Does this mean that we are to ignore sin in our fellow brother or sister’s life? No, of course not. Matthew 18 is the famous and unpopular chapter about church discipline. Jesus describes starting in v15 in very practical terms how we are to deal with a brother who sins against you.
Go to the person who sinned against you. Go in private and work it out just the two of you. Don’t humiliate the person in public. Don’t talk behind the person’s back and gossip and slander. You deal with him privately and personally. If he doesn’t repent, then you go and involve someone else. If the person still doesn’t repent, then bring it before the church.
I want to ask, in your relationships, do you follow this? Isn’t it far easier when someone sins against you to avoid the person and then talk to a dozen other people to gain their sympathy. That’s unloving. It’s unbiblical. Jesus outlines these steps because helping people with their sin is so unnatural for us. Instead of following Matthew 18 in its entire context, we would either speak directly to the person who wrongs us and gouge out their eyes. Or we talk behind their back and garner sympathy for our cause.
We cannot ignore sin. We have to confront sin, but here are some practical steps to do it in the least damaging and most edifying way for the other person who is in sin. Not only that, if we read these verses about confronting sin in someone else in the context of the entire chapter, then wouldn’t our attitude be different? These practical steps of going and confronting your brother who is in sin privately, then bringing another person as a witness, then the entire church–it is possible to follow these steps in a manner, with an attitude that destroys the person in sin.
We have to practice these verses about confronting sin in another person with fear and trembling before God so that we don’t stumble one of God’s little ones. We need to confront sin with much prayer, with brotherly affection, with grace and tenderness because ultimately we want to restore the little child to their heavenly Father.
Isn’t this how God treats us? The Parable of the Lost Sheep starts in v10 with the phrase–
10 See that you do not LOOK DOWN on one of these little ones…
“Look down” is an interesting choice of words. We are all little ones. We are all on the same level. The same way that adults shouldn’t look down on children because we think we know better, as Christians, we shouldn’t look down at others from a position of superiority.
How does God treat one of these little ones? Verses 12-14.
12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.
Look at how tenderly God treats his little ones. He doesn’t look down on these little ones. He leaves the 99 to go after the one. He drops everything, he ignores the “stronger” sheep who are under his care and his heart zeroes in on the one “weaker” sheep who is about to be devoured. Each and every sheep are little ones to God and one precious little one is on the verge of being lost forever. This is how God treats one of these little ones. We are not to look down on little ones who are struggling. We are not supposed to elevate ourselves or the 99 who are not stumbling at present.
This is how God treats one of His little ones. Shouldn’t we treat others with the same care and concern and love that God cares for one of his little ones who has lost his way?
Our motivation for treating others this way is more than simply observing God, observing Jesus and trying to emulate their behavior. Not only does God give us an example in Christ for us to imitate, God also gives us the ABILITY, the power, to treat others this way.
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant explains where that ability comes from. Read Matt 18:21-35.
Again, we have to read this in context. How can we remain humble like a child? How can we treat others, pointing out sin but in a way that doesn’t stumble nor tempt one of God’s little ones to fall into greater sin, but instead, edifies and restores? The answer to both questions is that we have to recognize how God treats us. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. He doesn’t say, you owe me a million dollars and now you have to work for me and pay back every last cent. No, he cancels the debt. He washes our sin away. We are fully cleansed and fully restored, the debt is paid in full the moment we repent and place our faith in Christ.
This grace and mercy transforms hearts to the point that we can extend the same grace and mercy to others. There is a deep, radical internal change of heart. Even when we are wronged and we are deeply hurt, we remember the great debt that God canceled on our behalf and we have the roominess of heart to forgive others.
Therefore, stay humble. Know that you are a beloved child of God. Know that Jesus left the 99 to pursue you. Because you are that precious. You are one of his little ones. In addition, as recipients of this tremendous grace and mercy, go and treat others the same way God treats you in Christ. They, too, are His little ones.
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
Verse 4 is about our identity and verse 5 is about our relationships. Now, let’s pull these two ideas together.
What is true greatness? True greatness is possessing a passionate love for Jesus that expresses itself in a love and concern for others. Parents, teach this to your kids. Everyone here, do you want to be great? Then, spend time being a child in your Father’s arms. If people see you doing this, they might say, you are wasting your time. You are not making anything of your life. You are throwing away your potential. But to God, if you invest your life being a child in His arms, he says, you are achieving true greatness.
