Biblical teaching is one of the key components of a healthy local church. If a church strays from the Bible as its source of truth and instruction, then it is no longer truly functioning as a church. Because of this, the Word must be taken into account in all areas of church life. In this session of Secret Church 9, Pastor David Platt explains just how critical Bible teaching is in the life of the church. By keeping the Word of God central, a church submits to God’s divine authority and wisdom for guidance. When a genuine community of believers is built upon the Word, the Spirit of God is sure to move.
- The church is a community formed by God’s Word
- The church is a community focused on God’s Word
- The church is a community that nurtures
The church teaches. All right, we’ve talked about two things, so far, that the church does. The church evangelizes, and the church baptizes. Now, the church teaches. “They devoted themselves…” this is Acts 2:42, “to the apostles’ teaching.”
If Jesus Christ is the head of the church and hence the source and goal of its entire life, true growth is only possible in obedience to Him. Conversely, if the church becomes detached from Jesus Christ and His Word, it cannot grow however active and successful it may be. (Os Guinness)
There is a trend today in our day to minimize the teaching of the Word, to say it’s not that important. People say the teaching of the Word is optional, and it is just OK to have conversations or just do arts.
I was in a seminar one time. This is when I was in seminary, and I should have said something, but I didn’t. It would have been a bit arrogant for me to say something though. This guy was giving a presentation on how teaching and preaching in the church were of old and no longer necessary and no longer important. He gives this whole spiel about how music has replaced teaching, and so I wanted to raise my hand at the end of this hour talk and ask him, if that was true, then why did he not sing his lecture. I was thinking it was a battle. “Do I say something? No, I’m just a student. Don’t say anything,” but this is something the church is devoted to and has been devoted to for 2,000 years. I don’t think we’ve quite reached the zenith in history that this man was surmising.
That’s how we’re saved. We don’t make up our own path to salvation. Scripture says this is how to be saved. Not just saved, but we are sanctified through the Word. The Bible is the book that is given to us. Then, as it’s taught, we grow into the image of Christ. We’re reproved and corrected, and we’re training in righteousness, and we’re servants of the Word. “We preach the Word,” Paul says. That’s central in the church. That’s a command in the church, an imperative: preach and teach the Word.
Why is the Bible so important in the church?
So, the church is a community formed by God’s Word, and the church is a community focused on God’s Word. Why is this book so important in the church? The church reveres the magnitude of God’s Word. The church knows the significance of God’s revelation. God reveals Himself as the Word. “In the beginning was the Word.” (John 1:1) Not, “In the beginning was the song,” or “in the beginning was the drama,” or “in the beginning was the music.” “In the beginning was the Word.” This is revelation. Jesus is God’s communication to the world, His Word. In 1 Samuel 3, it was the days of Samuel.
There was no frequent vision of the Lord. God raises up a prophet, and it says, “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word…” So, God reveals Himself as the Word, and then God reveals Himself through the Word. What we see of the greatness of God is coming about because of His Word all throughout Scripture. Creation is formed by His Word, and storms are stilled by His Word. He speaks, and the waves obey. Fevers are cooled. Demons are cast out by His Word. Sins forgiven. The blind are made to see. The dead are raised to life by His Word.
The entire universe responds to the Word of God. Think about it. God says, “Who will you compare me to? Lift up your eyes and see who created all these. He brings out their host by number, calling them all by name,” talking about the stars, “by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.” (Isaiah 40:25-26) The stars in the sky come out every night by the Word of God. Think about that. In our galaxy, there is close to 100 billion stars.
Our galaxy is one of millions of galaxies filled with hundreds and billions of other stars. Only our God brings them out one by one, and He calls them by name. When He speaks, they shine. This is one of the most humbling quotes for me. I read this long time ago. Charles Misner is a Scientific Specialist in Relative Theory. Misner had studied Einstein, and this is his commentary on Einstein.
The design of the universe…is very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religions, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt the religions he’d run across did not have proper respect…for the author of the universe.
The last thing I want to be said about me and the teaching of this Word is that, “He was not talking about the real thing.” This is why this Word is important in the church because the magnitude of this Word, of what God has said, cannot be overestimated. The church knows the seriousness of man’s proclamation. Even when we saw in Acts 2, Peter stood up, raised his voice and addressed the crowd. The language there is to speak with seriousness and gravity. Look at 2 Corinthians 4. This is an amazing three verses together.
Verse 4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Verse 6, “God…said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” So, you’ve got the god of this world blinding minds in Verse 4, and the true God shining a light in hearts in Verse 6, and in the middle, it says, “We proclaim…not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
I hear people talk today about how, “We should have casual conversations in the church. No need to teach.” Obviously, we see how light teaching, supposedly, has come in the church and filled it with entertainment and jokes and all these things. Do we not realize there is a true God over this world who is shining a light into hearts and desires every person to enjoy everlasting joy in heaven, and there is a false god, a little “g” god of this world, Satan, that wants every single person to burn in hell, and in the middle, we preach Christ. It doesn’t leave room for just casual talk. No, this is serious here.
