Lesson 22 - Church Discipline

Believers in Jesus Christ become by new birth the children of God, and as His children, members of His family, His household. Harmony in a home is essentlal to the realization of its ideal life. This requires recognition of parental authority and obedience to household rules which have been designed for the good of all. Where these rules are violated disharmony follows and loving authority must be exercised to correct the violation.

God ordained marriage and the home. The Bible contains much teaching on the divine requirements for proper marriage and home relationships. It is understandable then, that when God would speak of the relationship of redeemed men to Himself and to one another, He speaks in terms of the home, the household.

God, our heavenly father, has made clear to us in His Word, that which He requires in His house. We have been instructed "how to behave ourselves in the house of God" (1 Tim. 3:14,15). The general atmosphere of God‘s house is to be holy. "HOLINESS BECOMETH THINE HOUSE, O LORD, FOREVER" (Psa, 93:5). In the Bible we shall find all the instruction we need for maintaining harmony in God's house, for it is by the Scriptures that we are “thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16,17).
It is much more pleasant to speak of the harmonious and delightful aspects of God's family. However, it is painfully evident from the Bible itself that from time to time the order of God's household is disturbed and disrupted by some member or members and action has to be taken to restore both the disobedient member and the harmony of the home, Such acts of discipline are sometimes accompanied by distressing unpleasantness, but if we are to maintain Divine order in God's house we must submit to this aspect of truth with all the others.

A. WHERE IS CHURCH DISCIPLINE FIRST MENTIONED

As we learned earlier in this series of studies, Jesus was the first to speak of new covenant people as the "church." "I will bui1d my church" (Matt. 16:18). Here He announces His intention to build something which He calls "My church." What all is intended in the word church must await further unfolding of revelation. It is significant therefore, that before anything more is revealed as to the nature of the church, our Lord should refer to it the second time in connection with discipline, giving instruction as to how the members of the church should maintain a harmonious life together. (Matt. 18:15-35). All the wonderful things our Lord desires for His church can only be realized through the many-membered body, therefore, the functional unity of this body is absolute1y necessary. No amount of individual attainment is any substitute for the corporate growth and progress of the whole.

Therefore Jesus follows the statement of intention to build His church with instructions for the harmonious life of that church. Now let us see what our Lord taught on this occasion.

1. HOW TO SETTLE OUR DIFFERENCES (vs. 15-17)

a. THE FIRST STEP

Vs. 15 - "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 GAINEO THY BROTHER"

JBP - "But if your brother wrongs you, go and have it out with him at once JUST BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU. If he will listen to you, you have WON HIM BACK AS YOUR BROTHER."

This is probab1y one of the most important, and most neglected of all the scriptures on the matter of Christian behaviour. In the first place, when someone sins against us, we often do not go to him, but rather wait for him to come to us and make right his wrong. In the second place, we too often do not keep the matter "just between the two of us", but rather tell others how we have been wronged. In the third place, we are so hurt and angered by the sin, we are not much interested in "gaining our brother" but rather in getting revenge. Whi1e you have been sinned against he is the one who is the loser and needs to be "won." You have been sinned against, but he is the sinner. Your own hurt must take second place to your genuine Christian concern for your sinning brother's condition.

Sin is contagious. It must be isolated and wiped out. Quarantine it, don“t spread it! "Go and tell him his fault between THEE AND HIM ALONE. To involve others is to spread the germ and endanger the whole community of believers. If he will listen to you, and the matter can be settled, settle it and forget it! It is questionable, even though the matter has been resolved, if it should be mentioned to others.

Remember, this isn't just good human advice, but the command of our Lord. It is obvious that if this first step was faithfully followed, much disharmony in the churches of God would be eliminated.

b. THE SECOND STEP

Vs. 16 — "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."

If the sinning brother will not "hear thee" ("listen to you") you must not abandon the situation. You must take "two or three witnesses" (presumably "spiritual" fellow Christians) and try again to "gain thy brother."

Remember the purpose is not only to correct the wrong but to restore the wrong doer. Since it may have to be brought to the church it is necessary to have two or three witnesses to establish the true nature of the situation (Deut. 9:15; John 8:17; 2 Cor. 13:1). The witnesses will be chosen for their spiritual maturity and concern for the unity of the church. They will seek to bring the erring brother to restoration in a loving manner. Much depends on the way in which such things are done.

c. THE THIRD STEP

Vs. 17 ~ "And if he shall neglect to HEAR THEM, TELL IT UNTO THE CHURCH."

It might be well to borrow a word of caution at this point from a brother who has written, "let us first be sure that the trespass is not of the nature which love would lead us to forgive and pass over rather than take up, for in many things we ALL offend. Evidently it is sin of such a nature as may affect the fellowship of the assembly."

Having gone to the brother ALONE and having failed to gain a hearing and win him; and having then taken two or three witnesses. only to experience a similar rebuff; there is nothing left but to bring the matter to the church. Notice, however, that it is not for immediate "judgment." The church is first of all asked to entreat the man to repent and be restored. The church then seeks to reach the delinquent man and "convert him from the error of his ways."

d. THE FOURTH STEP

Vs. 17 ~ "If he neglect to HEAR THE CHURCH, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."

JBP - "And if he won't even LISTEN TO THE CHURCH then he must be to you just like a pagan ~ or a tax collector."

It is to be hoped that few situations reach this point. If a man withstands the loving entreaty of the entire church he shows himself to be unfit to continue in its fellowship. "He has excommunicated himself. God cannot forgive the impenitent and He does not expect us to do so." By this action he has denied his christian profession and must be so considered. The man is destroying himself, and if he was allowed to continue in the fellowship of the church. he would destroy the church also.

2. THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH (vs. 18-20)

When the church acts in obedience to Christ's commands, their "binding" and "loosing" is confirmed by "heaven." We are not here talking about rules governing some human society, but rather those which govern the church of Jesus Christ. This holy society of men and women is distinguished by the presence of Christ "in the midst." Those who gather in His Name and subject to His Word are assured of heaven's support. Let us be sure, however, that all of these factors are present as we make our profession of being His church.

3. THE LIMITS OF FORGIVENESS (vs. 21-35)

Peter, like many of us, wondered how often he must forgive a brother who sinned against him. This question was probably asked to see how the Master's answer would compare with the various teachings among the Jews. Some taught forgiveness for three offences. One Jewish teacher thought that forgiving a neighbor twice was sufficient. In the light of this, Peter's suggestion of seven was rather liberal. However, Jesus said "seventy times seven." Christian forgiveness is without limit. As often as forgiveness is sincerely sought it must be given.

Jesus then tells the story of a man who was forgiven a gigantic debt of some $10,000,000.00. He in turn refused to forgive one of his fellow servants a debt of $20.00. When the matter of the first man was found out, he then put the ungrateful fellow in jail and required that he remain there until he could pay the debt in full. The lesson is obvious. No man owes us the debt we owed to God. If God forgave us through Christ our $10,000,000.00 debt we must be willing to forgive the $20.00 debts owing to each other.

STUDY QUESTIONS FOR LESSON #22

  1. Are there rules governing church conduct?
  2. According to Psalm 93:5 what should characterize God's people?
  3. What did Jesus say about disharmony in the church?
  4. Give the four steps to be followed in settling our differences.
  5. What authority does the church have in maintaining order within its boundaries?