Most people feel uneasy when they think about discipline and accountability. They want to be independent and call their own shots. But for those who belong to Christ, discipline and accountability should be seen as spiritual safeguards. And God has provided these things through the local church. In this message from Hebrews 12:3–11, David Platt helps us see why accountability and church discipline are evidence of God’s love and concern for his people. The various steps for church discipline laid out by Jesus in Matthew 18 are intended to preserve the church’s holiness and restore those who are walking in sin. This message is the next in a series identifying twelve traits of a biblical church.
If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—let me invite you to open with me to Galatians 6. It’s good to gather together around God’s Word. We are in the latter half this series, “12 Traits of a Biblical Church.” Today we’re on Trait 9: Biblical Accountability and Discipline. As I mentioned last week, this can be a particularly sensitive and politically incorrect topic.
When I say that, I mean pretty much everything we’re about to see in God’s Word goes against the grain of the way we’re wired in this world. We live in a world where it’s offensive to say that a particular belief is wrong; it’s even more offensive to tell someone that what they’re doing is wrong. After all, who do you think you are? Christians and non-Christians alike will quote Jesus. Didn’t He say, “Don’t judge, lest you be judged”? Who are you to point out something wrong in my life when you have so many things wrong in your life? Mind your own business.
We’ve actually convinced ourselves in the church that it’s loving, kind, even compassionate to sit back and say, “Someone else’s sin is their life, their business, their responsibility. What someone else does is between them and the Lord.” That may sound spiritual on the surface and good to the world, but I want to show you that it is anything but loving, according to God’s Word.
I was processing this in a fresh way in my own life as I was preparing for this time today. If I, in my life, am wandering off into sin that will destroy my life, my marriage, my family, even my ministry, the last thing I want is men and women around me using super-spiritual jargon to say, “Well, that’s his business. Who am I to judge? What David is doing is between him and the Lord.”
No, I want somebody to love me enough to call me back to Christ and away from sin, toward that which is good for me. It hit me this morning that I would not be here right now if I didn’t have people in my life who loved me enough to do this in my life. It’s not loving for a friend to leave me alone in my temptations and tendencies to wander into sin.
Last week we talked about biblical fellowship and community as a trait of a church. We looked at all kinds of ways we’re supposed to love and care for one another in the church. Today we’re going to see that one of the greatest ways we can love and care for one another is by holding one another accountable, in God’s grace, to obedience to God’s Word. We’re going to see that growing as a disciple of Jesus necessarily involves discipline in our lives. Now, discipline is not a word we often think about as loving—but we should.
When I think about my life as a parent, on the rare occasions when one of my kids does something wrong, it is not loving for me to sit back and say, “Well, that’s your business.” I do not say, “It’s your business.” It’s loving for me to gently say to them, “It is not good when you do this.”
This is also the foundation of our relationship with God. Hebrews 12:6 makes it clear that God disciplines those whom He loves. Be glad that God has not left you alone in your sin. Be glad that God doesn’t say, “Well, that’s your problem.” This is the heart of the gospel. In our sin, God comes running after us and says, “This is not good and I’ve made a way for you to be forgiven of it, to be free from it and to turn from it.” That is love.
So then, how do we express God’s love to one another in the church? By lazily consigning one another to sin? “That’s your business.” Or by lovingly confronting one another in sin, as if it’s our business? Here’s the key sentence I want to show you in God’s Word today:
Galatians 6:1 teaches us loving one another in the church involves humbly sharing responsibility for one another’s holiness in our lives.
That’s a loaded sentence that we’re going to unpack. Loving one another in the church involves humbly sharing responsibility for one another’s holiness in our lives. In other words, being part of the church means helping one another grow in Christ. This is the Word of God. In Galatians 6:1, listen to God speaking through Paul’s letter: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”
Let every word soak in. “Brothers…” He speaks to them like they’re family. As we saw last week, we who are in the church belong to one another as family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. “If anyone is caught in any transgression…” The implication in this word “caught” is that a brother or sister is continuing in sin, not turning from sin, not repenting of sin.
