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“Making Up, and the Power of Mutuality”

Father’s Day - June 18 2017 Matthew 18:15-20


North America is one of the wealthiest regions on the planet. You can get almost anything you can think of – if it’s not available in a local store or mall, you can always order it online, even from some remote place like China. But there’s one thing that’s in very short supply: that is, positive role models for fathers. Particularly in the media. I was with a younger man this week who watches more TV than I (which isn’t saying much – I watch hardly any). He was remarking how even programs aimed at younger people and children seem to lack examples of dads that are positive, ones you’d want to emulate. Instead often the more ‘politically correct’ approach seems to be to portray the dad in the scenario as the buffoon, the one who’s laughed at.

      This negative image doesn’t exactly encourage young men to step up to the plate and engage the role of fathering when it’s their turn. Instead they find it all too easy to slough off into the woodwork and leave a single mom to raise the kids. In 1992 Dan Quayle accused the producers of the popular sitcom 'Murphy Brown' of glamorizing what he called "America's worst crisis: missing fathers". The media responded by accusing him of going too far. But by 1995, just 3 years later, it came to light that nearly forty percent of American children lived in fatherless homes. Finally the nation began to rally around the idea of bringing Daddy home, or forcing him to live up to his responsibilities. Congress created a bill cracking down on deadbeat dads; the FBI began tracking them across state lines.

      One less pleasant aspect of being a good Dad is the whole area of DISCIPLINE. It’s much more popular to try to be your child’s friend, their buddy, to never give them cause to get upset with you. But discipline can be very unpleasant: nobody enjoys getting called on their mistakes, reprimanded for our shortcomings. Yet it’s a very necessary part of growing up, learning when to recognize that we’ve made a mistake, and how to make things right, apologize where called for, and make repairs or restitution.

      In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 18 contains the fourth of five “books” or collections of teaching by Jesus that parallel loosely the five books of the Torah, Genesis to Deuteronomy. This fourth subsection has the theme of discipleship, how to live practically as a follower of Jesus. The teachings in this section apply to anyone who’s part of a church. Today on Father’s Day I’d like to spring from them as well to throw light on fathering.

      Verses 15-17 deal with the sensitive matter of DISCIPLINE, setting things right after someone has erred. In particular, when someone has committed a wrong against you. V15 [Jesus says] “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” “Point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” (NRSV) It’s to be done quietly, respecting the other person’s privacy, not making a big thing about it or involving other people initially. Certainly not gossipping about it or slandering the other person to others without first giving them a chance to set things right: perhaps it was an area where they’ve got a ‘blind spot’, and just need it brought to their attention. Respect their privacy; give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it was unintentional or they’re not even aware of it. How many times have we done something like that, and appreciated another person bringing it to our awareness?

      The goal is, as Jesus puts it, winning your brother / sister over. We’re aiming for reconciliation, not playing the blame game, or just out to make someone feel bad / ashamed. The goal is healing the rift in the Body, the fellowship.

      But perhaps they don’t see things the same way as you; they resist your attempt to explain how they’ve wronged you. That takes us to the next stage. V16 “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” The quote is from the Jewish law, Deuteronomy 19(15), requiring multiple witnesses, to protect one from false allegations or people just making things up in their head. This serves as a check against personal bias, unrealistic or unjustified expectations – you’re bringing in other people who see this happened, too. It’s objective, apparent to others; “I’m not just making this up.”

      But suppose the person is still resistant – perhaps their pride won’t allow them to admit they made a mistake, or the stakes are such they prefer to let the wrong just be perpetuated rather than have to give back whatever it was they took from you, say. That escalates things to another level. Jesus directs in V17, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Here there’s a step-up in seriousness, a degree of official reference added. With a definite consequence: if the person is so hard-hearted as not to repent and right the wrong, they are to be held at a distance, not included in matters as are other members of the church. There’s a line drawn: “You need to set this straight before we can continue to have fellowship with you.”

      In the time of the prophet Hosea, the northern kingdom of Israel was in deep debauchery, engaging in prostitution and idol worship and shameful ways. God cautioned the southern kingdom of Judah from being caught up in the same sins, which would lead to the northern kingdom being exiled by the Assyrians. The prophet Hosea declared, Hosea 4:15-17 “Do not go to Gilgal; do not go up to Beth Aven...The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer...Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!”

      How does this apply to fathering? Discipline is never a pleasant task, but it’s nonetheless a very vital one. If our children sin or do wrong, it’s our responsibility to confront them about it: clearly identify what the wrong is, encourage them to set things right and clean up any mess that’s been created; or face unpleasant consequences. Hebrews 12:7,9f “For what son is not disciplined by his father? ...we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it...Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

      Discipline needs to be firm: but not done as a Fuhrer, we’re not a little Hitler! The Matthew 18 process reveals starting privately, and always in relation to agreed-upon standards, as apparent to witnesses, in light of church teaching – not made up by a demanding irrational parent on a whim.

      An example of a dad who failed to discipline, and was severely chastised by God as a result, was the priest Eli whose sons Hophni and Phinehas were treating God’s offering with contempt, and fattening themselves as a result. God rebukes Eli through a prophet in 1Sam 2:29: “Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’” Don’t give your children ‘favourite’ status to the point you let them get away with what God forbids! The Lord explains to Samuel about the coming tragic penalty for Eli, 1Sam 3:13 “For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.” Discipline dares to restrain your offspring – even if it risks damaging your ‘buddy’ status with them!


Another weakness in modern parenting is a reluctance to assume the authority that rightfully belongs to dad or mom. Sometimes things have to be withheld if the kids’ behaviour hasn’t warranted their receiving a treat. Dare you say “No” to your child? Does that risk inciting a temper tantrum?

