Stand firm in your faith
23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
We are led in our study of 2 Corinthians to consider church discipline. In this message we will step back and consider the subject of church discipline more broadly as I believe it will give context to our passage and weight to Paul’s argument.
Discipline in Christ’s Church
The subject of church discipline can be a subject that many think of only in negative terms. Discipline is unpleasant and so church discipline is an unpleasant topic. I hope our study will help us see that church discipline is in fact a good gift from our heaven Father to His beloved children. The fact is that many people do not want to talk about church discipline and in practice many congregations avoid it or do not do it well.
Consider Hebrews 12:5-10 as we begin.
…have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
If you are one who believes upon the Lord Jesus Christ you are a child of God, a son or daughter, born of His Spirit and God loves you. And as the best father, God disciplines those He loves. He will not let us go on in our self-destructive ways nor allow us to go on in ways that harm others. He disciplines us for our good, that we might share in His holiness and so have peace and life and joy.
The Lord uses many things to discipline us, but one major tool He uses is the church – our brothers and sisters in Christ – and so it is called church discipline.
Many think of church discipline only in terms of the very last step in the formal process, where an unrepentant person has refused to listen to their church family and is then put out of the assembly, the church, and treated as an unbeliever – treated as one who has rejected the faith.
But that is not really where the majority of healthy church discipline takes place in the Body of Christ. As we will see most discipline in the Body of Christ should come as sin has caused division and tension in the Body and a brother or sister simply comes in a spirit if gentleness telling us of our fault – of our sin – (as Nathan did for David). And that word from a brother or sister in Christ becomes the means that God uses to bring us to a humble acknowledgement that we have sinned and that word becomes the means by which God brings us to repentance and restoration and wholeness to the Body.
The discipline of the Lord through His church in our lives truly is a blessing.
Now, the truth is that most of us do this poorly if at all. In many church’s healing and restorative and holiness-producing-discipline is often ignored. And we could make a list as long as our arm giving reasons why we avoid church discipline, but what I’d like to do is make sure we leave this morning agreed…
- That it is necessary?
- Why it is necessary?
- How it should be done
- When it is necessary and Who should do it?
I. Is Church Discipline Really Necessary?
Because discipline can be so uncomfortable and messy I think we really need to be convinced it is necessary. Is it really necessary for a healthy, Christ-honoring, gospel community?
In this first section of 2 Corinthians Paul has made it plain that church discipline is necessary. Paul has decided not to come again to Corinth right away because he says he wanted to spare them (1:23) and to avoid another painful visit (2:1), but he says he will not spare those who have not repented when he comes again (13:2). And in the mean time he does not let the unrepentant go unaddressed. He writes a difficult letter calling the church to deal with this sin in their mist (2:4 and 2:9). He says in verse 9 that he wrote that he might test them and know whether they are obedient in everything. Their obedience would be a sign to Paul of their genuine participation in the gospel. In 2:3 Paul says he was confident that they would be united with him in what needed to be done even though it was a difficult assignment. He believed that what delighted his heart as an apostle of Christ would delight theirs as well – even if it required them to do a difficult thing.
We find in verse 6 that the congregation (a majority) passed this test and did what Paul called them to do. He says ‘this punishment by the majority is enough…” The church brought discipline, some kind of censure or penalty to the wayward person. This may be referring to putting the sinning person out of the church, but it might also be some other sanction less then excommunication. They did a hard but necessary thing.
So this whole context of 2 Corinthians 1 and 2 shows us that Paul saw discipline in the church as necessary. It was not an option in Paul’s mind. — But why?
II. Why is Church Discipline Necessary?
I think this is such an important question to answer well that I want to bring in Matthew 18 here to give us a more robust, full picture. Paul gives a number of reasons here in our passage as well and we will bring those in in due course.
First I’d like you to turn to Matthew 18. I want you to see the structure of Jesus’ thought here. In Matthew 18:1 Jesus is asked by the disciples, “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And what Jesus does in answer to that question is He begins to describe the character of those in the kingdom that Christ rules.
By the way that is us. — You claim to be a part of the church? This is Christ’s church – the local expression of the citizens of Christ’s kingdom.
So what Jesus describes here should describe us. So as Jesus unfolds the character of kingdom living every thing Jesus says becomes a reason for why church discipline is needed and necessary in our lives – to conform us and guard us and train us to be holy. If we are not growing to reflect what Jesus says here… Well, just listen to what Jesus says.
Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven Jesus?
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Why is Church Discipline necessary?
1. Church discipline is necessary because you can’t even enter the Kingdom of Heaven without emptying yourself of every earthly reason to boast – humility (Matthew 18:1-6)
That is Jesus point here. The church, that is the citizens of the kingdom of Heaven are not proud, boastful, rude, arrogant. They are not full of airs and self-importance, expecting others to bow and serve and respect them. No, unless you take the station of a child – the lowest possible station – you can’t even enter the kingdom. Kingdom people are not depending on their own wisdom or power or goodness, but humbly depending upon their Lord.