Lives are dependent on hearing the Word of God. That’s why the preacher or teacher exposes the voice of God, and we have this tendency to minimize in the church what God has said, and we maximize what we say and have all kinds of thoughts and opinions, but no, we need the Word. What’s dangerous is we cloak it with the Word. Take Nehemiah for example. Nehemiah has been just classically abused as, “Well, this is God’s textbook on leadership in the church, and so we’ll use this, and we’ll just talk about all kinds of leadership principles,” and, basically, they take leadership books, and we take the principles there and we try to find them in Nehemiah.
The problem is, if this is God’s textbook on leadership, when you get to Nehemiah 13:23, you have a problem. Nehemiah says, “In those days I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. And I confronted them,” Nehemiah said, “and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair.” Leadership principle number 13: you get mad. You confront people. You beat them, and then you pull the hair out of their heads.
You’re not pushing books by selling that leadership principle, but this is the deal. You say, “Well, of course, we would not say that that is a leadership principle.’” Well, here’s the danger. Now, we’re choosing which ones we like, which we don’t like, and we’re maximizing what we want to say, and we’re minimizing what God has said. This is the key.
We expose the voice of God , and in the process, we exalt the greatness of God when the Word of God is spoken and the greatness of God is revealed. This is why I hate it when preaching somewhere, and someone comes up to begin the night, and he says, “After a time of worship, then David’s going to come up and speak.” No, like what am I going to do? “Well, you were worshipping, so now I’m just going to talk.” No! I’m going to speak, and the job of the teacher in the church is to speak in a way that people are gripped by the glory of God because His Word is being revealed. When God’s Word is revealed, we see His greatness, and we worship. That’s the whole design. We don’t turn off the worship meter when the song ends. No, we turn it up when the Word is proclaimed.
Some people say, “Well, you’re kind of over-exalting the Word almost like it’s too important.” Look at Psalm 56:4. You have to skip down a little bit in your notes, “In God, whose word I praise.” It says it again in Psalm 56:10. “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments,” Psalm 119. Psalm 138 says, “I will bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.”
His Word is put on the same plane as His name. It is exalted, and so, this is a book that we revere, and we must teach it. If we don’t teach it, then we’re not doing what the church is supposed to do. The church respects the authority of God’s Word. Apart from the Word, the preacher is helpless. What do we say? Do we really think we have in our minds and our thoughts what people need to call them to obedience to? No, only the Word has that.
I remember one of the poignant moments in my own life. I was sitting in a worship service and sitting down near the front, and the guy who was preaching that night had a real charismatic personality and was very entertaining, and he got up to speak. The first words out of his mouth were, “I forgot my Bible,” and I thought, “Problem number one because I have mine.” So, he starts talking about how he prayed about what to say to us that night, and he said, “I did all the things I do. and I went and did this or that and took walks, and I was just trying to think through what God wanted to say. I did all these things, and nothing ever came to me.”
He was telling jokes, kind of funny, and he got to the end, and he said, “So, maybe that means God just doesn’t have anything to say to us.” So, he finishes and sits down, and I’m sitting there thinking, “You have this book, which would have been helpful if you had brought, but you have this book. In here, there are 66 different books that are the Word of God. Skip the Mocha, open it up, and you’ve got a Word, and you have to find something, create something, go on a walk? Turn to Leviticus for all I care. Read it and you have a word from the Lord.”
This is the key. We don’t have to make something up. It’s not upon me as a pastor to make up something to say to people. We teach the Word, and apart from the Word, we’re absolutely helpless. I’m not the chef here. I’m the waiter. I don’t make the food. My job is just to get the food to the table. That’s what we do. Apart from the Word, the preacher is helpless, and apart from the Word, the church is powerless. What are we going to build the church on? Your innovations? No.
So, the church recognizes the relevance of God’s Word. Next, the church sees how the Word speaks to contemporary needs with eternal promises. That’s the beauty. It’s what Peter is doing. He quotes all over the place from the Old Testament in Acts 2, and he’s bringing it to bear on what’s happening right here. That’s what we do. We take this Word, and we teach it, and the teacher shows how it applies here. You see all these promises that are listed here that the Bible makes about itself. It promises success and blessing and to guide, comfort. Promises of peace, wisdom, salvation, and satisfaction. Why would we want to listen to anything else? Why would I want to listen to anything else?
What Does God’s Word Teach the Church?
The church realizes the purpose of God’s Word. Now, here’s the purpose of God’s Word. Follow with me. This is huge. This is not just for teachers or preachers to understand. This is for everybody in the church that needs to know this. God’s agenda in Scripture is to tell us about the glory of Christ. This book points us to one person, and it’s Christ. He’s at the center of it, and so everything in the book points us to Christ, but that’s not at all. Yes, it is to tell us about the glory of Christ and to transform us into the image of Christ.
Follow with me here. Let me show you the purpose of the Bible. In the beginning, God creates, Genesis 1:1. In Genesis 1:26-27, He creates man in His image in His likeness. In Genesis 3, sin enters the world. In the third chapter in the book, the image of God is marred in men, and what you’ve got from there on is the story of how God is redeeming, recreating man in His image. When you get to the very end, Revelation 21, we see a new heaven and new earth.
