Affirming Our Care (Matthew 18:1-35)

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Recently, an evil deed took place in our country as a 17-year-old, grade 11 scholar at King Edward VII was murdered at a party. Several young men attacked young Mfundi and took his life with a knife as they stabbed him seven times.

As details in the media reports accumulated we read that Mfundi’s friend, who had intervened to help stop the attack, was also subsequently injured by stabbing. In the interview that I read this young man lamented, “Everyone just stood by and watched–no one even helped.” Apathy has furthered the pain of this tragedy.

A few days later, a motor vehicle accident took the lives of three disabled, wheelchair-bound athletes. That was sad enough, but what followed was horrific. Several heartless, thieving thugs who came upon the accident helped themselves to the wallets and cell phones of the deceased. Rather than helping any of the injured they greedily helped themselves to the available goods. Rather than helping they horded.

So, what do we make of these horrible deeds? Among other issues we need to highlight this: There are times in which the underlying depraved selfishness of the world comes to light, and it is indeed ugly. In both of these cases we see the individualistic commitment to self-preservation and self-aggrandisement that, to some degree, plagues us all.

But the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is committed to living a totally different way. We who have been born again are determined to overcome this self-centred pull of the world, and rather than proclaiming “self matters” (ala Dr. Phil) we want to look at one another and say, “Because God has saved you, you matter to me.” This was precisely the point of our Lord Jesus Christ as He instructed His disciples in Matthew 18 regarding proper concern that believers are to have for one another in the flock, in the Body, in the church. Especially within the church we are to be willing to come to the rescue of those who are in need. We are to forget about self-preservation and self-fulfilment as we say no to self and yes to one another–regardless of the cost.

These studies have arisen from a consideration of our church’s newly-worded church covenant, which will be adopted by the church on 14 October 2007. The church has studied these words together to prepare for our covenant affirmation.

As we have been examining what it is that we are affirming–and what every true believer in Christ indeed affirms–we have so far learned that we are to affirm our conversion: “Having been brought, we trust, by the Spirit of God to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and to give ourselves up to Him; and having been baptised upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we now, relying on His gracious aid, in the presence of God, the angels and this assembly, do solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.” We further noted that we are to affirm our calling: “We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

In this study, we will learn that every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has the essential, non-negotiable responsibility to engage in a caring relationship within whatever local church God has placed them. And thus we are being called upon to affirm our care.

We must be convinced that our Lord Jesus Christ has corporate expectations of each of those who have answered the call to come, take up their cross, and follow Him. And these corporate expectations are to be lived out in the community of other believers. We are called to care for the wellbeing of one another. This is not a mere suggestion but rather it is an obligation that our Lord places upon every believer. As we will soon see, Jesus made this unmistakably clear in Matthew 18.

The third section of our covenant captures the essence of what our Lord taught in this chapter concerning our need to biblically care for one another in the local assembly.

We will work together in brotherly love, desiring to exercise an affectionate care and prayerful watchfulness over each other, faithfully admonishing and entreating one another as occasion may require; seek to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment; strive to avoid anything that could bring unwarranted harm to the Body or jeopardise our own or the faith of one another.

In this study we will examine the words of our Lord and Saviour by which He instructed the core of the first new covenant church regarding how they were to care for one another as they lived out their faith. And what was true for them is equally true for us.

May we listen and learn that we might live out our responsibility to “walk together in brotherly love.”

The Humility that is Required

If we will live out this biblical responsibility (highlighted by the covenant) then we will need to pursue a lifestyle of humility. And of course this goes against everything that the world teaches us, for it flies in the face of what man is by nature.

The opening verses highlight for us the problem that we face in our relationships within the church. The disciples had this recurring problem and it surfaced once again here in Matthew 18. The problem, of course, was an “I” problem, and one that no ophthalmologist could fix. This “I” problem could only be cured by the Cardiologist.

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 18:1-4)

The disciples had lofty views of the kingdom, and thus they asked the ambitious question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom?” (see 5:19; 11:11; 16:17; 17:1-2). These future leaders of the church were indeed jostling for position. And sadly this would not be the last time (see 20:20-29).

These disciples, eleven of whom were genuine followers of Christ, suffered from the same malady that we often do in our age: that of a “Jesus and only me” mentality, or perhaps simply a “me, my, mine” mentality. And this is always deadly to the church’s assignment to follow Christ for the glory of God.

I don’t know what led to this question, but perhaps it was the recent event of the Lord being transfigured. Consider this possible scenario.

