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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Strategic Warfare and Church Discipline
Text:2 Corinthians 2:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2017
Added:2019-12-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 
“Strategic Warfare and Church Discipline”
2 Corinthians 2:1-11; HC Q&A 85
 
Knowing the plans of the enemy is crucial during war. The United States was caught by surprise on that tragic day, known as “The Day of Infamy”, December 7, 1941. On that day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, killing over 2,400 Americans. We were caught by surprise. But after that, as the United States got involved in the Second World War, there was a concerted effort to figure out the plans of the enemy and counter them.
 
That type of defensive strategy is needed in every type of warfare, including warfare today. A strategy is in place behind the scenes concerning hostile nations such as North Korea, Iran, and the forces of ISIS.
 
What is true with the warfare and hostilities of nations is equally true spiritually. As Christians we face a fierce enemy – Satan.  But, as verse 11 points out, we are not unaware of his schemes.” We know, for instance, that Satan can be a subtle enemy, such as he was in the Garden of Eden. He so subtlety twisted the words of the Lord when he said to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
 
He was subtle and cunning in his explanation of God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” With those subtle, cunning words of the enemy, all humanity was plunged into sin.
 
But the devil can also be a bold enemy, such as when he accused Joshua the high priest. In Zechariah 3, Joshua the high priest is standing before the Lord in filthy rags. And there is Satan, right beside him, boldly pointing his finger, and denouncing the high priest as being unfit for the redeeming love of God.
 
And we know that whatever approach he uses, whether he subtly tempts or whether he comes boldly like a roaring lion, that either way Satan is a formidable opponent because he is knowledgeable. He is not omniscient, but he does know our weaknesses. He knows whether your weakness is lust. Or money. Or a desire for power. He knows whether your weakness is fueled by pride. And he knows how anger and an unforgiving attitude can rip a person up inside; he knows how an unforgiving attitude and anger can divide churches, bringing deep conflicts into congregations.
 
That is the background of this passage. A church member had sinned grievously and was excommunicated. The man had repented, and the apostle Paul had forgiven him. And he urged the people in Corinth to forgive him. He wrote, “Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
 
Sorrow Accompanies Discipline
 
From this passage we see a number of truths, including that discipline, especially excommunication, always brings grief and sorrow.  That is true in the church today. And it was certainly true back in Corinth in the first century. In verse 4 Paul describes how he had written to them about this situation out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.”
 
Picture Paul writing this letter from Macedonia.  He knew about this man who sinned grievously and was placed under discipline. In fact, Paul is the one who instructed the Corinthians to place the man under discipline. But the fact that this man had to be placed under discipline – excommunicated – brought anguish of heart and many tears. It brought anguish and grief not only to the apostle Paul but to everyone in the church at Corinth. Did you notice the use of the word “all” in verse 5?  The apostle wrote: If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely.”
 
The entire church at Corinth was grieved by the situation that they faced in the congregation. Apparently, we gather from verse 6, there was a minority within the congregation who felt as though the man did not need to be excommunicated, and yet the majority believed that there was no other recourse. The majority prevailed, but there was still sorrow by all that such severe discipline had to be administered to this man.
 
However, not only was the apostle Paul grieved, and all the people in the church at Corinth. The man who was under discipline was also grieved.  That is one reason why Paul tells them to forgive this man. In verse 7 he writes, …You ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
 
Any person who is put under discipline, especially if they are excommunicated, will face sorrow. And that sorrow will either be a godly sorrow that leads to repentance or it will be a worldly sorrow that leads to death. 2 Corinthians 7:10 addresses that. It says: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
 
Repentance is a part of God's grace to us. We know that the gift of faith is given to us by God's grace, but so is the willingness to repent. Some people, when they are disciplined, have worldly sorrow. They are sorry that they got caught doing what was wrong and now must suffer the consequences of their actions. But in their heart there is no true repentance.
 
To repent means to turn, and many who are disciplined, instead of turning from the sin which brought on the discipline remain hardhearted and unrepentant.  But this man obviously had godly sorrow which leads to salvation and leaves no regret.  Because of that, the apostle described how he had forgiven the man and urged the church to do the same. He writes, in verse 7-8, “You ought to forgive and comfort him… … I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”
 
How do we apply this sad chapter in the life of the Corinthian church? Does it even have an application to us today? We don't know the exact sin of this man who was under discipline. Some commentators believe that he was the man, written about in 1 Corinthians 5, who was sleeping with his stepmother, and the church was bragging about it, saying in effect, “Look how great God's grace is! This man sleeps with his stepmother and is still a member of the church.” The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5, admonished the Corinthians and explained to them that it was crucial to excommunicate that man.
 