Look real quick at the end of Genesis 3: the Lord sent the man “out of the garden…He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed a cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way of the tree of life.” So, he’s left out from the tree of life. When you get to Revelation 22, listen to this, “The angel of God showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life.” The tree of life makes a comeback here with its “twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree are now for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” Some of the most beautiful words in Scripture. Verse 4, “They will see his face.” That’s where all the Scripture is headed towards.
The Bible Teaches that God Created Humanity in His Image
So, think about it like bookends. You’ve got man created in the image of God, the marred image of God in me. At the end, you’ve got man recreated into the image of God and brought back to Him. In the middle is the story of how God does this. That’s the purpose, and you see it. It’s Romans 8:28, “Everything is working for the good of those who love God and are called according his to purpose.” What’s the good? “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” That’s the whole point. Everything is headed toward that, that we might be like Christ. Remember, you were remade into the image of our Creator.
So, here’s the deal. What that means is we need to be really careful. We need to see this. This might sound a little heretical, but when you hear it, make sure you stay with me. The purpose of the Bible is not to answer every single question we have in the world. This book doesn’t answer every single question in the world. There are so many things this book doesn’t specifically address. This book hardly says anything about being a teenager. It actually doesn’t say anything about them. It’s a totally different picture there in this book. What does this book say about divorce recovery? What does this book say about what to do with a 401(k)?
Yet, if we’re not careful, what we say and what we do is we come to this book, and we hear people asking questions about those kinds of things. We say, “Well, what can I do with this book to try to help answer their questions?” But that’s not the purpose. This is the focus in the church’s worship. There are two options when we approach the Bible: are we looking for human tips or the divine text. Are we looking for tips on financial victory and walking through divorce recovery and raising teenage children? You have, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” but beyond that, there isn’t much of anything. You have all kinds of tips, though, being offered all across the church today that are either the latest book from the Christian bookstore being taught instead of this, or this Word being twisted to say something that it wasn’t intended to say. Now, the motives are good. We want to help people walk in these things, but follow this. When we focus on human tips instead of the divine text, we end up robbing ourselves of the truth that is necessary for realizing God’s purpose in our lives. God’s purpose is to conform us into the image of Christ. Think about it. Some people think, “Well, I’m walking through this situation in life. Why are you going to tell me about the Moabites?” That’s the approach that so many wonder.
Well, here’s the deal. Don’t miss it. This word about the Moabites here in the book of Ruth is promised by God through His Spirit to conform your heart into the image of Christ and to help you know Him and walk with Him in-step with His Spirit. Sure, it may not speak directly to the financial struggles you’re walking through right now, but here’s the deal: the beauty is, when we focus on this Word and the purpose that it’s given to us for, then when we walk away and, maybe we don’t have an answer from the preacher or teacher about how I need to walk through this financial struggle, but we do have the very Spirit of God inside of us that we know, and the Spirit is not just going to give us answers and tips. He’s going to walk with us through these financial struggles.
He’s going to form our minds and our desires in the process, and He’s going to make us look more like Christ, and that’s going to be better regardless of how much money we have in the end. That’s what we need. When we don’t get that, we rob ourselves of what we need for realizing God’s purpose in our lives, and we rob God of the glory that is due His name. We start looking at different communicators in the church because they’ve got all the answers. No! I’m not that good. I know that. I don’t have all the answers on divorce recovery or how to be a single mom or how to raise teenagers or how to manage your money, but I do have what is necessary and most helpful for bringing you into the image of Christ and getting you in touch with the one who will walk with you through whatever happens in your life.
Many pastors can preach whole messages with little more than a tip of the hat to a clause or two taken from the biblical context and few, if any, recognize. Even more pastors have decided that using the Bible is a handicap for meeting the needs of the different generations; therefore they have gone to drawing their sermons from the plethora of recovery and pop-psychology books that fill our Christian bookstores. The market-forces demand that we give them what they want to hear if we wish them to return and pay for the mega-sanctuaries that we have built. (Walter Kaiser)
Here’s the other option. When we focus on the divine text instead of human tips, we fill ourselves with the truth that is necessary for realizing God’s purpose in our lives, and we glorify God by becoming like Christ. That’s what we want more than anything; we want to become like Christ. The Word feeds the character of Christ in us, and instills the conscience of Christ in us. It changes our hearts and our minds, and then our character, conscience, and then the Word produces the conduct of Christ in us. So, we begin to live out our faith, and this is the beauty. All right, now follow with me here. When we get this Word, and it’s changing our hearts from the inside out, we’re beginning to love Christ more. We begin to think more and more like Christ. We begin to act like Christ. This is where life transformation happens, but if we just start with, “Well, people want to know what they need to do,” and we tell them, “All right, well, do this. Here’s some tips on this or this or this.” Think about teenagers and college students struggling with purity. We can say all day long, “Be pure. Do it. Be pure. Avoid sexual immorality.” We can say that, but until teenagers and college students are growing to love Christ and His Word, and He’s changing their hearts, and He’s changing the way they think and they feel and they desire, it’s not going to happen.
