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Discipline/Chastisement of Church Members Who Sin

Church Discipline:
Chastisement of Erring Members of the Local Church

What should local churches do when members practice sin and refuse to repent? What Scriptures teach about chastisement or discipline in the church? What action and purpose should the church pursue?

What should local churches do when members practice sin and refuse to repent? Does God believe that His people should discipline or chastise church members who sin? Did He ordain discipline in Israel, in the family, and in government? What New Testament Scriptures teach about chastisement in the church? What purposes would it serve, when should it be done, and exactly what should be done (excommunication? disfellowship?)? What does the Bible teach?

Introduction:

Christians should be concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of other members of the local church.

We should help one another grow and remain faithful. Our teaching should diligently exhort members to be faithful and should warn about the dangers of sin. New and weak members should have special Bible studies to strengthen them. Older members should encourage those who are new. All members should show genuine love and concern for one another.

Ideally, we would wish to help every child of God remain faithful. But despite our best efforts, members sometimes become involved in sin. It happened in the first century church, and it will happen today. What do we do then?

The purpose of this study is to examine what obligations local churches have to members who are known to be guilty of sin.

This is a difficult but needed study. Many churches do little or nothing in such cases. Some argue that nothing can be done except in certain rare, extreme cases. But what does God’s word say?


Part I: God's View of the Need for Discipline/Chastisement.



I. God Sets an Example of Using Discipline.


Some say that punishing sin contradicts God’s nature. But just the opposite is true. God is love, but God is also just and righteous [Psalms 89:14]. He wishes His people to be saved, yet He cannot ignore sin. His nature requires sin to be punished. His may be longsuffering and delay punishment, but erring children who do not repent will eventually be punished [2 Peter 3:9].

A. Statements that God Believes in Discipline/Chastisement

Proverbs 3:11,12 — Don’t despise God’s chastening and reproof. He reproves those whom He loves, just as a father does his children. Such acts are not contrary to love, but are an expression of love because they are done for man’s good.

Hebrews 12:5-11 — God chastens those whom He loves like earthly fathers chasten their children. This is for our profit, that we might partake of His holiness (v10), and might yield fruits of righteousness (v11). It also causes us to respect the one who chastises us (v9). (NASB and NIV use “discipline” instead of “chasten.”)

Revelation 3:19 — Jesus warned the church of Laodicea that He reproves and chastens those whom He loves. “Chasten” means “discipline” (NASB, NIV, NKJV footnote). It is defined: “to chasten by the infliction of evils and calamities” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer); “discipline with punishment” (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich), “to inflict suffering upon for purposes of moral improvement” (Random House College Dictionary).

Romans 11:22 — Behold the goodness and severity of God: severity to those who fall, goodness to those who continue in His goodness.

God loves His people, but this does not mean He will not punish us for sin. His love requires Him to work to motivate our repentance, but His justice and righteousness still require Him to punish those who sin.

[See also Deuteronomy 8:5; 28:15-68; Psalms 94:10-12; 119:75; 118:18; Leviticus 26:14-45; 1 Corinthians 11:32; John 15:1-6.]

B. Examples of God’s Chastisement of His People.

Many Bible events demonstrate that God Himself has punished people who sin. He often punished evil people who had never served Him (people in Noah’s day, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.). But notice examples in which He punished His own people who sinned.

Genesis chapter 3 — Adam and Eve sinned. God decreed suffering, hard work, and eventual death as punishment. He sent them from Eden, away from the Tree of Life.

Genesis 19:17,26 — God told Lot’s family to escape Sodom and not look back. Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Leviticus 10:1-3 — Nadab and Abihu offered incense using fire that was different from what God had commanded. God sent fire from heaven to devour them. Note that the sin in this case, like many examples we will consider, was not an act of gross immorality. It was a violation of God’s order for worship. Most people would call this a “little thing.” But God considered it worthy of death.

Numbers chapter 16 — Korah, Dathan, and Abiram attempted to overthrow Moses and Aaron’s leadership. Again, this was not immoral; it was rebellion against God’s ordained organization. God caused the earth to swallow them, and fire consumed their 250 associates. When the congregation objected to this act of discipline, God causes a plague to kill 14,700 of them (vv 41-50).

Numbers 20:1-13 — God refused to allow Moses to enter Canaan because he smote the rock to produce water from it, instead of speaking to it.

2 Samuel 6:1-11 — Uzzah transported the ark of covenant on a cart, when the Levites should have been carrying it by its poles. When the oxen stumbled, Uzzah touched the ark, and God killed him.

Acts 5:1-11 — In the New Testament, God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead because they lied about the size of their contribution.

Many other examples can be given. Note that most of these were not cases of gross immorality, but violation of God’s rules of worship, organization, etc.

[See also Numbers chapter 11, 12, 14, 25; 21:4-9; Genesis chapter 4; 1 Kings chapter 13; etc.]

C. Evidence that God Will Punish Sinners in Eternity

Matthew 25:41,46 — The wicked will receive everlasting punishment in eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.

2 Thessalonians 1:8,9 — Those who don’t know God and don’t obey His gospel will be punished with everlasting destruction.

Revelation 20:11-15 — All whose names are not found in the Book of Life will suffer eternal fire, which is the second death.

God does believe in discipline or chastisement for those who sin. This by itself does not prove we should chasten others. But it does show that God believes in the need for sinners to be disciplined. Let us now show that, as a result, He has authorized His ordained institutions to chasten erring members.

[See also Romans 2:6-10; Luke 12:4,5; Matthew 13:41f; etc.]


II. God Ordained Discipline/Chastisement in Israel.


We don’t live under the Old Testament today. Specifically, the New Testament church does not discipline people in the same way or for the same things that people sometimes were disciplined in the examples we are about to study.

But note 1 Corinthians 10:1-12. The fact God that chastised His people under the Old Testament is expressly affirmed to be an example to us. Old Testament examples can teach us much about how God views the importance of discipline and its purposes. [Cf. Romans 15:4]

A. Examples of Discipline in Israel

In each of these examples, God did not personally and directly chastise sinners. Instead, He instructed His people to inflict the chastisement. And since religious and civil government were combined in Israel, our examples involved discipline for civil violations, as well as religious error. Today these functions are assigned to separate institutions: church and government.

Exodus 32:25-28 — When Israel worshiped the golden calf, Moses called for people who were on the Lord’s side to take the sword and slay others who worshiped the calf.

Leviticus 24:10-16,23 — A man who cursed and blasphemed God’s name was stoned.

Numbers 15:32-36 — God commanded Israel to stone a man who violated the Sabbath.

Numbers 35:30-34 — If a man was conclusively proved to be guilty of murder, he should be put to death.

Joshua chapter 7 (especially vv 10-13, 24-26) — Achan kept some of the forbidden spoils of Jericho. God said the people could not prosper in His work till they punished the sin by stoning Achan.

Multitudes of other examples can be given. We are simply showing here that God has always believed in discipline. It is a fundamental part of His dealings with men. And in these cases, He required His people to administer the discipline.

[See also Exodus 21:12-25; 22:16-20; Leviticus 20:1-27; 24:15-23; Numbers chapter 25; Deuteronomy 19:11-21; 13:1-18; 21:18-21; 22:13-27; etc.]

B. Purposes for Discipline in Israel

1. To motivate sinners to repent

Leviticus 26:14-45 (note vv 18,21,23,24,27,40,41) — God warned Israel that, if they sinned, He would chastise them in the ways listed, to lead them to reform, hearken to His commands, and confess their sin.

Numbers chapter 12 (especially vv 10,11) — Aaron and Miriam sinned in criticizing Moses. When God struck Miriam with leprosy, this led Aaron to repent.

Judges 2:11-3:15; etc. — The period of judges was a repeating cycle in which Israel would sin, God would bring foreign oppressors to chastise them, they would call on God, then He would send a judge to free them from the enemy, etc. In these and other cases, God brought suffering on the people to motivate them to repent.

[Deuteronomy 8:5,6]

2. To warn other people and remove harmful influences

Punishing the sinner warned other people that such conduct is unacceptable and has serious consequences.

