Sins That Require Church Discipline

March 10, 2002 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We will now return to our series Christian Perfection. We diverted for a while to the subject of Assurance of Salvation because of our need to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. It is important to know that we are saved if we are to become members of the local church. Now that we already have our first official members of SDG we will now return to the topic where we left off.   Once more, let me remind us all that the New Testament tells us that Christian perfection should be the greatest personal goal of the Christian and that there are three important factors needed in order for the believer to reach that: (1) personal effort. (2) corporate effort, and (3) God’s effort.   Just before our diversion to the topic of assurance, we started to look at corporate effort, focusing on church discipline. I praise God for those of you who have already decided and are in fact already members of the local church, whether here at SDG or in another sound church, because whether you realize it or not, committing yourself to a church that knows its purpose as the body of Christ will make the goal of Christian perfection more attainable than if you were to strive with your own efforts isolated from other believers. As we learned Christian perfection, to be attained requires not only personal effort, but also corporate effort. We need other believers to help us become what Christ intended for us to be.   Going back to church discipline, our focus on corporate effort, we have already looked at the introduction. We saw why Christians are sometimes afraid of it, we also saw its benefits.   Church Discipline functions in the same way as the rod of discipline works in the life of a child. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” Its results are no different from the results of God’s discipline found in Heb 12:10-11--Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.   We also learned the purposes of church discipline. Church discipline is not primarily for punishment but rather for restoration. It is in order to restore a brother or sister who has sinned so that he or she may again pursue a life of holiness growing towards perfection in Christ.   Illustration Jay Adams in his book, ‘Handbook of Church Discipline’ wrote, “ God is running a school in which He expects learning to take place. To bring about that learning, He has ordered His church to enforce strict rules of discipline . . . Thus, discipline is not, as many have thought, simply the negative task of removing troublemakers out of the church. Rather, first above all, it is God’s provision for good order in His church that creates conditions for the instruction and growth of the members. Discipline has a positive function.”   Today as we go back to the topic of church discipline, I would like us to look at the steps in implementing church discipline from the teaching of Christ in Mt 18:15-17. For today’s study, we will focus only on v.15   Mt 18:15-17 If your brother sins against you, [c] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  


Jesus begins His teaching in Matthew 18:15 by saying, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” ~ In that verse and throughout the rest of the passage, He uses first person singular pronouns to indicate that each member of the church is responsible to be involved in confronting sin and resolving conflict in the body of Christ.   MacArthur Who is the star of verse 15? You, not some discipline committee. Discipline is not just for church officials; it’s for everyone, including those who lead in the church. In fact, Galatians 6:1 tells us exactly who should do it: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restore such an one.” Those who are walking in the Spirit, who are obeying the Word, and who are in the fellowship should restore the fallen brother. How should it be done? “In the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”   The purity of the church is every Christian’s concern. We all need to humbly and lovingly confront that which makes it impure when we become aware of it. Don’t just say, “Well, we’re praying for So-and-so that he’ll see the light.” That may not be enough. You’ve got the light—take it and shine it in his eyes!   Jesus says that if you know that another Christian has sinned, or if you have been sinned against by another Christian, then you need to confront that person about the problem. It is not right to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the situation, and it is not good enough to tell others and let them “handle it” for you.   Each member of the body has a personal responsibility when he or she knows about a problem in the church. We cannot say, “ano ang pakialam ko diyan?” Am I my brother’s keeper? To say that is to maintain an attitude that is no different from the attitude of Cain who murdered his brother Abel. That’s what he said.   God wants each of us to be a “watchman” who warns our brothers of impending harm (
  • Eze 3:16-21 17 Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for [a] his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. | 20 Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 21 But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself."
  • Pr 24:11-12 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. 12 If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?
  When we realize our responsibility to talk with others about their problems, however, many questions come to mind.
  • Should I confront any Christian who sins or just those whom I know well?
  • Should I confront every sin I know about, or just “the big ones”?
  • What should be my attitude when I confront, and what method can prevent making the problem worse or making the person hate me?
  • And because such negative outcomes are often possible, why should I even risk confronting someone?
All those questions and more are answered by Jesus in Matthew 18:15.

