It's not easy to get involved in someone else's dispute. Indeed, it's not even
safe. Proverbs says, "Like one who seizes a dog by the
ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own" (Prov. 26:17).
Still, Jesus knows that sometimes that dog has to be grabbed by the ears because
any quarrel between two members of one's church is, in a sense, one's own quarrel
(see 1 Cor. 12:26). Thus when an offended brother confronts his offender, and
the offender refuses to repent, Jesus commands, "take
one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony
of two or three witnesses'" (Matt. 18:16).
So who are these one or two others? And why are they so important to the church?
WHO ARE THEY?
John Nolland suggests that they have to be witnesses of the sin committed
and must be "independently aware of the problem." The
text, however, gives two reasons for rejecting this view. First, Jesus does
not call them witnesses. He requires that the offended brother take "one
or two others along" (Matt 18:16), not that he take one or two witnesses
along. Jesus expects them to become witnesses later, but they do not have to
be witnesses of the offense.
Second, this meeting must follow the initial, private meaning whenever the
sinning brother refuses to repent. Yet, if the "one or two others" must
be witnesses of the offense, then the second meeting would be conditional:
it could only take place if one or two others saw the sin happen. Since many
offenses have no witnesses, and since Jesus did not make the second meeting
conditional, the "one or two others" do not have to be witnesses
to the offense; although if the sinning brother doesn't repent, they will become
witnesses of the sin to the church, so that, as Jesus says, "every charge
may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses" (Matt. 18:16).
In a sense, these one or two others are not like witnesses to a crime, but
witnesses to the signing of a Last Will and Testament. They're not coming to
testify about something that happened in the past, but to participate in the
meeting between the two brothers; then they will be able testify about it before
WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?
Since the goal is restoration, these one or two others should act more like
counselors and mediators, not as hired guns for the offended brother. Although
they have come to the meeting at the request of the offended brother, they
must remember that they have a ministry to both sides: to help the sinning
brother repent and to help the offended brother forgive. They are not advocates
for the offended brother; they are advocates of the spiritual growth and true
repentance of both brothers, and the restoration of the broken relationship.
The role of the "others" is not an easy one, but it is an important
They're Important for the Offender and the Offended
They will deal with one person who is being confronted with his sin, and another
person who has been offended by that sin. They must help the sinning brother,
who might be struggling to repent. After all, most people do not respond with
joy when their sins are exposed. And they must also help the offended brother,
who may be too deeply hurt or too bitter to forgive right away. In his pain
and bitterness, he may not have noticed that the sinning brother was ready
to repent or even trying to repent at the first meeting between them. When
that happens, the "one or two others" will have to help the offended
brother forgive rather than help the sinning brother repent.
They're Important for the Church
The "others" also bear a heavy responsibility to the church. If
the offender refuses to repent, they must act as witnesses before the church
to what they saw and heard in the second meeting. They may have to stand before
the church and be an advocate of the unrepentant person's excommunication.
Thus, those chosen must be wise counselors who can minister the gospel and
help people restore a broken relationship. They must also be reliable people
of good standing who have integrity in the congregation's eyes. As wise counselors,
they can help those involved to repent or to forgive and work with them toward
reconciliation with God and with each other. As people of integrity, their
testimony before the congregation will ensure that "every charge may be
established by the evidence of two or three witnesses" (Matt 18:16). The
reputation of the witnesses will allow the congregation to act without engaging
in an independent, public investigation of the sin. Such an investigation is
likely to harm the church's mission of reaching out with the gospel to the
Stephen Matteucci is the pastor of Clifton Heights Baptist Church in Louisville,
 John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 2005), 746-47. If they know nothing about the offense until asked
to participate in the second meeting, then Nolland asserts that "the
appeal to multiple witnesses would not make any sense."
 This is the position that Jay E. Adams takes: "The 'witnesses' are
not merely witnesses…They are pictured as actively participating
in the reconciliation process. It is when the refusal takes place, and only
then, that they turn into witnesses. . . . [T]hey will become witnesses if
and when the matter is formally brought before the church." Jay E.
Adams, A Handbook of Church Discipline: A Right and Privilege of Every
Church Member (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974), 60 (emphasis in original).
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce
and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter
the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction,
and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link
to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above
must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © 9Marks.
Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: email@example.com. Toll Free: (888) 543-1030.