Deuteronomy 13:10,11 — When evil was punished, all Israel would hear, fear, and avoid sin.

Deuteronomy 17:12,13 — The sinner should be slain and so evil would be put away and all people would hear and no longer act presumptuously.

[Numbers 16:30; Deuteronomy 19:19,20; 21:21.]

Removing the sinner eliminated a harmful influence that might lead others to sin.

Leviticus 20:14 — Sinners should be killed and then there would be no wickedness among the people.

Deuteronomy 13:5 — They should slay the sinner so as to put away evil from their midst.

Note that, in many cases, it is expressly stated that the sinner is to be punished, even though it will not lead to his repentance or reformation. Yet he should be punished as a lesson to the other people, and to remove the harmful influence.

[See also Deuteronomy 17:7; 22:21,22,24; 24:7.]

3. To maintain respect for God and His people in the eyes of society

Exodus 32:25 — Sin among God’s people makes them a derision to God’s enemies. Chastisement is needed to restore a good reputation.

2 Samuel 12:14 — David’s sin gave great occasion to God’s enemies to blaspheme, so God insisted he be punished.

[See also Nehemiah 5:9; Ezekiel 36:20ff; Daniel 9:16; Romans 2:17-24.]

4. To Obey God’s Command

Joshua 7:10-13 — God would not be with Israel nor could they stand before their enemies until they punished Achan’s sin.

Exodus 32:25-29 — To be on the Lord’s side, people had to agree to discipline others who sinned, even though it be their own brother, companion, or neighbor. Those who refused to discipline others, were themselves among the number to receive discipline (cf. Deuteronomy 17:12,13). After they punished the people, Moses pronounced a blessing on them.

Deuteronomy 13:6-11 — Even if one was a nearest relative to you, he had to be punished. You could not hide him or cover for him, nor seek a lesser punishment. [Cf. Zechariah 13:3]

Deuteronomy 13:12-18 — When people punish those who are evil, God turns away His anger and has mercy and compassion on those who did the chastising.

Numbers 16:22-27 — People had to separate themselves from Korah or they would be punished with him.

Numbers 16:41-50 — Some people objected to Korah’s chastisement. Because they opposed it, instead of agreeing to it, 14,700 of them were killed.

[Numbers 35:30-34; Deuteronomy 19:11-13; Deuteronomy 21:18-21]

All these passages show that, when a child of God sinned, others of God’s people were required to punish him. If they did not, then they themselves became guilty, even though they had no part in his sin. If they would punish the guilty, then God would bless them for it.

We do not claim that the church should use physical violence against sinners today. That power is now reserved for the government (Romans 13:4). But we do claim that these examples prove God believes in discipline. And remember that these examples are lessons for us today (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

We will see that, still today, God requires His people in the church to discipline those among them who sin. And it is done today for the same basic reasons that it was done under the Old Testament.


III. God Ordains Discipline/Chastisement in His Institutions.


God has ordained three special institutions to do special work. The methods of discipline are not always the same among the three, yet in all three of them God has ordained and commanded the use of discipline/chastisement. This illustrates again that God believes in discipline, and He expects His people to exercise it.

A. Civil Government

1 Peter 2:13,14 — Rulers are sent by God for vengeance on evil doers and for praise of those who do good.

Romans 13:1-6 — Civil rulers are a terror, an avenger of wrath, to those who do evil (vv 3,4). This is something God had ordained.

The purposes of this chastisement are: (1) to motivate erring citizens to reform (Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:13,14); (2) to motivate other citizens to obey the law and to protect law-abiding citizens from the harmful acts and influence of the criminal (Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:13,14); (3) to maintain the reputation of the government and the respect of the people for its authority (no one respects a government where justice does not prevail); and (4) to obey God’s ordained commands (Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14).

[Proverbs 14:34]

B. The Home

Hebrews 12:5-11 — God compares His chastisement of His people to a father who chastens his children. All true children are chastened, if the father loves them. This causes respect for the father, and promotes the children’s well-being.

Ephesians 6:4 — Fathers must bring children up in the “nurture” and admonition of the Lord. “Nurture” (KJV) is translated “chastening” (ASV) or “discipline” (NASB), and is the same word for “chastening” in Hebrews 12:5-11.

Proverbs 13:24 — He who spares to use the rod, hates his child. If he loves the child, he will chasten him at times.

What are the purposes for discipline? They are the same as in Israel and in government. (1) It motivates the child to eliminate unacceptable conduct and develop good qualities (Hebrews 12:10,11; Proverbs 22:15). (2) It warns other children that the conduct is not acceptable and leads to serious consequences. (3) It maintains the good influence and reputation of the family (Hebrews 12:9). No one respects a family where parents have no control. In fact, such fathers cannot serve in offices in the church (1 Timothy 3:4,8; 1 Samuel 3:10-14). (4) To obey God’s command (Hebrews 12:7,8; Proverbs 13:24).

For all these reasons, proper discipline in the home is an act of love (Hebrews 12:6; Proverbs 13:24).

[See also Proverbs 19:18; 22:15; 23:13,14; 29:15.]

C. The Church

The third of God’s ordained institutions in the church. This study is primarily about discipline in the local church, so we devote the rest of our study to that specific application. We have studied discipline in the example of God, in Israel, in government, and in the home, to show the parallels to discipline in the church. God believes in discipline.

When we see that discipline is a fundamental part of God’s dealing with men, and that He has authorized it in all these other institutions, then it should not surprise us to see that the church is to exercise discipline. In fact, it should surprise us that anyone should think the church should not exercise discipline.

As it is in all these other areas we have studied, so it is in the church. God has authorized and commanded the church to discipline erring members. We will see further that discipline in the church is done for the same basic reasons that it is in these other areas we have studied. Discipline is not done for just anyone reason alone. Even when we think one particular reason may not be served, still there are other good reasons.

And when we understand the purposes of discipline, we learn that it is fundamentally an act of love. Isn’t it loving to motivate people to repent of sin? Isn’t it loving to motivate other people to avoid sin and its influence? Isn’t it loving to maintain respect for God and His people? Isn’t it loving to obey Divine commands? John 14:15 – If you love me, keep my commands.

The practice of church discipline is not a violation of God’s will or character. On the contrary, we should expect that God’s will is violated when local churches do not practice discipline!


Part II: Passages about Church Discipline of Erring Members


We have examined the Bible teaching about discipline in the example of God and in His requirements for other Divinely ordained institutions. This should help us appreciate the need for discipline and understand its purposes. Consider now passages specifically about discipline in the New Testament church.


Matthew 18:15-17


A. The Reason for Discipline

The erring brother has committed a sin against another brother (v15; cf. v21). Note the following points:

The conduct under consideration is “sin.”

Sin is violation of God’s law (1 John 3:4). We should not discipline people simply because they do things that are questionable (“iffy”) or that violate some member’s opinion. It must be something that can be proved by Scripture to be sin (cf. Romans 14).

This context discusses a private sin committed by one member against another member.

The sin is such that, at the outset, it could be resolved by a discussion between just two brethren. If they can reconcile the problem privately, that is the end of the matter (v15). The procedure is designed to solve the problem as privately as possible, which would be appropriate only if the sin was not generally known. But if others knew, they would have to be informed of the repentance, else they would be obligated to continue rebuking the sinner.

Some sins are publicly known and may be publicly rebuked from the outset (Galatians 2:1-14; 1 Timothy 5:20). The case in Matthew 18 is handled privately; other members learn of it only if the private efforts at resolution are unsuccessful.

Any kind of sinful activity might constitute the “sin” for which action is taken.

It might be lying to the brother, stealing, cheating in business, doing physical violence, etc. The principles here described would apply to any kind of sin that a brother might commit against another.

While this passage is discussing private sins, it necessarily implies that public sins should also require church disciplinary action.

This is a simple matter of justice, which is one of the weightier matters of the law (2 Corinthians 7:11 - NIV; Matthew 23:23). It is foolish and unjust to think that the church should discipline private sins, but should overlook public sins. The result would be, if you want to avoid church discipline, you should broadcast your sin. If you sin privately, the church can discipline you; so make sure your sins are widely known and then the church cannot discipline you!

