Tag Archive | Bible Study

The Church is One

 

John 17 “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (v. 11b).

Our study of Matthew 18 now complete, we have seen how the church is to exhibit pastoral concern, guard the church’s holiness, and readmit to communion all those who, though they have broken fellowship, turn from their sins and seek restoration. Before returning to Matthew’s gospel, however, we need to look at the nature of the church in order to understand why discipline and forgiveness are needed to preserve the purity of the church. Dr. R.C. Sproul will guide our study through this subject with his teaching series The Bride of Christ.

John 17, which records the longest prayer in the New Testament, provides some of the most important teaching on the church. As we can see in this chapter, Jesus is concerned with the unity of His people, praying for His disciples and all those who come after them to be one in purpose and mission even as He and His Father are one (vv. 11b, 22–23). It is therefore regrettable that the church of Jesus Christ in our day evidences little visible unity. In the United States alone, there are hundreds of different Protestant denominations, including dozens of varieties each of Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, and so on.

Faced with this scandalous reality, there has been a tendency in the twentieth century and now, in the twenty-first century, to try and correct this problem. As a result of the ecumenical movement, many new denominations have formed through the mergers of old ones, and there has been a push for believers to affirm what unites them over and against what divides them. This is laudable when those professing unity agree on the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, but such is not often the case. Many times those seeking “unity” are those who are most eager to jettison any real adherence to the confessional standards of the church. Such unity is merely visible, and cracks begin to show when Bible-believers in the church begin to rightly protest the excesses of the liberal wings of their denominations.

If unity is to mean anything, Jesus also affirms in John 17, it must be a unity grounded in the truth (vv. 17–19). Unity is meaningless when church members do not confess the same Lord and Savior.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Consider today the importance of true Christian unity, one that is a unity of faith and not only an organizational unity. What type of unity is your particular church concerned to promote? What type of unity is your passion? Take time today to pray for your particular church and denomination that they would seek to be one with other Christians, but not at the expense of the faith once given to the saints. Do what you can to promote such unity with other believers.

For further study:  Amos 3:3

The Bible in a year:  Psalms 68–69

For the weekend:  Psalms 70–72

INTO the WORD daily Bible studies from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.

 

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Unlimited Forgiveness

 

Matthew 18:21–35 “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (v. 35).

A discussion of church discipline must recognize two errors often made in the interpretation of Matthew 18:15–20. First, we err if we divorce the church’s authority from its biblical basis, since this inevitably exalts church tradition above Scripture and binds people to confess many unbiblical doctrines. Yet as the Westminster Confession of Faith aptly states, church authority is inseparable from the Word of God, which alone binds the conscience absolutely (1.10). Scripture, and the events it records, establishes the church; therefore, Scripture stands in authority over the church. Church decisions bind only when they are biblical; to violate God’s Word for tradition’s sake is evil (Matt. 15:1–9).

The second error thinks 18:20 guarantees Jesus’ approval of anything two or more believers agree upon in prayer. However, the verse’s context refutes this view. Indeed, Jesus is present when believers congregate, but verse 20 promises that He backs up the church’s authority when it makes decisions in accord with the Bible, not that He will do whatever a group of Christians asks of Him.

Forgiveness and the restoration of relationship is the goal of discipline — from the first step to the last step of excommunication. Peter understands this partly; he will forgive a person up to seven times, more than the three times the rabbis prescribe in his day (v. 21). That Peter’s comprehension is incomplete is revealed in the Savior’s command to forgive “seventy times seven” (v. 22). According to some Reformed New Testament scholars Jesus really says, “seventy-seven times,” but the precise number is unimportant. Either way, as seen in the parable that follows, Christ is actually teaching that forgiveness must be unlimited.

Ten thousand talents is upwards of a trillion dollars in modern currency. It is an amount the servant could never repay; only by the king’s grace can this debt be canceled (vv. 23–27). As imitators of the true King, we, the recipients of grace, must show mercy, for Jesus will condemn all who are unmerciful toward their debtors (vv. 28–35). Believers, collectively as the church and individually, must always forgive penitent people. How can we possibly be Christians if we, whose unpayable debt has been erased, refuse to pardon those who have wronged us?

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

It is not as if unforgiving people lose their salvation, Matthew Henry says, for “those who do not forgive their brother’s trespasses, did never truly repent of their own, and therefore that which is taken away is only what they seemed to have.” Henry also gives a great principle for the Christian life: “God multiplies his pardons, and so should we. We should make it our constant practice to forgive injuries, and should accustom ourselves to it until it becomes habitual.”

For further study:  Genesis 45:1–24

The Bible in a year:  Psalms 65–67

INTO the WORD daily Bible studies from TableTalk Magazine, Matthew Studies. Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.