Then “…you who are spiritual…” The language there goes back to the chapter before this, Galatians 5, where Paul talks about walking in the Spirit and producing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
So those who are walking in the Spirit with that fruit in their lives “…should restore him…” They should work to help him or her turn back to Christ “…in a spirit of gentleness.” Not in a spirit of pride. Galatians 6:3 speaks directly against that: “If anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” And not in a spirit of self-righteousness. Right after this sentence, in the last part of Galatians 6:1, we read, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”So in a spirit of humility and gentleness, restore your brother or sister in Christ. It is your responsibility to help them grow in holiness. This is a trait of a church: accountability and discipline. A true church, a people who truly love one another in the church, humbly, gently, lovingly share responsibility for one another’s holiness in their lives. When you hear this word “discipline,” I want to encourage you to think about it on two levels: a formative level and a restorative level. This is really key.
Galatians 6:1 teaches about formative church discipline: continual encouragement to repent of sin and walk with God.
This should be an ongoing reality in every one of our lives and our relationships in the church. If you think about it, there’s a sense in which every week, as we gather together and as God’s Word is preached and taught here, we are experiencing formative church discipline. The Word is encouraging us every week in specific ways to turn from sin and walk with God.
In a sense, we receive this kind of discipline every time we open the Bible, whether that’s in a gathering like this or in our home, workplace or small group. This is disciple making, teaching one another to obey everything Christ has commanded us. So every week, all the time, we’re encouraging each other to turn from sin and walk with God. We’re being formed more and more into the image of Christ. Formative church discipline is being formed—and in this sense, our entire Christian lives involve this kind of discipline.
Galatians 6:1 teaches about restorative church discipline
Then there are times when we need more specific restorative church discipline, which is the second kind of discipline. It involves corrective care when we are unrepentant in sin and away from God. That’s the picture here in Galatians 6:1, when a brother or sister is caught in sin in such a way that they’re continuing in it and not repenting of it.
This whole conversation about restorative church discipline deals with unrepentant sin. It’s not when somebody is just battling with sin—that’s all of us in our lives all the time. But when someone is walking in direct disobedience to God and won’t repent, it’s the responsibility of the church to love that brother or sister enough to go to them and say, “Turn from this sin and back to God.”
This isn’t just one of many things a church should do. This is actually one of the most important things the church must do. Turn with me to Matthew 18. I want you to hear Jesus’ words on this. I want you to see this in the Bible, straight from the mouth of Jesus.
This is not me and some pastors getting together one day, thinking, “What would be a cool topic to talk about on Sunday? How about accountability and church discipline? That will send chills down their backs. They’ll be really excited.” No, we’re talking about this because God has said this is important. Listen to Matthew 18. If you’ll remember, in the beginning of this series, we looked at Matthew 16:18 one week when we were talking about biblical evangelism. That’s the first time we ever see the word “church” mentioned in the Bible. Jesus uses that word “church” when He’s talking to people who profess Him as Lord. We talked about how the church is a community of people who identify Jesus as Lord. That’s the foundational teaching on the church. Then there’s one other time that Jesus specifically mentions the word “church”—two chapters later in Matthew 18. It’s the only other mention of the church specifically out of Jesus’ mouth and it’s when He’s giving a particular instruction to the church. So listen to what He says, beginning in Matthew 18:15:
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 am I among them.
Did you hear that? This whole passage is about restorative church discipline, offering corrective care when someone is unrepentant in sin and away from God. Don’t miss this. Biblical accountability and discipline are not number 100 on a list of 101 things Jesus says the church should do. This is at the top of the list. Right after the importance of confessing Jesus as Lord, we see Him instructing the church on discipline and accountability.
This means that if this trait of a church is not a central part of McLean Bible Church, then we are not being the church Jesus has called us to be. We will not experience life as God has called and created us to experience it. We are all prone to sin—every single one of us in this room, including myself. We all need continual encouragement to repent of sin and walk with God. We all need corrective care to call us back to God when we’re unrepentant in sin. This is something we all need.
Years ago I got an email from a man in the church I was pastoring at that time. He said: Dear pastor,
Two weeks ago on a Sunday morning, my wife came to you after church 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. My wife and everyone she knew were calling me back to Christ and praying that I would come back. Because of their prayers and their work, the Lord did not leave me to do what I thought I wanted to do, but rather He poured out grace on me and my family, and we are once again whole. I wanted to say thank you. Those prayers and their work shielded me from justice until I was shaken to my senses and could ask for mercy.
We’ve got to realize in this room that there is not one of us—myself included—who is beyond getting to that point. If you think you are, you are fooling yourself. We’ve got to see how important this is. Sin is so deceptive in our lives and we need people who are close enough to see when we’re stepping over the cliff—or even slightly moving toward the cliff. I need it. By God’s grace I have people in my life who know my besetting sins, the sins I am most prone to struggle with. I have people in my life who are a regular source of accountability and discipline.