Purity with Teenagers and College Students
Teenagers and college students need to begin seeing that Christ is far more satisfying than anything else in this world put together, and it’s not until that happens that they’ll begin to live in purity. Oh, they may try for a few times to be pure, but it’s going to fade away because we need Christ to do this in us, and He has to be formed in us and the Word does that. So, many high school students go off to college, and their faith is ripped apart within weeks, because the character of Christ was never really formed in their hearts and their minds for them to think in a Christian manner, so that some pagan professor can’t just slash them down with one statement.
We need this Word, and the church reveals the effect of God’s Word because, when it’s taught, the Word elicits conviction. It “cut to the heart” in Acts 2. It’s “sharper than a double-edged sword” in Hebrews 4. People begin to realize the gravity of their need and the greatness of God’s provision.
The Word explains conversion. What I mean by that is it tells us how to be saved. You look in Acts 2:37, “When people heard this, they were cut to the heart and they said, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Peter replied, “Bow your heads, close your eyes, and pray a prayer to accept Jesus.” No, he said, “Repent.” (Acts 2:38) We would be wise in the church to use biblical terms to explain conversion. We don’t want to mislead people, particularly in the name of trying to get as many people as possible to respond. We don’t want them to stand on sinking sand that will prove hollow in the end. If you look all throughout Acts, you see these two words over and over again. Sometimes “repent” is the only word that’s used. Other times, “faith” or “belief” is used, and sometimes “repentance” and “faith” are both mentioned. Conversion and repentance are together. When we are saved, we turn from our sin and from ourselves and believe. We trust in Christ as the risen Savior and the reigning Lord. So, we teach that in church.
The Word establishes a craving. The very next phrase in Acts 2:42 says after they received the Word, and they’re baptized, “They devoted themselves to the teaching.” As we’re led by the Spirit, we long for the Word. When people taste this Word, they’ll see how good it is and won’t want anything else. It’s that good. We can trust this Word. It will create a longing and a craving in us, so that when you know when you get trite opinions from somebody else, you can say, “Oh, that sounds good, but it’s not the Word.” So, that’s why the church teaches. The church evangelizes, baptizes and teaches.
Then fourth, the church nurtures, “And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship…” (Acts 2:42) This is a great word. You might write it out to the side somewhere, and then put it in there, “koinonia.” “Koinonia” is the word we see all over the New Testament for the fellowship for the church. The picture is this is what the church shares in common. That’s really what the word is saying. So, what do members of the church have in common? What unites us?
Well, first, obviously, a common spiritual foundation. You look, and I just put some different instances in all these verses that are below there in your notes that are instances of “koinonia.” We share in the body and the blood of Christ, 1 Corinthians 10, and we share in the Spirit of Christ. We share in the gospel of Christ. We share in the sufferings of Christ. We share in the life of Christ.
So, we share a common spiritual foundation, and a common social interaction. Our lives are shared with each other. That’s the beauty of this paragraph. This is not just anonymous church attendance; this is real sharing of life together, possessions and struggles. In your notes, there are examples of “one another’s” all over the New Testament when it comes to the church, and so I put four categories here that we’re going to examine under nurture here. We care for one another. We serve alongside one another. We give to one another, and we restore one another. So, we’re going to go through each of those.
We care for one another. This is what we do in the church. This is what it means to share life. We care for one another. I started in Romans 12 because it is a great picture of community in the church. It starts with us receiving mercy from God. We receive mercy from God, and as a result of that, we reflect mercy toward one another. So, it starts “by the mercies of God,” in Romans 12, and in the rest of the chapter, they’re talking about worship before God. Then, it talks about community with one another in just beautiful ways. We see this here and all over Scripture.
How do we care for one another? Obviously, we love one another. It’s what Romans 12:9 says, “Let your love be genuine.” The word there is not a common term for Paul to use in that culture, but “agape” love. This is a term for unselfish, self-giving love. Then, he gets down later, and he says, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” The words for this kind of love are “phileo,” and “storge,” basically, a brotherly/friend kind of love. So, we see this picture of family affections that are in the church. We love one another.
We host one another. We show hospitality to one another. We greet one another. I guess you could put “kiss” in that blank if you would like, and it would be biblical based on 1 Corinthians 16:20, “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” but I would stay with greet. We greet one another. We receive one another. We honor one another. “Outdo one another in showing honor,” Romans 12:20 says. What a great phrase. “Outdo one another.” We serve one another through love. “Serve one another,” Galatians 5 says. We instruct one another, Romans 15. We wait for one another. We’re patient with each other. We forgive one another. We submit to one another. I already talked about Hebrews 10: we spur on one another. We build peace with one another. “Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:13)
I love Galatians 6: we “bear one another’s burdens.” We encourage one another. “Build one another up,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) it says, and then we comfort one another. So, after we encourage one another, we comfort one another. This is 2 Corinthians 1. It’s a beautiful picture. You can go through, even in that passage, and circle every time you see “comfort.” I think it’s ten times in that one paragraph alone. 2 Corinthians 1 talks about how we comfort each other, and how suffering happens in our lives. God uses suffering for our sake to draw us to Him to help us depend on Him, but not just for our sake. God uses suffering for others’ sake, so that, when we receive the comfort of God in suffering, we extend that comfort to others.