Peter, James and John were selected by the Lord to go to the top of the mount. When they returned, it is possible that they (in violation of the Lord’s command–17:9) shared with the other nine what they had seen and experienced. Perhaps it was this privilege that tempted these three to either exaggerate their privilege, or for the others to chafe against what they deemed a slight. Or perhaps this questioning arose because of the fact that Peter had, on several occasions, been demarcated as a “leader among leaders” and thus they wanted some clarity regarding their position. But whatever the cause, the fact remains that the disciples were concerned with an ambition to be “great,” to have prominence in the kingdom, and thus the Lord took this opportunity to immediately defuse this destructive mindset. What follows is a wonderful description of the characteristics of the church, describing both God’s love for His own, as well as the inherent responsibilities of those who belong.

If we will properly relate to one another in this Body of Christ, then we will only do so once we adopt this characteristic of humility. That is, we will never “walk in brotherly love” without it. If we lack humility, then we will never “exercise an affectionate care and prayerful watchfulness over each other,” nor will we “faithfully admonish and entreat one another.” Nor will we fulfil any of the other aspects that this biblically informed covenant places upon us. And the reason is quite simple. You see, all of these affirmations call for a corporate rather than merely a personal ambition. And this is precisely what the Lord was aiming to teach the disciples. In essence, what the Lord was doing was showing the disciples the importance of all the sheep that make up the flock of God. He was seeking to impress upon them that their self-centred ambitions were a threat to the wellbeing of the whole, and thus they must have a change of mind and heart.

These verses highlights for us the danger we face of being so consumed with the status of our own walk with Jesus that we carelessly neglect the wellbeing of the rest of our believing community.

All too often we want to be great Christians who have a great experience with God, and yet we do not take into consideration the spiritual welfare of others. The result is that the sheep wander and we don’t notice, or the sheep are tempted to sin by our prideful and selfish neglect, or, sadly, they end up in terrible sin while we’re busy becoming great theologians, or great spiritual hermits!

But true biblical humility will go a long way in combating this tendency and in equipping us to care for the spiritual health of this community in which God has placed us.

The Lord illustrated this principle by pointing to a little child and using him as an object lesson of the humility that is demanded of those who follow Christ, and thus of those who are effective in His kingdom.

A little child is neither sinless nor innocent. A child is born a sinner. Thus, our Lord is not saying that one must be sinless to enter the kingdom. Rather, a child is humbly dependent and non-status seeking. And this is precisely the Lord’s requirement for those who will be “greatest in the kingdom.” That is, those who humbly come to God through Christ do so recognising that they are worthy of nothing from Him, and thus they are not comparing themselves favourably with others. It is only those with this characteristic that enter the kingdom, and all who have this characteristic are therefore the “greatest.” There are no tiers of greatness in God’s church (see 11:11).

This is vitally important for us to grasp if we will meaningfully affirm the covenant to be the church to each other for the glory of God. Until we embrace a genuine humility we will find ourselves either intolerant of others (who don’t match up), indifferent to others (who don’t matter), or indignant of others (whom we see as a threat), and thus we will find ourselves isolating ourselves from others as we skip blindly down the pilgrim’s path, singing “Jesus and me.” And such an attitude will never produce servanthood.

C. J. Mahaney has written a wonderful little book called Humility, in which he defines this necessary virtue as “honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” That is a very helpful definition. If we truly see God in His holiness and thus ourselves in our sinfulness then all such boasting will stop (see Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8). Humility is a confession of dependence. When we have been humbled by a right view of both ourselves and of God then we will see that apart from Christ, we are nothing. And when we live out this contrite spirit, we will find ourselves walking, not in aloofness and contempt, but rather with brotherly love. It is only when we are humble that we will treat one another with the helpful love which is required.

BBC, it is only when we embrace this biblical humility that we will stop competing, complaining and criticising, and will begin caring and comforting and being careful not to needlessly offend one another. Thus, as we affirm our covenant, we are saying amen to God’s command to exercise humility. (Note: The disciples learned this lesson. After the Gospels we see the disciples using the words “greatness” or “great” primarily when they are speaking of God. They never use these words to speak of themselves. See especially 1 Peter 5:6; James 4:5-10.) We will also be saying amen to God’s anathema on pride.

Practically, how do we develop this?

Well, first, it is a gift of God. It stands to reason that since one can only enter the kingdom by God’s grace, and if a condition for this entrance is humility, then we can conclude that humility is the gift of God. And it is. It is only by God’s grace that one comes to see their sinfulness for what it is and God’s holiness for how glorious and unattainable it is. God in His grace grants these opened eyes when He saves us. But upon receiving this new life in Christ, we are called to develop this virtue, and it is developed by a growing exposure to the revelation of God in His Word.

