CHAPTER 21-CHURCH DISCIPLINE
I was asked awhile back if I believed in church discipline. I promptly replied that I do and that I have tried to practice it in my ministry over the years. I know of no doctrine that has been so ignored and neglected on the one hand, or has been so distorted and abused on the other hand. Usually when discipline is mentioned the sole thought is that of turning someone out of the church. This is only a small part of discipline the serious and final part.
1. Self discipline. This involves the whole of Christian living to the end of life. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (#Ro 12:1); "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" (#1Co 6:19); "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (#2Pe 1:5-8).
In #1Co 9:24-27, Paul uses the figure of an athlete to tell how he disciplined himself. "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." He says the athlete strives for a fading crown, but Paul was striving for an unfading crown. The athlete, whatever the contest, disciplines himself; he watches his diet, he abstains from certain kinds of drink and food, he gives up a lot of delicacies and fleshly delights to fit himself for the contest. And Paul says, I watch my body with its fleshly desires; I keep it in subjection, I keep it fit for the service of God, lest when I have preached to others I myself might be a castaway or disapproved or fail to get the prize. And so every child of God must by all means discipline himself, put away fleshly lusts that war against the soul.
2. Discipline by the word. This involves the work of the pastor. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:" (#2Ti 3:16). He is to use the word of God for teaching, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness or right living. The test of my preaching is not whether you enjoy it, but whether or not it makes you better Christians. And so the purpose of discipline is to make people better, not richer or happier. Webster: "To train in self- control or obedience to a given standard." The noun: "Training which corrects, molds, strengthens, or perfects."
3. Discipline by our Heavenly Father. "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:" (#Heb 12:5). Webster: "To chastise; to punish." Discipline by our Heavenly Father is called chastisement and is for our good, to make us better.
4. Restorative Discipline. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (#Ga 6:1). This is to be done by Christians who are spiritual, close to the Lord and living above reproach. The Greek word for RESTORE is used of a dislocated limb put back in place. And so the sinning brother is like a limb out of place and must be dealt with tenderly and in meekness, remembering that we, though spiritual, might also be tempted and do wrong.
We see another example of restorative discipline in "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us... And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (#2Th 3:6,14,15).
And still another example of this kind of discipline in settling personal differences. "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (#Mt 18:15-17). This is very plain. And in such a case there is evidently exclusion from the church.
The next and last case of discipline is found in #1Co 5:13 "But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." Here is the case of a man living in unholy wedlock, a sin that would hardly be found among the heathen, the case of a man living with his father's wife, who must have been his stepmother. And so Paul does not mince words, but tells the church to exclude him, put that wicked man away from among yourselves. RSV: "Drive out the wicked person from among you."
Even in this extreme case the good of the sinner was in the mind of Paul. "For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (#1Co 5:3-5).
In his second letter, Paul seems to refer to this man. Read #2Co 2:1-10.
All this adds up to the solemn truth that we ought to take our Christian profession seriously. Salvation is free but service to God is costly. And as members of the same body of Christ we are tied together and belong to each other and are responsible for one another. What I do, not only as your pastor, but as a member, is of importance to every one of you. And we should not see one another sin and do nothing about it.