It’s this whole picture. You get to 2 Corinthians 7, “God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you.” It’s this whole circle of comfort. It’s this picture of how God uses our suffering to help us learn to depend on Him and then to extend comfort to others, and then ultimately God uses our suffering for His sake, so that we might trust in His strength when we are weak.
We pray for and confess to one another, James 5. We esteem one another. We edify one another. This is a mutual up-building. We teach one another, “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” (Colossians 3:16) We are kind to one another. You read those passages, and that’s not all of them, but you get the point. It’s just all over the place. Church is so much more than sitting next to someone in a service. This involves real investment of lives. It takes time to do those things. It takes energy and emotion and vulnerability. So, when I say, “Are you committed to a local church? Are you doing that in a local church somewhere with a group of people,” why is it so important?
The gladness of the family reflects the glory of the Father. When we love each other in the power of the gospel like this, God gets great glory. So, we care for one another in the church. It’s a part of nurturing, and then we serve alongside one another. This is the other part of Romans 12. We see Paul talking about how we have different gifts in the body. Now follow this. This is such a beautiful picture. Romans 12:3-8 teaches that we are a family designed by grace. God has given each one of us grace. All of us have been given grace. Any good thing in any one of us is evidence of His grace toward us. So, we’re designed by grace, and then diversified by gifts. So, when we see spiritual gifts talked about, this is what Scripture teaches; that spiritual gifts are grace gifts. They’re given to us by God, and every person in the church has them. This is the beauty.
The church is a family of faith where everyone counts. The whole body imagery in 1 Corinthians 12 is intended to show us every part of the body matters. The eye can’t do it without the foot or without the hand. That’s what Paul’s saying, and that’s the key. Everyone counts here. No one is inferior. In the church, we must guard against self-depreciation, this idea that “You don’t need me. They don’t need me.” Yes! A local church needs you, and we also guard against superiority. We guard against self-exaltation, “Well, I don’t need you.” You need a local church, and you need the gifts that are in a local church. So, it’s not optional. We need it, and they need it from us.
What the Bible teaches about gifts
No one is inferior. No one is superior. There is no need to compare ourselves to others. We have to be careful not to do this. “Well, I’m not as gifted as that person or this person.” No, no, it’s all by grace anyway. It’s all by grace. So, take the grace in you. Rest in the grace in you. Don’t compare. There is no need to copy or try to imitate somebody else and what they have. How has God wired you? Everybody counts in this thing, and God has gifted you with gifts that this person doesn’t have that you’re comparing yourself to. They need the gifts that you have in their lives. So, everyone counts, and everyone contributes. Everywhere, everyone contributes, and everybody uses their gifts to the glory of God. This is how we nurture one another by caring for each other, by serving alongside each other with the grace gifts we’ve been given.
Third, we give to one another. God set this up way back in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 15, among His people. Then, we basically see that picture of Deuteronomy 15 coming alive in Acts 2 and Acts 4. Then, I remember flying through in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 because we talked about this in the last Secret Church: The Gospel Possessions and Prosperity, but the picture in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, we see modeled in Acts 2 and 4. This sharing of possessions with each other, selling homes and lands to give to each other. So, we see that modeled, and then you get to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, and then you really see it encouraged and exhorted and commanded in some senses.
We give willingly. So, this is not begrudging giving in church. We give based on God’s blessing to us. The whole picture in 2 Corinthians 8 is churches in Macedonia that are poor that gave this extravagant offering. It’s always humbling. It’s happened in house churches in Asia. It happened a short time ago in Southeast Asia. I had the privilege of teaching the Word in a house church, this church that I was visiting in Southeast Asia. Then, afterwards they came up and said, “Well, we want to give you this gift, this monetary.” These folks are, in some contexts, extremely impoverished, and they say we want to give, and it’s not begrudging. I found ways to use that to give back to that church and don’t take that in that sense, but it’s the beauty. It’s exactly what Paul’s talking about in 2 Corinthians 8. We give at least according to our ability. That’s the picture of the widow’s mite in Mark 12, and what Paul’s talking about in 2 Corinthians 8.
The New Testament reality is give all that you can according to different measures of grace we have. So, give. We give willingly. We give generously. Generous giving to God results in greater giving from God, and I want to be careful there. I’m not saying that if you give to God, you’ll get rich. The Macedonians pretty much debunked that. God’s not promising that He’s going to make you wealthy, but the whole picture in 2 Corinthians 8, if you go back and read it, Paul is saying, “God entrusts gifts for His purposes to be accomplished.”
God gives enough for us, and He gives abundance for others. We talked about this, and John Wesley is an example of this. He put a cap on how much of his income he would use on himself. Charles Edward White is the person who was writing about Wesley, but he was talking about how Wesley put a cap on his life. Wesley wanted to give as much as he could away. So, basically, he kind of put a cap on his life equivalent of about $20,000 salary, and at points, he was making $160,000, but he still lived off of $20,000, and he gave away $140,000. This is the picture. There are no legalistic measures here, but the picture is we give.
We give willingly and generously, and we give cheerfully. The word in 2 Corinthians 9, “God loves a cheerful giver.” The word is like, “God loves a hilarious giver.” Yes! That’s God design. We’re not forced by God to give. We’re freed by God to give. In the church, when we give as a demonstration of the gospel, 2 Corinthians 8-9 is the key verse there. We sacrifice our rights for others and spend our resources on others, and in the end, we give to promote thanksgiving to God. With giving, this is so key. Giving unites the people of God.