As we continue to read and study and meditate on God’s Word, we will find ourselves (if we are honest) more impressed with God and less impressed with ourselves. And what will be the result? More love for God and more love for the brethren. Truly, holy people are humble people who are thus increasingly relational with others. May we be such a people.

The Harmlessness that Results

Part of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors are required to affirm is that they “will do no harm.” And indeed this should be the mindset of every believer in Jesus Christ, of every member of the church: “We will do no harm to God’s people.”

This is what the Lord Jesus told the disciples when He exhorted them concerning how they were to treat one another. Of course, what other behaviour would we expect from those whose lives are characterised by humility? The humble are, by virtue of their demeanour, quite harmless. This should not surprise us, since the Lord Jesus Christ was meek and lowly (humble) of heart. The result is that He is also called “harmless” (Hebrews 7:26). But please note also that it is because He was holy and harmless that He is also terrifying (see John 2; Matthew 23; the Revelation). Humility is a potent weapon against sin. We must not forget that the Lamb is also the Lion (see Revelation 5:5-6).

The disciples had asked the Lord Jesus a simple question, and they were about to receive a long, corrective and instructive answer.

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

(Matthew 18:5-14)

Upon explaining to the Twelve the requirement of humility (vv. 1-4), Jesus told them of their responsibility to receive all and sundry who had so entered the kingdom (vv. 5-6). That is, all who have been truly humbled by grace will receive everyone else who has also been humbled by this same grace. By “receiving” (i.e. by biblical hospitality) believers we are doing so as unto Jesus (see Matthew 25:31ff). To reject “one of these little ones” (i.e. believers) is tantamount to rejecting Jesus. Obviously, this is a serious issue. In fact, it is so serious that Jesus says that if we mistreat a believer, thereby causing them to sin, then we would be better off dead than doing so (v. 6). And it is by the sin of behaving pridefully that we run the risk of harming our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is in light of this danger that Jesus then (v.7) pronounces both a warning of the inevitable offences as well as the judgement of all who are guilty of such. He tells the disciples that it is to be expected that those of the world will seek to harm God’s children; that is, these “little ones” who have been humbled by grace. But He pronounces a grave “woe” upon all such who mistreat His people.

Attack and harm from the proud is in some way inevitable, but the wrath of God upon such culprits is inescapable.

But in vv. 8-11 Jesus now changes gears and addresses the disciples themselves. He uses emphatic language in v. 8 when He says, “But as for you …” That is, “Yes, the world will face God’s judgement if they harm His people, but you yourselves also must take note of this warning. If you are tempted to harm any of these humbled ones then you are better off committing self-amputation than causing sinful offence.” Jesus is telling the church that they need to deal with their pride (vv. 1-6) as radically as they have been previously told to deal with lust (5:27-30). Again, we must keep before us the central issue with which Jesus is here dealing; namely, the problem of pride. It was pride which led to this self-absorbed question of these disciples. (Note: It was also a calloused question–see 17:22-23; 20:17-21).

John Stott has said that “at every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” And what is true individually is obviously equally and insidiously true corporately as well. Pride harms Christians and thus pride harms churches. We must avoid this at all costs.

If we will “walk in brotherly love and affectionately care for one another,” if we will “admonish one another in love and seek to do all we can to avoid unwarranted harm to the Body,” then we must say amen to God’s pronouncement of anathema upon pride.

This passage makes it very clear that God loves His “little ones”–all of His children–and that they will forever be one day exposed to His unshielded glory (v. 10). God so loved them that He sent His only begotten Son to save them. And thus, if God so loves them, then we had better be careful how we treat one another. Jesus illustrates this with the parable of the lost sheep in vv. 12-14.

In this familiar picture we are taught that God has sent His Son to find all the sheep. Everyone whom the Father has given to the Son is important (see John 6:37-39; 10:11-17; 17:1-3, 11-12). Jesus was here emphasising that even those whom the disciples themselves may not esteem very highly are in fact of immense value to God: “Call not common what God has called holy!”

Our Lord was here driving home the point that pride is destructive to relationships, especially within the church. These disciples, rather than seeking greatness for themselves, needed to focus on seeking the good of the flock. If they continued in their sin of pride then they would soon find that the sheep they had despised and trodden upon would be harmed. As bad as that would be for the sheep themselves, those who were the proud and thus offending fellow “sheep” would face God’s eternal wrath (vv. 8-10a).

But wait a minute: That last statement sounds as if God’s judgement upon those in the church is the same as that experienced by the lost. Exactly!