We will see that other passages confirm that other kinds of sins should also be disciplined.

B. The First Step: a Private Discussion — v15

To resolve the alleged sin, the accuser must communicate personally with the brother whom he believes has sinned: “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (v15).

Privately, the one brother shows why he believes the other is guilty of sinning against him.

Note that the offended brother is commanded by God to speak to the brother who sinned. He must not spread gossip to other people. Nor may he just ignore the fact his brother has sinned. To fail to rebuke the erring brother is as much a violation of the passage as telling other people. A soul’s eternal destiny is at stake. Steps must be taken to restore him.

The problem is resolved when the accused brother “hears” and has been “gained” by his accuser.

Luke 17:3,4 - This requires the accused brother to be willing to discuss the matter, honestly considering the evidence against him. If there is proof he has sinned, then he must be willing to admit wherein he is wrong and ask forgiveness for it.

Obviously, if the brother refuses to even discuss the matter, he has refused to “hear.” But listening alone is not enough, even if he is polite and respectful. If the evidence of his guilt is clear, then he must admit error and ask forgiveness. [Cf. “hearing” or “hearkening” to the teaching of Jesus — Acts 3:22,23.]

Matthew 5:23,24 - “Gaining” the brother means the matter has been reconciled Scripturally. It may be that the accused brother will confess sin and ask for forgiveness. It may be that he can successfully defend his conduct, and both parties may conclude it was all a misunderstanding. Maybe both parties were wrong and must mutually apologize. Maybe the accuser will turn out to be wrong and he may end up apologizing. In all these cases, you have “gained your brother.”

The offended brother must sincerely desire for the problem to be reconciled.

He should not seek vengeance by tongue-lashing his brother, gloating over him, winning an argument, etc. The goal is reconciliation (Matt. 5:23,24). Acting from a different motive violates the passage.

Whenever the sinner repents and asks for forgiveness, the offended brother must willingly forgive.

The offended brother must sincerely hope the sinner will repent, so he can forgive him (vv 21-35; cf. Matthew 6:12,14,15; Luke 17:3,4). Forgiveness then must end the matter (provided the sin is not repeated). The matter must not be spread among the congregation, nor may it be brought up against the erring brother again. If the offended brother refuses to forgive, then he himself becomes guilty of sin.

This pattern is not a cause of problems, but is God’s plan for resolving problems.

Some people view a person as a trouble maker if he confronts another Christian for his sins. “Gain your brother” shows that the sin has already alienated the brethren. The offended party does not “cause” or create trouble by going to his brother. The problem was caused by the brother who sinned. The offended brother is trying to solve the problem by restoring his brother (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19,20).

Often this simple initial discussion could resolve the matter. But if it is neglected, wounded feelings fester, and bitterness develops. In case after case, problems that could be resolved by this procedure, become major problems because the pattern is not followed. Misunderstanding grows and the problem magnifies till it “blows up.”

C. The Second Step: One or Two Other Brothers Are Included — v16

What if the accused brother will not admit his sin, but the offended brother is still convinced the sin occurred? Then the sinner has refused to “hear” his brother, and the matter moves to the next step (vv 15,16).

Each step continues until the accused brother clearly will not “hear” his brother.

This often takes several discussions or attempted discussions. We move to the next step only when, either the brother refuses to discuss, or it is clear that the present approach will not bring him to repentance.

If private discussion does not solve the problem, the offended brother takes one or two other brethren with him to talk to the offender.

These men must first examine the evidence. No man may be condemned if he cannot be proved to be guilty (Deuteronomy 19:15; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28).

If they are convinced of the man’s guilt, they too try to get him to “hear them.” Perhaps the man will be moved by the fact that others also see his guilt. If the man repents at this point, the matter is resolved. (Or perhaps these one or two men may convince the accuser that no sin has been committed.)

If the man still will not “hear them,” then the matter moves to the next step, and these brethren become “witnesses” by whose testimony “every word may be established” before the church (see Scriptures listed above).

D. The Third Step: the Church Becomes Involved — v17

The “church” must refer to the local congregation, since that is the only capacity in which the church can function (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:4). The whole church is now involved in the matter because the previous steps did not resolve it.

The fact the man is expected to “hear the church” demonstrates that the church becomes actively involved. They must listen to the evidence offered by the accuser and by the one or two witnesses, who “establish” the matter before the church by their testimony. The church then must make a judgment in the matter and rebuke the sinner, just as the brothers do in v16.

Perhaps the sinner will be moved to repentance by the knowledge that the whole congregation considers him to be in error. If the man refuses, however, to hear even the church, then it moves to the final step.

E. The Last Step: Treat the Sinner as a Heathen and a Publican — v17

Jews refused to associate with Gentiles or publicans; they would not eat or have social relations with them, because they viewed them as sinful people (Acts 10:28; 11:3; Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 19:1-10; Galatians 2:12; John 4:9; cf. Genesis 43:32). Jesus did not agree that people should be so treated simply because of nationality. But He here says this is how people should be treated if they, as members of the church, sin and refuse to repent.

Later passages will help explain this.


Romans 16:17


A. Kind of Sin Chastised: Divisions and Offenses

Divisions”

Divisions (“dissensions” — NASB, RSV) are strifes, separations, or alienations among brethren (cf. Galatians 5:20). This would include people who cause bitterness or conflict between brethren, perhaps even causing some to leave a congregation, by teaching false doctrine, by turning people against one another, or by setting a sinful example (cf. Acts 20:29,30).

It would include those who stir up the trouble, those who leave a congregation to go into error, or those who encourage, support, or defend those who do such things (they partake of the evil — 2 John 9-11).

Offenses”

Offenses (KJV, NKJV) are “occasions of stumbling” (ASV) or “obstacles” (ESV). This would include people who tempt others to commit sin, those who encourage sinful acts, or those who become an occasion that causes others to sin, hence a stumbling block (cf. Matthew 18:6-9; Luke 17:1,2; Revelation 2:14-16). Note that one may be guilty of tempting people to sin, even if those people resist the temptation and do not actually commit the sin (cf. Matthew 16:23).

The divisions and offenses referred to are those that are “contrary to the doctrine” (cf. Galatians. 1:8,9; 2 John 9; etc.). Truth can have the effect of dividing or upsetting people (Matthew 10:34-37; 15:12ff; etc.). The church must not chasten people who “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), even if such speaking does lead to division because others reject it.

B. The Discipline Administered

Note” them

This is translated: “mark” them (ASV), “keep your eye on them” (NASB), “watch out” (NIV, ESV). These people must be identified to the “brethren” in such a way that all know to be on guard to avoid the harm such people can cause, and so the brethren can practice the next action listed.

Avoid” them (KJV)

This is translated: “turn away from them” (ASV), “keep away from them” (NIV), “disassociate yourselves” (TCNT). It is defined: “…keep aloof from one’s society; to shun one” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer). This is not a haughty self-righteousness, but a refusal to socialize. (This helps explain what Matthew 18:17 means regarding treating them as heathen and publicans.)

The brethren can treat the sinner this way only when he has been “marked” or identified, so that the brethren could know who he is, what he has done, and why they should act this way toward them. (Compare 1 Peter 3:11 which says that we are to so avoid the sin itself.)


1 Corinthians chapter 5; 2 Corinthians 2:4-11; 7:5-13


A. The Kind of Conduct to Be Disciplined

The particular case discussed here was a fornicator having a relationship with his own father’s wife (5:1). But to show Corinth how to deal with this particular case, Paul established general principles of how to deal with sinners in the church.

General terms for those to be disciplined:

V8 - “Leaven of malice and wickedness” instead of sincerity and truth

“Malice” means “depravity, wickedness, vice” (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich). [For examples see Acts 8:22; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; Titus 3:3; James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1.]

“Wickedness” means “depravity, iniquity, wickedness, malice” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer). [See Matthew 22:18; Mark 7:22; Acts 3:26; Ephesians 6:12.]

