How The Church Should Respond When The Disciplined Repents

April 21, 2002 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  Step 1 informal confrontation. One on one in private. Step 2 informal confrontation. Bring along one or two others, in private. Step 3 formal and public announcement and confrontation. Tell it to the church. If it does not work. Then… step 4: Excommunication.   How should the church family respond when church discipline leads to genuine repentance? The last two discipline consists of formal and public announcement and confrontation and then to excommunication. Shame, embarrassment, depression, sorrow leading to repentance has come to the individual.   Often the tendency is to keep the repentant offender at a distance. Full restoration to joyful fellowship with God’s people is frequently denied. There is always a strain in the relationship that happens. They don’t want to talk to the individual. He is continued to be looked down upon. Christians continue to look to him with suspicion.   Now this case is not unique to our times. Even in NT times this occurred. (Man has not changed!) This was a problem with which the Corinthian church struggled. This is referred to by Paul in 2 Co 2:5-6.   In 2:7-8 Paul gives us instructions on what to do when the disciplined repents. The instructions of the apostle highlight believer’s responsibility to a repentant sinner: “forgive,” “comfort,” and “reaffirm…love.”   Before looking into that in more detail, let us look at the background to this incident.  
Background and Setting
Paul’s visit to Corinth began on his second missionary journey, where he spent 18 months ministering there (Acts 18:1–18). After leaving Corinth, Paul heard of reports of immorality in the Corinthian church and wrote a letter (since lost) to confront that sin, referred to in 1 Cor. 5:9—“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people…”   During his ministry in Ephesus, he received further reports of trouble in the Corinthian church in the form of divisions among them (1 Cor. 1:11). In addition, the Corinthians wrote Paul a letter (1Co. 7:1) asking for clarification of some issues. Paul responded by writing the letter known as 1 Corinthians. Planning to remain at Ephesus a little longer (1 Cor. 16:8, 9), Paul sent Timothy to Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10, 11).   Disturbing news reached the apostle (possibly from Timothy) of further difficulties at Corinth, including the arrival of false apostles. To create the platform to teach their false gospel, they began by assaulting the character of Paul. They had to convince the people to turn from Paul to them if they were to succeed in preaching false doctrine.   Temporarily abandoning the work at Ephesus, Paul went immediately to Corinth. This visit Paul calls a “painful visit in 2:1 and it was not a successful one from Paul’s perspective. Why?   During or after that painful visit, someone in the Corinthian church sinned against Paul. It is not clear what the nature of the sin was. Some suggest that this individual opposed a representative of Paul, after that visit. Others say that Paul’s authority was disrespected or challenged at some point in the course of that visit. He was openly and strongly insulted. The offender may be the same person who headed the opposition against Paul at Corinth and objected in particular to his disciplinary methods.   Whether he was a member of the Corinthian church or someone visiting them is not clear.  Paul did, however, regard him as a Christian.   And what was the response of the Corinthians? Apparently, the Corinthians failed to realize the implications of the offense. They did not realize the connection between a challenge to Paul’s authority and their own spiritual well-being. They had regarded this as a personal problem requiring no action on their parts.   Saddened by the Corinthians’ lack of loyalty to defend him, seeking to spare them further reproof (cf. 1:23), and perhaps hoping time would bring them to their senses, Paul returned to Ephesus. From Ephesus, Paul wrote what is known as the “severe letter” (2:4) and sent it with Titus to Corinth.   This letter made them realize their sin. The response of the Corinthians is found in 2Co 7:8-11. 2CO 7:8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while-- 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.   Later, Paul learned about their response to that letter from Titus when he returned from Corinth. Paul was greatly relieved and rejoiced to hear the news that the majority of the Corinthians had repented of their rebellion against Paul (7:7) and the majority disciplined the individual.   Unfortunately, the discipline was a bit too much. Paul had reason to believe that their pendulum might swing too far. They were no longer dispassionate spectators of the wrongdoer, and might become impassioned prosecutors.   The offender was apparently repentant but the church has come to a point of persecuting him. In that case he would be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.   What should be their response? Part of this 2 letter to the Corinthians is his instructions how the Corinthian church should treat the repentant brother.     Paul gives us three instructions:   Read 2Co 2:7-8. Three instructions from Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:7–8 highlight believer’s responsibility to a repentant sinner: “forgive,” “comfort,” and “reaffirm…love.”   The last two steps of church discipline (public announcement and public exclusion) are like a powerful drug that can bring either healing or great harm, depending on how it is administered. To help assure that spiritual healing results from church discipline the offender should be (a) told of the church’s forgiveness, (b) encouraged in his or her Christian life and growth, and (c) shown tangible evidence of ajgavph love.   Instead of continuing or increasing the punishment, the Corinthians ought to rescue the man from inordinate grief and complete his reformation by forgiving and encouraging him and by publicly reaffirming their love for him. This would serve to assure the wrongdoer that God had, in fact, forgiven him (cf. "binding" and "loosing" in Mt 16:19; 18:18; Jn 20:23).     The method & purpose of Paul's forgiveness are then defined.
