TOUGH STUFF: Church Discipline

Tough Stuff - Difficult Truths from the Bible

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Spanking in the Church

Church Discipline

Tough Stuff

We’re in the midst of a series called TOUGH STUFF–cause its tough.  It’s tough to study for and present, it’s tough to make it easy to hear, or easy to apply, it’s tough because it is mainly foreign to Christian ears.  Plus it’s tough because these issues are not often positive, feel good, happy or funny–you don’t joke about divorce, and it’s tough to tell jokes about Church discipline.

There are some reasons why you might not like what you hear today.  But let me affirm the goal of our pulpit . . .we have two–to have you come to Christ in salvation, or to become more like Christ in sanctification.  Our goal is not to make you happy, but holy, and you’re not always gonna’ like it.

But there are other reasons why you may not like what you hear.  It could be . . .

1)  You don’t take sin seriously–it’s all under grace to you.

2)  You think that speaking to others about their sin is judging them, and it is if you try to guess their motives or read their heart.  You are not judging them by addressing clear, obvious behavior.

3)  You don’t embrace just how sinfully bad you really are, and why it required Jesus’ suffering and death to save you.

4)  You may not have embraced the danger of sin’s self-deception.

5)  Maybe you are not saved, and that’s why you won’t like it.

6)  You don’t submit to the Scripture as the final authority.  The Bible teaches it, but you reject it.  The Bible is a smorgasbord to you, not a balanced, full meal.

7)  You don’t believe in spanking your children.  Churches that do not affirm the gracious, firm, loving, controlled use of the rod as the Bible clearly instructs, will have a hard time embracing Church discipline.  If it’s not used in the family, it will rarely be embraced in the church family.

8)  You don’t understand the cross and God’s hatred for sin that required Christ to take the punishment for sin that you deserved.

9)  You don’t understand the indwelling Holy Spirit, who also hates sin and is quenched and grieved when sin goes unchecked in your life.

10)  You don’t understand the Father’s hatred for sin in the life of a believer, shown in His loving discipline in the life of all true Christians.

11)  You don’t understand that part of the process of sanctification is turning away from, fleeing from, repenting of, and confessing sin.  Or maybe . . .

12)  You have never been graciously confronted for your sin.

For all those reasons and more, you may not like hearing about Church discipline, but it is clearly taught in Scripture, it is part of the Christian life, and every genuine believer here has already experienced it in some measure.  Every single one of you this morning has been Church disciplined, in some measure–think about it.

Couples–has your spouse come to you privately with a concern over a sin in your life that has to be dealt with?  YES!

Students and kids, have your parents talked to you about some sin that you continue to commit?  YES!

That is part of the process of Church discipline–not all of it, but some of it, and each of you have experienced it.  Church discipline is the Biblical process whereby Christians, in humility, confront sin in each other’s lives.  You not only need to know this, you need to practice this.  How many of you have a so-called Christian friend or family member who is right now living in continual, unrepentant sin, hurting others around them, and ruining our witness for Christ?

This Church discipline process needs to be a part of your life.  Our church and every Christian must follow God’s Word in this.  To not do so will limit our growth, hamper our holiness, weaken our witness, dishonor Christ, and open the door for division.  So let me make certain you get the main truths down before we even dive in–here is what you must never forget.

#1  The main goal of Church discipline is repentance (restoration).  Do not lose sight of the goal–we walk through this process with each other because Christ wants the sinning Christian to repent of their sin–period. Genuine, life-changing, turn-from-sin-to-follow-Christ repentance–one goal–what is it?  Repent!

#2  The type of sin leading to Church discipline is any defiant sin.  All of us sin–amen?  All of us sin everyday–amen?  Though not always outwardly, we inwardly battle with sinful thoughts, motives, desires, every single day–amen? Those are not the sins which begin the process of Church discipline.  It is defiant sin, sin which we will not turn from, sin that we know is wrong but we continue to commit, sin where we know what God says about it in His Word, but we shake our fist in God’s face and say, “I am going to do this sin anyway!”  And it is not merely adultery or fornication or unbiblical divorce which should be confronted in each other’s lives–not merely the big sins, but any sin that remains in the life of a believer in a defiant manner should be confronted in each other’s lives.  Most Church discipline, when it finally becomes public, has to do with sexual sin, because sexual sin has an addictive nature which people refuse to break from, once caught up in it; but the process of Church discipline should and can begin with any defiant sin.  Not a sin a believer is struggling against or wants help with, but any sin a believer is caught in, refuses to repent of, and holds onto defiantly.  What type of sin leads to Christian discipline?  Defiant sin.

