Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Ministry Theology

Binding and Loosing, Part 2 (Matthew 16:15-19)

In my previous post, I sketched out an interpretation of Matthew 16:15-19 that hopefully helps to show that “binding and loosing” is not referring to “warfare prayer.”  According to some, Matthew 16:19 allows us to personally “bind” Satan and his demons in specific situations and places.

I argued that “binding and loosing” refers to God’s people declaring with authority the truth about Jesus. Here in verse 16, Peter is the first to make this proclamation when he enthusiastically responds to the Lord’s question with the glorious words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” When the truth about Jesus (the gospel message) is declared by God’s people, this proclamation frees some–“looses” them–to enter into eternal life.  It is the key to the kingdom.  For others, that same proclamation “binds” them, shutting them out of the kingdom as they choose to reject the truth.

Now that I have offered this as an interpretation, here is more detail why I think this is the correct way to understand binding and loosing.  I also want to include in this post some thoughts on the implications of this interpretation for our efforts to complete the Great Commission and see Christ’s church advance to the ends of the earth.

“shall be bound” or “shall have been bound”

First, we have to consider the meaning of the words, “shall be bound” and “shall be loosed.”  Even if you are not a greek scholar (the original language of the New Testament), if you are an English speaker, you have a tremendous Bible study tool available to you in the various English translations.  Usually when there is a question of the correct way to interpret the original text, it will come up through a comparison of some of the major translations (you can do this using E-sword (which is free), or Logos, which I use–not free).  In this case, we discover that the ESV, which I usually use here on the blog, and the NASB have translated this phrase differently.  Here is the comparison:

ESV:  …whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

NASB:  …whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

There is a long-standing debate among biblical scholars over which of these is the better translation and I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that the NASB translation fits very naturally with what we have seen so far in the rest of the passage.  Let me explain how.

When we proclaim the gospel message, we are directly impacting people’s lives in that when they receive the message, they are loosed and brought into the kingdom.  When they reject the message (and only God knows when that final rejection occurs) they are bound over to eternal punishment.

But even though, as proclaimers of the truth, we are the agents through which this occurs, it is not as though we are the ones deciding peoples’ eternal destinies.  As the NASB translation makes clear, what we bind or loose on earth, God has already bound or loosed in heaven.  D.A. Carson (to whom I am greatly indebted for everything I am presenting in this post), put it this way in his commentary on Matthew:  “He (Peter) has no direct pipeline to heaven, still less do his decisions force heaven to comply; but he may be authoritative in binding and loosing because heaven has acted first.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew)

When we boldly and authoritatively declare the truth that it is only through Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, that man can be reconciled with his Creator, God’s eternal purposes are fulfilled.  His authority to save sinners is manifested in our authoritative proclamation of the means by which he saves sinners.  We are, in the language of Matthew 16:19, “binding and loosing.”

Binding and loosing put into practice…

The significance then of Jesus’ words here is immense.  God’s eternal purpose to call out for himself a people who will be saved by the redeeming work of Jesus Christ is placed into our hands!  Consider the implications for our efforts to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  I believe Jesus’ words should embolden us to preach the gospel with courage and authority.  Isn’t this exactly what we see Peter doing in Acts, and then all the other apostles as well, who were then followed by their Timothys and Tituses?

Jesus has given us authority to preach the gospel!  And in our increasingly pluralistic and relativistic world, we need strong assurances of that authority in order to continue to be faithful to our calling as witnesses (Acts 1:8).  This verse was given to us not to emboldent us to speak to Satan, but to embolden us to speak to sinners.

I get worked up by this because I believe that many in the “bind Satan” camp, while they are well-meaning, are forgetting that the commission we received from Jesus’ lips was to “make disciples” and not to “bind Satan”.  And one of the very passages that provides us with the authority we need to make those disciples has been misconstrued and used to distract us from that original commission.  Yes, we must pray!  Absolutely we must pray, but let me be so bold as to say that when we say, “Satan, I bind you in the name of Jesus” we are not praying.  That is not prayer.  Prayer is talking to God, not talking to Satan, (note:  I am not saying that we are never to address demons directly, there is biblical precedent for a verbal rebuke of demons.  I am only saying that there is no biblical precedent for “binding Satan”.)