I want to encourage every single follower of Christ in this church to have that. You need that. If you do not have that, you are in a dangerous place spiritually. As your pastor, I don’t want you to be there. So now and in the days to come, we want to help every follower of Christ in this church to have this.
I was just having a conversation with a brother who was weeping in the lobby after the first gathering, because a family member of his, as part of this church, doesn’t have that and has gone off the cliff.
This is important. It goes back to what we were talking about last week. This can’t happen when church is just about coming to a gathering, sitting anonymously through the service, then walking away disconnected from community. That is simply not how God has designed the church to be. Jesus has called every one of us to be in relationships in the church where Matthew 18 can happen. So follow the steps here. This is how Jesus has designed restorative church discipline to work.
Step One: private correction
Matthew 18:15 says, “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.” Notice in this verse that it says, “If your brother sins against you…” Some Bibles have a small note that takes you to the bottom of the page, where it says, “Some manuscripts do not have the words ‘against you.’” This is one of the few places in Scripture where there’s a bit of discrepancy in some of the earliest manuscripts we have of the New Testament. They’re called variances.
As a side note, you’ll sometimes hear people say, “Well, we really don’t know how much of our Bible accurately represents the original manuscripts. There are discrepancies even there.” Whenever you hear somebody say that, take heart. Ninety-nine percent of these variances have a missing letter here or there, or a slight change in word order. They’re virtually insignificant. Then, even for the other 1%—ones like this—none of them affect doctrinal tenants or understandings of Christianity. They are miniscule. This is one of those situations.
Some of the earliest manuscripts have “against you” and some do not. In the end though, even here, it’s really not that significant, because regardless of what Jesus said here—if a brother sins or a brother sins against you—the reality is, as Galatians 6:1 makes clear, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. The way Jesus says to do that, at first, is to go to that brother or sister in Christ—just between the two of you—and talk about this humbly.
In Matthew 7, Jesus absolutely warns us about going to a brother or sister to talk about a speck in his or her eye when there’s a plank in your own eye. So we must examine our own hearts before going to someone else. Galatians 6 says to keep watch over your own life and the temptations you face. We must do this humbly, gently and biblically, and only when there’s actual biblical sin in someone’s life. It’s not just when somebody is doing something you don’t like, but when there’s sin in that person’s life.
We are to do this quietly. We are not to talk to everybody else before going to that person. We go to that person in private and we say, “Out of love for you, I’m concerned about you and the sin I see in your life.” Again, we need to be in relationship with one another where this is happening all the time.
I think about my marriage. Heather and I see each other at our best and our worst, and we want to help one another grow in Christ. I think about other men in my life who see me at my best and my worst. I want them to help me grow in Christ, particularly when I don’t see things they see. I want to do the same thing in their lives out of love for them. See love at the root of all of this.
When a brother or sister has sinned against you or is caught in sin and is not turning from sin in some way, then love him or her enough not to sit back and watch them wander deeper into sin. How is that loving? Do not talk with everybody else in the world about it but love him or her enough to go to them in private correction. The goal, Jesus says, is to win them over. Go in the spirit of love and humility and grace, such that when this person sees their sin, then hopefully they’ll say, “Thank you for helping me in this way. Yes, I need to turn from this.” By the grace of God, they will and your communion together in Christ will be so much deeper as a result. This is such a good thing.
Just another note. One of the reasons why this is private in the beginning is because you may not have all the information. You may have misread a situation. You may have wrong information. The last thing we want to do is talk with others about someone without first going to that person. This is so huge. Have you ever had somebody come to you and say, “Hey, I heard you said this, or did that. You shouldn’t have said or done that”? But the reality is you didn’t do that. The problem comes when that person has already talked to ten other people about that and all these other people think you’ve said or done this or that.
Jesus says, “No. Go to your brother or sister, just between the two of you.” This is where 95% of restorative discipline happens: in the context of daily, ongoing relationships.
Step Two: small group clarification
Now, there are some situations when the person you go to doesn’t listen or doesn’t receive loving, gentle, biblical correction and won’t turn from sin. If that’s the case, then Jesus says step two is small group clarification. Here in Matthew 18 Jesus quotes from the way things were handled in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15) where other witnesses were involved in determining the truth about something. The picture is to involve another believer, maybe two. Again, the circle stays really small. These need to be people who are also gentle, humble and loving, who will go with you to that brother or sister to talk about what seems like unrepentant sin.
