I want to introduce some tools for our toolbox when we are forced to deal with matters of church discipline.
1) The first tool is encouragement. It’s when you are prompted by the Holy Spirit to offer a word of encouragement. I think this tool has to be the most widely used. This is a task that falls on every member of the body of Christ. Church is not self-focused. It’s not about coming on Sunday and getting a spiritual high. It’s other centered. Encouragement is a powerful tool. People respond well to it. It’s highly successful. Did you come to church today to have your needs met or did you come intentionally to offer a word of encouragement to a fellow brother or sister? When people come up to me after service and say, thank you for the message. That word of encouragement builds me up. When you notice someone who is down and you ask, what’s wrong, how can I pray for you? That encouragement goes a long way.
2) A second tool is instruction. People don’t understand what it means to obey and follow God. So they need to be taught, this is what the Word of God says.
3) Third, there’s admonition. It’s a strong plea. Implies that there is something wrong. It’s more directive.
4) The fourth tool is rebuke. This is stronger in force than admonition. Exhort, reprove and rebuke. This is when someone is knowingly going against what God says. And so we can be confident, according to Scripture, you are in the wrong here. So rebuke that person and show them where in the Bible they are off. The key is, we should always bring our Bibles so that it doesn’t come across as our words, our ideas, our opinions.
5) Lastly, as a final resort, there is an Issuing of an ultimatum. That’s the form that we are reading about today. It’s reserved for those in sin who still want to be part of the Christian fellowship.
This is an extraordinary case. The first 3 tools are much more positive and therefore preferred — encouragement, instruction, admonition. The fourth one, rebuke, is less preferred and especially, the fifth tool, the ultimatum, is a final resort. It’s like using a fire extinguisher. It says on it, break glass in case of fire. Church discipline is like a fire extinguisher. It must be used with care only in the case of serious fires. If you are going to live in sin and not repent, you can’t come here anymore. That’s the sense. Or at the very least, we want you to come to service to hear the Word of God, but there is a serious issue and we cannot pretend that things are normal between us.
This passage shows that some people are better off outside of Christian fellowship than inside Christian fellowship.
I hear stories of youth groups where high schoolers are sleeping around. And everyone would agree, fornication is a sin. What are we going to do? According to this passage, you have to throw her out of the fellowship. How can you stop associating with her? That’s so unloving. She needs to hear the Word. She needs the love of community. That’s how she can be convicted and eventually change. Give her a chance. It’s not going to help her to be outside in the world where everyone is sleeping around.
What benefit is there to be kicked out of the fellowship? Outside in the world, there is a real lack of love. In Luke 15, the Prodigal Son learned that firsthand. He was in sin and his father let him go out into the world to experience the full depths and consequences of his sin. And out in the world, he came to his senses. Sometimes, people in sin can use Christian fellowship to derive a sense of love and spiritual support on the one hand while dabbling in sin and satisfying their base desires on the other hand. So in a weird way, being part of the fellowship is creating a safe, in-between haven where their sins can fester and grow. That’s why in extreme cases, it’s better to be outside in the world and the person can allow his or her sins to run its full course. And they may come to their senses much sooner than if they had stayed in the fellowship and pretended that nothing was wrong. Out in the world where there is no love, they would be reminded, wow, it was good to be with God and God’s people and they may repent sooner.
3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
Hand this man over to Satan. This is not talking about human sacrifice. Satan is the god of this world. So this means, turn him over to the world system.
Let’s look at the other parallel text on church discipline. Matthew 18 starting from v15.
Matt 18 – 15 If your brother sins against you,a go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
This is an important first step. Admonish or rebuke. Show a fellow brother his fault and the setting is supposed to be one on one. This type of correction should not be done in a public setting. The purpose of discipline is to win your brother, not to punish or humiliate.
Matt 18 – 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
But if he will not listen, you take a witness with you or a couple of witnesses.
Matt 18 – 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
If he refuses to listen to 2 or 3 witnesses, then and only then do you bring it to the church. When it speaks of church, I don’t believe Paul is talking about this gathering here. If there was a church discipline matter and you are a newcomer, I don’t think it would be appropriate for you to hear about a private sin regarding one of the members here.
So Paul is speaking here about the church within the church. The members of the church who committed to one another. Church membership is really important. It’s biblical. You can’t obey this verse unless you are a member of some church. If you are not a member of this church, then we are happy that you are here. You might be a non-Christian and you are investigating Christianity and we welcome you. Please keep seeking God. Maybe you are a Christian and you are just checking us out. That’s fine, but eventually, we hope that you can commit to this church, or find another local church that you can commit to.
You can’t obey this verse unless you are a committed member of a local church. Local church membership is the other side of church discipline. If there is a blatant sin and the person has been talked to the first time by a single person and a second time by 2 or 3 witnesses and still he or she is unrepentant, then at that point, it becomes an issue that ought to be raised among the members of a church. Because if there is an issue with a church member, the prerequisite is that the other members must know this person and they have to be committed to this person. Otherwise, raising an issue about a member whom you don’t know means nothing. Who is that person? I didn’t even know she was a member of this church. If that’s the mindset of the other members, then telling the church has no meaning. But if it is a member of this church whom you love, then finding out about his or her sin will cause you much grief, as it should. That’s what it means to be a church. To rejoice together, to mourn together and to be accountable before God for each other’s soul. That’s church.