V13 - A “wicked person”

“Wicked” means “evil, wicked, bad” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer). [See Matthew 13:49; 18:32; 25:26; Mark 7:21-23; 2 Timothy 3:13; 4:18; Hebrews 3:12; 2 John 11; etc.]

Note that this command to put away the wicked man is virtually identical to the Old Testament command previously studied — Deuteronomy 13:5; 17:7,12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21,24; 24:7; etc. This shows that there are valid similarities between New Testament discipline and Old Testament discipline. It also shows that the instruction to “put away the wicked person” is general, like in Old Testament usage, not intended to be limited to just the specific sin(s) being discussed in context. God’s people are to see that evil does not continue among the members.

Some specific examples of sins that are to be disciplined - v11

* Fornicators — those guilty of sexual relations outside of scriptural marriage

* Covetous — greedy, desiring to obtain what others have by some unauthorized means

* Idolater — worshiping false gods

* Railer — one who slanders or reviles others

* Drunkard — one who gets intoxicated

* Extortioner — thief, robber, swindler

This list is not intended to be exhaustive. These are just a few of the kinds of conduct that should be disciplined. If we could discipline only the sins specifically in this list, then we could never discipline murderers, pornographers, drug dealers, liars, people who curse and use profanity, kidnappers, nudists and strippers, etc., since none of these are in the list.

Note also that the person whom the church chastens must be a “brother,” one who is “within” (the church), in contrast to those who are “without” in the “world” (vv 9-12). God will take care of sinners in the world, but the church is to “judge” and chasten those in the church.

This means there are more severe restrictions with regard to socializing with erring church members than with regard to social contacts with those who have never been converted — else we would have to “go out of the world.”

B. The Disciplinary Action to Be Taken

V12 - The church must make a “judgment” in the case.

We must examine the evidence and reach a verdict regarding whether or not the person is guilty of sin. This may be difficult, but God requires it.

V2 - The sinner should be “taken away from among you.”

He should be “removed from your midst” (NASB), “remove, expel” (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich). Note again the similarity to Old Testament language.

V7 - We must “purge out the old leaven.” I.e., we must “clean out” (NASB), “to cleanse out, clean thoroughly” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer). To keep the leaven from influencing the dough, a thorough removal of it is necessary.

Vv 9-11 - We should not “keep company” with such, “not even to eat with such a person” (NKJV). I.e., we are “not to associate” with them (NASB). Hence, we are to cut off social contact, just as Jews did regarding Gentiles (see notes on Matthew 18:17).

V13 - We should “put away from yourselves that wicked person” (NKJV). I.e., we are to “remove” (NASB), “expel” (NIV), “purge” (ESV). Remember the similarity of this to Old Testament discipline; there it was often done by killing the person, but in the New Testament it is done by refusing to have social contacts.

Note: To “take away” and “put away” a person from “among yourselves” is defined by context to mean to “purge out” the leaven of his influence, and to not “keep company” with him. Until the church takes action that requires the members to cease associating with a person so that he cannot influence them, then the man is still “among you” in a sense this passage forbids. The point is not that he is not attending church meetings or that he does not consider himself a member. The point is that he must be identified as a sinner and the members must be warned not to associate with him.

V5 - We should “deliver such a one to Satan.”

This cannot mean that the church puts the person into a lost condition; the man did that himself when he sinned and refused to repent. Rather, the church openly declares the man’s condition so that all are aware of it. Thereby they make clear to all that the man is guilty of evil, he is under Satan’s control, and the church does not approve of his conduct. Whereas we are in God’s fellowship, we declare him to be in Satan’s fellowship. (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Romans. 6:16ff; John 8:34.)

V4 - This disciplinary action is to be a unified act of the whole church.

They declare the man’s condition and initiate their disassociation from him while “gathered together.” This is addressed to a local church (1:2). The whole church must be informed of the circumstances of the individual and of the action to be taken. The members must then follow through by avoiding social association with him. All this should be done, not in self- righteous pride, but in “mourning” for the man’s condition (v2).

C. The Purpose for the Discipline

V5 - To help save the sinner

“For the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” This may mean that he will suffer shame in this life because of the sin he has committed, or that his fleshly lusts and his desire to live in sins of the flesh will be destroyed (cf. Galatians 5:24). Both views harmonize with Scripture; perhaps both are meant. But we hope that the church’s action will eventually lead him to repent and be saved spiritually.

Vv 6-8 - To remove the harmful influence and warn other members to avoid the sin

“A little leaven leavens the whole lump” so “purge out” the leaven that the lump may be unleavened.

When the sin is publicly rebuked, the members are warned to avoid it. As they continue refusing to associate with the sinner (vv 2,11,13), this continues to warn them of his condition, and also limits his opportunity to influence them to sin with him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:33). The principle here is exactly the same as in the Old Testament.

Isolating a man with an infectious disease helps others avoid catching it. Removing a rotten apple helps the other apples avoid rotting. Removing a cancerous organ may help the other organs avoid corruption. So God’s people in the Old Testament and New Testament are told to “put away evil” from their midst.

We must take this action for the purity of the church regardless of whether or not we think the sinner will repent.

Sometimes people oppose withdrawing from a sinner saying, “The only purpose for withdrawing from somebody is to get him to repent, and I don’t think bro. so-and-so will repent if we withdraw from him. It’ll just drive him farther from the church.” Such is human reasoning without a shred of Bible evidence to support it.

What passage of Scripture tells us to judge ahead of time what results will follow from obeying a Divine command and then disobey if we think the results will not be favorable? Our job is to obey God’s command; the results are God’s job.

And in the church, just as in Israel, there are other reasons for discipline besides just to lead the sinner to repent. It is also to remove his bad influence and warn God’s people to avoid his sin. The church has not done what God commanded until it takes action to be sure all members know they must not associate with the sinner: “purge out” the leaven of sin.

V4 - To obey God’s command.

They should do this in Jesus’ name and by His power. What Paul wrote are commands from the Lord (14:37). He rebuked them because they had failed to discipline the sinner. They had a command from God to “put away evil,” just as surely as Old Testament Israel had (v13).

D. Additional Information from 2 Corinthians 2:4-11; 7:5-13

As a result of Paul’s first epistle, the church apparently withdrew from the sinner and he repented. In the second epistle, Paul gives more information.

2 Corinthians 2:4-11; 7:5-13 do refer to the same situation as 1 Corinthians 5.

2:4 – Paul had written them about this subject.

2:5 - Some “one” had caused grief to Paul and to Corinth.

2:6 - The majority had inflicted a punishment on the man.

2:7-11 - Now he should be forgiven and comforted.

7:11,12 – A man had done wrong (v12) in a “matter” (v11).

7:8-12 - Paul had written them a letter about this “matter” and caused them to be so sorry Corinth repented and corrected themselves.

Clearly this is a case of church discipline, and the only such case mentioned in the previous letter was 1 Corinthians 5. Note the lessons we learn here.

2:6 - The church acted for the purpose of “punishment.”

7:11 - It was a form of “vindication” (NKJV), “revenge” (KJV), or “avenging” (ASV), a “readiness to see justice done” (NIV). It was not personal antagonism, but fulfillment of obligation to chastise sin as God commanded. It was an expression of righteous “indignation” against evil.

7:11 - The church acted also to maintain the reputation of the church and respect for God.

By chastising the sinner, Corinth “cleared” themselves, and proved themselves to be clear (“pure” - ASV) in the matter (7:11) — i.e., they “demonstrated [them]selves to be innocent” (NASB).

When sin is known to exist but a church does nothing about it, the church appears to approve the conduct. Until they rebuke the sin and discipline the sinner, the church is not clear, not pure, not innocent in the matter.

No one respects a church that tolerates sin. Sin in the church causes God’s name to be blasphemed just as surely as did sin in Old Testament Israel (cf. Acts 5:5,11,13).

2:9 – The church acted also to obey God’s command.

