In this passage, Jesus gives His church a clear process for loving one another redemptively. The text begins with a described situation. A professed brother is “caught in a trespass.” Four steps are outlined for our response.
1. We are to go to him in private with the humility of clarification and the heartfelt intention of winning the brother by God’s grace to mortify the entangling sin and pursue a new obedience to Christ.
2. If this step fails, we are to bring along with us one or two others who share the same desired objective (see also Gal. 6:1–2).
3. If this effort fails, we are to “tell it to the church.” This does not necessarily mean exposing the individual in a public assembly of the church. It does mean bringing it to the elders of the church.
4. At this point, the elders are to shepherd the effort to win the brother through “special discipline” in concert with “general discipline,” the regular ministry of the means of grace (i.e., preaching, sacraments, fellowship, etc.). According to special discipline, the elders would prayerfully repeat the first three steps and then, if necessary, implement the following: admonition, which is the formal and informal identification of the sin with warning of its consequences if there is no confession and repentance; suspension from the Lord’s Table; and excommunication, whereby the impenitent sinner is identified as a “gentile” and a “tax gatherer.” These steps are designed to deliver the impenitent sinner over to Satan and to the consequences of the sin in hopes of stimulating godly repentance.
Such discipline is identified in the text as kingdom “binding and loosening.” The text concludes with the sobering yet reassuring promise of the Lord’s presence when the assembly administers the steps of redemptive discipline in the name of Christ.
The intention of this text is to assure the gathered assembly of the Lord’s presence as it biblically implements the redemptive steps of discipline in the life of an impenitent sinner. It reveals the Christ-given blessing of the Holy Spirit, who superintends redemptive discipline in the church as the church seeks three gracious blessings: the reclamation of the impenitent sinner, the sanctification of the church, and the effective witness of Christ to the world through His church.