The underlying theme has not changed: Place a high value on unreserved trust and never manipulate. Completely open honesty is the way of the Kingdom.
How do you handle a genuine offense? Do you gossip and build up an undercurrent of resentment for the offender? That would be typical of fallen human behavior, but is wholly inconsistent with an atmosphere of open trust. You should assume a lack of malice. You should assume it was unintentional, and the proceed to enlighten your brother or sister. This is family; what will improve peace and stability in the household of faith?
Further, you do so privately. This is wholly in keeping with the atmosphere of open honesty and lack of malice. Give them a chance to understand without making a big deal. You are seeking to win them back to your side. Keep the family together in holiness and harmony.
But there is no guarantee that your offended feelings are appropriate. So if the offender rejects your overture, go talk to someone else. This helps to ensure you aren’t making much of nothing. If they agree that this is an actual offense, let them come along with you to bolster your claim. Tell the offender this matter is not settled, that what they have done is harmful to more than just little old you. It’s a threat to the shalom of everyone. At this point, you now have a witness that the offender is impenitent.
This preserves the moral tradition of accusations being more than one person’s private complaint. The problem is no longer the offense, but the truculence of the offender, and this threatens the whole family. This is the whole matter of our witness as a covenant community. It’s not what we can accomplish as a group, but how we handle natural human friction. Nobody says you can’t break things; we are all clumsy in one way or another. But you do have to clean up the mess. It’s not our activities and products, but the shalom by which we live together with a power the world cannot have. It’s the divine power to love and care for people for whom we have no earthly reason to even notice without that covenant.
So now it requires escalation to the whole body. Your supporting witness will be there to ensure this is not a private petty dispute. At this point you expect the body as a whole to see the threat. Give the offender one last chance to repent. If they refuse, then they are rejecting the covenant. They are an outsider who has no place within the family.
While we can only guess what Hebrew words Jesus used, Matthew selects a Greek word that is typically translated into English as “heathen” — ethnikos. In this context, it draws the image of someone who has chosen their earthly identity over that of Heaven. They belong to some other tribe or nation, but not to Christ.
And it is within this context that Jesus makes the statement regarding binding and dissolving. It is imperative that you and I recognize what does and doesn’t fit in the covenant that binds us together. More to the point, it refers to discerning and deciding when people belong and when they do not. An awful lot of people take this verse out of context and miss the point entirely. This is not carte blanche to ask for whatever goodies or miracles that tickle your fancy. If you decide as a covenant community that something is an offense to the body, then so it is, and God will back that up.
We say it often: Context is everything. If you and one other believer agree that any particular issue is good or bad for shalom, you can bring it before the Lord in prayer and He will respond accordingly. His moral character will bind that issue on your behalf and the blessings of His promises will apply to that issue. Further, if you both change your minds later, God will go along with it. The issue is to focus on what it takes to keep the covenant alive for you and everyone who embraces that covenant. “Lord, in our little group, can we get a curse on this issue, and a blessing on that matter of human interaction?” The Father will honor your earnest petition.
That’s because when two or more gather with the full intent to shine His glory, He’s there in Person. His power is in the fellowship under covenant. That’s how He delegates divine authority among humans.