The point here is to broaden the circle just slightly, so these one or two other brothers or sisters are showing the same love and concern for that person who’s caught in sin. The goal is not to gang up on that person. Don’t try to find people who can build a case against that person. The goal is to find one or two other people who ideally know this brother or sister, who are gentle, humble and loving and who will go with you to talk about this with them. These one or two others may end up saying to you, “This is not sin. You don’t need to be addressing this in that person’s life.” Or they may say, “Yeah, this is sin,” and then join you in saying, “We are concerned about you. We want to call you back to Christ.”
We just have to involve one or two others in this process. This is not necessarily a church leader or pastor, although it could be. But it’s best to involve someone in the church who knows that brother or sister and cares for them. Again, that takes care of even more situations. We’re probably up to 99% of restorative church discipline situations now.
Let me just encourage you, as I would want you to encourage me. When a small group of brothers and sisters in Christ comes to you in love and says, “We see sin in your life in this way, or we see a disobedience to God that we’re concerned about for you,” I want to encourage you to listen to that. I need to listen to that.
Step Three: church admonition
Then Jesus says, “If a brother or sister refuses to listen even then, then tell it to the church.” The word Jesus uses here in Matthew is ekklesia—the gathering of believers, the church. This is where the circle expands to the gathering of believers in a local church, which brings up all kinds of questions. What does that look like?
This is where I’m still learning how this has been done at McLean and I want to work with our elders and pastors in the days to come to make sure we’re doing this well. Certainly a first step in this would be to go to an elder or pastor in the church—after steps one and two have been taken—and say, “Here’s somebody we’re concerned about.” We, as elders and pastors, want to work with how to best help that brother or sister.
This is where I’m guessing some people are thinking, “Wait a minute. This is too far.” Some of you felt like that 15 minutes ago, but now you’re really thinking, “Tell it to the church? Doesn’t that seem a bit much? Are you serious? Should we really do that?” Here’s the deal. We don’t really have an option here. This is Jesus talking. We don’t want to pick and choose the words that seem comfortable to us. We’re followers of Christ. If we don’t follow what He says, then we’re walking in disobedience to God.
Jesus has told us to do this, and He’s told us to do this for a reason. Remember, the goal at every step of restorative church discipline is to restore our brother or sister back to Christ. I’ve asked before, “Do we have to do this—tell it to the church? Why the church? Do we tell the gathering of believers about this person and their sin?” Don’t miss the picture here. Why? You’ve got an entire body of believers now saying to someone, “We love you. We want you to come back to Christ.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, hear this. God loves you so much that if you are unrepentant in sin— running after that which will destroy your life, your family and the people around you—He will send His entire body, His entire bride, to you in demonstration of His love for you to draw you back to Himself. He loves you so much. We’ve got to see God’s love at the heart of this.
Step Four: church excommunication
Jesus says that even when the whole church is calling this person back to Christ but he refuses to listen, then step four is church exclusion. In Jesus’ words, “…let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Basically the imagery there is to treat the person like they are no longer your brother or sister in Christ. He or she is excluded from the church. As we saw in the sermon on church membership, the Bible really doesn’t know anything of a Christian who is not identified as a part or a member of a local church. So to be excluded from the church is to be seen as not a part, not a member, of the body of Christ.
This is a command from Jesus. If we don’t do this, we as the church are disobeying Jesus. But let’s be honest—this is tough. Really tough. This whole process is tough to do which is why Jesus says what He does in verses 18–20. Basically He says in verse 18, “This is not easy, but know that when you do this, you’re doing this with My authority.” Verse 19, “I stand ready to help you with anything you need in this process. Verse 20, “I will be with you in the midst of it.”
Verses 19–20 are actually two of the most abused verses in the Bible. In verse 19, Jesus says, “…if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” That obviously doesn’t mean we should just find somebody else who agrees with us on something, then poof, God will give you whatever you want. If we don’t find two or three other people who want the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup, claim Matthew 18 and think it’s going to happen. [Which, by the way, I have never watched hockey in my life until two weeks ago, and now I’ve totally got the fever. It’s so intense. Okay, that’s the only time clapping will ever be heard in this sermon—when I talk about the Caps. But I digress.]
