One of the gracious things we believe God has called us to do is preach through the books of the Bible. When one does so, they cannot skip over some of the more difficult texts in Scripture. That appears to be the case over the past two weeks as we have dealt with Church Discipline and Church Disputes in the book of I Corinthians. It is obvious God has used these texts to both challenge and grow many of us as we follow Christ...including me!
You might have noticed that Paul's Holy Spirit-inspired words in chapters 5 and 6 are both direct and loving. There is no doubt from this letter that he genuinely loves the church in Corinth. Reflect on how you would address those you love when they are caught up in sin. I don't know about you, but I plead with them, reason with them, and sometimes I'm even sarcastically pointed with them to get their attention. Paul, in these chapters, does the same.
Church Discipline is not an easy topic to swallow. Scripture, however, shares that this is a loving grace of God for our good and joy in Jesus. Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is not only one who does the work of bringing us into a relationship with Christ (Jn. 3 v 5-8), he is also the one who grows us to be more and more like Christ (Rom. 8 v 4-30). One of the tools the Spirit uses is Church Discipline.
For instance, recall I Cor 5 in which there was a man who was engaging in a sinful, unrepentant pattern of sin that even the "pagans" considered repulsive. Paul sadly discovered that the church was more tolerant of this sin than even the city. Paul says, "you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (I Cor 5:5). Don't miss the redemptive focus of Paul's words: "so that." Why do such an act? For the good and restoration of the one caught in the sin. It is not to shame or humiliate him, but for his salvation.
In Matt. 18 v 10-20, Jesus makes a similar argument. The context of the passage is talking about a Christian who strayed into a habitual, unrepentant pattern of sin, for the lost sheep in vs. 10-14 is immediately addressed as "brother" in vs. 15-20. Like a lost sheep, this brother is in a perilous situation. Doing nothing would be unloving. That is why, as the shepherd goes to find the lost sheep, Jesus exhorts us in Matt. 18 v 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." One New Testament theologian helpfully writes that those in this work "should view themselves as agents of the Father/Shepherd seeking straying little ones/sheep."1 Similar to Paul, Jesus wants to see this person restored back to the church as the sheep is brought back into the flock.
Can you see how Church Discipline is a loving act commanded by both Jesus and Paul? A failure to practice this command of Jesus and Paul is, honestly, hateful. Think about it. A church that practices Church Discipline: 1) Expresses supreme love for Jesus by striving to see his name honored through the joyful obedience of the church, 2) Exemplifies genuine love for sinners by warning and seeking to bring them to repentance, 3) Epitomizes protective love for new Christians who might be misled by this straying believer, and 4) Evangelistically loves the world, for they are serious about maintaining their witness to a watching world. That is why a loving church practices church discipline.
Though Church Discipline is a loving act, that doesn't mean that any of us should strive to be under it. Much discipline happens through daily discipleship as believers in Jesus practice Matt. 5 v 23-24 and 18 v 11. Love each other well, Grace Point Church Northwest, by being faithful to these Scriptures. Know that your elders love you and are praying for you often.
1. David L. Turner, Matthew, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 446.