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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Preached At:Lynwood United Reformed Church
 Lynwood, IL
Title:Dare to Discipline
Text:Matthew 18:15-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Discipline

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Belgic Confession Article 32
(No songs supplied.)
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the introduction to his well known book, Dare to Discipline, Dr. James Dobson describes the sorry plight of a well meaning mother who had an extremely defiant 3 year old daughter. He wrote that time and again the mother and daughter would engage in a battle of wills.

Each time the mother told her daughter to do something she didn’t want to do, the little girl would scream and cry until eventually her mother would relent and give in to her wishes. But even when the mother would do just as the little girl wanted, the daughter would remain insolent and angry and treat her mother with contempt.

It turns out, this mother was following the wisdom and methods of the current ‘child care experts’. They taught that patience and tolerance would eventually win over a child’s heart; that encouraging rebellion in a child would actually serve to drive out the hostility from his heart.

They said that conflicts arise between parents and children because of misunderstandings or different points of view, and that if she had a heart-to-heart talk with her daughter where she could verbalize her daughter’s feelings, then that would solve the conflict.

This mother found out the hard way that the experts were wrong. They were wrong on two counts: they were wrong because they divorced themselves from the principles and practice of discipline; secondly, they were wrong because they simply refused to call wrong behavior "sinful behavior". The failed to see that sinful behavior needs to be addressed as such.

In short, they did not follow the Biblical guidelines for dealing with sin and administering discipline. They didn’t understand that sin must be dealt with as sin, or it will destroy both those who practice it and those who tolerate it. Beloved, that holds true not only in our families, but it also holds true in our churches. We have to dare to discipline according to God’s Word.

In the church, we have to go dare to go against the experts; dare to go against the current trends (where churches are lax on discipline); dare to go against the common wisdom of our age (who are we to judge?); dare to do the hard work that so many are neglecting.

The reason we have to do this as a church is because God has commanded us to. Just as discipline is an integral part of everyday life in the home, so too, discipline it is an integral part of everyday life in the church. Discipline is an ongoing, never ceasing activity. Discipline is every member’s duty and responsibility. And most significant of all, discipline is a sign of love. Proverbs 3: 11-12 says, My son do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

That is exactly our Lord’s point in Matthew 18 as well. As we said this morning, Jesus is telling His disciples, His church, how precious God’s children are to Him. He told them that as God’s little children they possessed great stature; they deserved great care; they were to be held in great esteem (highly valued so that not one of them would be lost).

In this portion of chapter 18, Jesus teaches that the Father’s love for His children is such that He will not allow sin to fester in their hearts and lives. The Father will not allow sin to destroy the unity and fellowship of the family of God--between brothers and sisters in the Lord.

In His love, the Lord has given us steps to follow whereby sin may be confessed and forgiven and sinners reconciled to each other and to their Lord. That is the teaching of God’s Word and that is the teaching summarized for us in Article 32 of the Belgic Confession.

Christ Instructs His Church in the Practice of Discipline. Aspects of discipline:
1) It’s Personal;
2) It’s Pastoral;
3) It’s Persistent.

1) It’s Personal

In verse 15 Jesus says, ,i>If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault just between the two of you. Your brother, of course, is your brother or sister in the Lord, a fellow member in the church, a fellow child of God. Discipline happens ‘person to person’. It is a practice that takes place within the family of faith.

It is practiced among people who share the same faith, who confess the same Lord, who share in all Christ’s benefits and blessings, who by Christ’s Spirit have been united together in the bond of peace, and who strive after a common goal and purpose.

That goal and purpose, is that in our lives, the Name of God would be glorified, the honor of Christ upheld; the purity of Christ’s church maintained; and fallen sinners would be reconciled to God. So this means that discipline in the church is about more than restoring right relationships between brothers and sisters. Sure that’s important. That’s mandatory.

But Jesus’ words underscore the fact that we engage in discipline for the sake of restoring a fallen brother or sister to His Lord-to win them back into fellowship with their Lord. So obviously when a brother or sister sins against us, they also sin against God, and any sin that goes unconfessed or remains unrepented of is (spiritually and sometimes physically) life threatening-both to the individual and the church as well.

So, for the sake of our dear brothers and sisters, for the sake of their fellowship with the Lord, and for the sake of the holiness and the honor of our Lord, we brothers and sisters are called to engage in Christian discipline. This means that the majority of discipline cases in Christ’s church are handled NOT by your elders, but by you as members of Christ’s church.

