Church Discipline

Read II Kings 24:12-16


            God did not sent His people into captivity as an act of retaliation; He did not punish them simply because He had the power to do so, or because he enjoyed seeing them suffer.  He punished them for their own good.  And through His discipline they learned lessons which they refused to learn from the words of His prophets.

            One of the principles of God that is taught but very little in His church today and practiced even less is the principle of discipline, even in the most stalwart congregations of our Lord’s church.  In his lesson on Sunday evening, June 19, Brother Hunter asked us the following question:


“Did you keep your parents law because they said it?  Or, did you keep your parents law because they enforced it?”


Just as discipline; the enforcing of the law of the father and the wisdom of the mother is required to keep order and train children in the physical family, discipline is required to keep order and train God’s children in the spiritual family; the church.  This is the reason for all of the instruction given by the New Testament scripture concerning discipline.


1Brethren, 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.” Galatians 6:1 


14Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” I Thessalonians 5:14


17Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Romans 16:17


            But this principle is sadly neglected both in teaching and in practice.  God is a God of discipline.  When his crowning creation, mankind, disobeyed him in the garden of Eden he dealt with them sternly, bringing physical death into the world:


19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Genesis 3:19


Because of his sin, his murder of his brother, Able, God cursed the fruit of his toil and banished Cain from the presence of other men:


11And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; 12When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.” Genesis 4:11-12


When mankind became so corrupt that He couldn’t stand them anymore, God destroyed all those who would not hear His words:


17And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.” Genesis 6:17


All of this was divine discipline that was meted out by a merciful Father. 


Discipline is a mark of love:




6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Hebrews 12:6


            But in the Lord’s church today I fear that its elders and leaders don’t love us very much.  I fear that more elders will face the judgment seat of God in fear and trembling for this reason than for any other.  I think most of us in this gathering understand fully the necessity of discipline of those who are false teachers, those who would pervert the Word of God and lead men astray.  So the balance of this lesson will concentrate on the means and necessity of discipline for wayward brothers and sisters in Christ.  The need to discipline those who sin publicly, and need to be restored once again to faithful service to God.


I.  It is possible for any Christian to fall away.


            All men will sin, even those who are the most stalwart of the church, the Holy Spirit leaves no exceptions:


23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Romans 3:23


12Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” Romans 5:12


            Jesus teaches us that the gospel will be preached to some who will fall away.  In the parable of the sower, or called more appropriately the parable of the soils, where He describes those where the seed, the Word of God, fell upon a rock or among thorns.  He leaves no doubt about man’s weakness or the power of Satan to lure us away:


13They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. 14And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” Luke 8:13-14


            The apostle Paul left no doubt in anyone’s mind who reads the scripture:


12Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” I Corinthians 10:12


            Any and all men and women can sin, will sin, and fall short of the glory of God.


II. When one sins he must correct the matter to be acceptable to God.


            The Holy Spirit tells us through the pen of James:


16Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:16


            The need for us to confess our wrongs has been the case since the beginning of time.  Adam and Eve hid themselves in the garden (Genesis 3:8) and God had to ask to get them to confess (Genesis 3:11-12), but confess they must even though he already knew what happened.  When Israel sinned before God Moses carried their confession in supplication to the Father:


18And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.” Deuteronomy 9:18


The man of God was sent to David to gain the confession of the horrible sin that he committed:


II Samuel 12:9 9Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.”


And when David was confronted with his sin he confessed and repented:






            If we have sinned before God, we must make our confession to God.

            If we have sinned before a brother, or a neighbor, we must make our confession to that brother or to that neighbor.

            If our sin is public and has brought reproach upon the family of God, we must bring our confession to the family of God.  Our confession and repentance must be as broad as the knowledge of that sin.

            The prodigal confessed his sin to his father and before God:


21And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” Luke 15:21


            Simon confessed his sin to Peter who upbraided him:


24Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.” Acts 8:24


III. Dealing with those who have sinned.


            But we don’t like to confess our wrongs, its painful, it’s an admission that we have failed; pride gets in our way.  So sometimes we need some encouragement to confess or sins; sometimes we don’t think that anyone knows about our sin; sometimes we may not realize that we have sinned.  What are our brethren to do when that happens?  Jesus didn’t leave us without instruction, for what works between brethren works between us and God just as well.  Directly after teaching his disciples that they should become as little children and not offend them or cause them to stumble (Matthew 18:3-6) and that God the Father would not want even one of us to perish (Matthew 18:7-14) he tells us how to deal with these problems.

            We must first go to our brother or sister and tell them of their wrong.  As overseers of the church (Acts 20:28), the elders have the first responsibility for this action.  Because through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we’re told that we are to:


17Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17


            Jesus tells us how to approach a brother or sister who has offended us:


Matthew 18:1515Moreover 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.


            The apostle Paul, writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, made the same application to brethren within God’s family that have a fault:


1Brethren, 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.” Galatians 6:1


            If he or she refuses you take two or three witness with you.  This was established under the Mosaic Law:


15One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.” Deuteronomy 19:15


And carried forward by our Lord himself:


16But 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.” Matthew 18:16


            If he or she still refuses; we are to take it to the church and let him be withdrawn from:


17And 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. Matthew 18:17


            What do you mean, Jesus?  The Holy Spirit through Paul says:


17Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Romans 16:17


And many of my brethren understand this teaching when it is applied to false teachers, false brethren, those who defy God with their doctrine or religious practice.   But when it comes to dear, sweet, old Aunt Bessie; dear Uncle George, or little Billy, or anyone in the family of God that we know and love; Oh; we just can’t do that!  It might offend them, it might drive them from worship, we might lose others, if might effect our budget and the excuses are as numerous as our imaginations will allow.  But what else does the Holy Spirit tell us through the pen of the apostle?