Paul wrote to put them to the test to see if they would be obedient in all things. Because of their past failure to discipline the sinner, Paul rebuked them so that they were sorry to the point of repenting (7:7-10). This led them to correct their error with great care and zeal (7:11).

When sin is known to exist and the church fails to discipline the sinner, the church has not been obedient to God in all things, and they need to repent.

2:6-10 – The church must forgive the sinner if he repents.

They should comfort him, and reassure him of their love. If they don’t do this, Satan gets advantage over them (2:11). Failing to forgive may cause the sinner to be swallowed up by too much sorrow, and it causes the church to disobey God. We need to reassure the sinner that, when he repents, he can be received back by God and by the church.

These accounts also help us to appreciate the emotions involved in such cases. The principles involved are sometimes stated very factually and objectively. But applying them can be very emotional. Paul described the affliction, anguish of heart, tears and sorrows involved (2:4,5; 7:7-11).


2 Thessalonians 3:6-15


A. The Kind of Actions to be Disciplined

As elsewhere, this passage discusses the principles of discipline in general terms, then it applies them to a specific problem. Note first the general descriptions:

V6 - “Every brother who walks disorderly”

As in 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 18:15, the person under consideration is a “brother,” a child of God. The application is to “every” brother who so acts.

“Walks” shows that the brother continues or persists in disorderly conduct. This discipline is carried out, not when one sins and then repents, but when one stubbornly refuses to repent or ask forgiveness even after he has been rebuked (Matthew 18:15ff; Titus 3:10).

“Disorderly” or “unruly” (NASB) is an adverb. The related verb is defined: “…to be disorderly; a. prop. of soldiers marching out of order or quitting the ranks … Hence, b. to be neglectful of duty, to be lawless … c. to lead a disorderly life…” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer). Note that a person is disorderly if he disobeys orders, or if he neglects his duty, or if he quits the ranks.

They define the adjective: “disorderly, out of the ranks, (often so of soldiers); irregular, inordinate … deviating from the prescribed order or rule…” 

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul used the adjective form saying “admonish the disorderly.” Now he goes further and says that if anyone walks disorderly, he should be withdrawn from. What is the “prescribed order or rule” that the “disorderly” man “deviates from”?

V6 - “Not according to the tradition which he received from us”

This further explains “disorderly” showing what rule is violated. “Tradition” refers to instruction that has been delivered or handed down (the source can be human or divine, depending on context). Paul here refers to the inspired teachings that had been delivered to Christians from God through inspired men.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 said to “hold fast” the traditions Paul had taught them. Those who refuse to hold them fast, but deviate from them and will not repent after repeated admonition, are “disorderly” and should be chastised.

V14 - “Anyone [who] does not obey our word in this epistle”

Once again he shows that the “order or rule” from which we must not deviate is the New Testament. Any man is disorderly if he deviates from the rules of the New Testament, including those who “quit the ranks” of God’s people.

The specific application

Having taught the general principle, as in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul applies it to a particular kind of disorderliness that existed at Thessalonica: those who are “working not at all, but are busybodies” (v11).

Note that “disorderly” is explained to include both a sin of omission (not working) and a sin of commission (busybody). Some claim that “disorderly” just means idleness [cf. NIV], but the context of this very passage shows that it also includes active participation in evil.

B. The Disciplinary Action Taken

V6 - “Withdraw”

Also translated “withdraw yourselves” (ASV), “keep aloof” (NASB). It means: “…to remove one’s self, withdraw one’s self, to depart …, to abstain from familiar intercourse with one…” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer). The significance is the same as “have no company” in v14 and 1 Corinthians 5:11; etc.

Note that it does not say “withdraw fellowship.” When we “withdraw” from a sinner, we are not breaking our spiritual relationship with him, nor are we breaking his relationship with God. When the sinner violated God’s law and refused to repent, he himself broke his relationship with God and with God’s people (1 John 1:3-2:6). What we withdraw is our spiritual and social association with him (“withdraw yourselves” - ASV). But we do this as a sign that he has already broken the spiritual fellowship. [Cf. “deliver him to Satan.”]

V14 - “Note that person”

“Note” means “to mark, note, distinguish by marking…” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer). The noun form means “a sign, mark, token; … that by which a pers[on] or a thing is distinguished from others and known…” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer). Hence, the church is to identify such a person in a way that every member is made aware that they are not to associate with him.

V14 - “Do not keep company with him” (NKJV).

Translated “do not associate” (NASB). This is the same word so translated in 1 Corinthians 5:11. The church is to inform all members that they are to refuse social companionship with him.

V15 - “Do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother”

Chastisement should not be done from hatred, from a desire to hurt the person, or from a desire for personal vengeance. The man is still a “brother” (erring child of God). We show concern by “admonishing” or warning him.

Note that not all contact with him is wrong. We are willing to initiate discussion about his soul and his need for repentance. But we refuse to initiate social association, whether or not he wants it; and if he tries to initiate social association with us, we refuse.

This also shows that “withdrawal” does not mean “get rid of” the man in the sense of stopping him from attending assemblies. If he continues to attend, then the teaching he hears will “admonish him as a brother.” But make it clear he is not part of the group spiritually or socially. (It also follows that a man has not “withdrawn from the church” just because he stops attending. “Withdraw” does not equal “stop attending.”)

C. Purposes for the Action

V6 - To obey God’s command

“We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….”

Verse 14 also states a command to note and not keep company. This is not an option that we are free to take or leave. As in Israel, so under the gospel, God commands His people to exercise discipline. If we refuse, then the church is disobeying God.

We have no right to reason, “I don’t think it will bring him back, so let’s just forget it.” What other Divine command are we free to just decide for ourselves that it will not work, so we will not obey it? We must obey because God says so. If we refuse, how can we say we are obeying God?

V14 - To help the sinner repent

“That he may be ashamed.” The admonishing of v15 also implies we hope our action will motivate him to repent. But nothing says we have the right to judge ahead of time whether or not he will repent and then we refuse to withdraw if we think he won’t repent.

God commands us to preach to the lost so they will repent and be baptized. Do we please God if we say, “They won’t repent anyway, so just forget it”? Wouldn’t that be disobeying God’s command? Our job is to preach the gospel to each person; whether or not he obeys is between him and God.

So it is in church discipline. If the man is walking disorderly, then we should obey God’s command. Withdraw yourselves. Don’t keep company with him. This will have the tendency to make him ashamed, and it will also serve the other purposes noted elsewhere. Whether or not he repents is then between him and God. But if the church is to obey God, we must exercise the discipline God commanded.


1 Timothy 1:18-20,3-11


A. The Disciplinary Action Taken

Paul delivered certain men to Satan.

He used this identical expression in 1 Corinthians 5:5 regarding the church’s duty to discipline the fornicator. The context there shows this is just another term for withdrawing ourselves and refusing to associate with the erring member.

Paul probably means here that, as an apostle, he led a local church in doing what 1 Corinthians 5 describes. In 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 Paul said that he had already judged the fornicator, then he commanded the church to follow through. Timothy would have understood Paul’s meaning here because of other teaching he had received, just as we understand it because of 1 Corinthians 5.

We are not led in such matters by living apostles today, but we are still led by their inspired Scriptures.

We are likewise led by the Scriptures today in many other things that apostles personally led churches to do in the first century (such as ordaining elders — Acts 14:23). To say we cannot do what was done here because no apostle is living, would be to defeat the whole purpose of the written word.

We learn from 1 Corinthians 5 that there are people whom the church must deliver to Satan. 1 Timothy 1 then describes certain kinds of sinners who ought to be delivered to Satan. So, by necessary inference, the church today should deliver to Satan the kind of people described in this passage. If such people need discipline, how could the church refuse to give it?

B. The Kind of Sin Disciplined

Again, as in 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Thessalonians 3, we have general categories of sin listed, then application is made to specific men guilty of specific sins.

General descriptions

Instead of holding faith and a good conscience, some put these away and made shipwreck concerning the faith — v19.

“Faith” is the common word for conviction and trust in God and the gospel, which in turn leads to obedience [cf. Galatians 5:6; James 2:14-26; Hebrews chapter 11; etc.].

