Dealing With Sin in the Church – Matthew 18:15-20 – Meaning and Commentary

1. Introductory prayer

I pause and slowly calm myself. I make the sign of the cross, becoming more deeply aware of God’s presence within me and in everything that surrounds me. I ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the gift of being moved by God’s word, which I am now allowed to read, listen to, ponder, and allow it to shape Christ within me (Gal 4:19), that I may become merciful, just as the heavenly Father is merciful (Lk 6:36). I ask for this in my own words or by using the following:

Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for teaching me how to deal with a brother/sister who sins in your Spirit. Help me to understand, in this prayerful reflection, how you look upon them and how you want to help them through me and our community.

I ask for the grace to be able to listen, both externally and internally. Externally to the words I am reading, internally to the feelings and impulses that arise within me. Slowly, I begin to read the passage from the Gospel. Word by word. Line by line. I gaze upon the One who is speaking to me.

2. Reading – Listening: Dealing With Sin in the Church – Matthew 18:15-20– Meaning and Commentary

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

3. Thoughts on the Gospel: Dealing With Sin in the Church – Matthew 18:15-20 – Meaning and Commentary

Jesus gives us simple and concrete principles on how to act when our brother/sister sins or behaves contrary to the way of life in the Christian community. First, we must speak with them privately. We should not publicly condemn them. It is important to take the time to approach them and listen to them with compassion and respect. If they are unwilling to change what needs to be changed, we should then invite two or three members of the community to listen together. This approach gives them more opportunities to understand the problem in their behavior and what needs to be changed.

In extreme cases, when we have exhausted all efforts to help them, and they still refuse to do anything, it is necessary to bring the matter before the entire community. And if that person does not heed the advice of the community, they should be treated “as a tax collector or a pagan,” in other words, as someone who no longer belongs to the community or chooses not to be part of it.

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This does not mean that we abandon the person, but rather, we accept their personal decision to separate from communal life. However, we must maintain a relationship with them, just as Jesus did with tax collectors and pagans, with love and respect.

In Matthew 16:19, the power of forgiveness was given to Peter, and in John 20:23, the same power was given to all the apostles. In this passage (Matthew 18:18), it is given to the community. This emphasizes the importance of reconciliation and the community’s significant responsibility in dealing with its members. The community does not excommunicate individuals but acknowledges the exclusion that the person has already publicly accepted by leaving.

This exclusion does not mean that we abandon the person to their fate. On the contrary, even if they are separated from the community, they are not separated from God. Therefore, if the conversation has not borne fruit, and the person no longer wishes to be part of the community, we are still obligated to pray together to the Father for reconciliation. And Jesus assures us that the Father will listen.

The reason for the certainty that we will be heard is Jesus’ promise in Matthew 18:19. He Himself is the center, the core of the community, and together, they ask the Father to grant the gift of reconciliation to the brother or sister.

In dealing with sin in the Church, Jesus encourages inclusion, as He did throughout His life, welcoming those who were excluded from the community due to a wrong image of God. However, He couldn’t prevent a person who disagreed with the good news of the kingdom from rejecting membership in the community and withdrawing. Even then, the community should act like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:25-32). We must keep our brother or sister in our hearts and pray for them to reconsider and return.

The society of the Roman Empire was harsh and heartless, and even synagogues were demanding, not providing the necessary support to people. Some brought unjust standards into Christian communities. This resulted in the same divisions within the communities as in society and synagogues, dividing between Jews and non-Jews, rich and poor, rulers and subordinates, words and silence, men and women, race and religion. Instead of becoming a welcoming place, the community became a place of judgment. Through these words of Jesus, Matthew shows how the Christian community could be a space of solidarity and brotherhood, offering good news to the poor.

4. Meditation – Thinking

I am now reflecting on the heard Word of God. I am looking at Jesus and other individuals in the passage. I am observing how the Word of God touches my thoughts and feelings, how it reveals God to me and me to myself and others in Him. The following thoughts or questions can also be helpful:

  • Which of Jesus’ words have particularly resonated with me? Why? What do they encourage me to do?
  • What do I want to change in my interactions with a brother/sister who is sinning?

5. Personal Prayer

In the next moments of silence, I talk about this with Jesus. I tell him what I think, what I feel, what I want. I ask him for the grace that I need for … (make your conversation with God).

6. Contemplation – Quiet moment with God

I allow everything within me to fall silent. I am simply present in God, just as He is present in me. Perhaps from this silence and stillness, I will sense even more of God’s address and His desire for me to be always with Him and to do everything with Him and in Him…

7. Action

When I enter into a personal relationship with God, He transforms me, makes me more loving, and inspires me to take concrete action…

8. Prayer at the end

Heavenly Father, thank you for the instructions you have given me through Jesus Christ on how to deal with a brother/sister who sins. I ask you to help me put into practice what I have learned through the Holy Spirit.

9. Review of my prayer meditation or reflection

This is the time when I became aware of and articulate what was happening within me during prayer. The following questions can assist me in reflection:

  • What was happening during prayer? What feelings and thoughts could I discern within myself?
  • What did I learn about God, His relationship with me and others, and my own relationship with Him and others?
  • How did I conclude my prayer? What did I receive in it for my everyday life?
  • In the end, I can jot down my insights, discoveries, and realizations. I also note where I encountered difficulties, as these can be valuable in understanding God’s relationship with me and my relationship with Him. They can also help me find a more suitable way of praying. Then, I express gratitude to the triune God for everything.

Lectio Divina meditations are published and adapted with permission from the Jesuits home –

Text from the Bible – New International Version (NIV)

Let us remain close in the same prayer! May the Lord bless you abundantly!