Discipline Is a Corporate Issue – Not Just a Personal One
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
In fact, we ARE our brother’s keeper! It has been drilled into our minds that we shouldn’t judge others, or we will be judged in the same fashion. But Jesus clearly provides us with a path of reconciliation when there has been a wrongdoing between the redeemed. The hardest part is the initial confrontation. But we are told to do it anyways. Proverbs 9:8 states that a wise person will love you if you rebuke them. A person who has tuned their heart to God will want to know if they are doing something unrighteous – they have purposed their heart to do right. Pointing out a wrongdoing helps them to learn, grow, be wiser, and better honor God.
And while everyone is at a different point in their walk with God, and we aren’t the Holy Spirit, we should confront those who are sinning against us personally or sinning openly. If you see someone engaging in open sin, it needs to be addressed. They will become leaven, and a little leaven will leaven the whole lump of dough. You don’t want your local church to be known as, “the people who do everything the world does.”
Sometimes when the person sins, they are deeply steeped in their sin. Since sin blinds us to itself, there is the possibility that the person won’t acknowledge that they are doing something wrong. When that happens, it is time to take it to the next level.
When a person refuses to acknowledge their sin against you (or open sin), it is now necessary to confront them with two or more witnesses. Since you are a witness, you only need one or two more people with you. The purpose of the additional witnesses is two-fold:
- By two or more witnesses shall all charges be established
- Additional people bring weight to what you are saying:
- They may be upset with you and unable to hear what you are saying, but they might listen to someone else
- In the event that a confrontation went bad when you were alone, the other person will be much more hesitant to do something with others around
If a second (and possibly third) person sees what you see and agrees that there is an issue, have them accompany you when you go to confront the person again. They will be able to help confirm what you are seeing, or, perhaps they will not see it; perhaps YOU are in error! Either way, having a fresh set of eyes look at something will help confirm the issue or to eliminate personal bias and show why it is not an issue.
You should carefully choose whom you tell about this issue – anyone that you confide in should be spiritually mature. If possible, choose Elders in the church that THEY attend for witnesses. The Elders (hopefully!) have been selected, among other reasons, because they are full of the Spirit of God and spiritually mature. It is important that when addressing sin within the body that it be done in such a way that it does not appear to be someone gossiping or being petty. Elders can help with confidentiality as well as guide you in the best manner to approach them again, even and especially if you approached the person prayerfully and with great humility.
The sad part is, some people just won’t listen. A root of bitterness may have become deeply embedded in their heart. It could also be a pride issue. Whatever the reason, the person hasn’t responded to you and the one or two witnesses who came with you to talk to him/her after praying (and I recommend fasting). When this happens, it is time to take it to the next level.
Tell it to the Church (the local body of believers where THEY are worshiping). The purpose of telling the Church is so that they can approach the person with humility, tell them that they are praying for them, and exhort them to do what it right in God’s eyes. The whole purpose of this exercise is to reconcile people. The Church isn’t to condemn the person, but to lovingly bring them back from the precipice of sin.
And if after telling the Church the person refuses to repent, it is now time to take it to the next level.
The local body of believers are now to expel the immoral believer. Even corporately, they were unable to convince this person to repent. They should now ask them to leave the body, and refuse them worship and communion. They shouldn’t even associate with them:
- Don’t talk to them
- Don’t eat with them
- Don’t worship with them
- And in the power of the Holy Spirit, turn them over to Satan
The purpose of this is to show them that they are in error. When Satan has his way with them, and God doesn’t help them, they will be miserable and greatly desire fellowship with the Church and God again.
Paul had this to say about separating yourself from unrepentant sinners in the Church (this concerns the sin of sexual immorality, but applies to all unrepentant sin):
9 I wrote to 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 to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
(Just a quick note – the verb translated “Expel” [exareite in the Greek] is an imperative command, not a suggestion!)
And after a period of painful separation, with the Holy Spirit working on their hearts, they will hopefully turn again to the God who saved them, provides for them, has forgiven them, and joins them to Himself.
Reconciliation is Required
Once they repent, let them come back into the Church. Monitor them carefully, and when they have proven themselves repentant and following God, restore them. Again, this entire process is about reconciliation, not shunning or judging. We are told to judge those within the body. But also remember – we need to give grace to those who are young in the faith. For God doesn’t want us to injure those whose faith is young and fragile.
A Qualifying Question
So, let’s ask ourselves a question: Are we corporately following scripture with regard to keeping the leaven out of the Church, and restoring the repentant believers?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, Thank You for giving us a way to address issues between brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray that anytime we need to be reconciled, that we would have a right heart attitude, and that the other person would have a heart of humility and repentance as well. Help me to make sure that I am in the right attitude when I approach any brother or sister in Christ with such an issue. Give me the words to say, and guide my actions and thoughts as I approach them. Father, instill in us a greater sense of Your Holiness, that we would desire that the body of Christ would worship You in Truth and Spirit. Let us not, for the sake of “peace”, ignore sin in the body, and so make it a haven for leaven. Search our hearts, O God, and see if there is any wrongdoing within us. Help us to rid ourselves of sin and walk in righteousness before You. And when politics in the church cause people to be unfairly treated, I pray Lord God Almighty that You would deal with the hearts of those causing the issue, and show them the truth. And if they don’t respond after repeated attempts, Lord God, remove them from their position of authority or influence, for their hearts are no longer in the right place to righteously lead or counsel Your people. This I ask and pray in Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.
Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?