You can’t claim Matthew 18:19 for a Stanley Cup title. You’ve got to remember the context here. Jesus has just finished talking about this process of restorative discipline. He is saying, “When two or three are confronting sin in the church in unison, know that I will give you all the wisdom, all the strength, all the grace you need.”
Then verse 20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” may be one of the most abused verses in the Bible. How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, where two or three are gathered, Jesus is there. So we’ve got more than two or three, so we can know Jesus is here.” Don’t say that. And what about when somebody was in their prayer closet alone this morning? Does that mean Jesus was waiting for somebody else to show up before He came into the picture? Just a trivia question: how many people does it take for Jesus to show up at a prayer meeting? One. Only one. Jesus is not saying, “Once you’ve got two or three together, count Me in.” So don’t say that!
Remember the context here. Jesus is saying, “When you’re carrying this process out with two or three people, confronting a brother or sister in sin, be assured you will experience My presence in a unique and powerful way. I’m with you to do this, because this is tough to do.”
Let’s be honest. This is tough to even understand. Church exclusion? The church kicks someone out? I thought the church was a place where everyone is welcome. So to say, “No, you cannot be a member of this church”—that seems to go against the grain of everything we think, doesn’t it?
But this is what Jesus is saying—and this is what the New Testament church did. Go with me to 1 Corinthians 5. We talked about this passage a few weeks ago when we were talking about church membership. The city of Corinth was known for loose living and sexual immorality—a culture unfortunately very similar to ours. And just as it has in our day, that immorality had infiltrated the church. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5, addresses it in a forceful way in this letter to the church in Corinth, with particular reference to one individual who was committing immorality with his stepmother. I want you to hear what the Bible says:
It is actually reported that there is sexual 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 not rather 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 you not know that 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 sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 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? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
What a passage! Did you notice that four times Paul says, in pretty forceful language, to remove this man?
- Verse two, “Let him…be removed from among you.”
- Verse five, “…deliver this man to Satan…” which we’ll talk about more.
- Verse seven, “Cleanse out the old leaven…”
- Verse 13, “Purge the evil person from among you.”
This was the day when Paul pretty much ruled himself out of being on the front cover of any church growth magazine, because he was doing what the Bible says to do in the church—what Jesus had instructed the church to do.
Three reasons why we would remove someone
So why would a church ever confront an individual in sin and then remove him or her from the church? We’ve seen the “how” of restorative church discipline, but why? I want to show you at least three reasons why we would do this—why we would exclude someone from the church.
1. For the purity of the church
The purity of the church is a huge part of what is being prioritized here. Did you notice how Paul never actually addresses the brother who was committing sexual immorality? The whole point is that he’s continuing in that. It’s not that he’s done something in the past; he is currently living unrepentant in sexual immorality. But Paul never addresses him. Instead, Paul addresses the church, because they are standing by and doing nothing about this brother caught in sin. Don’t miss this. God is holding the church accountable for that. God is holding the church accountable for unrepentant sin in its members.
Did you hear that statement? McLean Bible Church, God is telling us right now that He holds us accountable—all of us together in the church—we are accountable to God when we leave unrepentant sin in the church unaddressed. This is not the word of David Platt; this is the Word of God. We do not think like this. We think about sin individualistically. “That’s that person’s problem. It’s their business.” But it’s not true.
This is our issue. We belong to one another and one person’s unrepentant sin is all of our concern. If that person continues in unrepentant sin, it doesn’t just affect him or her—it affects all of us before God. That’s the whole point of the imagery here of the leavened bread. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are accountable to God for one another. Do you realize this? Do you realize, right where you’re sitting now, that you are accountable before God for the growth in holiness of the brothers and sisters in Christ who are sitting around you? If they continue in unrepentant sin, you are responsible before God. Have you ever thought about church like that? I’m guessing many of us never have.
We’ve got to hear verse two. Shouldn’t we be filled with grief? The word here implies sorrow over the sins of others, confessing those sins as though they were our own. One writer I read said, “A church that does not mourn over sin—especially sin within its own fellowship—is on the edge of spiritual disaster.” And don’t miss what was at the root of all of this in verse two. It was pride. “You are arrogant!”
Again, this is so different from the way we normally think. It’s not necessarily that the church in Corinth was applauding sexual immorality in this brother; it’s that they were ignoring it. They were open minded, so to speak. They probably looked at themselves as welcoming. “It doesn’t matter what you do. You can be a member of this church.” We actually think that sounds kind and humble. But the Bible calls that kind of thinking evil and arrogant.