Now, we know that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Those who have been genuinely born again are delivered from the wrath to come. That is as fixed as any of God’s gracious promises. But let us be careful of equating all professions of faith with actual possession of that faith. The fact of the matter is that not everyone who claims to be of Christ is actually of Christ, and one way to test ourselves is by this inspired text.

In Matthew 18 none other than the Lord Jesus has told us that if, by the sinful motivation of pride, we offend believers we may be indicating our actual lost condition and our impending judgement in hell. This point must be driven home and it must not be misunderstood.

The fact of the matter is that every one of us will at times cause offence–to another believer. Due to our sinfulness we sometimes offend other believers by our insensitivity, by our ignorance, and at times by our thoughtless deeds. I am not going to try and defend such failures, but I do want to point out that even with our best intentions we at times are guilty of causing harm. Yes, we should be very careful in our actions toward another, but I don’t believe that it is the inadvertent “offences” that Jesus is here condemning. The context of this warning is that of prideful offences. The Lord is warning us that if we adopt a superior, selfish, arrogant spirit then indeed we will cause offence to believers. And His warning of terrifying judgement indicates that He assumed that anyone, even professing disciples, who is marked by such delusions of grandeur is actually an unbeliever and thus under the condemnation of God.

One can imagine that upon hearing these words, the disciples who asked the question (v. 1) were now indeed both horrified and humbled. All, of course, except Judas.

The fact of the matter is that Judas was soon to be guilty of causing this condemned offence. By his desire for greatness, by his pride of heart (was he chafing that he was the only disciple not from the same geographic, cultural region?) he would betray Christ, thus leading to a temporary fall of the disciples (26:56) and his eternal punishment (“son of perdition”). Sadly, his radical dealing with his sin came too late (27:5).

Pride disqualifies one from entering the kingdom. Our affirmation to “care in community” is an affirmation that the Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the characteristic of pride, and thus that He is continually dealing it a deathblow. If we are the real deal then we will prove it by affirming to fight against a prideful spirit that shuts us off from others; we will be committed to considering the welfare of the community, not merely of our own soul; we will seek to help others in their walk with Christ.

Let’s understand that this affirmation is not something that is unique to BBC. On the contrary, this affirmation is a quality of all who are converted. Jesus Christ expects it of His people. It is for this reason that there are really only three choices regarding this affirmation for members of BBC: to affirm it as a member of BBC, to affirm it as a member of another local church, or to admit that you are unable to affirm it because you are still dead in trespasses and sins. In other words, what we are affirming is nothing less than the words of Christ as found here in Matthew 18. And if we are His disciples then we will continue in this, His Word (John 8:31).

Dear people, let us examine our hearts and let us repent, let us reform, let us affirm the gospel!

Let us ask ourselves about the condition of our relationship with others in the church. Do we have meaningful relationships within the church, or is our pride resulting in a self-imposed isolation? Are we avoiding the gathering of the Body because, after all, we are so much better than others? Do you foolishly think that you can go it alone, that you need no one else? Is your prideful, contemptuous treatment of others causing offence? If so, does this bother you?

Let us corporately affirm that we will “do no harm.” Let us not be hypocritical in such an affirmation. Let us affirm to value the flock and thus to be harmless sheep.

The Helpfulness that Responds

Thus far we have seen that the church is a caring community marked by humility and harmlessness. But does this mean that the church is merely passive in her relationships? Hardly. Yes, we are committed to doing no harm, but like doctors, doing no harm doesn’t preclude the use of a scalpel. Sometimes, in order to do no harm, we need to cause some hurt. Pain and healing often go hand in hand, and the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us this in vv. 15-20.

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

(Matthew 18:15-20)

In this passage our Lord teaches us that, because His sheep are so valuable to God, the truly humble and harmless will prove it by helping those who stumble. They will extend a helping hand because they are humble enough to care.

When the Lord introduced this teaching concerning church discipline, it is quite likely that the sin He had in mind is such a sin that has been caused by the pride He has been warning about. Thus, His exhortation is regarding our need to help those who think that they are so great (v. 1).

Perhaps we experience or observe a pridefully harmful act by a church member. Are we to adopt a passive do-nothing mentality because we are so “humble”? Well, only if we want to be guilty of being proud and thus harmful ourselves!

Remember that those who are humble and harmless are those who are relational. That is, they are involved in the lives of others.

So much that passes for humility in today’s church is actually a false humility, which is a form of self-preserving pride. But the truly humble church member takes the risk and reaches out to help a believer who is heading for the precipice.

Let me put it another way: If we see someone about to run off a cliff and we passively do nothing to avert this imminent disaster, are we not guilty of complicacy? Has our complacency actually made us complicit? Have we not actually been harmful by our “humble silence”?

