The Matter of Church Discipline

early-christians1

 

The Matter of Church Discipline

“Moreover 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 gained thy brother. 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. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (Mat_18:15-35)

In this passage our Lord and Savior anticipates two things. First, he anticipates the fact that differences would arise among his disciples, causing offenses. It is a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless, that God’s people in this world are sinners still. We love one another; but those who are the objects of our most ardent love are the very people we are most apt to offend. The offenses are excuseless. We ought to exercise great care not to offend. But offend we do. What husband, wife, son, or daughter has not wept bitterly after needlessly offending one in the family dearly loved? Paul and Barnabas were both brethren, faithful servants of God. But they had a falling out over John Mark. Yes, God’s people, true believers, often trespass against one another.

Second, the Savior anticipates the gathering of his saints as local congregations. At the present time, they assembled in synagogues and in the temple. But that would soon cease to be. Shortly after the resurrection local churches were formed, visible societies of baptized believers. Our Savior had already spoken of building his church in his commendation of Peter’s confession (Mat_16:18). So the disciples were already familiar with the term. The things our Lord teaches in this passage are not instructions about the Jewish synagogues, but instructions about local churches. Particularly, he is giving us instruction about the matter of church discipline (1Co_5:1; 1Co_6:1; 1Ti_1:20). John Gill asserts, correctly, that these words are “spoken not to the apostles as such, but as believers in Christ, and concern everyone that stands in the relation of a brother, or church member to each other.” In the passage of Scripture, our Savior gives us a direct command for the discipline of his house and lays down general guidelines that are to be followed.

Caution

Men are ever prone to extremes. So a word of caution is in order. Church discipline is not a prominent issue in the New Testament. It is rarely mentioned. And the only place in the New Testament in which fairly full instructions about it are given is here in Matthew 18. Yet, men commonly run to one of two extremes regarding this matter. Some ignore the matter altogether. Others go to great lengths to write out rules and regulations of discipline that far exceed the teachings of The New Testament, and enforce them rigorously. Personally, I am far more concerned about getting sinners converted and into the kingdom of God than I am about getting sinners out of it.

            Throughout this chapter, our Savior tells us to love one another. He tells us that we must always deal with our brethren in kindness, showing tenderness and affection. All believers are members of Christ’s body, brothers and sisters of Jesus, and of one another in Christ. In Christ we are all one (1 Corinthians 12). Robert Hawker wrote…

“To the little infirmities, which from the remains of indwelling corruption, may, and will, occasionally break out, how precious is the direction of Jesus. Oh! that it were more generally adopted in the Church of Christ! And what an unanswerable argument doth the Lord here leave upon record, for the constant meeting together of his whole body, both in private and public ordinances (Zec_2:5; Zec_2:10-11; Mat_20:28).”

Guidelines

First, our Savior gives us a word of instruction about church discipline, and lays down specific guidelines that are to be followed (Mat_18:15-18).

“Moreover 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 gained thy brother. 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. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Without question, there are many difficulties surrounding the whole issue of church discipline. I know that I am not going to settle these difficulties in this study. That is not my intention. I only want to show you that which is obvious in the passage. I will say no more than the text says and no less. But I must show you what is taught in this passage of Scripture. In these verses our Lord Jesus gives us three admirable, simple rules for the healing of differences among brethren. And the rules are accompanied with a blessed promise.

Sinners in this world, though washed in the blood of Christ and sanctified by his spirit, are sure to offend one another from time to time. The offences spoken of in our text are not petty gripes, personality clashes, and silly spats, about which it is utterly ridiculous and totally unchristian for grown men and women to be divided. The offences spoken of here are radical and, if left unsettled, destructive. All matters of insignificance are to be treated as such (Mat_5:38-42). Because our Lord does not name the offences, we must look elsewhere in the New Testament where discipline was practiced or exercised to see what disciplinary offences are. The disciplinary offences set forth in the New Testament may be summarized in four groups.

Financial, Business Offences (1Co_6:1-8)

Divisive, Bickering Offences (1Co_3:17; Eph_4:29 to Eph_5:1)

Clearly Established, Publicly Known Moral Offences – The Incestuous Man (1Co_5:1-5)

Heretical, Doctrinal Offences. (1Ti_1:20; 2Ti_2:17-18; Tit_3:10)

These are issues that must be dealt with, because they are things that endanger the welfare of the whole church, things that harm the family of God, and bring reproach upon the cause of Christ. Sometimes, in a household, a father who loves his family is forced by a rebel son to put the son out of the house. A loving father would never do so because he is embarrassed by his son’s behavior, or personally shamed by it. But, when the rebel son’s behavior endangers the welfare of the family, a loving father is forced to put him out of the house. He does not disown his son, or cease to love his son. And he will receive his son back into his home with open arms and joyful heart at any time, if the son’s behavior changes (Luk_15:20). But he cannot allow one child, that he dearly loves, to endanger the well-being of the whole family. So it is with the family of God.

The steps to be taken in discipline are clearly established, so that those who have offended may be most easily won with the least public scandal. The object is to win your brother, not to punish him, reproach him, or destroy him. Therefore, every effort must be made to correct the erring brother. All matters of offense are to be handled as privately as possible, making every effort to avoid humiliation and embarrassment.

As a last resort, our Lord says, “tell it unto the church.” That does not necessitate a public hearing. I cannot imagine anything more contrary to the whole New Testament than having a public trial, parading the offenses of erring members! And these words, “tell it unto the church,” forbid discipline by a church council. Discipline is a matter for each local church, to be handled by the appointed pastors and elders of that local assembly.