This means that we as brothers and sisters, are all equally called, and equally responsible before God to discipline each other when the situation warrants it. I want to speak a word or two about the nature of the sin or offense that is in view here.

The type of sin to which Jesus is referring can be either a personal sin that someone commits against us, (for instance, it could be a personal insult; a personal injury where someone hits another person; an outburst of anger where someone says something mean, something said that was slanderous, etc).

On the other hand, this could be a sin that was not committed against us per se, but yet it was committed in our presence-with our knowledge. Let’s say a Christian young man notices that his Christian friend has been swearing a lot lately or that he uses the Lord’s Name in vain. That would require person-to-person discipline.

Or young ladies, let’s say that a Christian friend of yours boasted to you how she went into a store and snuck a nice pair of earrings in her purse without anyone seeing. That’s not something you snicker about and shrug off. If we are serious about our faith, if we are sincere about our calling that Christ gave us, and truly love our friend, then we will personally and privately seek to discipline our friend.

Understandably, there are certain sins that do not fall into this category. There are sins that are more public or grievous by nature (when a person’s sin necessarily involves others), that cannot be handled just between two people. For example I just finished reading a book that told the moving story of the fall and restoration of an associate Pastor who over a 13 year period had committed adultery with over 10 different women in 3 different churches.

Even though the Senior Pastor was the only one from his current church that found out about this sin, he immediately called an elder, and then a meeting of the church board to confront this man with this sin. The following Sunday they immediately told it to the church, because the nature of the sin was so scandalous, so widespread, that it could not be dealt with in a private manner, and so now all the brothers and sisters together could pray for this man’s repentance.

So, just as there are different types of sin, there are different ways of handling sin. And we always have to exercise great discretion as to how to handle each sin. But primarily, the type of sins and offences that Jesus describes here are personal sins that we commit on a daily basis against our neighbor. These are sins we do not start talking about with others, making them fuel for Gossip. These are sins that require loving and faithful and personal confrontation.

2) It’s Pastoral

But now, just how do we confront each other? What is our motive? What is our goal? What is the proper way to do this? Here we consider the second aspect of discipline, it’s Pastoral. Now beloved, I have heard is said by many people that they hate confrontation, they shrink back from it, they are afraid of it.

But I wonder if that’s because our idea of confrontation is defined by the world. The world portrays confrontation as an unfriendly standoff between two people. It is usually accompanied by an exchange of unpleasant words, and it can easily escalate into all out violence.

But that is not the way confrontation is defined by God’s Word. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, how did God confront them? Did he come with an army of angel? Did he lose His temper and call them names? Did God pick them up by the scruff of the neck and toss them out?

No. God lovingly, pastorally, and gently confronted Adam and Eve with their sin. He came to them in His grace. Yes, He admonished them with His Words, He pronounced His curses, yet the words of the Lord were kind and loving and merciful.

And, when Nathan confronted David for his sin with Bathsheba, Nathan did not come to David in anger, throwing around furniture, hollering and screaming at David. In dramatic fashion, he told David a story, a parable, and finished by saying, "David, you are that man!"

And, when our risen Lord confronted Peter about his denial, he lovingly and gently restored him. So in Christ’s church, confrontation is not physical intimidation. It does not involve arguing or name calling or intense interrogation techniques. No. In Christ’s church, confrontation is a face to face discussion that is born of love. It is as simple as a mother or father sitting down with his or her child, speaking to that child about something that he did wrong.

The motive for this loving confrontation is not so we can get some personal satisfaction for what that person did to us, or to make him squirm a bit, or to ‘brow-beat’ him to make him feel guilty for what he did. As we already said, our motive must be to win our brother and sister back into fellowship with the Lord.

And the way we show love and pastoral concern is by following Christ’s guidelines, and keeping that particular sin private between two people, thus protecting his reputation. It wouldn’t be very loving or pastoral if we were to first go to other friends and tell them about this sin, and then approach him about it. That’s not how Jesus instructs us to go about it. He calls us to confront our brother lovingly, gently, pastorally.

3) It’s Persistent

Thirdly congregation, we notice that discipline is resolute. That basically means that discipline is steadfast. It’s persistent. So, if our first attempt at confrontation fails, it doesn’t mean that we’ve done all we have to do, that we said our part, and we’re free to move on.

Absolutely not! Far from it. In fact is, Jesus never set’s a limit on the amount of times that we can confront a friend about his or her personal sin. It could be that it only takes once. It could be that it takes a couple of visits. Or, it might even take a dozen visits to show our friend from the Word of the Lord, where he is wrong, and how his behavior or language is offensive.