I want you to look at Romans 15 real quick. I know we’ve been flying, but look at this real quick with me, “Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.” They were pleased to do it, and I want you to circle that word “contribution” right there. That’s “koinonia” translated “contribution” here, but it’s the picture of fellowship in the New Testament. What I love about that verse is it’s just a real simple verse at the end of Romans, but what it shows us is this church is in Macedonia and Achaia. Poor churches, impoverished churches were giving for an offering for the church of Jerusalem, and in their doing that, this is a picture of community. This was the church in Macedonia and Achaia saying to the church in Jerusalem, “We’re with you,” and “we’re together.” This is where we have a dangerous tendency in our churches here by spending our money on more and more stuff for ourselves and by sending so little to brothers and sisters who are literally starving. By our not giving to them, it’s like we’re saying, “We’re not with you.” I want to encourage, as you’re a part of this church and many other churches, let’s show our brothers and sisters around the world, “koinonia.” Let’s show them that we’re with them and that we care for them by giving to them.
Giving unites us together and unites the people of God. They give regularly to the church. You see that. 1 Corinthians 16, “On the first day of every week…put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper,” and then the church deals responsibly with our gifts. I love how Paul, in 2 Corinthians 8, was really very intentional to show how the gifts that were given were definitely being used for what they had been said they were going to be used for. Giving exalts the goodness of God. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift,” is the way it all ends there in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.
So, how do we nurture? We care for one another. We serve alongside one another, and we give to one another. Fourth thing: we restore one another, and this is where I want to talk about church discipline. Now, let’s put it out on the table. This is not the most happy topic in most people’s minds, or the most common topic in a lot of churches, and I think to our detriment. We have ignored this picture of restoring. Galatians 6:1-5 talks about bearing one another’s burdens and says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” People say, “Well, there are all kinds of reasons why not to practice church discipline,” and there are a bunch of reasons here in your notes. Just think about the reasons, and I’ll come back with some responses to them. So, we’ll kind of skip around in your notes a little bit, but some people say, “Church discipline is legalistic.” It contradicts God’s grace and His love, and clearly, when you start talking about church discipline, you’re probably going to get charged with some kind of legalism.
“What about Matthew 7:1? “Judge not, that you be not judged.” So, that’s always thrown out there. Don’t judge. John 8:7 is another one, “He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.” So, if you don’t have sin, then you can talk about somebody else’s sin. Well, that pretty much covers it. Nobody can talk about anybody else’s sin at that point. “People will leave the church,” they say. Let me tell you what’s not at the top of the charts of the church growth magazines. If you put out on the banner, “We’re a church that disciplines sinners,” you’re not drawing a crowd that way. So, anyway, people are going to leave the church. “A church doesn’t know how to practice discipline,” and I’ve been told, “Well, it just doesn’t work in our churches, in our context today.”
Well, let’s think about that. “Church discipline is legalistic.” No, church discipline is loving. We think it’s noble, even compassionate, to sit back and say, “Well, what somebody else does is between them and the Lord. It’s not my business.” That is anything but loving. If I am walking off the deep end towards sin, and you love me, say something to me. Don’t just sit back and think this is my business. No! I need you as my brother in Christ to pull me back. That’s how you love me. That’s how God loves us. He “disciplines the one he loves.” (Hebrews 12:6) So, we need to love one another. Dietrich Bonheoffer said, “Nothing is so cruel as the tenderness that consigns another to his sin.” God, help us to love one another. That’s what church discipline is.
“What about Matthew 7:1?” Well, keep going to Matthew 7:5, “Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” So, what Jesus is saying is take the speck out of your own eye before you go help your brother. He’s not saying don’t worry about your brother. He’s saying, “Get yourself clean and then help him out, too.”
“People will leave the church.” Well, here’s the deal. This is God’s church to grow not ours. There are easier ways to grow a church than talk about church discipline. You remember in Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira. They were trying to give an offering, and they deceive, and they’re struck down dead. This is tough stuff, but then look at the end of this passage. Verse 13, “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” God knows how to grow His church. We can trust Him on this one. This is what God does.
“The church doesn’t know how to practice church discipline.” Well, then the church needs to learn how to practice church discipline. What does this really look like in the church? So, what I want us to see is that this is not talking about some witch-hunt or some investigation of rumors. Here, think about it this way: two facets of church discipline. One: formative church discipline. Continual training believers receive from the Word in the body of Christ as their lives transform into Christlikeness. We’re being disciplined every day. The Spirit of God and the Word of God are disciplining us. He’s training us to follow after Christ. This is happening all the time. It’s what sanctification is about, growing in discipline, but then restorative church discipline, and this is corrective care taken by the body of Christ in matters of unrepentant sin in a brother or sister’s life. So, when we’re caught in sin, Galatians 6:1 says, and as we’re about to see in Matthew 18, when there’s sin in a brother’s life that is unrepentant, that he’s continuing in, we seek to restore him or her.