#3 The steps of Church discipline are unique for each type of sin:

When a Christian sins against you, there are four steps

When a Christian is caught up in sexual sin, there is one process

When a Christian is rebellious or lazy, there is a different process

When a believer becomes factious, there are two steps to take

It is different for each type of sin, it is not just four steps–when there’s greater danger to the body, the process moves faster.

#4 Church discipline is only to be done in humility, for Christ’s glory, always and only to be practiced by Christians for Christians, never forgetting that all of us battle with sin.

Once a person has denied Christ (a non-Christian), there is no need for confrontation of sin in their life, since they have no power over sin.  But if a person in defiant sin continues to confess Christ, then believers are to use this process in their life for God’s glory, their restoration through repentance, the purity of the Church and a general need for all of us to fear God and hate sin.

Church discipline is not about punishment–it is not about getting back at someone who bothers you.  It is not about judging someone’s heart.  It is not about being better than someone, or less sinful.  It’s about helping a brother or sister deal with their sin when they are caught up in sin, self-deceived about sin, or blinded by sin so that they become defiant and refuse to repent of sin.

So the main goal of Christian discipline is what?  Repentance

The type of sin requiring Christian discipline is what?  Any defiant sin

The steps of each discipline situation are what?  Unique

And Christian discipline must be done in what?  Humility

You know what a lifeguard does, right?  I have served as a lifeguard–his job is to watch, not comment, not evaluate, not rate, and  look for swimmers in trouble.  He’s not judging them, if they are in trouble in the water, as bad swimmers.

Like a Christian who gets in trouble in this ocean of sin.  Sometimes we get in trouble, we choke on too much water, get pulled out in a powerful rip, or really get tossed around badly.  When you do, you sometimes need a bro or sis to help, like a lifeguard.  That is Church discipline, helping each other deal with sins we are caught up in.

Turn to Galatians 6–Paul is writing people who need to embrace justification by faith.  They are free from the law, but the freedom from the law does not mean freedom to sin, so read verses 1 and 2 with me as Paul says, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

Look at verse 1 carefully and let me point out the obvious to you:

BRETHREN–this process is for Christians, to address sin in Christians

If ANYONE–meaning anyone, any Christian

Is CAUGHT–it is obvious they are into sin here, no guessing.  They are in the flesh and not in the Spirit and sinning.

ANY trespass–any defiant sin

TRESPASS–they have volitionally gone against God’s Word

YOU WHO ARE SPIRITUAL–not someone with a halo or glow.  Spiritual is the person who is in the Spirit at that moment–those who love grace, live dependent, not religiously.  One pastor wrote, “If I ever fall into a trespass, I pray that I don’t fall into the hands of those censorious critical judges in the church.  Let me fall into the hands of ex-barkeepers, streetwalkers or dope peddlers because the church critics would tear me apart with their long wagging gossipy tongues cutting me to shreds.”  Spiritual people are not self-righteous people, but people who live by Christ’s righteousness in dependence upon the Spirit of God.

RESTORE–means to mend or repair, and was sometimes used to describe bringing harmony between factions.  This is the main command in the text and affirms the goal of repentance which leads to restoration.  Those filled with the Spirit make the sinning Christian aware of their sin and graciously, gently bring them to genuine repentance, where they turn from their sin to follow Christ again, restored.

IN A SPIRIT OF GENTLENESS is characteristic of one who is filled with the Spirit, gentleness being a fruit of the Spirit.  Gracious, gentle correction, always being aware of your own sinfulness.  Those who are critical and judgmental harm other Christians, damage the church, ruin the witness of Christ, and put themselves in danger since Paul says:

EACH ONE LOOKING TO YOURSELF, SO THAT YOU TOO WILL NOT BE TEMPTED.  Looking is continual action of observing your own heart.  More often than not, those who wrongly accuse others are generally guilty of the same sins–always check your own heart.

Then notice verse 2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”  It is not enough to just confront sin and walk away, you are to hold your brother up.  Those caught in sin are always weak from sin, and need the help of a brother or sister or group to bear them up, literally hold them up, carry them for awhile, help them bear the load of living on this fallen planet–show them how to swim in a sinful world.