Let’s examine for a moment the types of sins that would be severe enough to merit church discipline to the highest degree, even an ultimatum in v11.
11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
Sexual immorality. The Greek word is porneia from which we derive the word, pornography. It is defined as any sexual practice outside of a heterogeneous marriage.
The next one is rather shocking for us Americans. Greed. People whose lives are are controlled by their desire to earn money at any cost. Those who lack self-control and run up their credit card bills and live way beyond their means. They are living for the riches in this life. This may lead to a confrontation.
Idolaters. Idol worshippers. This word implies those who pursue other religious views. But they like to hang around with Christians on a social basis. There comes a point, every person has to decide, are you going to be into this or not? Because we are not a social group, we are talking about truth here.
Slanderers. Those who revile, those who love to engage in verbal attacks, insults and abuse. Why is this such a serious sin? Because it breaks down the unity of the body of Christ–unity in the Bible is really important. There are some people who thrive on controversy and negative relating. Negative relating with someone else is a form of love feeling. For some, they feel connected when they engage in this type of negative criticism. It’s really immature and destructive. And it has no place in the body of Christ. For a bad mouther, a back biter, a slanderer, a gossip – such behavior may lead to an ultimatum.
Drunkenness. No matter what some may say, drinking is not a sin. But drunkenness is. It’s like greed. There is a point where you are mastered by greed or by alcohol and you lack self-control. This can of course include addiction to other forms of substance abuse. As a church, it’s our responsibility to confront and help our people get out of their addictions.
Swindlers. Those who snatch or seize. Thieves. Con-men. For example, those who borrow large sums of money from other Christians because you tell a sob story and we feel compelled to give. And after getting this money, these swindlers have no intention to pay them back. They are essentially thieves. This could lead to an ultimatum.
Other passages that talk about church discipline.
2 Thess 3:6-15. Paul warns the Thessalonians to keep away from brothers who are idle. These are brothers who are capable of working and who have opportunities to work, but instead of being busy, they’d rather be busybodies. It’s like some guys who move back into their parent’s home after college and instead of looking for a job, they play video games all day. That’s the kind of person that Paul is telling the Thessalonians to deal with. They are busybodies. They just like to talk. They like to meddle. They like to criticize. And they’re idle, they can’t provide for themselves and they end up draining resources from the community. And how are we to deal with such a brother? The answer is given in 2 Thess 3:14-15.
2 Thess 3 – 14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Titus 3 is another example. Paul is writing to encourage the local pastor, Titus, as he leads his congregation on the island of Crete. Titus 3 starts with a reminder that as Christians, we are to be obedient, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. Then, Paul reminds them of who they were before they knew Christ. Their lives were characterized by deception and being enslaved to all kind of passions and pleasures, malice, envy, hating other. But all of that changed when the gospel came, when Jesus saved them. And the chapter ends with a warning against those who love engaging in foolish controversies and arguments and quarreling. Paul warns that divisive people, if not dealt with, will eventually rip a church apart. Paul gives advice to Titus on how to deal with such people in Titus 3:10-11 —
Titus 3 – 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Warn him once, warn him twice, then have nothing to do with him. Do you see a pattern?
Another passage, 3 John, describes a case of a church leader who was abusing church discipline.
3 John – 9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 10 So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
Diotrephes – quite an interesting description of his character. He loves to be first. If someone disagrees with him, he would kick them out of the church. He is a dominator. One clue that he is a bit off is that he gossips about others maliciously. Even when carrying out church discipline, I pray that we would not do it like Diotrephes. Discipline should be carried out with much prayer, it must be gentle, yet firm. And never malicious or a topic of gossip, but protective of the person because we really want that person to turn around. They should never feel like we have abandoned them.
I don’t believe Paul is giving an exhaustive list in 1 Cor 5 of sins that warrant church discipline. I think non-attendance is an obvious sin that can lead to church discipline. The whole point of being a member of a church is to keep you accountable and there is no way that the members of this church can keep another member accountable if that person refuses to show up on Sundays and our weekly prayer meetings. Usually, if someone is missing for several Sundays, that means, they are already in sin and don’t want to deal with it. Or they are blind to their sin. Either way, because we don’t see them, we have no way of knowing where they stand. So non-attendance is a common reason for church discipline. In that case, there is no confrontation. Members of this church make attempts to reach out to that member and if he or she doesn’t respond, we just have to take him or her off the membership roll.
