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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The Lord graciously disciplines those whom he loves
Text:LD 31 QA 85 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Discipline

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 84:1,2

Psalm 94:1,5,6

Psalm 32:1,3,4

Hymn 1

Hymn 3:5

Scripture readings: Hebrews 12:1-17, Revelation 3:14-22

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 31 QA 85

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

If you’re like me and remember the 1980s, you’ll remember there were a lot more airline accidents then there are today.  So many people died in plane crashes back in the 1980s.  But now you hardly ever hear about them.  Why is that?  What changed?

One of the things that makes flying so safe these days is the way cockpit crews are trained to work with their procedures and with one another.  This is mandated by regulatory bodies in each country.  Pilots have a mandatory series of checks and balances in place to make sure that flying removes as much human error as it can.  It’s still not perfect and human and mechanical errors can and do still take place, but lessons have been learned from past accidents.  So, for instance, pilots not only use checklists, but they also have accountability in the cockpit.  Pilots are trained to hold each other accountable for following the established procedures.

Now imagine an airline where there were no such procedures or where no one listened to them.  Imagine an airline where pilots just did whatever they wanted.  They would get in the cockpit and just fly by the seat of their pants, do their own thing, whatever they felt like doing.  Pilots never did walk-arounds before flying, never paid attention to the fuel or cargo loaded, never followed check-lists.  Would you want to fly on an airline like that?  In aviation, just having people do their own thing can be disastrous, even deadly.  In an aircraft cockpit, discipline can mean the difference between life and death. 

We recognize the value of discipline in aviation.  We recognize the value of discipline in the operating room.  Surgeons now use some of the same sorts of procedures that pilots do – checklists, and team accountability.  It saves lives.  In these and other areas of life, we can easily see how discipline is a good thing. 

It’s a good thing for the church too.  When we speak about church discipline, we’re speaking about something that can save lives.  It can sometimes physically save lives, but more importantly, it also saves people for eternal life.  The whole purpose of church discipline is to rescue people from their own sinful foolishness.  It is not about punishment, not about shaming people, but about loving someone enough to admonish them and try and get them to turn away from their sin. 

In several places, the Bible speaks about the discipline of the Lord.  We find this in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, both before and after the coming of Christ.  Everywhere you read about it, you find it connected with the love of God.  In Hebrews 12:6, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves…”  In Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline…”  Discipline is framed in a positive way, as an expression of God’s love for his people. 

Because God loves his people, he has also given the key of the kingdom of heaven known as church discipline.  The church is an instrument God uses to go after those of his people who stray.  This afternoon, with the help of QA 85 of our Catechism we want to learn about how the Lord graciously disciplines those whom he loves.

We’ll learn about:

  1. Why we need discipline
  2. How we do discipline
  3. Who does discipline

Christians find themselves in a constant battle.  Sometimes I’ve heard people question how they can even be Christians because they have such a struggle with this or that sin.  What we all need to recognize is that the struggle is part of what characterizes us as Christians.  Christians are people who struggle with sin.  It’s when you give up the struggle that your spiritual status begins to come into question.  It’s when you live in sin and no longer see it is a problem, you don’t care anymore.  It’s a problem when you no longer repent of your sins and strive to turn away from them. 

We know that Paul wrote letters to several different churches.  But did you realize that Jesus also sent letters to several churches?  He did this in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation.  Among those letters is the one we read from in chapter 3, a letter to the church of Laodicea.  This was a church in danger.  Their works didn’t reflect the faith they claimed to profess.  They were proud and yet had nothing to be proud of.  They were letting the remnants of their sinful nature begin to take over.  In the face of that, Christ said he reproves and disciplines those whom he loves.  They needed discipline because they were straying away from the Lord. 

We find a similar situation amongst the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews.  At the beginning of chapter 12, the author describes the Christian life as a race.  That race has been run by Christ and many others before us.  For us to run the race, we must keep our eyes focussed on Jesus.  In this race, there are challenges.  There’s sin which can cling to us and slow us down.  There’s the possibility of growing weary and fainthearted.  We can become lazy in the race and maybe drop out.  This is why we need the discipline of the Lord, according to Hebrews 12.  He disciplines us for our good, out of love, so we’ll stay in the race.  He graciously disciplines us so we’ll keep our eyes fixed on Christ and be able to persevere to the end.