Do you see the heart of humility here?  Do you see the call to address any sin?  Do you see the command to restore?  The goal is for them to repent and return to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

Turn to Matthew 18–this process is not something the apostles made up to deal with unruly church people, but our Lord Jesus Christ, even before the Church was birthed, set this process in motion and told us just how important it really is.

Verse 15-18 says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  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.  Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

When you are faced with a personal sin against you, often you can overlook it by God’s grace.  We all know we offend each other, and when it is not intentional, when we show our bents, imperfections, those things in our lives that heaven will fix, many times we overlook them.  Love covers a multitude of sins.  But if not, and the sin against you is the kind that will root up to bitterness in your heart if you don’t do something about it, then Matthew 18 gives you four clear steps.

STEP 1  Go to your brother privately

Verse 15 starts with, IF YOUR BROTHER SINS, and the text ought to include the words, AGAINST YOU.  If your brother sins against you, then immediately tell all your friends how he hurt you.  Or go tell all your elders and pastors just what a jerk he was.  Or write him an angry e-mail, or better yet, slander him on Facebook.

No, your Savior says, go and show him his fault in private.  Private–no one knows, don’t talk about it, don’t ask fifteen people for prayer, don’t share it with others at all–go to him in private.  Show him his sin–often you misunderstood, sometimes they didn’t see it at all, and most of all, true Christians will respond, “I am so sorry, please forgive me.”  And when that happens, Jesus says, “You have won your brother.”  Often you become closer with them than you were previously, but sometimes they are still hard-hearted or they refuse to repent, or they don’t see it, then . . .

STEP 2  Go with two witnesses

These are not those who witnessed the sin against you, though they can be a help.  These two are witnesses of the confrontation.  Verse 16 says, “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.”  They come to confirm the response of the one who is not repentant–again, this is not a confrontation of motive or heart, but of obvious defiant unrepentant sin.  Most who are genuine will respond at this point, but if not, then . . .

STEP 3  Tell it to the Church

Verse 17 says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”  It is only at this point that elders need to be brought in.  Elders do not need to be aware of step one and two.  Elders would prefer not to know about step one and two, unless the sinning brother does not respond.  If they reject the gracious, gentle pleading of the offended party and two gracious witnesses, then the elders have to know–they will confirm, then tell it to the church.  Depending on who the person is, it may come before the members, who as best we can tell are genuinely saved and would respond by pursuing this sinning brother personally to repent.  Or if the person is known by the entire church, ask the whole church to pursue this sinning brother to repent.  If their heart still remains hard, then in order not to have a church that tolerates sin, in order to keep the church pure, in order to press the sinner to repent, then we move to . . .

STEP 4  Stop all fellowship except for a call to repent

“ . . . and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  Matthew 18:17  This is cutting the person off from all the blessings of being a believer and from Christ through believers to them.  Except for a humble, broken appeal for them to turn from their sin, we are to have nothing to do with them.

You might be thinking, is Jesus really serious about this?  So much so, verse 18 continues with, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”  In other words, as you walk through these steps on earth and bind this on a sinning brother, it is with heaven’s approval, and bound in heaven.  Verses 19-20 say, “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

This is not a promise for prayer–this is a promise that Christ will be with you as your pursue this process of lovingly correcting a sinning brother in church discipline.  So here in Matthew 18, you have direct instruction to go to your brother privately and not tell anyone else.  To go through each step seeking repentance and restoration.  To not involve leadership until after you have gone privately and with witnesses of the confrontation.

Turn to 1 Corinthians 5:1ff–the Corinthian church was doing a lot of things wrong, and one of those errors was tolerating known sin in their midst.  A man claiming to be a Christian, who is a part of their church, is having sex with his step mom, and the Corinthians are thinking of themselves as loving and full of grace to allow Him to stay.  But Paul says in verses 1 and 2, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.  You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.”

How should the church respond to such a guy sinning this way?  Verse 5 says, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”  Deliver over is a strong term, pointing to something similar to excommunication–the fourth step of Matthew 18–and notice Paul doesn’t mention four steps here.  Just get him out. They all know he is having sex with his step mom, no need to confirm the sin–so Paul calls them to remove the sinning so-called believer out of the blessing of Christian worship and fellowship by immediately placing him into Satan’s realm, the lost world system.