Why is church discipline necessary? Because the Lord disciplines those he loves. He wants to see you in glory and you can’t go there if you are not humbled to the very dust! Church discipline is one of the main ways God shows us the pride that remains in our hearts.
When you see me thinking and acting like I am something, anything more than a humble gentle servant – I need you to restore me in a spirit of gentleness because you love me and what to see me in heaven. If you strut around your home or the church like a peacock it is unlikely that you will even see the heavenly city.
But Jesus doesn’t end there. In the next paragraph He continues,
…if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
2. Church discipline is necessary because you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven if you live at peace with your sin (Matthew 18:7-9)
It is as clear as crystal here. The gospel of grace does not produce people who live in harmony with their sin. It says here that if you are not willing to sever yourself from temptations to sin (cutting off the hand or tearing out the eye) because those things are too precious to you, Jesus says you will not enter the kingdom. Actually he says you will be thrown into the hell of fire.
Now, hear me. We are not talking about earning salvation. We are talking about the character of the saved. A person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead! And so they have certain characteristics – one of which is passion to please their heavenly Father and forsake deeds of darkness.
The kingdom of heaven is full of people who are serious about pursuing holiness and serious about putting sin to death in their own lives. Are we serious? Church discipline is a gracious means to help us get serious.
There is more. Jesus continues describing the kingdom of heaven.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety- nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety- nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
3. Church discipline is necessary because it reflects our heavenly Father (Matthew 18:10-14)
The Kingdom of Heaven is a place filled with lost, no-status sheep that have been pursued by a loving heavenly Father who would not let them go destroy themselves. He went after them and rescued them and brought them back.
Do not despise one of those wayward no-status sheep. Everyone of us was that wayward sheep. We are to reflect the heart of God our Father and seek to bring back and restore and save those wondering away in sin.
Church discipline is necessary because it reflects the heart of our heavenly Father and it is in fact one of the great means that He uses to rescue His people.
Now, we come to the classic text on church discipline.
“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. 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. 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.”
4. Church discipline is necessary because our Lord commanded it (Matthew 18:15-20)
I will not linger on this point, except to say, this is a major means that the Lord established to get his people to glory – He commanded it. And we ignore it to our everlasting peril. I want to be a part of a church that practices Church Discipline! Because my soul needs it.
(see also 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 to see this worked out in Paul’s teaching)
Now Jesus’ teaching is punctuated by verses 21-35. Having heard Jesus describe the character of the kingdom citizens, Peter then asks in verse 21, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy seven times.” And then Jesus tells this amazing parable.
I encourage you to read it. For times sake I will jump to the end. After the king’s servant has been forgive astronomical debt he could not dream of paying he turned and to his fellow servant and choked him, requiring his fellow servant to pay him the small amount he owed. When the king heard about this the text says in verse 32,
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? ’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
5. Church Discipline is necessary because if we do not forgive our brothers and sisters from our hearts the Lord will not forgive us! (Matthew 18:21-35)
Again, let’s get the order right. We are saved by grace and grace alone through faith and faith alone in Christ and Christ alone so that God is glorified and He alone. But the nature of God’s salvation is such that we are made to drink of His Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13)! People who refuse to forgive their brothers and sisters are not Christians.
Church discipline guards us from being a group of hypocrites – who run around claiming life in Jesus, but who, on Judgement Day will be handed over to the jailers. Let us not despise the discipline of the Lord.
There are many other reasons why church discipline is necessary, but I will give you one more from 2 Corinthians 2:5. Paul says in verse 5,
Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you.
6. Church Discipline is necessary because we are one Body in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12)
Paul is saying that sin in the church is not simply between himself, the apostle, and the sinning person (even if it was against Paul that this person sinned). Truly when there is sin that has not been repented of in the body of Christ who is effected? The entire Body. The entire Body is made to suffer. As Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 12 we are individually members of one body. A hand in the body of Christ cannot ignore or despise a foot in the Body of Christ without damaging himself and the rest of the Body.
We have seen that church discipline is necessary
We have seen some of the reason why it is necessary
So we come now to the third question.
III. How Are We To Do It? What is the process and nature?
1. Private rebuke (Matt 18:15).
“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.” This must be done gently, in love, out of compassion, seeking to encourage. The purpose is to resolve the problem without fueling unnecessary gossip and to see repentance.
2. If private rebuke is unsuccessful, plural rebuke (Matthew 18:16).
“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.”
The ‘others” in Matthew 18:16 might be church leaders, people who know the offender, or people who know of the sin.
3. If plural rebuke is unsuccessful, public rebuke (Matthew 18:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1).
Here is what we might call the beginning of formal church discipline.
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
4. If public rebuke is unsuccessful, ‘excommunication’ (Matthew 18:17; 1 Cor5:11; Titus 3:10)
“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.”