Another sin that is not listed is violence. If someone is violent, if someone is a murderer, that just might merit church discipline.
What does it say in the last half of v11 after listing the sins that could warrant church discipline?
v11 …With such a man do not even eat.
Don’t even eat with the person. Sounds harsh. Remember the point. The point is to rescue that person from sin. And in order for the rescue to have a chance at being effective, we need to demonstrate solidarity as a group. That means, if the person under discipline wants to meet, I’ll meet them if they are willing to repent, but I’m not going to meet up to go bowling.
Of course, church discipline is case by case. We have been fortunate enough not to have a case that warranted church discipline. Partly, we haven’t had a case of church discipline because we didn’t really define what membership to our church looks like. Now over this past year, I hope you are getting a clearer picture why membership to a local church is necessary. You won’t be able to practice church discipline unless you have a clear boundary of who is in the membership and who is not. Church discipline and membership are 2 sides of the same coin. You can’t do church discipline without first defining church membership.
Of course, the problem is, even after we might discipline somebody as a church, the unrepentant person can just join another church down the street and sweep the sin under the rug. At least on our end, anyone who is interested in church membership, I will find out about their previous church experience and try my best to discern whether or not this person wants to join our church because he/she is trying to dodge church discipline from their previous church. If there is a case of church discipline from a previous church, I would advise the person to work it out at their old church and then afterward, if they still want to join our church, then they are more than welcome.
There was a case a few months ago when a couple came up to me for counseling. They were not married and she was pregnant. They met at a large church in the area. She worked for the church in their multimedia department. And so when this happened, they were so ashamed that they couldn’t face anyone at the church. Plus, the church was so large that they said they didn’t know any of the 50 or so pastors there. And I was sad to hear when they said, nobody would even notice that they were not there. So because I had no choice, I began counseling them and I tried at first to get them to return to their previous church and confess their sin. When they refused, I pushed them to get married. But the man’s parents were flipping out so he was dragging his feet. In the end, they decided to go to a small church in their neighborhood. There, nobody knows them. They just listen to a sermon and slip out the back door. And they will be left alone. This is a sad testament to churches in our day.
Although it is not 100% certain, I think this case of church discipline at Corinth has a happy ending. Turn to 2 Cor 2:5-11.
2 Cor 2 – 5 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
This is probably the same guy who was disciplined by the church in 1 Cor 5. It sounds like this guy has repented and come back. When a person repents, the past is left behind. As a church, we embrace them. God’s will has been done and your brother has been rescued. That’s when the church has to have short term memory and forgive and forget. And the church is called to reaffirm their love for the prodigal.
Biblical love is surprisingly much more forgiving and accepting than secular love. If you are offended in the world, you will have nothing to do with that person. In families, one fight causes siblings to stop speaking to each other for decades. On the other hand, biblical love may be tougher than secular love. It’s tough love. The world says, do whatever you want. It’s permissive. Biblical love is I care about you. I care about how you are living your life. I will put myself on the railroad tracks and risk our relationship to warn you about the path that you are on. I am willing to absorb whatever reaction you may have toward me when I confront you. This is biblical love. It’s tough love, but it is also much more forgiving and accepting and self-sacrificial.
It’s a love that is redemptive. Church discipline is not punitive, it’s redemptive. If you are drifting toward the waterfalls and you are about to plunge toward spiritual death, then fellow brothers and sisters ought to do whatever we can to keep that person from destroying his life. It’s caring enough to confront. That is the role of the local church.
Every member, we belong to one another (Rom 12:5). This means that the members here are concerned for each other’s final salvation. And whether we are together for 4 years or 40 years, may this church be a tool in God’s hands to prepare you and me for our final salvation and membership as part of God’s universal church. Because in heaven, there is only one church. And you’re either in, or you’re not.