The only stipulation Jesus makes is that if he or she is not willing to listen to us, if they will not even entertain our visits, if they will not hear us out, and also implied here is the idea that if they continue to engage in the very sin that we admonished them for, then we are to take two or three others along to speak with him (to verify the truth of the matter yes...).

But this also helps to substantiate the seriousness of the charges both for the individual that sinned, as well as for the one confronting him for the sin. If one person confronts me for my personal sin, perhaps I can say, "That’s just your opinion, your viewpoint. Who are you to tell me I’m in the wrong." But when two or three come to speak to me, and they all are of the mind that what I have done is wrong, then that’s all the more reason I should humble myself and confess my sin, and ask the Lord for forgiveness.

And Jesus says, if that doesn’t work, then we tell it to the church. Then the elders of the church are informed that one of their members has fallen into sin, and worst of all is stubborn and hardhearted and remains impenitent. So beloved, that’s when the elders finally enter the scene, but not before, and not until a long process of personal confrontation has taken place.

And as most of us are aware, the process that the elders follow is the 3 step process that may include suspension of membership privileges, taking the formal steps of discipline, making public announcements of sin and refusal to repent, until finally the ultimate remedy is applied, the excommunication of that member from the fellowship of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

And this is where we see that the discipline which began on a personal basis, handled privately between two people, may in the end take on a corporate nature, where discipline is carried our publicly for the sake of the entire church so that God’s people can participate in the process by means of their prayers and encouragements; but discipline is also applied publicly to work as a preventive measure (public deterrent), that by witnessing the exercise of discipline (even an excommunication) the fear and holiness of the Lord their God would be impressed upon their hearts and they would strive more than ever to keep themselves from sin.

We see such examples in the Bible: David’s sin and confession was most certainly made public before all Israel, if not at the moment, certainly in Psalm 32 that he wrote and Israel later sang in worship. In Judges, Achan’s sin was handled publicly as all of Israel was gathered together to see the judgment which the Lord God meted out upon him and his family.

In the New Testament (Acts 5) we read the account of Ananias and Sapphira who secretly kept back part of the money which they promised on oath to give to the Lord. Then later when confronted with their sin, they dared to lie about it to Peter.

Peter accused them of lying to the Holy Spirit. In that account the Lord Himself carried out discipline by striking them dead after they lied. But what we seldom take notice of is what it says in the last verse of that account, verse 11: great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

The discipline that the Lord administered was public knowledge to the whole church, and it served to strike holy terror into the hearts of God’s people. There’s one other account where we see discipline take place before the congregation. In I Corinthians 5, Paul commands the church in Corinth to stop dragging their feet when it comes to discipline, for there was a man in their midst who had slept with his mother-in-law.

So Paul wrote to them saying, (vs. 4) When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus Christ is present, hand this man over Satan so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

That example is so convincing because it clearly shows how discipline is a Key of the Kingdom which our Lord uses, right along side the official preaching of the Word, right within the context and setting of corporate worship, for the glory of God and the purity of the church.

Beloved, it is our calling as believers in Christ to see to it that we follow through with discipline. Our Lord commands us to. It is our duty to be sure that we never stop short at any point along the way, thinking that somehow the sin will just go away, or that a ‘sin problem’ will eventually rectify itself with time.

We must never be reluctant to begin discipline or fearful that by our discipline we might cause our fallen brother or sister to rebel even more or drive them further away. I realize that this is our immediate fear, but that harkens back to a problem we pointed out at the beginning.

It’s the people in the world who believe that discipline doesn’t work. And sadly, that erroneous concept has crept into the church, so that there are many churches who avoid discipline as much as possible, reserving it only for worst case scenarios. But by then, it’s far too late to help the fallen sinner!

That’s why our Lord designed the practice of discipline to be exercised and applied by each and every member of His Church. It’s because as Christ’s church, we are the family of God, the ones God loves. We are the ones for whom Christ shed His blood and gave His body to die upon the cross. We are the Ones whom our Triune God has made to be holy.

We are the ones who are to live at peace with God and with men. Yet Our Lord, knowing our propensity for sin (like wandering sheep!), and knowing that we would fall into sin, has graciously provided for us this loving and caring practice that we call church discipline. So beloved, let’s take to heart the words of Matthew 18, and the teaching of our Confession. Let’s take to heart the loving admonition of Proverbs 3, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2005, Pastor Keith Davis

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