“Conscience” is the faculty of a person’s mind that approves or disapproves of his conduct.

To “hold” faith and good conscience, one must continue faithfully obeying the gospel. To “suffer shipwreck concerning the faith” would be to destroy one’s obedience to the gospel.

There are many ways a person might “put away” faith and a good conscience (rather than “holding” them), and so make shipwreck of the faith. But as in other passages, Paul refers, not just to people who sin and then repent, but to those who stubbornly refuse to repent even after repeated rebukes.

This is described further in vv 3-11, and elsewhere in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (see notes on Titus 3:10). Note that 1 Timothy 6:20,21 describes some who “erred” concerning the faith by accepting the profane and vain babblings that Timothy is warned to avoid.

So, this passage would include people who completely lose faith in God, people who “quit the church” and go back into the world, people who leave God’s true church and go into denominational error or who go to congregations that practice sin and false doctrine to the point of dividing God’s body, etc.

Specific sins

Paul applies this teaching specifically to two men who needed to be taught not to “blaspheme.” This can refer to slander and reviling of other people (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:11), or it can refer to speaking without proper respect regarding God or sacred things.

Verses 3-11 give additional information regarding what constitutes turning aside from faith and a good conscience. Note the parallel language:

Verses 3-11

Verses 18-20

Charge to Timothy (vv 3-5)

Love, pure heart, good conscience and faith (v5)

Some strayed, turned aside (v6)

Specific examples (vv 3-11)

Charge to Timothy (v18)

Hold faith and good conscience (v19)

Some put away, etc. (v19)

Specific instance (v20)

Paul left timothy in Ephesus to teach the need for love, good conscience, and sincere faith; then Paul listed some things that characterize people who turn aside from these (vv 3-11). In vv 12-17 he digresses to give thanks for his conversion from such vain things. Then vv 18-20 return to the charge of vv 3-11 to tell Timothy to avoid these departures, and warn that people who continue to stray from the faith need to be delivered to Satan.

So, vv 3-11 describe kind of actions that constitute turning aside from faith and good conscience; then vv 18-20 teach that people who turn aside from faith and good conscience should be disciplined.

Specific sins listed in vv 3-11:

Some teach different doctrines and fables, etc., that lead to disputing but not to godly edification (vv 3,4). Such people have turned aside to vain talking and don’t know the truth (vv 6,7). These are the same kind of people described above in 1:19,20 (cf. 6:20,21). They are also described in 6:3-5 where Timothy is told to withdraw from them (KJV). [For more information about such people, see also the notes on Titus 3:9-11 below.]

Vv 8-11 list specific examples of the kind of conduct that often results when people seek to teach the law, but do not use it lawfully (because they have turned aside from the faith, etc.). Note them:

V9 - “Lawless and disobedient … ungodly and … sinners” (KJV)

These people lack respect for God’s word, so they fail to practice it. Note that “disobedient” is translated “unruly” (ASV), “insubordinate” (NKJV), or “rebellious” (NASB). Note the similarity to “disorderly” in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and “wicked” in 1 Corinthians 5:8,13. This again ties these discipline passages together.

V9 - “Unholy and profane”

These people lack respect for sacred things and so act disrespectfully of them, misusing them, speaking abusively of them, using them as objects of jokes or as expressions of anger, etc.

V9 - Murderers of family members, and manslayers

This is the only passage that expressly mentions murder in the context of church discipline. Either we must grant that 1 Timothy 1 authorizes church discipline for all the items in this list, or else we must grant that we can withdraw from sinners because of general descriptions of sin listed in discipline passages, or else we must affirm that murderers cannot be disciplined by the church. Which is it? We have cited evidence that both of the first two choices are true.

V10 - Fornicators (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:11), and those who “defile themselves with mankind” (KJV)

The latter expression refers to “homosexuals” (NASB) or “sodomites” (NKJV).

V10 - “Menstealers” or “kidnappers” (NKJV, NASB)
V10 - “Liars” and “perjured persons” (“false swearers” — ASV)

As with murderers, no other passage specifically lists liars as deserving church discipline. Do we grant that such people can be disciplined based on this passage and general teaching in discipline passages, or do we conclude that liars must not be disciplined?

V10f - “Any other thing contrary to sound doctrine, according to the … gospel”

This category is extremely general. Just as surely as these other items in the list are proper grounds for church discipline, so is any clearly sinful practice which a member stubbornly refuses to correct. If this conclusion is not valid, then there is simply no valid basis for withdrawing from the murderer or liar.

C. The Purposes of the Discipline

V20 – This is done so the sinner may learn not to continue in the sin. This is the only reason stated in the passage, but other passages we have studied give additional reasons.


Titus 3:10,11


A. Kind of Action to Be Disciplined

V10 - A “heretic” or “divisive” man

Meaning of the term

Paul describes “a man that is a heretic” (KJV), “divisive” (NKJV), “factious” (ASV, NASB), “schismatic, factious, a follower of false doctrine” (Grimm- Wilke-Thayer).

Vine says regarding “heresy”: “…an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects…”

[In the context (v9), Paul again referred to people who hold to human doctrines that cannot be proved by Scripture, or views that do not profit anyone’s salvation, yet people press them to the point of serious strife and even division among God’s people. For similar references see 1 Timothy 1:3-7,18-20; 4:1-7; 6:3-5,20,21; 2 Timothy 2:14-18,23-26; 4:2-4; Titus 1:10-16; 3:9-11. Note that three of these passages state or imply that such people should be chastised (1 Timothy 1:20; 6:5 — KJV; Titus 3:10). See also the notes on Romans 16:17.]

Other passages use forms of the word for “heretic” (“divisive”).

2 Peter 2:1-3 - False teachers are guilty of heresy. They lead many to follow their destructive ways, exploiting them by deceptive words. So false teaching constitutes “heresy.”

1 Corinthians 11:19 - Paul uses the word (“factions” – NKJV) to refer to those who cause strife and division by perverting the worship or work of the church.

Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5,14; 26:5; 28:22 - A form of this word is translated “sect.” So, anyone who leaves a faithful church to join a “sect” is, by definition, guilty of “heresy” or “divisiveness” as described in Titus 3:10.

People are guilty of “heresy” or “divisiveness” if they teach false doctrine, including perverting the worship and work of the church, especially if they lead people into error, stir up strife and alienation in the church, or lead people to leave the church to join a false group. Remember that those who follow such teachers share in their evil deeds (2 John 9-11).

[See also Galatians 5:20.]

V11 - Such people are subverted (in their beliefs), sin, and are self-condemned.

By chastising them, the church does not place them into a condemned state. They are already condemned by their own conduct. In fact, that’s the reason why we discipline them: because their own conduct has condemned them. We simply affirm the truth about their conduct and chastise them accordingly.

Note that the divisive people often leave a congregation because of their false views. In fact, leaving the church because of false views constitutes obvious division. Paul nowhere makes an exception saying we should not chastise them if they have left. Rather, he commands us to discipline such people.

B. The Disciplinary Action Taken

First and second admonition” (“warning” - NASB).

The sinner is not summarily cut off without first being given substantial opportunity to learn what his error is and why it is sinful. As in Matthew 18:15-17, we start with rebukes, then move to more serious steps only when it is clear that less stringent methods will not work.

“First and second admonition” does not mean exactly two, no more (just as Jesus statement to forgive 70 x 7 does not mean exactly 490). It says “after a first and second admonition” — that would mean at least two. But how much time is spent will depend on the person’s attitude.

The final form of discipline is taken only when it is clear that the preliminary steps will not work. Again, we disassociate only from sinners who demonstrate they are stubbornly rebellious and impenitent.

Reject”

This is translated “refuse” (ASV), “have nothing to do with” (NIV, RSV), or “shun, avoid” (Grimm-Wilke-Thayer). This must mean the same as in all the other passages we have studied. The church must make clear to the sinner and to all members that the person is in sin, and that all members must disassociate themselves from him spiritually and socially.


Part III: Summary and Observations


Having studied the passages that discuss discipline in the local church, let us “put it all together,” summarize what we have learned, and draw some conclusions.