9I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” I Corinthians 5:9-11


            But that is harsh, that is hard, it is radical and unloving.  Oh, is it?


IV. How are we to treat the one who refuses to repent?


            After giving us warning about lust and adultery; Jesus gave us some examples of what to do to ourselves; just to what extremes we should go if we cannot enter heaven any other way:


29And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Matthew 5:29


            Gouge out an eye?  Lord, you’re too harsh, you are too hard.  Let me ask you brother or sister; is your eye more important to you than your eternal life with God?


30And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Matthew 5:30


            Cut off a hand?  We absolutely couldn’t do that, that’s too hard, it’s too permanent, we might not be able to work and we can think of a thousand reasons not to do so.  But it never ceases to amaze me that we can understand fully the absolute necessity, and readily, willingly; go under the surgeon’s knife and have a diseased part of our body removed to save our physical lives but at the same time refuse to remove the canker from the body of Christ that will cost us our souls.  I just don’t know how to make it any plainer than that.


            But why you say?  Paul tells us:


7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:” I Corinthians 5:7


            Leaven; the ladies among our number know how leaven works.  The leaven that Paul is talking about here is described by the third definition found in the 1997 edition of the Random House, Webster’s College Dictionary.  It is “an element that produces an altering or transforming influence.”  Influence!  If the false teacher, the false brother or the wayward member is allowed to continue without the discipline necessary to change their actions in whatever sin is being committed it won’t be long until many, if not most of that congregation of the Lord’s church will be influenced by their actions.  And they will be influenced in such a way that whey also will be caught up in sin.

            This is the reason for the admonition that Jesus gave his disciples:


6Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” Matthew 16:6


And Jesus disciples didn’t understand what he was trying to tell them, he had to explain further:


11How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? 12Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” Matthew 16:11-12 


And it was not just their doctrine that was a problem but their attitude and their influence as well.   Because just as Paul has reminded us:


Galatians 5:99A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”


And we use the American Standard Translation to underscore the same instruction given in another setting:




            Oh, I can go back to my teen years and tell and show you the power; the influence of evil companions.  But I’d rather not, it’s painful, I’d rather not remember it because I took those sins to God and he put them away a long time ago.


Paul says “PURGE OUT” that “LEAVEN”; remove that influence because it will permeate the entire congregation, it will influence the entire family of God in that location to accept sin, it will tell the world that whatever sin is in question is OK.  But too many try to just kind of ignore it and hope that it will go away.  It won’t brethren.  It will only get worse, cause the one in sin to lose their soul and perhaps cause others to lose their souls as well.  And Jesus tells us what to do if the one who needs discipline refuses to hear or to change:


17And 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. Matthew 18:17


V. The purpose of discipline in the church.


            So why must there be discipline in the church?  For the same reason that there must be discipline in the human family; to protect those who would bring spiritual danger to themselves.  We understand the application of discipline needed by little Johnny or little Suzy when they insist on running out into the street and we correct them because we love them.  With a five year old that fears some of the things he shouldn’t and doesn’t fear some of the things he should my son is learning that lesson all over again.  But make the same application to a wayward member of God’s family and we don’t seem to understand.  Hear the words of the apostle:


I Corinthians 5:3-53For 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, 4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5To 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.”


            What are you saying Paul?  First: even though he wasn’t present in Corinth, he’s come to a conclusion just as though he were there concerning the sin of this person.  Second: Paul declares the authority with which he writes; the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Third: he gives them their instruction; “DELIVER SUCH AN ONE UNTO SATAN”; why?  So that “THE SPIRIT MAY BE SAVED IN THE DAY OF THE LORD JESUS.”  So that the one who has sinned and refuses to hear the church and repent will be influenced to change so that their spiritual life may be saved in the day of judgment.  Isn’t that the same reason that we would discipline a child that runs out into the street?  To save them from losing their physical life from the danger found there?  And don’t we discipline our children through our love for them, our fear that they’ll get themselves hurt physically or be killed.   Do we love God’s children as much as we love our children?  The Apostle John tells us that if we don’t love the brethren we’re still living in death, we’re still living separated from God, even if we’ve gone through the motions of entering his family.


14We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” I John 3:14




            Discipline is to be applied in the human family out of love; nothing else.  We chastise our children because we love them and want them, first of all to grow up and secondly to grow up as responsible human beings, of value to God and mankind. 




God chastises because of love; love for his crowning creation so deep the He “GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON” that we might have the promise of eternal life with him.  Discipline is love in action:


6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Hebrews 12:6


            It is not only needed in, God’s family, the Lord’s church today, but it is a necessity that ignored will cause men to lose their souls.


            This lesson hasn’t been one that could be considered evangelistic but I ask you; are you a child of God?

            Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God as he says we must in Mark 16:16?

            Have your repented of your past sins; again as Jesus says we must in Luke 13:3?

            Have you confessed him before men as he says we must in Matthew 10:32?

            Have you been baptized to wash away your sins as the preacher instructed Paul in Acts 22:16?

            Or are you one who has sinned and brought reproach upon the family of God and need to go to Him in prayer for forgiveness as we’re instructed by James in James 5:16.