This is talking about someone who continues in unrepentant sin, even though the whole church is saying, “Come back to Christ.” They still won’t repent, so we as a church remove that person—mark it down—people will say that is prideful. They will think if that church was humble and gracious, they would welcome them as members of the church regardless, but God is saying the exact opposite. God says it is prideful to ignore unrepentant sin like it’s no big deal. You are arrogant! It’s the height of arrogance before God and it is hatred for that person. It is not loving for the church to leave a person alone in sin.
2. For the salvation of the individual.
This leads to the next reason we do this: for the purity of the church and for the salvation of the individual. We mentioned this earlier. To remove someone from the church is basically to say, “This person does not give evidence of being a follower of Christ.” That’s why the language in verse five here is stated this way: “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.”
Now, there’s a debate regarding the first part of that verse. What does it mean to hand him over to Satan? What does it mean for his flesh to be destroyed? Quite frankly, we don’t have time to dive into all those issues today, but I’m convinced that regardless of the nuances with different words and phrases, the point is clear. If you look at that second part, the church is to do all of this so that this man’s spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord—which is another way of saying the day of judgment. The church is to do this for this person’s eternal good. The Bible says the same thing in 1 Timothy 1:19–20, talking about two men— Hymenaeus and Alexander—whom the church had handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
So let’s put all this together. If someone is walking unrepentant in sin—again, not just battling with sin like we all do, but deliberately doesn’t want to repent, doesn’t want to follow Christ according to His Word—then what else are we to conclude but that they are not a follower of Christ? We say, “If you’re not repenting and following Christ, then quite simply we don’t call you a follower of Christ or acknowledge you as a member of the church. Instead, we address you as outside the church and we urge you to turn and follow Christ.”
Now, the problem is we live in a church culture today where if someone is excluded from one church, they think, “No big deal. I’ll just find another church where I’ll continue unrepentant in sin and away from God. It doesn’t matter to me.” We live in a very sin-sick church culture where we can just hop around from one church to the next in disobedience to God in our lives. And it’s a culture where even Christians think it’s not that big of a deal to be part of a church. We’re just playing games here.
If it was clearly a big deal in 1 Corinthians 5.. We are so far from God’s design. This must change and we must do all we can as a church, not just to go along with the church culture around us, but to be the church God has called us to be in His Word.
The hope here is that when someone is removed from the church and cast into the world in that sense, that the person will see the seriousness of their sin—see that they’re away from God—and they’ll repent. If they don’t ever repent, then much like we see in 1 John, it will become clear that they went out from the church because they were never actually of the church. If they do repent, then we would absolutely welcome them back as a member of the church again.
Paul actually talks about a situation like this in 2 Corinthians 2:5–8, when he encourages this same church in Corinth to restore someone who at one point had been excluded from fellowship, but now repented of their sins. Remember, this is restorative church discipline. It’s for their restoration, which Jesus makes possible. That’s the whole picture in 1 Corinthians 5. If Christ is the Passover Lamb being sacrificed for sin, this is the gospel—the message we proclaim to anyone outside the church.
So please hear this. Particularly if you’re not a follower of Christ and you’re here today, please hear that you are welcome to attend this church. We want you to be here. We want you to explore the claims of Christ and the truths of Christianity. We want you to see the love of Christ here. The difference is we’re not going to call you a member of the church if you’re not a follower of Christ, but I don’t think you would expect to be called a member of the church if you’re not a follower of Christ. Instead we’re going to encourage and urge you to repent of sin and follow Christ. This is what we believe is the most loving message we can communicate to anyone who is away from God: repent of sin.
We want to say, week in and week out, “Your sin is separating you from God. If you die in your sin, you will be separated from God forever. But God has made a way for you to be forgiven of all your sin. Jesus has died on a cross for your sin. He sacrificed His life as a Substitute for your sin. He’s risen from the dead in victory over sin, and anyone who turns from their sin and trusts in Him as Savior and Lord will be forgiven of all their sin. At the moment of faith, you will be forgiven of all your sin, reconciled to God and restored to an entirely new life with Him.”
This is the gospel. So we urge you to repent and believe in Jesus. That’s the message of the gospel for anyone—anyone who is away from God. When someone is excluded from the church, that’s the message we’re saying in love, over and over and over again.
