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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Title:“The Keys of the Kingdom (Part 2): Closing and Opening the Kingdom of Heaven through Church Discipline
Text:LD 31 Genesis 4: 1-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Discipline
 
Preached:2023-02-05
Added:2023-03-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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


“The Keys of the Kingdom (Part 2): Closing and Opening the Kingdom of

Heaven through Church Discipline"

Genesis 4: 1-16; Lord’s Day 31 (Q 85)

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, when it comes to choosing or selecting a church to attend and join, what are the things you would value the most? What are crucial and essential elements to the church you would join? Many would value friendliness, a close-knit community, children’s programs, worshipful music, Biblical sermons and a relatable pastor.

 

And certainly, all those are important qualities in a church. But I wonder, how many people would put church discipline on their list? How many value that as an asset, as a crucial, essential element of the church they want to join? I don’t think too many would think of it that way.

 

And yet, church discipline is one of the two keys of the kingdom that Christ gave to us! It is something we as members of the church are entitled to, and it is also something that our elders are obligated to provide. In the form for Public Profession of Faith we find this question: Do you promise to submit to the government of the church, and also, if you should become wayward, either in doctrine or in life, to submit to its admonition and discipline?

 

Every member of this church – whether you made profession of faith here or elsewhere -- are obligated to abide by this. Yes, it often appears that this is something that we as members have either forgotten about or we are altogether ignorant about this. And as a result, we don’t understand the purpose of the process or the function of church discipline.

 

So that’s why it is good for us to consider this subject today. Here in Lord’s Day 31 and Genesis 4, Christ Calls us to Close and Open the Kingdom through the Exercise of Church Discipline.

 

1) The Proper Objects of Church Discipline (who is discipline for?)

2) The Primary Objective of Church Discipline (what is its purpose?)

 

1) The Proper Objects of Church Discipline (who is discipline for?)

This passage we read a few moments ago tells a very sad and tragic story of the first family. To understand what happens here, we must read Genesis 4 against the backdrop of Genesis 3. That passage reveals man’s fall into sin, God’s subsequent judgment upon mankind, as well as the consequences, the after-effects of sin: all mankind was plunged into sinful depravity and ruin.   

 

Genesis 4 shows us how quickly the power of sin spreads -- like the spiritual plague and disease that it is. This passage also highlights the devastating truth of Romans 6:23 the wages of sin is death. Not just spiritual death and separation from God but also physical death. And not just death that comes by way of sickness or old age, but death brought about by the hand of one man against another – of one brother against another. An unspeakable act of evil.  

 

And there’s no doubt that the grief and sorrow that Adam and Eve would have experienced was made all the heavier knowing that this was a consequence of their own sinful rebellion against God. Already here in Genesis 4, the sins of the first father are visited upon the sons.  

 

But Genesis 3 and 4 is not all bad news. There is Good News here for us as well. Genesis 3 also reveals God’s gracious response to man’s sin. Yes, God spoke words of judgment and curses, but he also spoke words of the hope and promise and deliverance, of coming salvation. In Genesis 3:15 God promised that from the seed (offspring) of the woman would come a son who would crush the head of the serpent; he would put an end to the power and presence of sin and evil.

 

And since Eve was the mother of all the living (Gen 3:20), it could be said that this seed would come from Eve’s own womb. This was Eve’s hope even as she gave birth to her son Cain and then again to her son Abel, as it is recorded in the first verses of Genesis 4.

 

After Cain was born, Eve said: I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord. The name Cain means acquired or obtained of God. Already here, Eve would have been hoping that this was the son, this was the man who was provided by God to fulfill that promise of deliverance.

 

Then God blessed Adam and Eve with the birth of another son whom they named Abel. Abel’s name wasn’t as hopeful. His name means breath, or meaninglessness (the same word that appears in the book Ecclesiastes), so perhaps in naming their second son they were reflecting upon the nature of life in this fallen world.

The second half of verse 2 introduces us to Cain and Abel. Abel was a keeper of the sheep, or a shepherd. Cain was a worker of the ground, or a farmer. Both were necessary and honorable professions. And then verses 3-4 reveals to us something very interesting: both Cain and Abel brought before the Lord offerings. Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground and Abel, the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.

 

This text proves that from the very beginning, long before God gave the law to Moses, long before God specified what sacrifices and offerings were to be made, God had made it clear to Adam and Eve what the Lord required.

 

I’m going to pause at this point and talk about discipline. There are at least two different kinds or forms of discipline. There is formative discipline and there is a formal or corrective discipline.

Formative discipline is not confrontational. It is not in response to a wrong that has been done but rather it is proactive and positive -- like a parent raising up a child in the way that he should go (Proverbs 22:6). It is the kind of instruction we receive in church every Sunday as the Bible is read and the Word of God is preached.

 

And ideally, if everyone listened and obeyed (you might say, in a perfect world), this would be the only form of discipline needed in the church, or home, or marriage or family, or school or workplace. This is the first form of discipline we see in our passage. 