I. The Actions Involved in Church Discipline


Based on what we have learned, what should the local church and its members do when a member is known to commit sin?

A. Admonition and Judgment

The member who sinned must be rebuked.

Passages regarding church discipline

This rebuke may be given first by individual members (privately or publicly, depending on the nature of the sin), but must be given by the whole church if the person refuses to repent.

Matthew 18:15-17 — When a member sins against a brother, he must be told his fault by the one he sinned against, then by two or three, then by the church. Withdrawal occurs only if he “refuses to hear the church.” This necessarily requires that the church as a body must affirm to the sinner that he must repent.

Titus 3:10 — A divisive man should receive a first and second admonition.

2 Thessalonians 3:15 — Admonishing should continue even after the sinner has been withdrawn from.

Other passages regarding the need for rebuking sin.

Luke 17:3,4 — If your brother sins, rebuke him.

Galatians 6:1,2 — If a brother becomes overtaken in a trespass, spiritual brethren should restore him, acting with meekness, and examining their own lives.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 — Admonish the disorderly.

1 Timothy 5:20 — Those who sin should be reproved in the presence of all.

James 5:19,20 — If anyone errs from the truth, a brother who converts him saves a soul from death and hides a multitude of sins.

No one should ever be withdrawn from by a local church until he has had abundant evidence presented to him of his guilt, so he has opportunity to correct the error.

[See also Acts 8:9-24; Galatians 2:1-14; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Timothy 2:16-18,23-26; Titus 1:9-14; 2:15; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; Hebrews 3:13,14; many examples in Proverbs.]

Before rebuke is given, evidence must be considered and judgment must be made to be sure sin has been committed.

This necessarily follows from the above passages. We may question someone about a matter and consider evidence, but no one should be accused of sin until there is clear evidence of guilt. So all the passages about rebuking sin necessarily imply that the evidence is considered first and a judgment is made.

Specifically, the church must make a judgment about a matter before they discipline a member for sin.

Matthew 18:17 — The “church” should be told about the accusation of sin, and evidence considered “at the mouth of two or three witnesses” (v16). Withdrawal occurs only if he “refuses to hear the church.” This necessarily requires the church as a body to make a judgment and affirm to the sinner that he must repent.

1 Corinthians 5:12 — The church must render a judgment or reach a verdict regarding the guilt or innocence of the person.

B. Marking or Noting

Romans 16:17 — “Mark” (note) that person.

2 Thessalonians 3:14 — “Note that person.”

1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20 — “Deliver to Satan” is similar in meaning. Gathered together (v4), the whole membership is informed of the man’s condition so that all know that his persistence in sin has put him under Satan’s control.

This “marking” is necessary in order to achieve the next step: the members must be told who the sinner is and what sin has been committed, so that all know why they should refuse to associate with him.

C. Refusal to Keep Company

Matthew 18:17 — Let him be to you as a heathen and publican.

Romans 16:17 — Avoid them.

1 Corinthians 5 — The sinner should be “taken away from among you” (v2), old leaven should be purged out (v7), we should “not keep company” with him not even to eat (v11), the wicked person is to be “put away from among you” (v13).

2 Thessalonians 3 — “Withdraw” (v6), and don’t “keep company” (v14). Yet don’t treat him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (v15).

Titus 3:10 — “Reject” him.

All these phrases require a deliberate choice by each member of the church to refuse to have social companionship with the sinner. We do not even eat common meals with them.

None of these passages specify that we do this only for sinners who want to continue to be part of the congregation or want to associate with us (the passages about division imply he may have separated himself from us). The verses do not tell us to trust the sinner to avoid associating with the members. The church is responsible to make sure the members know they should leave him alone, regardless of whether or not he wants to associate with us now or anytime in the future. We inform the sinner what our decision is and what our action toward him will be,. Then we refuse to initiate association with him; and if he tries to initiate association, we refuse.

Note also that if we will not keep social companionship with him because he is in sin, it surely follows that we should not in any way have spiritual fellowship with him. We would not do anything that would lead him to think we believe he is all right spiritually. The whole point is to make him realize he is wrong spiritually.

Spiritually, he is like a “heathen” (Matthew 18:17). We must not bid him Godspeed or support him in his teaching or spiritual work (2 John 9-11). We should not call on him to lead in any worship activity in any worship assembly. We would separate ourselves from him spiritually as well as socially (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; Ephesians 5:11).

D. Forgiveness for Those Who Repent

Church discipline passages

2 Corinthians 2:6-11 — The repentant brother must be forgiven, comforted, and assured of our love. This too is a test of our obedience. If we refuse, Satan gets advantage over us.

Other passages that emphasize the need for forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35 — When there is repentance by the brother who sins against us (v15), we must forgive him as God forgives us.

Luke 17:3,4 – If your brother sins against you, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him (even to seven times in a day).

Matthew 6:12,14,15 — If we will not forgive others, our Father will not forgive us. [Ephesians 4:32]

Note that forgiveness is conditioned on the repentance of the sinner. It follows that the church’s discipline of the sinner must continue for as long as he refuses to repent.

[2 John 9-11 — Note that if a member refuses to honor the decision of the church to discipline a member, so he continues to associate with the sinner, then he becomes partaker with them in the evil deed, and he is in need of discipline just the same as the original man was.]


II. Purposes of These Acts of Chastisement


We learned the following purposes for discipline in Israel, in government, and in the home: (1) to urge the one who broke the rules to be sorry and decide to change — a form of punishment; (2) to warn other people to avoid the wrong-doing, and to eliminate the bad influence of the wrong; (3) to maintain respect for God and for the integrity and influence of the God- ordained institution; (4) to obey God’s command.

All of these are the exact same reasons why the church should exercise chastisement when its members sin.

A. To Encourage the Sinner to Repent

Matthew 18:15 — The actions are taken that the brother might “hear you” and you might “gain your brother.” [Cf. v21ff; Luke 17:3,4.]

1 Corinthians 5:5 — That the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. [2 Corinthians 2:6]

2 Thessalonians 3:14 — That the sinner might be ashamed.

1 Timothy 1:20 — That the sinner may learn not to continue in sin.

Note that, when discipline is administered, some people will repent, and others will not. We should no more judge ahead of time what their reaction will be than we should judge ahead of time whether or not an alien sinner will obey the gospel.

Some want to let the sinner make the choice God gave the church and let the church make the choice God gave the sinner. Withdrawing is the church’s choice (not the sinner’s). Repenting is the sinner’s choice (not the church’s). The church chooses to refuse to keep company with the sinner; he does not decide that for us. (If he says he withdraws from us, are we supposed to trust him to stay away from the members? Why trust a sinner? What if he changes his mind in the future? No, we make sure the members know to stay away from him, regardless of what he wants.) Then the sinner chooses whether or not he will repent; the church does not decide that for him (and the refuse to withdraw if we think he won’t repent).

B. To Warn the Members and to Overcome Bad Influences

Discipline passages

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 — A little leaven leavens (influences) the whole lump. So purge out the old leaven that the lump may be new (unleavened). This purpose of discipline is just as surely a part of the pattern as is the purpose of baptism and the purpose of the Lord’s Supper! We must remove the association of other members from the sinner (v11), so others will know they should not act as he did and so he will not influence them into sin. He should be taken away (v2) and put away (v13) from us.

Remember that this passage quotes an Old Testament passage about discipline in Israel (v13), and one of the main reasons given for discipline in Israel was to serve as a warning to other people to avoid sin and bad influence (Deuteronomy 13:10,11; 17:12,13). [Deuteronomy 13:5; 17:7; 19:19; 22:21,24; 24:7; Leviticus 20:14]

Other passages about warning people to avoid the sins and bad influence of other people

Rebuke of sinners constitutes a warning to other people.

Acts 5:11 — When Ananias and Sapphira were punished, great fear came on the whole church. God Himself did this act of discipline, but it served the very purpose we are emphasizing in the church. (And note that this purpose was served apart from whether or not the sinners repented – they were killed!)