3. For the glory of God
This leads to the third reason why we do church disciple: for the purity of the church, for salvation of the individual and ultimately, it’s for the glory of God. Paul starts this whole passage by saying, “Not even pagans would condone what you’re condoning in the church.”
I don’t believe this was just an epidemic problem in the church in Corinth 2,000 years ago. I think it’s an epidemic problem in the church today. On the news right now, there are still with headlines of accusations of all kinds of immorality in the church and leaders of the church and leaders supported by the church. The world seems to be saying, “We don’t get it. We expect the church to be different. We expect the church to treat sin seriously.” Why does the church support leaders in this way? We are today part of a church culture that is tolerating what even the world won’t tolerate and it’s affecting what the world thinks about our God.
This is important to Jesus. And it’s important to me because I remember when I first had the privilege of pastoring a church. Not long after I started there, the church was growing fast. It was exciting. I was getting caught up with more and more people coming. Then the elders and I were contacted by a woman in our community—her husband had committed adultery with another woman. That husband had left his wife and was living with this other woman. And he started coming to the church I was pastoring. He even joined the church.
This woman said, “There’s a member of your church who’s living with another woman while he’s in the process of divorcing me. I don’t understand how you’re okay with that.” That it pierced me, because I realized that I had gotten so caught up in the excitement of seeing more people that I was not focused on the holiness of those people who were coming. I realized, as a pastor, that I will not be judged before God based on the number of people who come and listen to me preach. Instead, I will be judged by God for the holiness of the church I pastor.
Not any church will be perfect this side of heaven, but God is calling His church to lovingly pursue holiness in one another’s lives for His glory. This is not an option for us. I want, and I trust you want, God to be glorified all across Washington, D.C. through McLean Bible Church. The church is designed by God to be a display of His character to the world. This is serious.
So brothers and sisters, we will not display His character and glory to the world when we get a certain number of people coming. We must realize that is not our measure of success as a church. Let me say it again. The number of people who sit in a seat is not the measure of our success. The measure of our success is whether or not the people in those seats are looking more and more and more like Jesus. That is what we are accountable for before God. So God help us realize that loving one another in the church involves humbly sharing responsibility for one another’s holiness in our lives.
Galatians 6:1 leads us to pray.
O God, this is a heavy word. This is a hard word to understand. We confess it goes so against the grain of the way we think on our own. So we pray, as I’ve been praying all morning, that You would transform our minds by the power of Your Spirit through Your Word. Help us to think differently, to live differently. God, we want to be the church You designed us to be. We believe this is for our good. So we trust You more than we trust ourselves. We trust You more than we trust our own ideas, our own thoughts, our own opinions, our own traditions. We trust Your Word.
God, I pray for men, women, students today who are living in unrepentant sin. I pray in this holy moment that this would be a wake-up call for many to turn from sin, by Your grace. Thank You for Your love. Thank You that You’ve not left any one of us alone in our sin, but even right now You’re running after people in their sin. You’re calling them back to Yourself. God, make it happen, we pray, in hearts all across this room. Please draw people who are stepping toward the cliff, who are stepping over the cliff, who have jumped off the cliff,—please draw them back today, by Your grace and Your mercy, we pray.
Please draw people to trust in Christ today, to be forgiven of their sin and be reconciled to You today. We pray for that You would save people from an eternity separated from You. Do that, even right now. Cause people to put their faith in You. Then as we do, help us do this work in one another’s lives. Help us love one another like this. Help us put this into practice. Help us obey Your Word, for the display of Your glory at McLean Bible Church. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
How can we apply this passage to our lives?
What is the goal of church discipline? How has this often been misunderstood?
How has Matthew 18 been taken out of context?
What are the four steps involved in restorative church discipline?
What three reasons does David Platt give for why the church should practice discipline?
Do you have any experience with church discipline? Explain what the process was like and how it helped the church.
Loving one another in the church involves humbly serving responsibility for one another’s holiness in our lives.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
Formative church discipline: continual encouragement to turn form sin and walk with God
Restorative church discipline: corrective care when we are caught in sin away from God.
“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 am I among them.”
Step 1: Private Correction
Step 2: Small Group Clarification
Step 3: Church Admonition
Step 4: Church Excommunication
“. . . 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 am I among them.”
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
“It is actually reported that there is sexual 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 not rather 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 you not know that 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 sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 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.’”
For the purity of the church.
For the salvation of the individual.
For the glory of God.