The Foundation of Church Discipline
What I want us to see is there’s one foundation for church discipline, and it’s the grace of God. God disciplines us by grace, and Titus 2:11 talks about how grace disciplines us in godliness. So, the challenge for the church is to make sure grace is at the middle of discipline. So, how do I bring those two together? Well, Jesus helps us.
Approaching church discipline. In just a second, we’re going to look at Matthew 18:15-20, and the main instruction Jesus gives them on church discipline. What I want you to see, though, is what surrounds this contextually. It’s talking in Matthew 18:4 that we need childlike humility. He starts talking about humbling yourself like a child, and then He talks about not leading others into sin. Matthew 18:6 says we need a deep concern for holiness. We want to be concerned about holiness in the body of Christ. We need compassion for the hurting, and He talks in Matthew 18:14, “It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” God has designed church discipline for the church to guard and to care for every single person in the church. That’s the whole purpose.
Then, we need forgiving hearts. Matthew 18, right after Jesus talks about church discipline, in verses 21 and 22, He talks about forgiving your brother. There’s a way this can work. I got a letter from a member of this faith family here who said:
Dear Pastor, two weeks ago on a Sunday morning, my wife came to you with a dire request for prayer. It was indeed dire for I was on the verge of making a huge mistake that would have haunted me for the rest of my life. I was in the process of leaving my family in search of who knows what…something better…something straight out of Satan’s playbook. I was on the edge of a cliff with one foot over, and my wife and everyone she knew were praying that I would come back. And because of their prayers and their subsequent work, the Lord did not lead me to do what I thought I wanted to do, but he poured his grace on me and my family, and we are once again whole.
That needs to happen all over the church, but that is not easy. So how do we do this? Matthew 18 Jesus gives the instructions:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.
This is one of the only times Jesus uses the word “church” and really addresses the church like this in all the Gospels. This is important, and basically, there are four steps here. One: private correction. A brother caught in sin, Galatians 6 says, “Go to him.” Matthew 18, “Go to him.” Don’t go talk to others about it. Ephesians 4:29-32, “Don’t talk about your brother in a way that doesn’t build up his character.” Gossip kills proper church discipline. So, go and talk to him just between the two of you. That’s huge. Don’t leave him to wander off the cliff but go to him. Childlike humility, a concern for holiness, and grace and love.
Step two, if he or she is still unrepentant and continuing in sin, then small group clarification. If they repent, that’s great, yes. You’ve won a brother. If not, take a couple of others along. That’s where Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 19. So, find others who are gentle and humble, and loving. The goal is not to gang up on this person. The goal is to bring a couple of other people along who love and care and have the Spirit of Christ and the grace of Christ in them to encourage, to say, “We love you. We want you to turn from sin which is the seed of destructive nature of where you are going.” So, bring them.
If that does not work, if they continue in sin, step three: church admonition. Tell it to the church. Why tell it to the whole gathering? That can seem, in some senses, cruel to some people. Now, all these people know this guy is going off in this direction, but the point is so that, now, you’ve got a whole body of believers running after that believer saying, “We love you, and we care for you, and we want to pull you back to Christ. We want to help you see.” This is God setting up a way for His entire body, His people, to say, “Go get him and love him and bring him back.” It’s grace. It’s mercy. It’s love through church admonition.
Then, step four: if he continues, treat him like a Gentile and pagan or tax collector, church excommunication. So, he’s no longer treated as a member of the body of Christ. That seems so tough doesn’t it? For the church to, basically, kick someone out so to speak. “I thought the church was supposed to be a place where everybody is always welcomed? Now, you’re saying you can’t be a part of this group any more? Is that loving? Is that caring? Is that gracious?” Yes, and it’s godly.
Hear what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5 when he confronts this issue. We’ll read this passage.
It is actually reported that there is sexually immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you rather not to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do not know a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexual immoral people– not at all meaning the sexual immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
If you’re going to not associate with sexually immoral people, you can’t even live in the world. We’re talking about in the church here.
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler– not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
What is this about? This is a passage we don’t pay a lot of attention to, but we need to.
Church Purity and Ex-Communication
Church ex-communication for what reasons? For the purity of the church. This is the big issue here. He’s saying, “Well, we’re not going to grow and reach a lot of people if we do this.” God is more interested in the sanctity of His people than He is the success of your church. He is serious about purity among His people, and church members are accountable to this. Follow this. Paul is not writing here to the guy who’s guilty of continuing sexual immorality. He’s talking to the church, and He’s addressing their toleration of sin, and He’s saying, “You’re accountable before God for this, and you’re accountable for each other.
This is baffling. It’s startling. The church is actually responsible for the sin of its members. We are responsible for one another. This is what it means to be in the body of Christ together. We are responsible and accountable to God for each other, so that, if you run off and sin, and I don’t stop you, I’m accountable to God for that. Church members are accountable, and church members must be humble. What’s the sin of the church here at Corinth? It’s pride. He says, “You’re proud. You’re boasting.” What was their pride? Their pride was toleration of unrepentant sinners in the church. They were open-minded, and they were boasting about it. “We just welcome. Anybody can be a member of this church.” He said that’s pride. It’s pride to claim you’re a church of freedom and grace, and you’re tolerating unrepentant sin in your midst. The alternative is humility, and humility is exclusion of unrepentant sinners from the church. “Don’t associate with him.” Paul is not just having a bad day in 1 Corinthians 5. This happens in other points in his other letters.