Another reason why applying these verses correctly is so important is that the very thing that Satan fears more than anything else is the proclamation of the glorious gospel of the blood of Christ that will wrench his captives away from him.  If we really want to wage spiritual warfare, let us do it with the most powerful weapon we have which is the gospel.  It is the gospel that declares that Satan was defeated at the cross.

What does it matter if we have courage to address Satan in prayer, but don’t have courage to address his subjects with the gospel.   Let me say it yet again, it is not for us to bind Satan.  At the appropriate time, he will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3), and according to Scripture it will not be we who do it.

Still not convinced?  A final argument

Binding and loosing in Matthew 18:18

If what I and commentators like D.A. Carson and Craig Blomberg (New American Commentary: Matthew) are saying is correct, then a good way to test this interpretation is to see if it fits with Matthew 18:18, which is almost identical to Matthew 16:19, but in a very different context.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 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. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mattthew 18:15-20)

In neither Matthew 18 nor 16 is there any mention at all of Satan and his demons.  To read them into the binding and loosing verses totally ignores the context of the passage.

Here, the context is one of church discipline.  Notice that in verse 17, the brother who has been confronted with his sin “refuses to listen even to the church”.  He is therefore an example of one who is “bound on earth” in the sense that the church says to this brother, “if you are unwilling to live by the truth of the gospel that we as Christ’s body confess, then you are no longer a part of that body.”  It is not the church that is excommunicating the individual, but God, acting through the church as his agent on earth (NASB, here also:  shall have been bound). And just as in Matthew 16, the church does this through a proclamation of the truth, never acting arbitrarily outside of that truth but only serving as the agent by which God exercises his authority.

Here again, there is a tremendous application to our obedience to Jesus’ command to preach the gospel to all creation.  The growth of the kingdom of God is not accomplished simply by filling our churches with large numbers of people, doing everything in our power to keep people happy and not rock the boat.  We must exercise the authority that God has given us to hold people to the high standard of a life, “worthy of the calling that we have received” (Eph. 4:1).  When we fail to discipline believers who are not living that worthy life, then we are failing to “bind and loose” as Jesus gave us the authority to do.

If you’ve made it this far into a long post (I have trouble writing short ones), let me conclude by saying that I would love to hear your comments on this.  I have just put a new comment subscription plug-in on the blog.  If you care to leave a comment, you can also subscribe to the comments on that post by email and get an email whenever anyone else adds a comment.  Just look for the e-mail sign up at the bottom of the comments section.

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life

How to Build Your House on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27)

Perhaps, like me, as a child you often sang the cute little song based on Matthew 7:24-27

The wise man built his house upon the rock

The wise man built his house upon the rock

The wise man built his house upon the rock

And the rains came a tumblin’ down…

But when Jesus tells us at the end of the Sermon on the Mount to “build our house on the rock,” what is he referring to?  How do we actually do this?

Here is the whole passage…

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

I’m not sure where my early understanding came from, but for a long time, I thought that the rain and the floods and the wind that beat on the house were the storms of life–the trials  and struggles that all of us go through.  But if you look closely at the context here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about the final judgment.  The beating storm that the house must endure is nothing less than the judgment that Christ himself will render when he evaluates our lives on judgment day.  The question at hand, then, is whether or not we will “enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 21), or hear the awful words, “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (v. 23).

In order to enter the eternal kingdom and live forever with Jesus, we must be like the man who built his house on the rock.  And Jesus states very, very clearly what that means in verse 24.  “Everyone then who hears these words of mind and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Although it is very true that we must obey everything that Jesus says, when he speaks of “these words” he is referring to what he has just taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  And it is not enough just to hear those words and appreciate them.  We must do them (remember James 1:22-25 and the man who looks at his face in the mirror).

So what does “doing” the things that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount entail?  Well, to be honest, it entails a lot more than you and I are capable of.  What makes Matthew 5-7 so stunning (in the sense of feeling numb like you’ve been hit on the head with a crowbar) is that Jesus doesn’t only endorse what God had already revealed in the Old Testament, he deepens it and makes it a matter of the heart.  So it isn’t enough to just “not murder”, we must also make sure our hearts aren’t harboring bitter and angry thoughts.  It isn’t enough to just “not commit adultery,” our thoughts have to be pure.  We can’t just “claim our rights,” but we must be willing to suffer injustice at the hands of others.  Religious duties like fasting, prayer and giving must be done with a right heart… This is only a partial list of some of the words that we have just heard from Jesus in the sermon on the mount.  Jesus has shown us that a true keeping of the law is so much deeper than just external behavior, it is the description of a life that springs from a pure heart.