 

God had made it clear to Adam and Eve (either by conviction of their conscience or by direct instruction) that man owed God worship and that man was to bring offerings to the Lord. Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel – all mankind – is under formative discipline of God

 

A second point I want to make here about discipline is that the proper objects of discipline are those who belong to the household of faith, to the family of God. Back in chapter 3, Adam and Eve were the objects of the corrective discipline of God. They sinned. The Lord confronted them. The Lord lovingly admonished them, and then he announced his punishment and consequences for their sin, but he also revealed his grace and mercy in his promise to send a Redeemer (who we know would be Jesus Christ, His own Son).     

And now, Cain and Abel join the first family. They are in the household of faith, and as such, they are also the proper objects of discipline. The reason I emphasize that is simply this: discipline is for all the members of Christ’s church – baptized as well as confessing members.

 

I mentioned before about ignorance and misunderstanding about church discipline. Here is a good example. It is often said that the church discipline cannot be exercised on a member who is only baptized but has not made profession of faith. That’s not correct. A consequence of that error is that churches carry the names of baptized members on the membership rolls for decades -- even though those members have fallen away and don’t even attend church anymore.

 

The truth is, we not only can, but we must discipline baptized members as well as confessing members. The only difference is the steps we take and the terms we use when we discipline. But to do nothing at all is not only a great dishonor to God; and it is a dereliction of our duty as elders. It is something that we need to repent of and address with humility and urgency.  

 

So, the proper objects of discipline are those who are baptized and confessing members in the church of Jesus Christ. It is for you and for me – for every child, every young person, every adult and senior citizen in the household of faith. It is our right as members of the body of Christ.

 

As LD 31 says, if any of us professes or holds to unchristian teachings (to teachings which are contrary to God’s Word) or if we live unchristian lives (we fall into sin), then we have every right to expect that our loving friends, our brothers and sisters in the church of Christ, and even members of our own family, will love us enough, will be faithful enough, to call us to repent; to call us to turn away from our sins and turn back to God.

 

2) The Primary Objective of Church Discipline (what is its purpose?)     

So that explains the proper Objects of Church Discipline. Secondly let’s consider the Primary objective of Church Discipline. Let’s return to our text in Genesis 4. This is where it becomes apparent that God’s formative discipline, God’s instruction and teaching is not enough for Cain.

 

Something evil, something sinister is brewing in Cain’s heart and mind – and we know that because of what it says in the second half of verse 4 and into verse 5. “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering. The ESV says the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering. But on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.”

 

Why was God displeased with Cain’s sacrifice? Was his sacrifice the problem, or was it Cain’s heart? The answer from our passage is both. God regards both the person and the sacrifice. They are inseparable. In this case, Abel was right before the Lord, and he brought the right sacrifice (Hebrews 4:11 tells us that Abel acted by faith).

 

But Cain, whose heart whose attitude was not right before the Lord, did not present an acceptable sacrifice. In other words, Cain rejected the Lord’s formative instruction, and he did things his own way. 1 John 3: 12 tells us that “Cain was of the evil one and he murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil, and his brothers were righteous.”

 

That is why – “The Lord looked with favor/regard on Abel and his offering. But on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” Cain is somehow made aware of the Lord’s disfavor (maybe by a guilty conscience or by some other means). *But what was he going to do about it?

 

This is the crucial point in every case of discipline – be it in the home, or in the church, or even in the world when someone commits a crime. Now what? How are we going to respond to the knowledge of our own sin and shortcomings -- and God’s displeasure with us? 

 

In Cain’s case, his response was as ungodly as his actions. Cain was very angry. And his face was downcast. Let me ask you: why does he respond like this? For one, it’s because he was not truly sorry for his sin.

 

In Psalm 51: 17 David writes that “the sacrifices of God (that please God, that God delights in) are a broken spirit; a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”   2 Corinthians 7:10 says: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

But there is no godly sorrow here. There is no broken spirit and contrite heart. Cain’s angry response is just the opposite. It exposes a prideful heart, a contentious and self-righteous spirit. Cain does not humble his heart before God. Cain contends with God and stubbornly holds on to the thought that what he offered to God should have been good enough.

 

What I want us to see this morning, beloved, is that Cain’s response is so often our response. In Cain’s response we see our sinful human nature at work. We must identify ourselves as Cain, and we have to see that his reaction is the universal reaction in the heart and mind of every sinner. Isn’t it true that when we’re confronted with our sin, our first instinct, our fall-back position is stubborn pride, a wilful denial of wrongdoing; a refusal to accept responsibility?

 

That’s how Satan has conditioned us to respond. We hate admitting that we’re wrong. We’re ashamed to confess that we’ve sinned. In fact, we’d rather lie and hide our sin than confess it or let anyone else know. That’s clearly Satan at work in us. I see this in my own heat and life. Do you see it in yours?

 

Notice something else about Cain’s response. At whom is Cain really angry? We know the eventual target of his rage and anger is his righteous and innocent brother Abel. But at whom is Cain really angry? Isn’t he angry with God? Yes, he is – but what should he have done?

 

Pastor Mark Vander Hart produced a Bible Study Guide on Genesis 4, and he makes the point: “It is God who determines how he is to be approach and adored. That is not for us to determine! Cain should have investigated that which would please God and then humbled himself.”

