The First Step In Church Discipline

March 17, 2002 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos


A.   Meaning of Church Discipline

It is not a witch hunt, a way to get even, or an investigation of rumor. Church Discipline is the loving confrontations and gentle corrections or sometimes strict measures taken by an individual, church leaders or congregation regarding a matter of a known sin in the life of a believer (whether in practice or doctrine) for the purposes of restoring the sinner to a godly life, reconciling him to other brethren, maintaining purity and peace in the church, and ultimately vindicating the honor Christ.  

B.   PurposeS of church Discipline

  1. To glorify God by obedience to His instructions.
  2. To vindicate the integrity and honor of Christ.
  3. To maintain the purity of the church (1Co 5:6-8).
  4. To maintain or restore peaceful and loving relationships within the church (Php 2:1-2; 4:2)
  5. To bring sinner to repentance and restoration (2Ti 2:25; Mt 18:15; Gal 6:1).
  6. To deter others from sin (1Ti 5:20).
  7. To prevent God’s direct discipline (1Co 11:31; Rev 2:14-25).

C.   Who should be Disciplined?

All who claim to be believers and members of the church. (1Co 5:11 – “anyone who calls himself a brother.”)  

D.   Who are to discipline?

Individuals who are spiritual (Gal 6:1), congregation (Mt 18:17), church leaders (1Co 5:4; 6:5).  

E.   What Sins Necessitate Church Discipline

  1. Any sinful action, whether “big” or “small,” should be disciplined. The corrective action taken will vary according to the reaction of the offender, but known sin requires some response.
  2. sins of action (sins that are known and not hidden)
Evaluating an attitude alone is extremely difficult with our human limitations and judging what is in someone’s heart is simply wrong. A statement like “you have a bad attitude” is frustratingly vague and does not provide a solid foundation for discussion of the problem. The sins that call for discipline are those that are known and not hidden. We are not referring to motives that are hidden. We are not reading people’s minds.
  1. forbidden in Scripture.
We must not to discipline based on a mere preference outside of Scripture. Also, we must be careful to discipline from principle inferred from Scripture.
  1. sins against you that cannot be overlooked.
  2. If the sin creates an unreconciled relationship between you and the offender, so that you think often about the sin and think badly of him.
  • If you are not confident that the person is growing in the direction of Christlikeness by regularly confessing his sin and working to change.
  1. If you know that harm will come to others because of this sin.
  • On the other hand, if you don’t find the offense coming between you and the offender, if you know that he is confessing his sins and growing in the Lord, and you don’t know of any harm that will come to others from the sin, then you should be able to cover it.
  1. A question you could ask yourself when you think about confronting someone is this: In light of the next step in Matthew 18:16, would one or two more people of sound judgment consider this issue significant enough to go along with me? If not, then perhaps the problem should be overlooked at this time.

F.    Categories of Sins

There are four major categories of sins that call for church discipline. They cover all Christian behavior, both public and private, dealing with sin as it relates to Christian love, unity, standards, and truth.  
  1. Private and Personal Offenses that Violate Christian Love
Jesus commanded His disciples, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). This commandment is to be protected and upheld in the church (Gal 5:13; 1 Pet 4:8; 1 John 4:7). Paul reflected this in Galatians 5:20 when he warned against unloving offenses, including “strife, jealousy, [and] outbursts of anger.”  
  1. Violations of Christian unity--Divisiveness and Factions that Destroy the peace and unity of the church
Peace and unity in the local church are essential. Church leaders are responsible to note “those who cause dissensions…contrary to the teaching” and avoid them (Rom 16:17). Paul warned believers that the deeds of the flesh such as rivalries, divisions, sects, and envies will not be allowed in the kingdom of God. Churches are to avoid association with “a reviler” (1 Cor 5:11). Likewise John purposed to discipline a disorderly church leader (3 John 9–10). Those who destroy peace and unity must be watched, rebuked, and, if necessary, removed.  
  1. Violations of Christian Law. – Moral and Ethical Deviations that Break Christian Standards
Christian standards are violated by those who lead scandalous lives. Believers should not keep company with a so-called brother who is a fornicator or an idolater or a drunkard (1Co 5:11). 2Th 3:6 commands, “Keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life.” Paul was stressing that violation of the standard of proper Christian conduct was not to go undisciplined in the church. Believers are to separate themselves from other believers whose behavior is knowingly and rebelliously wrong:  
  1. Violations of Christian truth –Teaching False Doctrine or knowingly and rebelliously continue in doctrinal error (Gal 1:8; 1Ti 6:3-5, 20-21; 2Ti 2:24-26; Tit 1:9; 3:10-11).
This does not mean that Christians should be censured for failing to understand and receive every doctrine revealed in the Bible, for all Christians are learning and growing. Rather, this refers to those who knowingly reject doctrines the church considers essential. For pastors and church elders the standard is more rigid, since they are especially responsible to teach and defend “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).  

The Method of Church Discipline

  In Matthew 18 Jesus outlined four steps to be followed in implementing church discipline. Though Paul did not give such an outline, his writings add guidance for at least three of the four steps.

Step One—Tell Him His Sin Alone

In describing the method for discipline, Jesus began with private rebuke as the first step.   “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” (Matt 18:15).