What does it mean to be accountable before God for another person’s soul? It means, I am responsible for the final salvation of each member of this church. And if you are member, you are responsible for my final salvation. The last thing I should do is to be content that a great number of people come to LBC and I barely know the names of most people, so even though you have been coming for a few months, you could be sleeping around, but I would have no way of knowing because who cares? I am just happy that you come. Then, you could be attending church your entire life and then you would stand before God on Judgment Day and you would hear those words, I never knew you. If that happens, esp. for one of our members, the leaders of this church are going to be held accountable by God because we didn’t speak truth to warn you of the coming judgment while you were with us.
Matt 18:17 is the third attempt. The person in sin didn’t listen to the private meeting. Then, he didn’t listen to a meeting with 2 or 3 witnesses. The third and last attempt is to the church, or the assembled members of a church who have committed to one another. Now, instead of 2 or 3 members of this church, all 24 members of this church would be trying to plead with this brother or sister to repent. If at that point, the person still refuses to repent, then the command is clear–treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. In other words, treat him like you would a non-Christian. Meaning, you’re happy that they are here and listening to a Sunday sermon, but at the same time, you exclude them from the inner fellowship reserved for Christians.
You might say, hey, wait a minute. Who are you to say, this person is a Christian and this person is not? That’s not what the verse is telling us to do. Only God can look into a person’s heart and know whether or not he or she is a born-again Christian. All we can do as a Christian toward one another is to say, I can no longer vouch for you and affirm that you are a Christian.
Because, what does it mean to be a Christian? It is to bear fruit. Fruit is the only assurance that we have that we are saved. And at the very least, if there is no apparent fruit because we all go through seasons of dryness, there should be a repentant heart at the very least. The fruit of repentance. That is one mark of a Christian. Christians are not expected to be perfect, but if the Holy Spirit is in us and sin is pointed out and it’s clearly in the Bible, there should be repentance.
Imagine having a gathering of your friends, those who committed to you and who love you, imagine an entire church pleading with you to repent. And you say, nah, I don’t want to. That’s not a casual thing. That is a determined stance. This is not a person who falls or who slips up. This is not a person who makes a mistake. This is someone who is determined enough to oppose an entire church, to set out in rebellion. Sin is a serious matter and not heeding the advice of all the members of a church who love you, that’s a serious matter.
You might say, but we all sin. All sin falls short of the glory of God. Yes, that’s true, but we have to recognize that some sins are more serious and more destructive in this life than others. Here in chapter 5 as well as in chapter 6, sexual sin is in that category of sins that are more serious than others because engaging in these types of sins involves the shredding of your soul and the soul of the other. If they refuse to listen to the church, then treat them like a pagan and tax collector. Jesus started this. Paul is simply reflecting what Jesus taught.
Why should we practice church discipline? That the sinful nature may be destroyed. The aspect of the man that is drawn to destruction must be destroyed. If the person loves God and loves the people of God, then he will experience heartbreak by being out in the world. The world has a way of breaking you down when you are in sin. That’s what needs to happen here. Let the person pursue sensuality to the fullest degree and eventually, he will need to get sick of it. Practice church discipline for his own good. Rescue that man from his sinful way of life.
But that’s not the only reason. Now this is a distinction that we need to make. Judgment is different from discipline. We have a hard time understanding discipline. Discipline – as kids, we experienced our parents disciplining us in a fit of rage. They lost their temper. Discipline was carried out with outrage or even hatred. So we have a negative view of discipline. That’s a problem – discipline can be misconstrued. Therefore, the positive tools–encouragement, instruction and admonition–
should take precedent over the negative.
Judgment is a paying back of what you owe. The sentence is going to match what you did. That’s judgment or justice. It’s looking backward and paying back what they deserve. Discipline is the opposite – it’s a looking forward and focuses on giving the person what he or she needs to change. Judgment – looking back and paying back. Discipline – looking forward and giving whatever is necessary for change.
When my boys get in trouble, there is an element of both. There is judgment. If they did wrong, their punishment will match the severity of what they did. If they forgot to turn off the light in their room for the 100th time, then there will be a minor punishment. If they lie, the punishment will be much more severe. But that’s not where it ends. I discipline my boys and those are teaching moments to give them what they need for change. Because I want them to learn a lesson. It’s not enough to simply avoid punishment. If that’s their aim, they won’t grow in character. The goal of discipline is learning and gathering tools necessary for change so that instinctively they won’t act the same way the next time. Instead of I shouldn’t lie, I shouldn’t lie, I better not lie because I don’t want to get into trouble, instead of that, telling the truth from the beginning even though it is painful because it’s the right thing to do. That’s the difference between judgment and discipline. I’ve equipped them to make the right choice the next time.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?