The promise of Mat_18:18 must be understood properly. — “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This does not mean that men can bend the will of God to their own will, but that God has a clearly revealed principle to which the church must conform. The text would be better translated – “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound, etc.” In other words, when the church of God follows Christ’s instruction in this matter, it conforms in its decisions to that which God has already done. This kind of discipline may be laughed at or ignored by men, but it is done with God’s authority and God’s approval.

Public Worship

In Mat_18:19 our Savior shows us the blessedness of public prayer. In Mat_18:20 he shows us the blessedness of public worship. Mat_18:19 gives particular encouragement to united, public prayer. Remember, the whole context is talking about the local church. This verse is not calling for the confusion of many voices in prayer, but the union of believing hearts in prayer. — “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” Matthew Henry wrote, “Besides the general regard God has to the prayers of the saints, he is particularly pleased with their union and communion in these prayers (2Ch_5:13-14; Act_4:31).”

In Mat_18:20 the Lord Jesus promises his presence with his people whenever they come together for worship in his name. — “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Numbers mean everything to men. They mean nothing to God. Our Savior here promises his presence whenever and wherever ransomed sinners meet together to worship God, though they are as few in number as two or three. Whenever and wherever two or three come together in his name (that is to say, trusting his blood and righteousness, calling upon his name, and seeking to honor his name), to pray, give praise to God, to hear his word, to attend his ordinances, and to seek his grace, the Son of God says, “there am I in the midst of them.”

When God’s saints thus meet together in public worship, the local church is “an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph_2:22), and the temple of God’s presence (1Co_3:16). Our Savior is always present in the assembly of his saints. He presides over all our meetings, rules in our midst, directs our hearts, and bestows his blessings in his holy place. Do not fail to observe that the only place in this world where men are assured of Christ’s presence is in the assembly of his saints. That makes public worship vital to our souls and a matter of highest honor and blessing. It is a privilege never to be despised (Heb_10:25-26).

Forgiveness

In Mat_18:21-22 our Lord answers a question raised by Peter about the matter of forgiveness.

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”

Remember the context. Everything here is directly related to believers in general and to matters concerning local churches in particular. These two verses have nothing to do with civil law or civil government. The welfare of society demands law and order, which cannot be maintained without the punishment of crime. Our Lord does not suggest that we are to tolerate thefts, assaults, or injuries to property with impunity. As J. C. Ryle stated, “All that he means is that, we are to study a general spirit of mercy and forgiveness towards our brethren. We are to learn much and put up with much rather than quarrel. We are to look over much and submit to much, rather than have any strife.” Such a spirit of mercy, forgiveness, and longsuffering is contrary to the flesh. So we struggle with it. But it is absolutely essential to Christianity (Mat_6:15).

A Parable

After telling Peter, and us, that we should constantly forgive one another, our Savior gives us a parable about forgiveness in Mat_18:23-35, comparing our sins to a debt we owed to God and the forgiveness of our sins by the blood of Christ to the cancellation of the debt.

“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”

Sin is a debt. It is a debt we cannot pay. But God our Father has freely forgiven us all our debt. And he is ready, willing, and able to forgive guilty sinners of their debt, granting forgiveness to all who seek it by faith in Christ (1Jn_1:9). The basis upon which he grants forgiveness is the satisfaction of his justice by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom_3:24-26). The cause of forgiveness is his mercy and compassion toward sinners. And all who sue for mercy receive forgiveness (Isa_55:6-7).

The object of our Lord in giving this parable is obvious. The parable is given to show us, sinners who have obtained (and continually obtain) the free and full forgiveness of countless sins by Christ, that we ought to readily and freely forgive one another. It is both our reasonable responsibility and our great privilege to forgive all offenses committed against us. It is a reasonable duty because we are forgiven. And it is a blessed privilege, because in forgiving one another, we are allowed to imitate our great and gracious God in his most glorious work — FORGIVENESS!

“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Eph_4:32 to Eph_5:2).

Would you win a fallen brother? Show him forgiveness. Would you prove your faith? Forgive those who trespass against you. Would you grow in grace? Practice forgiveness. Would you be like God? Forgive those who offend you. Forgive, and forgive, and forgive, relentlessly, freely, and sincerely. The best discipline in all the world is the discipline of forgiveness (2Co_2:7-8).

_______________________________________________________________________

    Source :       Fortner’s Works -( e-Sword modules) 

Discovering Christ in Matthew
In a conversational tone, Fortner addresses the importance of the four gospels and the genealogy contained within. Then, sectioning the gospel of Matthew into small chunks of Scripture, this volume provides a comprehensive commentary, including quotes from well-loved theologians such as Charles Spurgeon and Matthew Henry.

Copyright by Donald S. Fortner
e-Sword / theWord module distributed with permission.

Donald S. Fortner, Pastor
GRACE BAPTIST CHURCH of DANVILLE
2734 Old Stanford Road
Danville, Kentucky 40422-9438
DonFortner.com

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3 thoughts on “The Matter of Church Discipline

  1. Elmarie, I saw this article this morning and want to thank you for placing it. It gives me hope that we can know what to do according to Scripture in order to resolve this painful situation for the sake of Christ and to reconcile. I fully submit myself to such Scriptural teaching. Thank you!

    So again I’m asking you to forgive me for the bad bad manner in which I reacted toward some of the things you’ve written in e-mails. I reacted in anger and I regret speaking to you in that way. That was wrong of me and I have hurt you. I know better than that. I am sorry I did that and I apologize. Please forgive me.

    Like

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