And so it is in the church. When we see a fellow church member guilty of sin and we do nothing to correct it, then all of our claims to being “humble and harmless” are bogus. Those who are truly humble truly care about others, and thus they get involved to help others to avoid the harm that comes from sin. As noted above, those who are truly humble are also serious threats to sin, and thus a corresponding fear attends their path. If we care, if we are active members of the community, then we will actively seek to root out prideful sin, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others as well.

But having said this let me drive home the point that to lovingly admonish one another requires a relationship with others. And if you aspire for greatness individually, then you will never be a part of the helpful and healing process of church discipline. Is this possibly one reason that some in a church refuse to build relationships? Are they not doing so because of a selfish desire to evade the responsibility of caring for our community?

If this describes you then I would admonish you to be very careful. Passivity in this regard usually leads to a critical spirit. After all, it is easy to criticise today what took place on the rugby pitch yesterday. Non-participation makes experts of us all.

When we examine this passage it is interesting that helpfulness in the rooting out of sin in the church is actually every member’s business. If the matter is not resolved in private “chambers” (vv. 15-16) then it must be dealt with corporately–by the whole church. The whole church is to be lending a helping hand, v 17.

Before moving on, let me address the issue of an unrepentant church member.

Keep in mind that such an individual is actually violating the whole sense of this passage. That is, one who refuses to repent is actually guilty of sin; specifically, the sin of pride. You see, such an individual sees him/herself as one to whom the rules for everyone else do not apply. That is, he is so “great” that he needn’t to listen to these words of Christ, and thus neither to the voice of the Body of Christ (vv. 18-20). And the only conclusion to be drawn from this is that such an individual doesn’t actually belong to Christ. At least, this is what his behaviour is declaring (v. 17b). And since an unrepentant member is harmful to the health of the Body, he must be removed. We cannot allow those who see themselves as “great” to oppose our quest for biblical humility.

If you are not committed to helping the local church press toward the mark of the upward call of Christlikeness then you are too great for her. But if you are humble enough to help in this, then please affirm your conversion, your calling, and your care with the local church.

The Harmony that is Revealed

Peter, upon hearing this exhortation concerning humility, harmlessness and helpfulness, asked a question, which he thought lined up with what he had just heard.

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

(Matthew 18:21-35)

In Rabbinic teaching an offender was to be forgiven no more than three times for the same offence. On the occurrence of the fourth violation no forgiveness was granted. Peter thus thought that he was being magnanimous. But Jesus immediately corrected him, “No Peter, there is no limitation to the helpful, humble and harmless forgiveness to be granted. In fact, as this parable has highlighted, you will never be in a position in which you will forgive more than you yourself have been forgiven by God.”

Our Lord’s point is that our commitment to help church members is limitless. And this parable illustrates once again the central theme of this passage: the need for humility. When we consider the enormity of our sin, which has been matched by the exceeding grace of God, then we are humbled indeed. And when we are humbled then we will be moved to affirm that we “will walk in brotherly love, desiring to exercise an affectionate care and prayerful watchfulness over each other, faithfully admonishing and entreating one another as occasion may require; seek to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment; strive to avoid anything that could bring unwarranted harm to the Body or jeopardise our own or the faith of one another.”

Dear people, this is our biblical expectation. By humbly responding to God we will harmlessly reach out to help our fellow church members and we will thus reveal a Christ-centred harmony.

Let us keep before us the redemptive reality that is ours–forgiveness–and increasingly reveal this to the world. We have been reconciled to God and thus to one another. Let us affirm that we will so care for one another that our church community will show this to the non-caring community in which we live. May they say of us, as was said of the church of the early centuries, “Oh, how they love each other!”

The Hopefulness that Resonates

In closing, let me make this final observation: All of us battle against the temptation to prideful, selfish living. And we will do so until death do us part. But this teaching from the lips of our Lord gives us the hope that we can grow in holiness. It gives us the hope that we can find forgiveness when we stumble. It gives us the hope that we will be helped in our struggle against pride. And this is precisely what we are affirming as covenant church members. We are affirming our care for one another and this should give us hope. We will be loved through thick and thin. We will be loved enough to be corrected, loved enough to be picked up when we fall; loved enough to be protected; loved until the end (John 13:1). What more could we ask for and thus why would any believer be opposed to such an affirmation?

Just as each of us wants to experience this blessing, so each of us must affirm that we will be this blessing to one another. After all, it is more blessed to give than to receive. May we rely on God’s grace as we generously affirm to care for this community of “little ones.”