II.    WHOM SHOULD WE discipline or confront?

  The kind of person Jesus says we should confront is a “brother.” Mt 18:15-17 If your brother sins against you…  you have won your brother over.   The term “brother” implies someone who professes to be a Christian and identifies himself or herself with the community of a biblical church. According to 1Ti 3:15, the local church is a household of God so that its members are commonly called brethren.   The apostle John uses the term “brother” many times in his letters, and the way he uses it helps us to understand its meaning in Matthew 18:15. Here are some examples:
  • 2:9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
  • 2:10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him [c] to make him stumble.
  • 3:15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
  • 4:20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
  First, his wording indicates that the term “brother” meant anyone who shared a common belief and fellowship with others in the churches. It was not limited to those who were blood relatives, close friends or compadres. Sometimes we use the term brother for countrymen. Mga kapatid nating Moslem. Boholanons call that “sano”. But in this particular case, John was referring to those who belonged to the church.   Second at least the so –called brother claims to be a Christian. 1Jn.2:9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. This implies that the one who claims to be in the light is also a brother.   Third, John’s words make clear that “brother” may even be a genuine believer but is committing sin. 1Jn.5:16 If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.   Who are we to confront according to Paul? (1Co 5:9-11) Here Paul is telling the Corinthian church to carry out the final step of church discipline, which involves putting an incestuous man out of the fellowship of the church. 1Co 5:9-11 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.   Notice that Paul says the process of church discipline is not designed for “the immoral people of this world,” but only for those who call himself a brother but is immoral in some way. Thus our responsibility to confront specific sin is limited to those who claim to be Christians and share fellowship with others in a Bible-believing church.   When it comes to unsaved people or those who call themselves “Christians” but adhere to a false doctrinal system, our responsibility is to evangelize them. We may discuss some specific sin with them, but it would only be for the purpose of helping them to see their sinfulness and need for a Savior
  • Ro 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
  • Gal 3: 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ [h] that we might be justified by faith.