Not only are their hearts wrong to tolerate this sin in the life of a so-called believer in their church, but they are endangering the health of the church itself.  Look at verse 6, “Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” When known intentional sin is tolerated in a church body, it actually damages the church.  It begins to influence each and all of us, when we tolerate defiant sin in each other’s lives as believers.

And Paul makes it clear, he is not talking about us separating ourselves from non-Christians–we can’t do that.  But we must pursue this process of confronting sin and not tolerating sin in each other’s lives as Christians–look at verses 9-13.  “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.”  [I don’t want you to go out of the world, those people need Christ.]  But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? [The people of the world] Do you not judge those who are within the church? [Believers in the church–YES] But those who are outside, God judges.  So what do I want you to do?  Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”

First Corinthians 5 reminds us that intentional, unrepentant sin is not to be tolerated in our midst.  That if we overlook defiant sin, we harm our church and our own hearts.  We are not to separate ourselves from sinning non-Christians, but we are to separate ourselves from defiantly sinning, unrepentant Christians.

Turn to Romans 16–at the end of this letter, after Paul has clearly explained the doctrine of salvation, he gives some final charges.  In Rome there are some dangerous people in the church.  Verses 17 and 18 say, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.  For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”

There were some in the Roman region who were false teachers, and others who caused division.  Driven by self-interest and self-gratification, they were hindering the work of the Spirit through accurate teaching and sound doctrine, by raising concerns and teaching contrary to apostolic truth which they had learned.  Paul says the right response to false teachers, especially those who teach their heresy under the guise of Christianity is not to debate or to dialogue with them. Don’t read their websites or blogs, and don’t listen to their pod casts.  Turn away from them, which means to reject what they teach and to protect fellow-believers from them, especially immature or new converts.

Turn to Titus 3, where Paul writes to Titus to exhort the Church to live Godly, to practice good deeds, to impact the lost around them with righteous actions and to be kind to one another.  But in the midst of that, he says in verse 10, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”

Those who are unsubmissive, self-willed and divisive should be expelled from the church.  This can be a man or a woman–someone who is mean, but also someone who is nice.  Remember, Christian wolves don’t announce themselves–they appear as sheep, but they will slaughter the flock.  Don’t forget that divisive, unsubmissive self-willed people can be very sweet to your face.  And when you confront them with their sin, they may even appear to receive it.  But later will gossip, slander, paint a totally different picture, and divide the body against itself.

In fact, because the danger to the body being divided is so great, Paul doesn’t list four steps, just two.  Warn them once, warn them twice then no one talks to them–no one.  Why?  Because they are divisive, they lie, they are unsubmissive, “he said, she said“, history is re-written, agreements are forgotten–watch for it.  The  factious person always undermines the leadership–always!

I’ve seen this manifested in every church I’ve been a part of and it is evil, as often the leaders are cast as unloving, ungracious–why?  Because of a factious heart, unsubmissive character and self-will.  Now look at the rest of the Scriptures listed in your outline.

First Thessalonians 5:14, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

Second Thessalonians 3:14-15, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.  Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

Titus 1:10-11, “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.”  The process of dealing with sin in each other’s lives as Christians is all over the New Testament–it’s everywhere, just skipped in most pulpits–and we must obey these truths today, all of us and each of us.

You may want to find another church, because we believe the Lord has commanded us to follow this instruction–member or non-member, always to pursue repentance, only for defiant, clear, outward sin, a process that is unique to each situation, and one to be done as broken slaves who battle with their own sin and not as secret police, never as a witch hunt, a way to seek revenge or embarrass anyone.  So . . .

#1  Embrace the meaning of love

John 14:15  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

John 14:21  “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”

John 15:10  “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

There is no love without keeping God’s commandments–and those who keep His commandments abide in God’s love.  Obeying the command to confront one another is an expression of love.

Proverbs 27:6  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”

#2  Evaluate your own life first

Almost every discipline passage has a charge to examine your own heart, making sure you are dealing with sin in your own life before you go to others, and that includes parents before you correct your kids, and disciplers . . .

#3  Own God’s hatred for sin

Not only did Jesus tell us to confront sin in each other’s lives and bind it with heavenly authority, but God showed us His hatred of sin by crucifying His own Son in your place for your sin, pouring out His wrath for your sin, causing His Son to suffer even more.  Only entrusting our entire lives to Christ will allow us to escape God’s eternal wrath in hell and place us in the safety of His grace.

Tough Stuff - Difficult Truths from the Bible

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.