So why do we need discipline?  Because even though we are justified before God, we’re still sinners.  Even though we’ve been declared right by God once and for all, we still have to constantly wrestle with sin in our lives, and sometimes we can get tired or lazy and give up the fight.  We’re faced with the temptations of the world and of Satan and we might get thrown off track for a time.  Our Canons of Dort speak of this as well.  In Chapter 5, we confess that there are daily sins of weakness in all of us.  But, even worse, saints may fall into serious sins as well.  Let’s read Canons 5.4 together.  The Canons point us to the Bible and the example of David.  David was a man after God’s own heart, and yet we find him on his rooftop lusting after a married woman.  David was the sweet psalmist of Israel and yet he took advantage of his power as king and brought Bathsheba to sleep with him.  David was a type of Christ, and yet we find him plotting the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite.  David was in need of discipline and God sent Nathan the prophet to proclaim it.  Because of his love, God worked through his servant Nathan to bring David back from the wicked path he was on.

In QA 85, we confess that discipline is needed for those who claim to be Christians, but yet show themselves to be unchristian in doctrine or life.  That could happen to any of us.  Don’t think that this could never happen to you.  Don’t think that this could never happen to your children.  1 Cor. 10:12 says, “…let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”  We’re all weak – all of us.  We all face enemies who want us spiritually dead.  The most insidious of those enemies is what remains of our sinful nature.  We are our own worst enemies.  This is why we need to be constantly vigilant.  This is why we need to pray constantly for God’s grace.  This is why the church needs to have discipline in place as a safety net.  The airline that thinks it doesn’t need safety procedures and cockpit discipline doesn’t understand the dangers inherent in aviation.  The church members that don’t think they need discipline to be taught and practiced don’t understand the spiritual dangers inherent with life in this broken world.

So we know how much we need discipline in the church.  Because the Lord loves us, he also shows us how to carry out his discipline.  There are steps that need to be followed.  It’s really not complicated.  That’s not to say it’s easy to do, but it’s not hard to understand what has to be done.  Let’s review the teaching of Christ from Matthew 18 that we find summarized in our Catechism. 

You see a brother or sister and they’re living in sin.  It has to be clear that it’s a sin.  It can’t just be your idea or opinion that what they’re doing is wrong.  You have to be able to point to what the Bible says.  Then what do you do?  Well, you don’t go and talk with other people about it.  Matthew 18 is clear that you have to go and talk about it with your brother or sister – face to face.  That means the phone is out.  Even more obviously, e-mail is out too.  Phone, texting, messaging, and e-mail have no place in a serious matter like this.  You need to sit down face to face, and not in front of other people.  In private, you talk about it with the other person.  You want them to see what they did wrong and you want to see them repent – have a new way of thinking about their sin, about God, and about themselves.  And if they’ve hurt anybody with their sin, we want to see them go to those people and ask for forgiveness. 

Hopefully, they’ll listen and do those things.  But what happens if they don’t?  You have to keep going to them repeatedly.  And if they still don’t want to listen, then our Lord Jesus tells us to bring along another believer or two.  We have to keep trying to get them to repent of their sins.  And if they still won’t listen and repent, after trying over and over, then you have to bring it to the elders of the church.  First, you have to try and deal with it on your own.  But after you’ve done everything you can, then you can go to the elders of the church and then they have to deal with it.  Again, the way we do that is by having a face to face meeting with our ward elder. 

Then the elders will keep trying to get the person to repent.  But if they still won’t listen, then certain steps are followed.  First there’s what we call silent censure.  That’s when a person is withheld from the Lord’s Supper.  At this point, nothing is made public.  If things don’t improve, then the consistory makes the first public announcement.  In this announcement, the name of the sinner isn’t mentioned and the congregation is urged to pray and admonish.  With the second announcement, the church goes to a classis for advice first.  When a classis has heard the case, they will either advise the church to hold off or continue with the second announcement.  Going to classis ensures a level of accountability – making sure the local church has done its due diligence.  Finally, there’s a third announcement in which a date is set for excommunication.  That means they’ll be removed from the fellowship of the church – again, that means they’re being removed from Christ’s kingdom by God himself.  The door to the kingdom of heaven is closed on them and they’re locked out. 

But that door can be opened again.  When the person has a change of thinking about their sins and a change of life which shows that they really believe in Christ, then they can be welcomed back to the church.  They can confess their sins and be readmitted.  In our Book of Praise, we have a form for Readmission into the Church of Christ.  Some of the happiest moments in church life happen when that form gets read.  Then the door of the kingdom of heaven is being opened again with the key of church discipline.   