Why does Paul shift metaphors and mention yeast and dough right after saying, hand this man over to Satan? Yeast was expensive in ancient Israel so what households did in those days to save money was to keep a piece of bread from the previous week’s loaf and they kneeded that old piece into the fresh batch of dough. But if you did that week after week, by the end of the year, the concentration of yeast was so strong that you would have to start over with a new pinch of yeast and a fresh batch of dough and then the cycle would begin again.
The Feast of Passover was when Jewish households would go through their entire house and throw away every trace of yeast from the previous year. It was like spring cleaning so that no yeast would remain in the house. Paul uses this metaphor to describe what is going on in this church. Obviously, what did this man did is public knowledge. Like yeast, it had spread throughout the dough. Everyone knew about it. Yet, they said, ah, who cares? That’s his business. That kind of mentality is damaging to the community. That’s not the kind of church Paul expects us to be.
Yeast is a fungus. It spoils, it rots, it has a fermenting presence. That’s what sin does if left untreated. It infects the entire dough, or in this case, the entire church. It was no accident that Jesus died on Passover. He was our Passover Lamb so that sin would be no more.
7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
That phrase–as you really are–stuck out to me. This captures the tension that we experience as believers, the tension between already but not yet. We are already a new batch without yeast. We are already a new creation. We have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. We have been freed from sin and its power over us. That is who you really are. Already, we have Christ. Already, we have been forgiven. Already, we have been given the Holy Spirit as a deposit, a down payment. That’s one side. But there is also the other side, the “not yet.” We’re not quite there. Some days, we fall. Some days, our sinful nature overwhelms us. Some days, we are defeated by old habits and old addictions. So we are saved, already, but we are not fully saved. We still have to be sanctified in this life as we move toward our final salvation. Already but not yet.
That is why we need the church. We need help to make it to the end. You and I are too weak on our own. We are too prone to blindness. We need each other.
A church that practices discipline among its members are doing it for the good of the individual, that’s first and foremost. Church discipline can help turn them away from their path of destruction so it has an immediate benefit for the person undergoing discipline. But second, church discipline is good for the group.
There’s an enormous difference between a Christian church and a country club. A country club exists to offer a service. Like golf. You join because you want to play golf. A Christian church is not a country club. We are here first to glorify God and second to save people, starting with our own members whom we are teaching to obey everything in Scripture and branching out to the world.
Take the Corinthian church. If they were not obeying everything in Scripture and instead they were clearly ignoring the most obvious teachings in the Bible–i.e. sexual immorality–then it makes the community feel false and funny. It happens in some youth groups. Some guys and girls are hitting the sheets after service, this other guy is out selling drugs–and you see this and wonder, what is this, this is like a super phony parody. You have a bunch of youth kids who are pretending like they are all into God on Sunday mornings, but there is no trace of Christ in their lives Monday through Saturday. That sense is unavoidable unless you practice church discipline. Yet, many churches do not practice it. This teaching is ignored. Church discipline, that’s so 1st century. That wouldn’t sit well today in our congregations. I guess God missed that one.
At LBC, we do practice it. Here, we try our best to be a biblically based church. We go with what God says. We are serious about following God. That’s why starting last year, we began a membership class because membership is important for us. In membership, we are committing to one another and saying, I am going to keep everyone in this group accountable to what it says in the Bible.
We are not going to nitpick, we are not going to spy on people, we are not here to police people. But in flagrant cases like this one where the person is willfully and determined to go against the Word of God, we have a responsibility to warn and to take a stand. Because when a person has been warned once, twice and then a third time by the entire church, this is no small thing. If such a person decides to go against the people of God on a flagrant case of sin, that person is hardened, his attitude is how dare you judge me, what are you looking at it, mind your own business? He’s bold and brazen in his sin. This is when you have to take your stand.
8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
We have to be a people of sincerity and truth. If half of the people in this congregation are living like the devil outside of these walls, that’s not sincere nor true. That’s hypocritical and false. As a church, we want to be sincere and true.