Now, depending at what stage you are at in life, you will probably respond to this in one of two ways.  1)  “Well, I guess I better buckle down and get started.  Let’s see, what part of the sermon on the mount will I work on today?”  or 2) “Can I just go back to bed?”

You see, when Jesus says that the one who builds his house on the rock, “hears my words and does them,” it is like being told that you need to build the Biltmore House (click if you’ve never seen the Biltmore House) on your $20,000 a year salary in order to get into heaven.  There’s no way you can do it!

The problem is that the gospel of Matthew is filled with such passages.  Matthew presents the “gospel of the kingdom” that Jesus came preaching: a description of what life under King Jesus is like.  And as glorious as that picture is, and as much as we would like to live it, it can seem unattainable when we look only at this Biltmore House of a life that Jesus talks about and realize that we can’t begin to measure up.

But the gospel of Matthew doesn’t consist only of the “gospel of the Kingdom,” it ends with the King himself dying on a cross and then rising from the dead.  So what is the connection between the message of the King about the life that he wants us to live, and the death and resurrection of the King?

Although there are some clues scattered throughout Matthew, it isn’t until after Jesus ascends to heaven and the apostles, through the Holy Spirit, explain to us in their writings the significance of Jesus’ death that we begin to see how Jesus’ death and resurrection make it possible for us to build our house on the rock.

The only way possible for us to “hear Jesus’ words and do them” is to be united with Jesus in his death and resurrection.  His death becomes our death, and his life becomes our life, and the house on the rock that stands against the storm of God’s judgment is nothing less than the exquisite mansion of Christ’s own life that he builds for us through the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

So, summarizing, how do you build your house on the Rock?

Admit to Jesus your helplessness to build anything that stands a chance of surviving his end-time judgment.  Every day look to his death on the cross, and see there the death of all your attempts to make yourself acceptable to God.  See at the cross as well the forgiveness for all your failed attempts to do what Jesus says.  Receive by faith the resurrected Jesus into your life and ask him to fill you with the Holy Spirit.  And then go out and in the power of his indwelling Spirit, listen to his words and do what he says.

Cross-Centered Life Theology

Importance of the Lord’s Supper

To identify the central event in all of human history is not difficult.  Indeed, the same event is not only at the center of human history, but is central in the universe and even in eternity.  this event is, of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of Jesus’ death on the cross.  It is impossible to do too much to keep Jesus’ death central in our thinking, in our daily living, in our conversation and relationship with others, in our service to and worship of God.  

And if it is impossible to make too much of Jesus’ death in our individual living, how much more so is it impossible to make too much of his death in our corporate life together as the people of God.  Without Jesus’ death, there would be no church.  There would be no worship.  There would be no sermons on family life, or money management, or dealing with conflicts, or any of the manifold things we talk about in church.  

I believe we have a sinful tendency to marginalize the death of Christ.  Because of the sin that still indwells us, we tend to drift away from the gospel.  When we first come to Christ, the gospel is right in the forefront of our minds.  We see Jesus crucified in our place, as our substitute, taking upon himself the punishment that we deserve.  We see him as our wonderful Savior and we overflow with love to him.

But as time goes on, our tendency is to treat Jesus and what he did for us at the cross like a movie ticket stub.  When you go to the movies, you pay to get in and they give you a paper ticket stub.  Without that stub, you can’t get past the usher into the theatre to see the movie you want to see.  That stub is your ticket in.  But once you show it to the usher and go into the movie theatre, what do you do with it?  You put it in your pocket and you forget about it.  

That can be a picture of how we think about the death of Christ.  It is our “ticket in”.  We understand that without what Jesus did for us on the cross, we will not be admitted into heaven.  We understand that without his death, we can not be adopted as God’s children and enjoy the privileges of belonging to his family, but the more distant we get from that date when we first entered the family of God, the easier it is to forget the centrality of Jesus’ death on the cross to everything that we do.

