. Conditional clause, 3rd. class, as above.
sou gen. pro. "[they listen to] you" - [hears] you. Genitive of direct object after to verb "to hear = give heed to."
akoush/ (akouw) aor. subj. "he listens" - hears, takes notice of. "If he sees that you are right", TH.
ekerdhsaV (kerdainw) aor. "you have won [your brother / them] over" - i] Gain, win, make a profit. ii] spare oneself something, avoid something such as injury or loss, and therefore, here possibly "saved", "restored" - restored to the Christian fellowship, restored to Christ through faith.
de "but" - but/and. Somewhat adversative, but primarily indicating a step in the dialogue.
ean + subj. "if" - if [as may be the case, he does not listen then take with you .....]. The string of 3rd. class conditional clauses continue, as for v15.
mh akoush/ (akouw) aor. subj. "he will not listen" - he does not hear. "If he pays no attention", Cassirer.
paralabe (paralambanw) aor. imp. "take" - take along. Going to the trouble of taking along a brother or two to confront the problem emphasizes "the need to exhaust every possibility in the effort to win back the disciple in danger of forfeiting salvation", Gundry.
meta + gen. "-" - with [you]. Accompaniment; "with, in company with."
eti adv. "-" - in addition [one or two]. Used with numbers to express "in addition to."
iJna + subj. "so that" - that [by mouth of two witnesses or three]. Here introducing a purpose clause. The quotation is from Deuteronomy 19:15 establishing the point that a person cannot be convicted on the evidence of just one person.
pan rJhma "every matter" - every word. Nominative subject of the verb "to stand" = "establish". The quotation concerns the principle of multiple testimony of witnesses in establishing the truth of a matter. If the "sin" (loss of faith) is the fruit of "the stumbling block" (law-righteousness / nomism - see 18:5-10), then the testimony is the gospel of grace apart from works of the law.
staqh/ (iJsthmi) aor. pas. subj. "establish" - may be established. In this case "confirm" by the presence of another standing with....
epi + gen. "by [the testimony]" - by [the mouth]. Here leaning toward a causal sense; "on the basis of."
duo marturwn (oV) gen. "of two [or three] witnesses" - The genitive is usually treated as adjectival, verbal, subjective, or possessive.
ean + subj. "if" - if [as may be the case, he refuses to hear them, then speak to the church, and] if [as may be the case, he refuses to hear even the church, then let him be to you ....]. Conditional clauses, 3rd. class, as for v15.
parakoush/ (parakouw) aor. subj. "refuses to listen" - overhear, hear imperfectly, refuses to hear, ignores. Subjunctive in a conditional sentence. The sense is "takes no notice of"; "hear without heeding", Morris.
autwn gen. pro. "-" - them. Genitive of direct object after the para prefix verb "to refuse to listen to."
th/ ekklhsia/ (a) dat. "[tell it] to the church" - [speak] to the assembly. Dative of indirect object. Often seen as an ecclesiastical reference, but the word has a simple meaning, "assembly / gathering", here of disciples.
kai "[if he refuses to listen] even" - Ascensive, as NIV.
thV ekklhsiaV (a) gen. "[to] the church" - Genitive of direct object after the para prefix verb "to refuse to listen to."
wJsper "[treat him / them] as [you] would" - [let him be to you] as. Serving to introduce a comparative clause; "you should regard him as if he were .......". The soi, "you", is singular, dative of interest, advantage, "for you."
oJ eqnikoV kai oJ telwnhV "a pagan or a tax collector" - the Gentile and the tax collector. Nominative subject of an assumed verb to be; "as a pagan or a tax collector is." Treat him as if he were no longer a member of Christ's community, as an outsider. This does not mean treat him with contempt, cruelty, etc., in fact the opposite would apply "Treat them as you would an unbeliever (a person in need of God's saving grace)."
b) Binding and loosing, v18. In this saying the Christian fellowship is reminded of its authority to confirm the promises of the gospel. The fellowship of believers has the authority to remind a brother or sister, who has drifted from the faith, of the bad news of God's judgment and the good news of God's eternal grace in Christ. If they reject the gospel then their sin is bound to them, retained, but if they accept the gospel then their sin is loosed, forgiven.
uJmin dat. pro. "[truly I tell] you" - Dative of indirect object. The statement serves to underline the following words.
oJsa ean + subj. "whatever" - whatever. Introducing an indefinite relative clause. It is not indefinite in a conditional sense with only the possibility of the condition being realized, because here the condition will be realized. It is also unlikely that "whatever" is everything beyond what God wills; the context determines the "whatever".
dhshte (dew) aor. subj. "you bind" - you bind, restrict, to place under (the jurisdiction of)*. Note the plural. In 16:19 Peter is given this authority, but here the authority is given to the Christian community. If the sense of "bound" is "forbidden" (and "loosed" is "permitted, allowed"), then the church is possibly being given the authority to arbitrate on matters of God's will as revealed in the scriptures, or to arbitrate on matters of moral conduct and declare a verdict on the matter. Yet, we are best to take "binding" as "retaining" and "loosing" as "forgiving". A "little one" has had a crisis of faith and has receive the gospel of God's grace in Christ from members of the congregation, so now, depending on their response, those members will either confirm God's condemnation, or forgiveness.
epi + gen. "on [earth]" - on [the earth]. Spacial; "upon".
