Over the last three weeks, we’ve been looking at the basics of church discipline. [In case you missed them, you can find them here, here and here.] In the final part of this series, let’s look at some final considerations to ensure this aspect of church life is handled the way it should.
VI. Church discipline is to be exercised in the community of faith, not the world (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)
There is an important relationship between the ministries of church discipline and evangelism that Paul helps us see in these verses. In a real sense, church discipline and evangelism are flip sides of the coin of salvation.
Church discipline is a natural component of discipleship that functions as the corollary of evangelism. Professor of Biblical Literature J. Carl Laney says, “Evangelism ministers to those outside the church who are in bondage to sin. Congregational discipline ministers to those within the church who are in bondage to sin.” This is Paul’s argument in verses 9-11.
Evangelism ministers to those outside the church who are in bondage to sin. Congregational discipline ministers to those within the church who are in bondage to sin
In a previous letter now lost to us, and therefore not intended by God to be a part of inspired Scripture, Paul wrote to the Corinthians telling them to not fellowship or associate with sexually immoral persons who profess to follow Christ and believe the gospel. They apparently misunderstood his instructions, either accidentally or intentionally.
Paul quickly and directly corrects them, providing a representative list of the kinds of public, continuous and unrepentant types of sin we must lovingly confront in the life of a professing believer in Jesus. There are six categories in all, and author David Garland points out that each is specially addressed in 1 Corinthians. They are:
Though we are not to be of the world (John 17:17-19; Rom 12:1-2), we are to be in the world. Indeed, removing ourselves from sin and sinners would require us exiting the world. This is not God’s plan in the present age. Jesus was clear in John 17:18, “As You have sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” We are to be in this world doing the work of evangelism, sharing the gospel, bearing witness to Christ. We must spend time with the lost to win the lost.
In contrast, the professing brother or sister in Christ living in sin is to be shunned. We do not “associate” with them nor do we “even eat with such a one”. This would certainly include the Lord’s Supper. And, it may have included more: the breaking of all social ties except those engagements and social interactions that had the specific purpose of restoration and reconciliation.
John MacArthur helps us again here: “The command not to have fellowship or even social contact with the unrepentant brother does not exclude all contact. When there is an opportunity to admonish him and try to call him back, the opportunity should be taken. In fact, such opportunities should be sought. But the contact should be for the purpose of admonishment and restoration and no other.”
VII. God judges those on the outside while we judge those on the inside (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
Verses 12-13 bring to a conclusion the argument of chapter 5. Clear lines of demarcation and responsibility are drawn. Bottom line: God judges those outside the church (the lost) and we judge those as His people inside the church. Our responsibility to an unrepentant sinning brother: remove him (v.2), deliver him to Satan for the destruction of his sinful flesh (v.5), expel the evil person from among you (v.13). Expelling or removing the wicked from among God’s people is a consistent theme in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21-22, 24; 24:7). Its repetitive nature makes clear its importance.
Such a serious action must be bathed in Galatians 6:1-2. What we do when taking this final step of church discipline, we do with sorrow and a broken heart. There is no joy in the man’s sin, but there is joy in our obedience to Christ. And remember, there is no true love of our brother if we do nothing. We love him enough to hurt him, even as it hurts us.
There is no joy in the man’s sin, but there is joy in our obedience to Christ. We love him enough to hurt him, even as it hurts us
I often tell my friends the only way you can truly hurt my feelings is by seeing me do something that dishonours the Lord and hurts His kingdom and then not tell me. It means you did not love me enough to point out my sin. Church discipline loves people enough to point out their sin and then guide them to the place of repentance and then on to restoration (see 2 Corinthians 2 for a hopeful resolution of 1 Corinthians 5).
Though I am not a fan of much of Charles Finney’s theology, I am in full agreement with his thoughts concerning church discipline: “If you see your neighbour sin, and you pass by and neglect to reprove him, it is as cruel as if you should see his house on fire, and pass by and not warn him.”
Marlin Jeschke summarises well the heart of the matter: “In discipline, as in the presentation of the good news to the non-Christian, a person is presented the opportunity of being liberated from the power of sin in all its forms by coming under the rule of Christ and walking in His way.”
Let us be zealous in the presentation of that good news and let us be faithful in the practice of the ministry of loving confrontation. In both, we will be saving souls.
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