In our 2 Corinthians context I think this is where Paul was if he had to come in person (and notice that this was not his desire!) He said he wrote to show the love he has for them (2 Cor 2:4), that is he wanted every other option exhausted before this last step. Even excommunication is a step of love. It is a tangible demonstration that you are not in a safe place before the King and that your will not enter the kingdom in that unrepentant state.
But also note in Matthew 18 and here in 2 Corinthians, if repentance occurs, there is restoration to fellowship and there must be reaffirmation of love. As we read in 2 Cor 2:6-8,
For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.
The goal is Unity and Joy and peace and forgiveness. The Body should no longer hold this man away.
To fail to respond to sin is a major issue in the body. But to fail to restore “such a one” who repents is no less a major issue! Paul says. I beg you to reaffirm him!
In chapter 2 verse 11 Satan wants to divide, ‘we are not ignorant of his designs’ Paul says (Eph 6:10 – schemes of the devil). – Satan wants to use the seemingly good intentions of the Body (their desire to be obedient and to not tolerate sin) as a way of causing further division and destruction (of both the Body and the once wayward, now repentant brother). Satan’s goal is destruction and division. Ours must be to love one another as Christ loved his bride, the church, as servants, self-sacrificing to see the body holy and joyfully united.
If a brother is in sin we must go to them. We must practice church discipline informally and maybe formally.
But if there is repentance, we must forgive and restore and reaffirm our love. Or Satan has won a victor in the church.
IV. When Is Church Discipline Necessary and Who Should Do It?
Again, if we think about church discipline as more than just the public, formal part but as also including brothers and sisters caring for one another by gentle encouragement and a gentle private conversation about where he or she has failed and there is agreement and repentance – if that is what we are talking about that should be happening informally all the time by everyone in the congregation.
This very week the Lord used my darling wife to discipline me. I was stressed and became annoyed with the boy-ness of our boys and I was speaking to them unkindly and in frustration. And she came to me very gently and said. “I know in your better moments that this is not how you would want to speak to the boys.” Now, of course I responded as all godly people do. I instantly repented and humbled myself… actually I was annoyed. But the Spirit used her words over the next few minutes and I did acknowledge my sin. I was not trusting God. I was not being humble. I was at fault. And so I apologized to my wife and I apologized to by children and I stood up, standing in the promise of 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I am clean. I am free. I am righteous because of Christ. But If I had not repented, 1 John 1:10 says, “if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
When is church discipline necessary and who should do it? Can you see that informal encouragement and gentle rebuke is something we all need, often, from one another? – Even from a child?
You Are Responsible
I would also like to point out that Jesus puts the responsibility directly on each of us in all cases. This is what I mean. In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus said,
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
So here, if you know that your brother has something against you – you may not even know what it is -or you may – you are to go to him. Don’t wait for him to come to you. Your relationship with your brother effects your relationship with your Father (He is the Father of you both).
But Jesus also said as we saw in Matthew 18:15,
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…
Again the responsibility rests on you to go and be reconciled. It does not matter if you are the sinning party or the sinned against party you have an obligation to go make things right with your brother.
Now, this does not give nitpickers license to kill.
Proverbs 19:11 says,
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
Church discipline should not be motivated by personal offense.
1 Corinthians 13:7
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Again we must approach one another because we are longing for holiness and healing and unity in the Spirit not because someone personality annoys us, or because we are personally hurt and holding a grudge against them and we want to teach them a lesson and return evil for evil.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
When is church discipline necessary? When there is sin in the life of a brother or sister that has not been repented of.
And who should do it? You should.
And when are you ready to approach a sinning brother or sister? When you are clothed in humility and the Spirit of gentleness, keeping watch on ourselves lest we too stumble into sin as well.
Is it our heart desire to bear one another burdens or to beat one another down?
As I said I think the informal disciple of close brothers and sisters who love one another should be pursued and accepted with grateful humility. This should be a common practice among us.
At some point after efforts in private fail certainly the elders are to take the initiative to oversee the formal process because they are responsible for each soul in the local body (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Thess 5:14; Hebrews 13:17). But as we see in 2 Corinthians 2:6 the congregation as a whole may be involved at some point if the sin persists.
There are many reasons we might use to justify avoiding biblical church discipline but I pray that this is not the case here. I want to grow as a shepherd and leader among Christ’s people and to be a part of a genuine community of faith in Christ that understands that church discipline is really necessary, why it is really necessary, and actually enters into the painful love of Christ-honoring and Christ-commanded discipline.
In verse 11 Paul makes plain that Satan has designs against the people of God and is trying to outwit us. Satan knows that he has opportunity on both sides of church discipline.
You fall of one way and sin is allowed to flourish in the church and souls are in peril.
You fall of the other side and discipline is not done with gentleness and humility and forgiveness and so the church is divided, torn to pieces, and sheep are scattered.
Church discipline is necessary if we are to honor Christ and love His people, but we each must be clothed with Christ in all we do, to live and act for each other in the presence of Christ as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:10.
Let us be humble to receive correction.
Let us be humble as we give correction.
Always coming back to Christ in the gospel again and again.