We are not saying, don’t sleep around. There are plenty of people in the world who live that way, go there. Go have a party. But don’t do it within the church as a professing Christian.
We need to guard the holiness of the church. With that said, we have to read v9-10.
9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.
Paul is being sarcastic here. We are all sinners and we live in a world drenched in sin. If the Bible is asking me not to associate with sexually immoral people, then I guess I have to live in a monastery atop some mountain. This is the mistake of the fundamentalists. Stay away from everyone who is into sin. We can’t allow our holy eyes to behold sin. That’s being self-righteous. We need to be in contact with people who are into all kinds of sin. Why should that bother me? Does sin threaten my Christian walk?
This is talking about associating with blatant, unrepentant sin committed by someone within the church. Do not associate with a so called brother. For his sake. And for the sake of the church.
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.
Today, we are going to study the same passage we did last week. 1 Corinthians 5. Last week, we talked about spiritual blindness because the church at Corinth is one prime example of a church that was groping in the darkness. They were boasting about their brand of spirituality while one of their members was sleeping around with his mother or his stepmother and not repenting about it. It’s unthinkable that a church can become this blind, but it happens all the time, not just in the case of the Corinthians, but every single one of us is susceptible to spiritual blindness if we are not careful. That was the background, the context, now we are ready to dive into the specifics of this text.
This morning, we are going to talk about a topic that is hardly talked about, much less practiced in churches today. That is, church discipline. This is quite a provocative passage. Church discipline sounds so harsh and unloving. Hopefully, by the end, you will be convinced that churches need to practice church discipline for the sake of the member in sin as well as for the sake of the entire church.
Corinth had an inward focus. And there are many self-focused churches – what can be more selfish than gratifying your sexual desires and then discarding the person afterward. That’s the world’s ways, not God’s ways. Christian life is not a free for all. God is holy, and therefore, He sets limits, just like He did in Genesis. You are free to eat of ANY tree in the Garden, a garden filled with probably thousands of trees, but this one tree God said, you must not eat of it. But what happened? Instead of being thankful for the freedom to eat from 99.99% of all the trees in the Garden, Adam and Eve said I want THAT one. I want to be able to determine right from wrong, that’s my right, God can’t tell me what to do. And from that moment, all hell broke loose.
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.
This sin was extreme by their standards. It is pretty extreme even by our standards.
2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?
For a modern reader, what is your reaction? You must be kidding. Put this man out of your fellowship? It sounds like kicking him out. If this guy is having a problem, he needs therapy, he needs love, he doesn’t need rejection, putting him out of your fellowship would be the last thing he needs. Many people come to church nowadays for therapy. I feel guilty, I feel lonely, let me hear an encouraging message and hang out with some encouraging people. Therapy is what this guy at Corinth needs.
Who’s says it wrong anyway? They are in love. What they do in the privacy of their bedroom is their business. It’s none of our business. We would have that kind of reaction if our employer tried to tell us how to live in our private lives. Hey, I’m just here to do my job, I’m here to collect a check, keep my personal life out of this. My boss shouldn’t tell me how to live my life, then why the church?
What Paul is telling this church to do to in response to one of their own members in sin is met I think by an almost startled, outraged response by the modern reader. Did Paul really say that? It seems so harsh, so unloving.
The modern reader on the whole is humanistic, which is not really the same thing as the Biblical portrait of love. Modern readers say, he needs therapy. He needs love. Paul would answer, yes, that is exactly what I am prescribing here–this is therapy and love. The issue is that we just cannot agree with the definition of love. Love in the Bible is different from post-modern love. Love in the post-modern world is being nice to the person and giving him what they want. That’s not the biblical picture of love. Love in the Bible is a commitment to give of myself in every area for the sake of another. It’s self-sacrificial love that gives of oneself for the good of the other.
We understand that with kids. Kids want to eat candy all day and if it were up to them, they’d be munching on M&Ms and popping in jolly ranchers from morning to night. As parents, we have to tell them, no, you shouldn’t eat that. If Elijah, my two-year old, could decide his own menu, he would eat potato chips for breakfast, cheetos for lunch and doritos for dinner. If we love our children, we will discipline them, we are going to compel them to do certain things and not to do certain things. What if school was up to our kids? They’d all quit by the 4th grade and veg out at home.