Our Lord, knowing our tendency to drift from what should be at the center, gave us, his people, two sacraments to help us keep Jesus’ death constantly before us.  The first sacrament, baptism, is meant to be performed only once.  It pictures for us our entry into the family of God.  Through our identification with Christ through faith, we are united with him in his death and resurrection.  But the second sacrament, the Lord’s Supper, Jesus told us to repeat.  He said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26).  

The reason for two sacraments is that the cross of Jesus is not just our “ticket in”.  It IS that, but it is so much more.  Jesus’ death on the cross that atoned for our sins and propitiated the wrath of God is the source of every single good thing that God has ever given us or the world.  It is the foundation upon which a sinful world and sinful people have any basis for relating to God at all.  As I said before, it is at the center of everything.

For this reason, we gather together often to remember Jesus’ death on the cross.  We come together to pause and think about what he did.  If we only think of Jesus’ death as our “ticket in” we will very soon drift back to a dependence on our own righteousness to earn us a right standing with God.  But when we look often to the cross and what Jesus did there, we will mature in our faith and grow in our relationship to God.  There is a powerful, sanctifying effect that comes from meditating on the cross of Jesus Christ.  That is what we come together at the Lord’s table for.  

I believe that every time we come to the Lord’s table, we should focus on some aspect of what Jesus did for us there.  We can never exhaust the tremendous store of meaning that there is in Jesus’ cross.  Every time we come together to eat the Lord’s Supper together, it should be looking at another facet of the beautiful diamond that is the work of Jesus on our behalf at the cross.  Here are just a few of those facets that come to mind.  

When we meditate on the cross, we can consider the SERVANT-NATURE of our Savior.  Jesus himself said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28).  Isn’t it amazing that the God whom we had rebelled against and scorned would stoop to serve us, his enemies?  

When we meditate on the cross, we can consider the OBEDIENCE of our Savior.  Jesus saved us by obeying in our place.  When we were disobedient to the Creator’s commands, Jesus came in our place and said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God…” and the author of Hebrews goes on to say that “…by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”   

When we meditate on the cross, we can consider the FORGIVENESS that Jesus provides through his death.  We can put ourselves in the place of the repentant thief and know that we will be in Paradise because we have repented and looked to the Savior.  We can hear him say to US:  “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”

When we meditate on the cross, we can consider the REDEMPTION that Jesus purchased with his death.  We were enslaved to sin, but we were ransomed, not with perishable things like silver and gold, “…but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Pet. 2:19).

When we meditate on the cross, we can see the SERIOUSNESS OF OUR SIN.  Nowhere do we more fully grasp what we are guilty of than when we look at the cross of Jesus.  It is there that we see our sin, because “God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) We see our sin at the cross because as Isaiah 53:6 says, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” 

When we meditate on the cross, we can see the JUSTICE of God.  As God himself declared to Moses when he revealed to him his holy name:  “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…”  

But God, who does not clear the guilty, is able to say in 1 John 1:9 that “he is faithful and JUST to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  He is JUST to forgive us our sins–because he has already judged our sins in Christ, and therefore it is right and just for him to forgive us.

And finally, when we meditate on the cross of Christ, we can see the LOVE OF GOD for us.  This facet is worth quoting several scriptures…

John 15:12-13  “…love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

John 3:16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

And 1 John 3:16, and 4:9-10 show us HOW God, in his love, gave his only Son… not just in the incarnation, but at the cross:  “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us…”  “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

For those of us who are married, our unions are meant to display the love that Jesus showed us when he died for us.  Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Unless we meditate on the cross and Jesus’ death there as our substitute, we will not be able to comprehend the depths of his love for us, his children.  We were, Ephesians 2 says, “dead in our transgressions and sins… following the course of this world…following the prince of the power of the air… we were by nature children of wrath….         BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the GREAT LOVE with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.   TOGETHER with Christ, he says, pointing to the fact that Jesus shared our death, so that we might together with him, be made alive.

And perhaps the most incredible passage displaying the love that Christ showed us at the cross is Romans 5: 6-8:  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

These are just a few of the many facets of this beautiful diamond which is the death of Christ on our behalf.  So every time you eat the bread, which represents his body given for us, and every time you drink the cup, which represents his life-blood which flowed out of his body for us, remember that the cross of Jesus isn’t just your “ticket in” to the Family of God, to be shoved into your pocket and forgotten.  It is the spring from which flows your entire relationship with God.  Meditate on it often, and not just on Communion Sunday!