Now, here’s the deal. We think the opposite way. We think it’s prideful to say to somebody, “You can’t come back.” We think it’d be more humble to keep them in. This is where we are so warped in our thinking because the reality is pride is tolerating sin among one another like it’s no big deal. That’s pride. Humility is addressing sin in your brother or sister’s life and even expelling them from the church if necessary.
Church membership is essential here. We talked about it earlier, but it was obviously a big deal here. First of all, the church defines who is a member. An individual doesn’t define whether or not he’s a member of a church, 1 Corinthians 5. The church defines this. If church membership was just optional, well then, big deal. So, he’s no longer in the church of Corinth, but it was a big deal. Isolation from the church reflects separation from Christ. It’s what Jesus was talking about. To be removed from the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 5 is the equivalent of being a pagan or a tax collector as a nonbeliever. You are not identified as a brother or sister anymore.
Now, this whole phrase, “Hand this man over to Satan so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” There is tons we could talk about there, but the picture is, yes, we do this for the purity of the church, and for the salvation of the individual. We do this for their good, so they will see the effects of their flesh and their sin, and they will, by the grace of God, turn from it. That’s the goal. You say, “Well, why is Satan going to do that?” Well, we do see in 2 Corinthians 12 and in 1 Timothy 1 of how God uses even the work of Satan to draw people to trust in Him.
So, we do this for the purity of the church, for the salvation of the individual, and ultimately, for the glory of God. This is huge. This is where this whole thing really crystallized for me as a pastor because, not long after I came here, the elders and I were contacted by a woman in our community. Her husband had committed adultery in their marriage with another woman, and he had left this woman, was committing adultery with this other woman, and he and this other woman had joined our church together. She calls me, and she says, “What’s the deal? You let my husband who was cheating on me become a member in your church. He’s cheating on me and living with this other woman right now,” and I thought, “Wow.” It was piercing. This is important for a lot of reasons. It’s important for the purity of the church, and the good of that man, but this is important for the glory of God in the church. He shows the holiness of His great name and His people, Ezekiel 36 says.
So, what do we do? Church discipline in action: we obey with the love of Christ. We do this. The goal is spiritual restoration. That’s what we want to do. We want to bring the wandering brother back, so that’s what we’re after. How do we do that? Be humble. Yes, we’re all sinners. We’re all in need of grace. So, be humble in the process. Be biblical. Make sure that you’re not just frustrated with somebody or think you have a pet peeve that they don’t do this or that. Ask these questions. Is there sin that is dishonoring God? Is there sin that is damaging the gospel? Paul talks about this in 1 and 2 Timothy. Is there sin that is hurting the unity of the church; that’s bringing about division and hurting the church and needs to be addressed? Is there sin that’s hurting the unity of the church, and then is there sin that is hurting the witness of the church, the glory of God in the community around?
Be humble, be biblical, and third, be pure. This is the beauty of Matthew 7:1-5. Church discipline causes us to examine our own lives. You see a brother in sin. You say, “Am I struggling with the same thing? I need to take the plank out of my own eye. Then, help them out.” Yes, God has designed this whole thing, not just for them to be restored, but for us to grow in purity. Examine your life. Examine your motives. Be pure and be prayerful. Only God can bring about this restoration.
Be quiet, meaning talk only to who you need to talk to. Not everybody else in the church. Be quick. I don’t mean rush the process but don’t prolong this. Obey and be gentle. That’s the whole picture in Galatians 6. Restore them gently and be careful, and be intentional. Follow those steps that we just talked about.
So, obey with the love of Christ, and trust in the authority of Christ. This is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 18. It’s what He says when He says, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” What He’s talking about is when you say to a repentant brother, “Turn back to Christ. Yes, you are forgiven.” It’s not that your words are forgiving him. You’re pronouncing what Jesus has said is entrusted to the church.
Pray according to the promise of Christ. “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19) That is a totally abused verse. That doesn’t mean find another Christian who wants to pray for the same thing as you do, and you’ll get it. It’s not what that’s saying. This is in the context of church discipline. Two or three come together and agree on this or are seeking the Lord on this, and He says, “I’m going to bless this.”
Jesus is there too
Which even gets to the most abused verse: expect the presence of Christ. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” (Matthew 18:20) How many times is it said, “Well, we have two or three people or more, so Jesus is here.” Well, yeah, but when you were in your prayer closet this morning, He was there, too, even though you were alone. The point is Jesus is saying, in this tough situation in the church, when you’re confronting a brother in sin, know this: “My presence will be right there with you. It’ll be right there with you.” Honor the cross of Christ. This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 5 when he talked about Passover. Christ has paid for sin. We want a Christ who pardons, but do we want a Christ who purifies? When we tolerate sin in the church, when we treat sin like it’s no big deal or like it’s not our problem, we trample on the sacrifice of Christ. He’s died to free us from sin. Let’s live like it. The death of Christ on the cross transforms our lives in the church.