This idea of discipline is tied to discipleship as commanded in the Great Commission.
Matt 28 – 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is the role of every Christian and every church. To make disciples. And how do we make disciples. TEACHING them to do what? Not to listen. Not to absorb insights here and there. But teaching them to OBEY. Teaching them to obey what? Teaching them to obey EVERYTHING, not some of the things, not just the easy, feel good stuff, not obey only what we prefer, but obey everything.
How do we teach others how to obey everything? Just like Jesus, it has to be one on one, small group, people who really know each other and who commit to one another. You can’t disciple people on a mass scale. Discipleship is not a program. It has to be life on life, walking together.
In the post-modern world, everyone knows what’s best for himself. I don’t need someone to teach me how to live out the Christian life. I can do it on my own. The assumption here in 1 Corinthians is that people mess up, people are blind and they need to change. Therefore, this implies that there is no infallible internal compass guiding them to do the right thing. They often do the wrong thing. We need to know the Word of God, but to an extent we need to be discipled and trained by others to learn how to read and understand it properly. That’s partially why we gather on Sundays. That’s why we gather for Bible studies. But those things are not always enough. Especially for younger Christians, we need help to apply the Word of God specifically. And for older Christians, we can get locked into a particular way of reading and interpreting the Bible and we become blind to huge chunks of Scripture so we need to help one another.
But again, the post-modern reader doesn’t like this area of discipline. Who are we to pass a moral judgment on another? Pressing our opinions over their opinions seems so presumptuous. What if the person passing judgment is blind? Then, it’s the blind leading the blind. We can’t assume that just because someone is older and has been Christian longer that his or her assessments are infallible. We can all be blind.
That’s why Matthew 18 gives us specific instructions. It’s a biblical check and balance system. It’s not just one person’s opinion. You go to that person. Then, you go with another person because you have an opportunity to check your stance. Is it biblical? Yes, it is, okay, let’s go talk to this guy together. So now 2 or 3 are going together to address a brother’s sin. If the person who is charged is unrepentant, then it goes to the entire church. So there are 3 steps to ensure that it’s not just one opinion over another because having a certain amount of self-doubt when pointing out a sin in another is good. It’s safer to pass judgment on another if not just one, not just two, but an entire church agrees with the assessment about that person. What if the entire church is blind as in the case of Corinth? Then, you need a voice of truth from outside the community and Paul is serving as that outside voice.
The key when addressing someone about their sin is to ask, is what I am saying clearly labeled in the Bible as a sin? Is it clear, is it a black and white case? Church discipline should never be used in an arbitrary sense. We shouldn’t invent and pass arbitrary laws at LBC. Like, you need to come on Saturday nights and help set up the equipment and chairs. I can make a rule and send it out to all the members. Thou shalt not miss Saturday church setup. What passage would I use? I could quote Mark 10:45 —
Mark 10:45 – For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
And I could stretch that verse to say, see, you must serve whenever there is an opportunity to serve. Because after all, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Be like Jesus. Therefore, you must come on Saturday nights to help. I could say that but I would have a difficult time justifying it biblically. You should want to serve if you are growing in Christ-likeness so it’s great when brothers volunteer to come and help set up. But not setting up is not a sin.
In cases of church discipline, I should be able to show the other person a passage and it should be clear. Here is the Bible, this is what God says, this is the way it is, this is right, this is wrong, and each party can read what it says. It sound obvious, but I am not the one who determines what is right and what is wrong behavior. It is the Word of God. God determines right from wrong. Ever since the Fall, we said, God, I want to determine right from wrong. No wonder ethics is so relativistic and we can no longer speak about truth and universal morality. The best we can do is to tolerate one another. Here is my interpretation, you have your interpretation and we have to tolerate one another. It happened after the Fall when each person decided, I am going to decide for myself what is right and wrong. We were never meant to determine right from wrong on our own. We need to turn to Scripture and see what it says.
What is different from a world that decides for themselves what’s right from wrong and a world where there is no right from wrong? There’s no difference at all. For there to be right and wrong, it has to be normative. It has to be universal. Incest is wrong. Sexual immorality is wrong. Times have changed. Culture has changed. But God is the same today as He ever was. God will not change to accommodate our culture.