 

So, notice the progression: Cain sins. Cain feels guilt. But instead of humbling his heart and confessing his sin and being free from the guilt, he internalizes it. And now what? Now he is going to shift the blame from himself, and look lash out in anger and hatred at his brother.  

 

We see similar patterns in cases of domestic abuse. A husband who is having problems at work, or who is struggling with drug or alcohol, or porn addiction will feel shame and guilt and embarrassment about his sins. Very often he will take that out on his wife or children. He will lash out and punish those closest to him to for the sins he has committed against God.  

 

 

God sees this. God is aware of his anger and resentment. This is where the Lord shifts from “formative” discipline to “formal” or “corrective” discipline. Now the Lord meets with Cain for a counseling session, as it were. Look at verse 6: Then the Lord said to Cain, why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?

 

Here we see the Lord’s tenderness and mercy. The Lord is gently and lovingly pleading with Cain – which is a form of discipline.  And Cain can still pull out of this. He’s not yet at the point of no return. He can still repent of his anger and turn to God and make the right sacrifice.

 

Later on, in the New Testament, Jesus would lay out the steps of discipline in Matthew 18. But already here we see that the primary objective of discipline is to turn Cain around in his tracks. It is to have him repent of his sin, to love God with all his being, and to live and worship as God commands.

 

We notice that along with the Lord’s gracious pleading comes a stern warning: But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

 

The Lord looks on the heart – and the Lord sees what is going on inside Cain’s heart. There is a fierce spiritual battle taking place, and the Lord knows what’s at stake. The Lord knows where Cain’s anger and hatred and jealousy will lead. There’s danger ahead! Indwelling sin leads to death and destruction and condemnation.

 

Boys and girls, sin is described here as a wild animal, like a lion crouching at the door of Cain’s heart, ready to consume him. Or think of a poisonous snake lurking just out of sight, coiled up and prepared to strike. Sin is really Satan. And Satan desires to have us. Satan desires to deceive us, drag us away, and then consume us and destroy us.

 

The message God is telling Cain is the same message God is telling any one of us who have unconfessed, hidden and willful sins in our hearts and lives: if we do not confess our sin, if we do not repent of our sin, if we do not kill that sin that is lurking at our door – then most definitely it is going to kill and consume us.

 

I think of the countless young men and husbands and fathers who have given in to the temptation of pornography. And because they are too ashamed to confess our sin, or maybe unwilling to give up their sin, but as a result, they are sucked in further until their lives, their families, their marriages were ruined. Beloved, pornography – like all addictive sin, kills and consumes. It kills relationships, and marriages and families – and it can kill us spiritually.          

 

In the end, Cain doesn’t master his sin, and as God warned, it consumed him. Cain acted on his hatred and anger. He killed his righteous brother Abel. As a result, Cain is cursed and cast out. He is excommunicated from the household of faith and sentenced to be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth.

 

This is what happens to anyone who rejects and refuses to submit to the discipline of God. They are cast out of God’s presence. In our terminology, they are excommunicated from the church. There’s a phrase that is used in the New Testament where Paul speaks of this as turning the sinner over to Satan.

 

This appears in 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul discovers that there is a man among them living in sin and no one has yet disciplined him. Paul urges them to excommunicate the brother. But listen to how Paul explains the purpose behind it: He says, “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 is present, hand this man over to Satan (and why?) so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”

 

Church discipline, even the extreme remedy of excommunication, is designed by Christ to draw us back to himself; to destroy our sinful nature and to save us from being mastered and consumed by our own sinful selves. To turn one over to Satan is similar to the prodigal son who left to go off and indulge his sinful pleasures until he saw where all that led – to emptiness and death.    

 

Beloved, Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins, and to set us from our own powerful sinful desires – and from the power and tyranny of Satan!

 

And having been set free, Christ calls us to follow him; to humble our hearts and come to him each day in faith and repentance, not in pride and arrogance. And the wonderful news is, we have members in our church who have been the object of formal church discipline. Many have turned away from their sinful ways and turned back to Christ -- and it is a wonderful sight to behold.

 

But sadly, others remain in their sin. Some have been excluded or excommunicated. And others are still under formal discipline and have yet to turn back to Christ.

 

I want us all to pray for those who are under discipline – especially if you know this person. I want us to pray for our elders who are laboring under the authority and direction of Jesus Christ the Head of the church. I urge you not to work against the elders. Don’t oppose them in their work. Can you imagine Adam and Eve opposing God, arguing that God was expecting too much of Cain, or being too hard, or unfair, unjust, or unloving. No. Of course not.   

 

Remember, your elders were elected to their office by members of this church, and they were ordained and equipped by Christ for their task. And while we are quick to point out that the elders are not God, and that they are not infallible, the fact remains, they are our ordained and appointed leaders, and they are called to render judgment, and to serve as the shepherds and caretakers of our soul – and we owe them our prayers, encouragement, honor, and allegiance.

 

As a reminder and encouragement of this, I close with Hebrews 13:17 says: “Obey your leaders (spiritual leaders are in view here) and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy and not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2023, Pastor Keith Davis

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