      The father of five children had won a toy at a raffle. He called his kids together to ask which of them should have the present. "Who is the most obedient?" he asked. "Who never talks back to mother? Who does everything she says?" Five small voices answered in unison. "Okay, dad, you get the toy."

      In Matthew 18:18 Jesus encourages His followers to assume and take advantage of, for the purposes of His kingdom, the authority that rightfully belongs to them. V18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ is within the framework of His teaching propagated and made familiar by preaching and teaching within the church; it’s relative to Jesus’ standards and principles, we’re not just making it up as we go, arbitrarily, on a whim. But the Lord does put us in positions of responsibility, in the church and in the home, where we need to call out and verbally identify situations and actions that do or don’t accord with His revealed will. A startling example might be Acts 5:3-5 “Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?...You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.”

      Fathers have a job to do when it comes to authoritatively binding and loosing in our families. Part of that is teaching God’s truth and values and Bible stories from day to day so our kids know what’s right and wrong based on Scriptural categories, not what the media’s telling them, the videos their peers are sharing from YouTube. A father bears siginificant spiritual authority in the home. The New Testament teaches that “the buck stops here” in that God will hold the father, not the mother, primarily responsibility for what happens in a Christian home. 1Cor 11:3 “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (See also Eph.5:22ff) Or as popular Christian teacher Beth Moore puts it, (not an exact quote) “Submission is knowing when to duck so God can hit your husband.” So, fathers, MAN UP – step up to the plate! – don’t shirk your responsibility, stop avoiding the authority God has given you to provide positive Kingdom direction to your household. Be anchored in Christ your Rock, your Head.

      Anchored, but not Absolute in authority like a dictator: that Ephesians 5 passage spells out better how a husband is to love his wife sacrificially as Christ gave His life for the church. In Mark 9 Jesus has just descended from the Mount of Transfiguration when He encounters a man who’s brought his son for healing: the boy has an evil spirit which manifests by throwing him to the ground and seizure-like activity. At first the father’s attitude is ‘help us’ “if you can do anything”. Jesus checks him right there; the man more appropriately responds, Mk 9:24 “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"”

      While assuming our authority as a dad, we need to keep acknowledging our failings and imperfections, calling out to Jesus to overcome the areas where our faith is incomplete.


The last area I’d like to look at today that this passage suggests in connection with fathering is that of INTERCESSION. The tasks of DISCIPLINE and properly exercising AUTHORITY ought to drive us dads to our knees!

      Jesus teaches in VV19f, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” He wants His followers to ASK, to plead, to implore, to beg the Father’s help in all our situations. How did Paul put it in 1Thess 5:17? “pray continually...”

      Now, here’s a blank cheque for you: He says if 2 or 3 Christians agree about what they ask for, our Heavenly Father will DO IT! Because - ‘for’ - where 2 or 3 gather in His Name, He is there with them. When we come to agreement on what we need to be praying about, God looks at that, sees His Son involved, and views it as if the request came directly from Jesus Himself. Because the Holy Spirit has been guiding the process.

      How does that find application in the family unit? Fathers, who’s the person closest at hand that God’s given you to be a lifelong prayer-partner? Your wife, of course! Enlist her help in your responsibility of spiritually leading and interceding for those young lives under your care.

      The verb “agree about anything” in v19 is literally the same as the root from which we get “SYMPHONY”: musical instruments in a symphony are quite different but move together in harmony following a unified script or score. Can you first of all ‘get on the same page’ spiritually with your wife? What’s most on her heart? Can you echo the theme of the melody her soul is humming on behalf of your children, playing dreams for each child into reality?

      Scripture has some notable examples of godly men interceding on behalf of their children. There’s classic righteous Job in Job 1:5 - “When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job’s regular custom.”

      After David sins by marital infidelity with Bathsheba, a prophet announces the child born to them will die. This drives David to his knees for a week. 2Sam 12:16-17 “David pleaded with God for the child.He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground.The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.” After the child dies, David explains, 2Sam 12:22 “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept.I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’”

      Fathers, as spiritual ‘head of the home’ you are thereby officially its VICAR, its priest, its spiritual “deputy” appointed by Jesus your “Sheriff”. Be like the father Jairus who came to Jesus interceding for his little girl of about 12 years old in Mark 5:22f - “Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying.Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live."” Pleading earnestly; begging “please” – is that your posture daily on behalf of your family? Spiritual forces out there are afoot that would eat your offspring for breakfast; are you ready to fend them off, with God’s help?


Fathering, done well, is demanding. It involves loving DISCIPLINE. It demands a due appreciation of the AUTHORITY inherent in the role – anchored, but not absolute, you’ve got to be depending on the Lord. And it will drive you to your knees in INTERCESSION if you truly love your kids.

      Fatherhood really does demand your all. Sometimes that requires pouring out your soul in secret in prayer; sometimes it involves just physically showing up, ‘being there’ for your kid. When Billy Crystal's daughter turned eleven, Crystal was in New York filming a movie. He called her, apologized for his work schedule, and said a package would be delivered soon. He then flew from New York to Los Angeles. Later that day when Lindsay opened the front door, a six foot high carton greeted her and she began ripping it open on the spot. Dad was inside the carton. Crystal reports, "She hugged me for five minutes.It was unbelievable."

      Now, you’ve got to understand – Billy Crystal was fifteen when his own father had died of a heart attack. After surprising his daughter, it’s reported that he went on to say, "I missed twenty-five birthdays with my dad.I'm not going to let that happen with my girls." Let’s pray.