Matthew 18:17

ESV If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
NIV 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.
NASB And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
CSB If he doesn't pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn't pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you.
NLT If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
KJV And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

What does Matthew 18:17 mean?

Jesus has been describing a process for confronting another believer who is guilty of sin. It begins with one person, likely someone wronged by the sinful person, approaching him privately about the issue. If they can agree and resolve things—especially if the wrongful person confesses and repents of the sin—then the process stops there. All is made right (Matthew 18:15).

If not, the accuser must recruit one or two other people to return with him or her to the sinful person and try again. Ideally, additional witnesses will objectively establish the truth. This is an opportunity to weed out rivalry or misunderstanding or inconclusive difference of perspective. However, if those new participants agree sin has taken place, this gives the wrongful one another chance to admit the sin, repent, and make things right (Matthew 18:16).

Now Jesus prescribes what must happen if the sinful person continues to refuse repentance and restoration. The accuser and the witnesses must accept the unpleasant task of presenting the situation to the church or the assembly. Again, ideally, those assembled as believers in Jesus will hear the issue and agree with the accused and the witnesses that sin has taken place. If the larger body does not agree wrong has been done, the process would stop here. If they do agree the accused is wrong, he or she is given one last chance to repent and make things right, now in a public setting.

Finally, if the sinfulness of the accused has been established and he or she continues to refuse to repent and make things right, then the church is to begin to treat this person as an outsider—in essence, as if they were a non-Christian. Jesus' description of this consequence, using the examples of tax collectors and Gentiles, shows He is talking to His group of Jewish disciples within the context of their Jewish culture. The Jewish religious community also had a process for removing someone from their community who was in rebellion against God.

It's important to understand that none of these steps involve treating the unrepentant person with disrespect. Jewish people had working relationships with Gentiles and even tax collectors. They simply did not allow them into the heart of their community and religious life. It's also important to notice that Jesus is not describing these excommunicated people as condemned by God at this point. As Paul will show in 1 Corinthians 5:1–13, the goal for the church remains the restoration of the sinful person once he or she has finally come to repentance.

Also, it should be noted that banishment from a community should never be practiced lightly. Christian leaders should never despise those under their care, even those in rebellion. Much harm has been done by Christian leaders who have mishandled the application of this passage. The final step in this process should only ever be entered into with humility and great love for everyone involved—it is literally presented as the last resort.
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