Still other commentators believe that the man being disciplined in this passage was one of the leaders of the church who had opposed Paul and had tried to steer the church away the true teachings of the gospel that Paul had given. There are convincing arguments on both sides, and it is quite interesting to read the commentaries which take one side or another.  Many pages are written to substantiate their view, both by those commentators who think it was a leader who opposed Paul and misled the Corinthian church, and those who believe it was the man living in gross immorality.
 
But I think the Holy Spirit, when inspiring this passage to be written, purposely withheld the identity of the man. The identity of the man is withheld because that man represents all those who have sinned and have refused initially to repent of their sin. Those who refuse to repent of their sin face the consequences of their refusal to repent. 
 
It should not be the type of sin that causes a person to be excommunicated from the church. The sin of immorality is no greater than the sin of leading others astray doctrinally. And the same is true, vice-versa. Even a heinous, public sin is to be forgiven when truly repented of. What matters more than the nature of the sin is whether there is a sincere repentance for that sin.  If there is no sincere repentance, then discipline must be administered in an effort to bring repentance and restore a right relationship with the Lord.
 
The Necessity of Discipline
 
From this we see that discipline in the church is required.  Did you notice verse 9?  In that verse the apostle explains: Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything.”
 
It was the apostle Paul who had explained to them their need to exercise church discipline. And although he was grieved to hear of this man's refusal to repent initially, he was thankful to hear that the church was obedient in everything – even in the hard and grievous task of exercising church discipline.
 
The purpose of church discipline is always to restore the sinner. The purpose of church discipline is not to shame someone for what they have done. Instead the purpose is to bring that person into a right relationship with Jesus Christ again. And that right relationship can only be renewed by having sincere repentance for sin, along with the blessed assurance that all our sins, no matter how evil and presumptuous they have been, are covered by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
 
Every church must exercise discipline for the good of those who refuse to repent of their sin. It wasn't just the church at Corinth who was tested in their obedience as to whether they would exercise discipline. That test is put before every congregation. We consider the faithful administration of church discipline to be a mark of the true church.
 
Because the faithful exercise of church discipline is a mark of the true church, steps need to be taken in the process of discipline. If a person refuses to repent of their sin, and does not respond to brotherly admonition, then the elders ask prayer for that person without their name being used. The elders want the prayers of God’s people, imploring the Lord to convict the person of their sin and to turn them from their wicked ways.
 
If there is still no repentance after a period of time, if the person is a communicant member of the church, they are kept from taking the Lord's supper. The Heidelberg Catechism, as it answers the 85th question: “How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline?” teaches:
 
According to the command of Christ:  If anyone, though called a Christian,  professes unchristian teachings or lives an unchristian life,  if after repeated brotherly counsel, he refuses to abandon his errors and wickedness, and,  if after being reported to the church, that is, to its officers, he fails to respond also to their admonition – such a one the officers exclude from the Christian fellowship by withholding the sacraments from him, and God himself excludes him from the kingdom of Christ.
 
Such a person, when he promises and demonstrates genuine reform, is received again as a member of Christ and of his church.
 
Those specific steps of discipline are to be taken. And again, they are taken for the restoration of the sinner, not to shame the person but to the restore them to a right relationship with the Lord. Church discipline also protects the purity of the church, which is the bride of Christ, and is done for the glory and honor of God, for God is holy, and those who profess to believe in him must strive to be holy in all that they do.  
 
However, if the person still refuses to repent, then the church must exercise the strongest form of discipline, excommunication. But just as discipline is necessary, so, too, is the forgiveness and acceptance of the person who repents of their sin. When this man who had been disciplined repented of his sin and was received back into the church at Corinth, it was crucial for every member of the church to forgive that man.  Otherwise, verse 7 tells us, such a person may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
 
Forgiveness and Restoration
 
We must forgive as we have been forgiven by God. You know how Ephesians 4:32 puts it: Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  When we remember how we have been forgiven by God, then we will forgive others even as we have been forgiven. When we consider our own sinful condition then we won't treat others, no matter what they have done, a with a “holier than thou attitude”. That type of attitude demeans the person caught in sin, while elevating those who are self-righteous within the church.
 