  1. First to forgive was to obey Christ who gave the command to forgive. Their obedience to Paul was obedience to Christ. (cf. 1Th 4:8)
  2. Forgiveness was to honor Christ who looked on as witness. . "in the sight of Christ,"
  3. Forgiveness was good for the congregation. ("for your sake"), i.e., to preserve their unity.
  4. Forgiveness would avoid being outwitted by Satan. To withhold forgiveness when the man was repentant may create a situation that Satan may use to his advantage” by creating bitterness, discord, and dissension in the church.
      Actual Case Jerry Wragg


Mary unrighteously divorced her husband. She rebelled against the Word of God and the counsel of those who one day would give account for her before God (Hebrews 13:17).   All of the [three] steps were taken with Mary, but she refused to repent and restore her marriage relationship. Therefore, we had no other alternative than to remove her from the membership of Grace Church.   First, we sent this letter [by registered mail], informing her that all steps toward restoration had been exhausted. Then, we had no alternative, as difficult as it was, but to remove her from the fellowship. [We made the date for public disclosure clear and reasonable.   Dear             ,   I find great difficulty in writing this letter to you. The relationship that God has permitted us to experience together spans the distance between deep joys and intense trials. But, this present situation really tests the quality of our love. Above all else, my desire is that you will sense the love that motivates this letter. My love for you compels me to pursue that which is best for you.   At our last meeting in my office with your husband, you made it clear that your motive for divorcing your husband had nothing to do with any response to immorality in his life. Rather, it was your own personal choice not to live with him due to various traits in his life that are negative to you. It is incumbent upon me, as a representative of the Board of Elders, to respond to your decision to divorce your husband on these terms. God records nothing in the Scripture that would permit such a decision. Therefore, I must apply the biblical injunctions against your divorce action.   Fellowship in the Grace Community congregation will be withheld from you until such a time as you request a change of status through my office. This will be announced publicly in accord with God's Word.   I do hope that you will receive this in the spirit of love in which it is intended. My prayer is that soon you would return to your husband and family and permit God to do His work of perfection there.   May God keep you and guide you. Sincerely in the love of Christ,     Then, John announced, as part of our next Communion service, that Mary was being publicly withdrawn from fellowship at Grace Church. This heartbreaking moment was absolutely necessary to keep the church pure and obey God's instructions in such matters. Our whole purpose in all of this was Mary's restoration to her husband, her Lord, and her church.   Not all church discipline in its final stages leads to restoration. But in Mary's case it did. After some time had passed, she realized the sinfulness of her behavior and repented from it. She asked the Lord's forgiveness and the forgiveness of the church. Mary was publicly restored to the fellowship of Grace [Community Church].   Mary sensed the gravity of her sin and asked that she be allowed to make a statement before the elders. She attended our elders' meeting and expressed her sorrow over the sin and her love for the church in dealing with the sin.  Through it all, Christ was glorified—tears of joy moistened Mary's eyes while she communicated her own peace with God because her sin had been confronted and corrected. The elders overwhelmingly sensed that Satan had been defeated and that God was glorified. This last step is not commanded by Scripture, but Mary wanted to do this as a personal expression of gratitude to the elders for loving her enough to discipline sin.