1 Timothy 5:20 — Sinners should be rebuked so that others may fear. This is exactly what the Old Testament says would be accomplished by discipline, but here is it accomplished in the New Testament church. [See passages previously studied, and remember 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.]

Titus 1:10-14 – The mouths of insubordinate deceivers must be stopped because they subvert whole households, teaching things they ought not. They should be rebuked sharply so they may be sound in the faith. But, by implication, it is also done so other people will not be subverted by their evil influence.

We would have the right and responsibility to warn members about the sins of others on the basis of these passages, apart from the passages we have studied about discipline.

The danger of sinful influence among God’s people.

1 Corinthians 15:33 — Evil companions corrupt good manners. Note carefully the context. Paul was speaking, not primarily about the influence of people outside the church, but about the influence of those in the church who were teaching false doctrine (no resurrection from the dead - v12).

Hebrews 12:15 — Look carefully lest anyone fall short of God’s grace, and this become a root from which many are defiled. Note that this applies, not just to ringleaders of false doctrine, but to “anyone” who falls short of God’s grace.

2 Peter 3:17 – Beware lest you also fall from steadfastness, being led away by the error of the wicked.

2 Timothy 2:16-18 – Shun profane and vain babblings (like those who say the resurrection is already past), because they increase to more ungodliness, their message spreads like cancer, and overthrow the faith of some.

Revelation 2:20-23 — Jesus rebuked the Thyatira church because it allowed a woman to continue to teach and tempt people to sin (occasion of stumbling). The woman had not repented, though she had been given opportunity, yet the church continued to tolerate her. For this, Jesus rebuked the church! Note that Jesus’ concern was, not just to save the woman, but that the church “allowed” her to continue to tempt other members to sin – they did not take the Scriptural steps to stop her influence.

This shows that the church should take the disciplinary steps we have studied regardless of whether or not the sinner will repent. In fact, if the sinner will not repent, that makes it all the more important for the church to take steps to warn the members to avoid social contact with him.

[See also 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; Acts 20:28-30; Galatians 6:1; Proverbs 24:1,2; 13:20; Matthew 18:6,7; 2 John 9-11; Titus 2:7,8; 1 Peter 2:11,12; 2 Corinthians 6:3; 8:20,21; Proverbs 4:23; 6:27; 22:3; Matthew 5:8; 6:13; 18:8,9; Romans 13:14; Genesis 39:7-12]

C. To Maintain Respect for God and His People

Church discipline passages

2 Corinthians 7:11 — By disciplining the fornicator, Corinth cleared themselves and proved themselves to be pure in the matter. It follows that, as long as they had not disciplined him, they had not cleared themselves or proved themselves to be pure.

When sin exists in our midst, in order to maintain the good name of the church, and therefore God’s good name, the church must clear itself and prove itself to be pure by disciplining the guilty, just as surely as under the Old Testament.

Other passages

The Bible teaches as a general truth that our conduct as God’s people, and especially as a church, reflects on how people view God. We are responsible to make clear that we oppose sin when it occurs in the church, just as Israel was commanded to do.

Acts 5:11 — The punishment of Ananias and Sapphira led, not only the church, but also “all that heard” to have respect (cf. v13).

1 Peter 2:11,12; 3:16 — When people speak against us as evil-doers, our good behavior may, instead, lead them to glorify God. Conversely, it follows that bad behavior tolerated among us, influences people to speak of us as evil-doers and to refuse to glorify God.

Romans 2:17-24 — When Jews lived in sin yet claimed to glory in God and in His word, the result was that God’s name was blasphemed. This is just as true among God’s people today as it was for Israel.

2 Corinthians 6:3 — We should not give occasion of stumbling in anything, so the ministry will not be blamed. When members live in sin, it hinders the whole effort of the church to minister to lost souls or to strengthen new or weak members.

A church that tolerates sin among its members will never be effective like it ought to be in saving souls. On the contrary, it brings reproach upon the God we seek to serve.

[See also Proverbs 14:34; 22:1; Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15,16; 2 Peter 2:2; Titus 2:5,7,8; 1 Timothy 3:7; 6:1; 5:14.]

D. To Obey God’s Commands

Nearly every passage we studied on church discipline contained direct statements commanding the church to discipline erring members (Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; etc.). Note especially:

2 Corinthians 2:9 — The command to punish the sinner was written as a test to see if the church will be obedient in all things. This is the end or purpose for which Paul wrote the instruction.

It follows that saving the sinner is not the “only purpose” for church discipline. There are several other purposes, one of which is to see if the church will be obedient.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 — We are commanded in the name of the Lord Jesus to withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly.

God has, at times, directly rebuked congregations for failing to discipline its erring members, tolerating sin when they should have punished it — (1 Corinthians 5 and Revelation 2:20-23).

As it was in Old Testament Israel, so it is in God’s spiritual Israel today. When some of God’s people go into sin, God calls upon the rest of us to demonstrate whose side we are on. Are we on the sinner’s side or are we on God’s side (Exodus 32:26ff)?

So, church discipline becomes a test to us. By chastising the sinner, we show to God and to all the world that we stand with God against sin. If we fail, then we have failed the test of obedience and have failed to take the stand that God commands.


III. Kinds of Sin that Require Discipline


Of the church discipline passages that we studied, several described broad or general categories of sin that need discipline. Sometimes these general principles were then applied to specific cases in the church being addressed.

Consider some of the classes of sin named:

A. Some Very General Descriptions of Sins to Be Disciplined

If a member commits any sin that falls into these broad categories (and then refuses to repent), he should be disciplined.

1 Corinthians 5 — Leaven of malice and wickedness (v8), wicked person (v13).

2 Thessalonians 3 — Every brother who walks disorderly (v6), not according to the inspired tradition (v6), anyone who disobeys inspired epistles (v14).

1 Timothy 1 — Those who put away faith and a good conscience, suffer shipwreck of the faith (v19), lawless and disobedient, ungodly and sinners (v9), any other thing contrary to sound doctrine according to the gospel (vv 10,11).

B. Some Broad Terms Which Are Yet Not as Broad as Other Terms

Matthew 18:15 — Sin against a brother. Many kinds of sin could be included, but here it refers primarily to sin against another brother.

Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10 — Sin of causing division or occasion of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine. These are sins that result in a particular kind of effect (division, etc.), but there are many kinds of sin that could produce these effects.

C. Some Specific Kinds of Sin to Be Disciplined

Here are some of the much more specific kinds of sin named as specific examples of sins to be chastised by the church:

1 Corinthians 5:11 — Fornicators, covetous, idolaters, railers, drunkards, extortioners.

2 Thessalonians 3:11 — Those who work not at all but are busybodies.

1 Timothy 1 — Blasphemy (v20), unholy and profane, murderers, fornicators, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars (vv 8-11), teachers of different doctrines (vv 3,4).

Remember, however, that these sins are just specific applications of the general descriptions of sins that deserve discipline. Any other sin that fits the general descriptions should also be disciplined, even though it be different from the specific application made in the context.

Conclusion

Chastisement of erring members, like all teaching, should be done in love. It is not an act of personal vengeance. It is not done to take out our frustrations on the sinner, to hurt him, or to “get rid of him.” Just like discipline of children in the home, it may be unpleasant to do, yet properly done it is intended to benefit everyone involved. Therefore, it is an act of love and should always be done with a proper spirit. We should be patient, control our attitudes, and always speak and act for the good of others.

Yet discipline is just as necessary in the church as in the home and in all of God’s institutions. Those who neglect it, do so at the risk of allowing sinners to continue in sin, at the risk of allowing other members to fall into sin, at the risk of allowing God and His people to come into disrepute, and at the risk of themselves disobeying God’s commands about how such problems should be dealt with.

Application of Divine teaching is difficult. But our responsibility is, not to avoid the subject because it is difficult, but to study God’s word carefully and then follow it with diligence, with prayer, and with love for all.

Note: If you would like to study further about related Bible topics, we have a number of other study materials on our web site that should interest you. Please see the links listed below.

(C) Copyright 2007, David E. Pratte
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