We are all sinners. The laws we don’t break externally we so often break internally. And anytime we see someone who is under discipline, our heart must go out to the person who is caught in the bondage of sin. And we must acknowledge, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” 
 
The Lord has a way of touching hardened sinners, bringing them back to himself. And when a person under discipline  repents, then they must always be welcomed back joyfully. You remember the reaction of the prodigal son’s father, in the parable of the prodigal – or lost – son in Luke 15. When his son returned home, after living an immoral life that led him into the gutter, literally into the pig sty, the father welcomed him home with open arms. The father said, “‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
 
And yet in the church, when the prodigal comes back, other church members often act like the older brother in that parable of the prodigal son. You recall that instead of joyfully receiving his brother back, he was filled with bitterness. Jesus told how, “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
 
‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
  
The attitude of the older brother cannot prevail in the family of God, the true church. When a brother or sister who has sinned, repents and comes back to church, he or she must be received with open arms.  Jesus described how when one sinner repents, the angels in heaven rejoice.  In the same way, we must we rejoice and welcome the repentant sinner back into the family of God!
 
Guarding Against Satan’s Schemes
 
One of many reasons why it is so important that discipline is handled correctly in the church, is that if discipline is not handled properly, the means of restoration – discipline – is turned against the church, bringing alienation as Satan seeks to outwit God’s people with his schemes.
 
Satan is so subtle. Verse 10 and 11 remind us that if we do not forgive as we have been forgiven, Satan can outwit us. He can outwit those within the church who do not forgive, because he will stir up anger and resentment in their heart against the person whom God has forgiven, just as in the parable Jesus spoke about the prodigal son.
 
Even though that person has been forgiven by God, some people in the church bear a grudge against that person, holding their past conduct against them. They refuse to forgive, even though God has forgiven that person. They have been outwitted by Satan and are themselves in his control.
 
But Satan also works on those who have been disciplined as he tries to turn the tool of restoration – discipline done in love, even as God disciplines those He loves – into resentment in the life of the person who has been lovingly admonished.  We have perhaps known people who were excommunicated by the church and then they, and often their families, stay resentful to the church even though the church earnestly, prayerfully, and lovingly tried to get the person to repent of their sin. The evil one often uses the means of restoration to keep the person under discipline bitter and resentful.  But it is a harder task for the evil one when the discipline has been administered with true Christian love and compassion.
  
On the other hand, when the church has acted in a self-righteous, unloving manner, Satan has an easy job in keeping the person who was disciplined from returning in true repentance to the church and to the Lord. That is one of his many schemes, schemes that verse 10 and 11 warns us about, as the Apostle writes, I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
 
* * *
 
It was a tragic day on December 7, 1941. Over 2,400 Americans were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt  proclaimed December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy”.  The United States was caught by surprise.
 
After that, every effort was made to know the schemes of the enemies whom we fought against. Knowing the schemes of the adversary is so crucial. And what is true on the military front is certainly true in the spiritual warfare with our adversary, the devil.
 
Knowing his schemes, may we be loving, kind and faithful, even in the grievous and sad work of church discipline. And may we forgive, as we have been forgiven, for each one of us is a debtor to God's grace.  None of us can pick up the proverbial first stone; rather each one of us must always remember that we are restrained from sin only by God's grace.
 
Our hearts and prayers must go out to those who have not repented. And when, by God's grace, they do repent, we must receive them with the same open arms which greeted the prodigal son when he returned to his father. Since our God, being gracious and compassionate, forgives all who repent of their sin and believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, may we also, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, forgive others even as we have been forgiven. Amen.
 
 
- bulletin info -
 
 
Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that
Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. – 2 Corinthians 2:10-11
 
“Strategic Warfare and Church Discipline”
2 Corinthians 2:1-11; HC Q&A 85
 
I.  A church member had sinned grievously and was placed under discipline – excommunicated – which caused grief and sorrow:
      1) For Paul (4) and everyone in the church at Corinth (5)
 
 
 
 
       2) For the person under discipline (7; 2 Corinthians 7:10)
 
 
 
 
II. Applications:
      1)  Discipline in the church is required (9) for the restoration of the sinner  (6-8) as well as the purity of the church and the glory of God
 
 
 
 
      2) Forgiving those who repent is crucial (7); we must forgive as we have been forgiven – in the sight of Christ (10; Ephesians 4:32-5:2)
 
 
 
 
      3) If discipline is not handled properly, the means of restoration – discipline – is turned against the church and the person being disciplined, bringing
          alienation as Satan seeks to outwit God’s people with his schemes (10-11)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Ted Gray

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