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In Ephesians 4.32 forgiveness is referred to as the act of God, but in Colossians 3.13 it is described as the act of Christ. I can see that the former "reflects the grace of God", and the latter "the glory of Christ" (as mentioned by T Bentley on Colossians 3.13 in What the Bible Teaches), but who has forgiven us?

There should be no difficulty really. Certainly there is no contradiction between the passages cited by the questioner. Doctrinally speaking, in the light of the deity of Christ it is not wrong to say that God forgives sins or that Christ forgives sins. Both are true. God forgives on the ground of the atoning death of Christ, and Christ forgives by His authority based on His finished work. One might easily ask, "Who created the world?". The answer is God did, and yet Scripture also makes clear that Christ did. Both thoughts are doctrinally true. We might equally ask, "Who is it that judges and punishes the sinner?". Again we answer that it is both God and Christ. Each of these Persons in the Godhead are said to exercise the penalty of eternal judgment.

These are simple points, but they carry with them vital truth. The fact that Paul uses Christ’s forgiveness in Colossians 3.13 as a strong motive to the believer to forgive others is an evidence of, and a testimony to, the deity of Christ. Forgiveness of sins is a divine prerogative (Ps 103.3) and in our Lord’s life on earth we see Him displaying this very attribute (Mk 2.7).

The reason why Paul puts Christ in the place of God in Colossians 3.13 as distinct from the Ephesian passage is, I judge, because it is more suited to the context and indeed the whole of the letter, where the person of Christ is prominent and to the fore. However, it is interesting to notice that previously in this epistle Paul points out that God has forgiven the Colossian Christians (2.13). So, without moving out of the confines of this epistle, these truths may be seen side by side. God forgives and Christ forgives. Paul would have happily said that both are true.

John J Stubbs

Regarding Matthew 18.17, in what way do we treat a brother as "an heathen man and a publican", unless he is to be excommunicated from the fellowship, of which no instruction is given in the verse?

It needs to be borne in mind that the passage (Matthew 18.15-20) is not initially dealing directly with assembly procedure at all, but with the attitude of an individual towards one who has trespassed against him. The individual concerned is to tell the offending brother his fault, i.e. he is to rebuke or reprove him. If the guilty brother does not pay heed, the offended individual is to take one or two others with him, in order that restoration be accomplished. Competent testimony would then be afforded, since "at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established" (Deut 19.15). It is at this stage that, if the offender "neglect to hear" (lit. mishear), the matter should be made known to the church; the sin is made public, the whole assembly is to be made aware of it.

Mention here is made of the church; this, of course, could be reference to none other than the local assembly. However, it should be noted that when the Lord Jesus spoke these words, no local churches had yet been established. The local assembly is the body responsible to hear the case, not some civil court.

If the offender refuses to hear the church, it is said, "let him be unto thee as an heathen man (i.e. one of the nations) and a publican (a tax gatherer)" (Mt 18.17). Throughout this section from v.15 an individual is being addressed, thus it is not surprising that the same should be the case in v.17. However, since the issue has reached a stage where the guilty person has refused to listen to the assembly, each member of it has effectively been put into the same position as the offended party and must act toward the one who has trespassed in a similar way.

It is thus evident that assembly discipline must be exercised. However, it is not stated whether this should be withdrawal (as according to 2 Thessalonians 3.6) or excommunication. At this stage, prior to the commencement of New Testament assemblies, no precise direction is given. If similar circumstances were to arise today, spiritual overseers would guide the assembly as to what course of action should be taken.

David E West


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