A.   “Go”

  1. The word “go” implies that we are not to keep silent and mull over the offense against us till a root of bitterness develops in our hearts. We are not to think badly of the offender and despise him in our hearts. We are to seek their good even when they have wronged us. We are to exert every effort to make peace with our brother who has sinned against us.
  This principle is found in Lev 19:17-18 and emphasized in the NT. 17 Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. 18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.   Comment:
  • This is from God himself. This is not some kind of a suggestion but a command. God desires that we love one another and he watches us. He is the one who walks in the mids of the churches to see what we are doing with His command.
  • This command is not a matter of culture. Some object: “But I am a Filipino and I am not frank. I am a shy type. But God’s command here is for all.
  • This principle of love your neighbor as yourself is the contrast of the wrong attitude. This is so important that it is often used to summarize the whole law of God.
  1. It is quoted by Christ three times “love your neighbor as yourself” Mt 22:39; Mk 12:31; Lk 10:27
  2. Twice by Paul
  • Ro 13:9 “… whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
  • Gal 5:14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
  1. And by James
Jas 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right.  
  1. “Go” also implies that we are seek our brother quickly.
  The command of the Lord does not indicate that there should be any gap in time between the knowledge of a brother’s sin and the following confrontation. Christ does not want us merely to “pray for an opportunity” to talk to him. Rather you should set up a time to talk to the person as soon as possible.   Turn to Mt 5:23-25a to see that the Lord desires immediate reconciliation. Mt 5:23-25 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. 25 Settle matters quickly with your adversary…   Christ’s way of dealing with problems is not to postpone confrontation or other efforts at reconciliation, but to undertake them right away. While a problem is ignored, sin and guilt can snowball until they become an avalanche destroying the sinner himself and others hurt by his sin. The resolution God longs for will not happen until we go, so we must go quickly.   MacArthur: Discipline is difficult with people you know well because when you start talking about their sin, they may have something to say to you as well. It’s also difficult with people you don’t know well because you’re apt to say, “Who am I to do that?” Consequently we tend to be intimidated by the people we know and indifferent toward the people we don’t know. But it’s a responsibility Jesus has given us.   Note: There is one important step that Scripture places before confrontation--self-examination.   Mt 7:3-5 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.   Before we “go” we must examine ourselves and confess any sin that we find in our hearts.

B.   “Show him his fault”

  1. This part of Christ’s command implies that we should go purposefully to the sinning brother with the intention of talking to him about the problem. Christ does not want us to meet with the person for another purpose and mention the subject only if it comes up.
  The phrase “show him his fault” conveys the idea of proving or convincing someone of sin. Don’t just say, “Hey, I haven’t seen you at church, and I was just wondering—are you drifting around?” Confront the person, exposing the sin so that he is aware of it and understands that there is no escaping it.  
  1. “Show him his fault” comes from a Greek work which speaks of convincing somebody of something through words. The idea of the term is well presented in the King James Version, which says “go and tell him his fault.” The problem cannot be solved by certain facial expressions, subtle gestures, ignoring the person, or other nonverbal communication. It must be discussed with well-chosen words.
  This tells us the importance of Scripture in the process of confrontation. God’s words are the best-chosen words in the universe, and only they truly have the power to rectify the problem (cf. Heb. 4:12--For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.) When you go to show people their sin, make sure that you show them from the Bible.  
  1. Those words however should be applied carefully. Words, even God’s words can harm if not used wisely and carefully.
Pr 25:11 A word aptly spoken   is like apples of gold in settings of silver.     Illustration I posted a note in the mirror to rebuke my father   1Ti 5:8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

C.   “just between the two of you”

  Do it in private or “just between the two of you.”   If the suspected sin is not a matter of public knowledge, then it should be discussed among as few people as possible. In fact, initially the confrontation should be “one on one” without anyone else knowing about it.   The wisdom in this command of Christ is evident: it may not be necessary for anyone else to know about the problem because the sinning brother may repent or it may prove to be merely a misunderstanding. Therefore, the reputation of the offender can be protected.   Also, telling other people about the problem before going to the person involved is essentially gossip.   God wants you to be involved in the restoration process if your brother turns from his sin (Gal. 6:1-2), but it would be very difficult for him to trust you fully if you have told others about his problem before talking to him. (It would certainly be legitimate, however, to seek counsel about the issue without mentioning his name or otherwise revealing his identity.)  

D.   "If he listens to you,

Do not be too idealistic as to think that because you have followed this step, prayed about the matter and had all the right motives that it will turn out as good as you could ever expect. Jesus himself says, “if he listens to you.” It is possible that he will not listen but this is no reason to give up.

E.   you have won your brother over.

What do you seek to accomplish in the task of going and showing him his fault? It is not to show that you are better or more spiritual. Rather, it is to restore a broken relationship between the two of you caused by sin.   It is to restore the person to God. Sin represents a usurpation by man of that control of his life which belongs properly to God—man’s rejection of the reign of God in his life. (cf. Jas 5:1-5)   Jas 5:1-5 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  

F.    With patience (four steps)

Mt 18:16 But if he will not listen to you…
  If he does not listen to you, you should not give up immediately. You should be patient. Take note that there are still other steps to go through when the first steps do not work.   Summary:   How should we go about the first step of Church discipline?
  1. Go and deal with our brother and not despise others in our hearts.
  2. We are not to gossip about it or publicly announce the sin yet until the whole process is accomplished.
  3. Deal with it quickly, ASAP
  4. Privately
  5. We shouldn’t just hope that the conversation will lead to the issue.
  6. Let us examine our motives first.
  7. Verbally with carefully chosen words
  8. With the purpose of winning over the brother
  9. With patience just in case it doesn’t work immediately.