Jesus says that we should confront our brother if he “sins,” but what exactly does He mean by this? Should we confront everything we see in someone else that could possibly be wrong, or should we only confront some sins that are “big ones”?   Because of the potential extremes in this matter, it will be helpful to provide a clear and complete answer to this question. The broader scope of Scripture indicates that we should discipline any brother who ommits any action that is forbidden in Scripture and cannot be overlooked.   Let us try to evaluate each part of that answer carefully.   Any sinful action, whether “big” or “small,” should be DISCIPLINED (if it cannot be overlooked).   All breaches of the biblical standards of doctrine and behavior require some form of dicipline. The corrective action taken will vary according to the reaction of the offender, but known sin requires some response. The Bible does not distinguish between “serious” sins, which are open to confrontation, and “minor” sins, which are not. The Greek word for “sins” in Matthew 18:15 (hamartano) is a general term used for any kind of sin.
  • 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
  • 6:15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
  New Testament examples of sins that were confronted in the early church contain a great variety. They include heinous crimes such as sexual immorality, idolatry, drunkenness (1Cor 5:11), and false teaching (Gal. 1:9; 2 John 9-11), as well as many “everyday” sins like covetousness, hurtful speech, cheating (1Cor 5:11), legalism (Gal. 2:11-14), divisiveness (Titus 3:9-11), personal conflict (Phil. 4:2), deceit (Acts 5:1-6), and even laziness (2Thes 3:6-13).   Discipline Only sins of action Evaluating an attitude alone is extremely difficult with our human limitations and judging what is in someone’s heart is simply wrong. Ro 14:4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 1Co 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.   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 of Action which necessitate church discipline can be divided into 4 major categories:  
  1. Violations of Christian love. This includes private offenses against a brother or sister. [1]
  MacArthur What sins need to be corrected? Note that the sin is “against thee.” If someone punched you in the nose because he was angry with you or stole from you, deceived you, lied to you, abused you, slandered you, or committed a crime of immorality against you, those would be sins directly against you.  
  1. Violations of Christian unity – divisive actions which destroy peace of the church.
Ro 16:17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. Tit 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. Gal 5:19-21The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:.. hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy  
  1. Violations of Christian Law. –violations of ethical codes and guidelines as are set forth in the NT and OT.
  • 1Co 6:9-10 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 … drunkards
  1. Violations of Christian truth -- Rejection of essential doctrines of the faith
1Ti 6:3-5 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. Tit 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 2Jn 1:7-11 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.   Discipline only when he or she acts in a way forbidden in Scripture.  
  1. That means we must be careful not to discipline based on a mere preference outside of Scripture.
Ro 14:1-12 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. 11 It is written:  "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,  'every knee will bow before me;   every tongue will confess to God.'" [a] 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.  
  1. We must be careful to discipline from principle inferred from Scripture by “exegetical gymnastics” and wrongly elevated to a universal standard.
  • Dt 22:5 A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this. Many use this to mean that women should never wear pants but this verse only forbids transvestitism.
  • 1Th 5:22: “Avoid every kind of evil.” That verse speaks about avoiding false teaching, but Christians have often used it to condemn practices they simply don’t like.
  1. In matters outside the clear teaching of Scripture, each person should be “fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5) but should also be very careful not to judge his brother (Rom. 14:4, 10, 13).
  Finally, confront personal sins that cannot be overlooked.
  • Pr 19:11 A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.
  • 1Pe 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
  If we took the time to confront every possible sin that other Christians commit, we would probably have little time for anything else. Inconsiderate words and actions, selfish oversights, and prideful thoughts expressed in some way are rampant in any body of believers and particularly common in family relationships. Many of those offenses do not need to be discussed, but can be overlooked.   Growing in biblical love and humility will help you to cover more and more offenses (especially those committed against you), and growing in biblical wisdom can help you to decide what sins should not be overlooked because of their harmful consequences.  Love covers a multitude of sins, but sometimes sin throws the covers off.     So how can we know whether to cover or confront in a particular situation?   When the following conditions exist, it becomes unloving and wrong to ignore the problem:  
  1. 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, then confrontation is necessary for the sake of unity in the body
Mt 5:23-24 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.  
  1. If you are not confident that the person is growing in the direction of Christlikeness by regularly confessing his sin and working to change, then confronting his sin may be the only way to expose his spiritual inertia and help him to avoid God’s chastening.
Heb 3:12-13 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. Jas 5:19-20 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.   
  1. If you know that there will be consequences of this sin that will hurt others in the offender’s life, then for their sake you should make sure that he has recognized his wrong and repented from it
  • Mt 18:6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
  • 1Co 12:26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
  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.   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.     [1] 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). Matthew 5:23–24 and 18:15 {Matt 18:15} are given to help guard the church in this respect. Paul reflected this in Galatians 5:20 when he warned against unloving offenses, including “strife, jealousy, [and] outbursts of anger.” Jesus prescribed the method of discipline in such cases in Matthew 18:15–18. Refusal to repent and be reconciled is a severe aggravation of the sin involved and a continued breach of Christian love.
  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 a drunkard. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:11, “Do not participate in [literally, “do not have fellowship with”] the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose [or reprove] them.” Second Thessalonians 3:6 {2 Thess 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.
  1. Violations of Christian truth –Teaching False Doctrine
In Titus 1:9–11 Paul wrote that an elder is to be “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” And in 3:10 {Titus 3:10} he urged, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” Several other passages also speak to this matter (1 Tim 1:19–20; 6:3–5 {1 Tim 6}; 2 John 7–11). Of course 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). They are to maintain all the doctrines of the Scripture (especially as embodied in their church’s creed), and are liable to discipline if they fail to do so (1 Tim 3:2,9; Titus 1:9; James 3:1).   In summary, any believer who teaches contrary to the apostolic (biblical) fundamentals, thereby causing dissension, is an offender. One who propagates a theological position that leads another believer to stumble (hindrance) in daily practice is to be disciplined. There is debate on what constitutes a false teaching, but certainly at minimum it includes anything contrary to the basic elements of faith. Paul emphasized, however, the results of incorrect doctrine (dissensions and hindrances). Anyone who teaches a doctrine that brings disunity and confusion into the church or an individual believer’s life is pushing the perimeters of corrective discipline.