Now those are the steps that need to be followed.  However, it’s not enough to just mechanically follow them.  There’s a spirit or attitude in which those steps have to be followed.  That spirit or attitude is to be the same as that of our God.  His discipline isn’t about punishment, not about getting someone back for what they’ve done.  It’s not retribution.  It’s about love.  Discipline is about loving someone enough to go after them.  So when we admonish in the way of Matthew 18, our love has to be evident.  We have to come to our fellow sinners with humility and compassion.  We need to say things like, “I’m a sinner too.  I struggle with sin every day and sometimes I’m tempted to give up the struggle.  Sometimes I have given up the struggle, and when that happened I wish someone would have encouraged me the way I’m encouraging you right now.”  We have to be firm about what God’s Word says, but it still needs to be seen that we’re gentle, humble, and loving, that we’re reflecting the Saviour to whom we’re united. 

We need to speak about forgiveness too.  We need to remind our brother or sister of how forgiveness is always available through Jesus, through the blood of the cross.  We need to speak of Christ’s perfect obedience credited to the account of believers.  There’s no sin that can’t be forgiven through Christ when you come to him in repentance and faith.  God’s grace is sufficient to cover it all.  When we admonish, we always need to bring in the healing power of the gospel as well.  We should always give hope and a way out through Christ.     

Last of all, we want to look at who does discipline.  I can be brief on this because I’ve already implied it.  Who does discipline?  First and foremost, it should be all of us.  All of us should care enough about one another that if we see a brother or sister going astray, we would go after them and admonish them in a loving way.  I’d like to believe that this takes place.  However, to tell you the truth, I have never seen a case come before the elders from the members, following the steps of Matthew 18.  I’ve never seen a situation where someone approaches the elders and says, “I tried to admonish brother so-and-so and I have been unsuccessful, so I’m now bringing it to you.”  There could be valid reasons for not having seen that happen.  Perhaps it happens and people are usually successful and there’s no need to bring it to the elders.  It gets taken care of behind the scenes and never becomes a consistory matter.  I’d like to believe that this is the case.  But it could also be that discipline isn’t functioning the way it should.  It could be that brothers and sisters are shirking their responsibility to love one another and admonish one another.  It could be that we have bought into the thinking of the world – a world which equates discipline in lifestyle matters with heavy-handed judgmentalness.  I’ll leave it with you this afternoon.  I’ll leave you with the Word of the Lord.  Christ plainly teaches us in Matthew 18 that church discipline is a responsibility we all share.

However, there is a special responsibility for the elders of the church.  The Bible says the elders are the shepherds of the flock.  Shepherds are protectors.  They protect the flock from wolves and other predators.  But sheep also sometimes need to be protected from themselves.  Sheep are dumb animals and they can do stupid things that put themselves in harm’s way.  They might get too close to a cliff, or they might wander away from the flock at night.  The shepherd has to keep an eye on them and use his staff to rein them in, if necessary.  By virtue of their being called shepherds, elders need to be among the people and be aware of their struggles and difficulties.  They need to keep an eye on their ups and downs and if a sheep is straying, the elder needs to be on top of it.  So, brothers, remember the charge you received at your installation, “You, elders, as good shepherds of Christ’s flock and faithful watchmen over the house of God, be diligent in governing the church, in comforting the distressed, and in admonishing the wayward.  Take heed that the congregation abide by the pure doctrine and lead a godly life.” 

And loved ones, if the elders should ever have to admonish you, I urge you to receive their admonitions with humility.  Remember how these men represent Christ and his love.  They’re contacting you not because of malice, not because they have it in for you, but because they care about your spiritual welfare.  If a fellow brother or sister should admonish you, be open to that also.  Don’t immediately get your back up and become defensive.  Be humble and listen to what your brother or sister is saying.  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Ask the Lord to show you if you have been wrong.  Remember the wise teaching of Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”  And Psalm 141:5, “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.”

Churches that don’t practice discipline aren’t doing anyone any favours.  They’re killing their members softly, killing them with kindness -- but a kindness that isn’t really kind.  There’s a good reason why the administration of church discipline is a mark of a true church.  The reason is that a true church will truly show the love of Christ.  Love goes after those who are heading for destruction.  It calls out to them and warns them.  Loved ones, let’s value this biblical teaching and practice it faithfully – because we love our God and because we love one another.  AMEN. 



Thank you that you care for us so much that you will discipline us if we need it.  We thank you for the teaching of our Saviour.  Please help us as a church family to care about one another.  Please give us courage to speak when we see a brother or sister wandering from you.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to admonish one another in love when there is a need for it.  We pray for our elders as well and the special responsibility they have.  Please give them wisdom and fill them also with your love for the sheep.  Give them what they need for their calling to shepherd the flock.  O God, we also ask you to give each of us a spirit of humility.  If we should ever be in need of admonition, help us to receive it in the right way.  Please work in us so we would see the error of our ways and repent truly and quickly.  We are weak and we struggle every day with sin.  Please help us to stay in the fight, help us to make war against our sinful desires.  We pray that you would help us with these things, so we would truly live for your praise.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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