estai dedemena (dew) perf. pas. part. "will be bound" - will have been bound [in heaven]. As with estai lelumena, "will have been loosed", a periphrastic future perfect construction, is a roundabout way of saying "shall have been bound". The translation of this periphrases is open to some dispute. Often translated as "shall be bound", implying that the decision of the church prompts the divine decision, although this seems unlikely. Moule argues that the periphrastic perfect does not necessarily dictate action at all, although Turner sees it as linear in action. Burton sees the future verb "to be" as dictating a future state. Chamberlain argues for the translation "shall have been bound", implying that the divine decision precedes, but then extends beyond the decision of the church. This seems the best way to understand the action of this periphrases. The passive is probably a theological passive where God is the implied agent. Therefore, the divine decision to condemn the unrepentant sinner or to forgive the repentant sinner, predates, is independent of, and extends beyond the act of a believer who confirms this fact to a lost or strayed person.
lushte (luw) "you loose" - [whatever] you loose, abolish [upon the earth will have been loosed in heaven]. See above.
c) Agreeing under the authority of Christ, v19-20. This saying restates the point made in v18. The good news of the gospel comes with a promise - whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will not perish but have eternal life, Jn.3:16. Those who have counseled a brother / sister who has drifted in their faith have the authority to confirm this promise on anyone who repents and believes.
palin amhn legw uJmin "Again, I tell you" - again i say to you. Using this introductory formula, as in v18, indicates that this verse is an independent saying, although not necessarily unrelated to its context. Matthew has added to v18 "a formally structured principle", Luz. The textual variant "truly" may not be original. So, either repetition "I tell you once more", Phillips, or less likely, continuation, "another thing", Moffatt.
oJti "that" - that. Introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Jesus is saying.
ean + subj. "if" - if [as is the case, two of you will be in agreement upon the earth concerning every matter whatever they will ask, then it will be done for them ....]. The last of the series of conditional clauses which began in v12.
ex uJmwn "[two] of you" - [two] from, out of you. The preposition is again being used to express a partitive genitive.
epi + gen. "on [earth]" - upon [the earth]. Taking a spacial sense here, "upon, on."
sumfwnhswsin (sumfwnew) aor. subj. "agree" - may be in agreement with, harmonize. The subjunctive used in a conditional clause.
peri + gen. "about" - Reference / respect; "concerning, with reference to, about."
ou| ean + subj. "anything" - [every matter] whatever. The relative pronoun ou| should be accusative, but has been attracted to its genitive antecedent. The particle ean followed by the subjunctive verb aithswntai forms an indefinite relative clause; "whatever they may ask." The "whatever" is somewhat misleading. Divine action is dictated by the divine will, which is why, when it comes to prayer, we are bound to pray in faith, ie., in reliance upon the revealed will of God - prayer according to the will of God. We are free to ask for anything we like, but God acts upon his promises, whatever they are, but not upon our perceived needs. So, the general nature of these words is more likely serving a specific end, rather than a general end. "Anything" is therefore very misleading. "Truly I say to you, when you assure a 'little one' of their forgiveness before God, that forgiveness will have been agreed to in heaven ........ I tell you once more, if you seek the forgiveness of sins for a 'little one', no matter what the sin, it will be granted by my Father in heaven."
aithswntai (aitew) aor. subj. "you ask" - you request. The "ask" is within the constraints of the context and is not a general promise that God will answer every prayer. Some argue that both v18 and v19 concern the restoration of a fallen brother, their restoration to God and subsequently the church, so France. It is more likely that Jesus is emphatically underlining the disciples' authority to bestow God's forgiveness on a repentant wayward brother, or sister.
autoiV dat. pro. "for you / for them" - [it will be done] to them. Dative of interest, advantage; "for them."
para + gen. "by [my Father in heaven]" - by [the father of me the one in heavens]. Expressing agency, as NIV, but possibly source, so Olmstead.
tou "-" - The article serves as an adjectivizer turning the prepositional phrase en ouranoiV, "in heaven", into an attributive modifier; "my Father which is in heaven", AV.
gar "for" - It is possible that this was originally an independent saying of Jesus, in which case gar may serve as a stitching devise, but it seems more likely to explain why it is possible for the will of the fellowship to be aligned to the will of the God, ie., gar serves to introduce a causal clause. The inspired Word is present in the gathering of his people.
ou| adv. "where" - Here the genitive pronoun serves as a local adverb / adverb of place.
eisin ..... sunhgmenoi (sunagw) perf. pas. part. "come together" - there are [two or three] having been assembled together, gathered. The participle with the verb to-be forms a periphrastic perfect construction; "are gathered in my name", ESV.
eiV + acc. "in [my name]" - to / into / for [the name of me]. "Name" simply identifies the person of Jesus, usually with reference to his authority, so believers come together in prayer under the authority of Jesus. The preposition here has prompted numerous paraphrases: "to be with Jesus", "to worship Jesus", and so "to call on Jesus", "pray to Jesus", even "listen to Jesus", ie., hear his word. Yet, it seems more likely that it takes a causal sense, as epi in v5, "on the basis of / on the ground of = "because of my name" = "because of me", Peterson.
ekei adv. "there [am I]" - there [i am]. Local adverb / adverb of place.
en + dat. "with [them]" - in [the midst of them]. Local, space / sphere, but possibly expressing association / accompaniment; "with, among", as NIV - in the sense of God's presence with his people, of "God with us." Jesus promises that he will be with his people, even when there are just two or three present, "to the very end of the age." "I am there right among them", Phillips.