As a mother of two young boys, discipline seems to be a common occurrence in my house. And if anyone has been around any children for very long, the necessity of discipline for raising up children is painfully clear. While discipline done well is one of the hardest parts of parenting, it is absolutely necessary and absolutely biblical. Paul emphasizes the importance of discipline in raising children in Ephesians 6:4 when he says to “bring them up [tenderly, with lovingkindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (AMP)
Discipline must be a part of a home, especially a Christian home, for many reasons, but I think there are four reasons in particular. First, discipline is good for the child who is misbehaving. This child needs correction to understand what behavior is acceptable and what is unacceptable. It instructs the child in how to live rightly and make good moral choices. Second, the process of discipline is helpful for the rest of the household. It should work to restore order and peace in the home to make sure all members of the household – from the youngest to the oldest – are striving in the same direction without disruption.
Third, discipline is important for the child who was being mistreated. Any punishment or consequences of bad behavior on the part of the misbehaving child serve as a way to protect the innocent child. It lets the innocent child see that the wrong behavior of another child is unacceptable. Justice has been served and the victim has been vindicated. This not only helps to correct the wrong committed, but serves as a lesson to both parties. Wrong actions are unacceptable and will be punished.
Fourth, children can actually rest in the security of loving discipline. They are given clear boundaries of what behavior is acceptable and what is not. They can trust that when they are out of bounds, the parents will correct and reprove them out of love in order to bring them back into right standing with the family.
But discipline is not just for parents trying to raise up Godly children. Discipline is for all of us. In fact, the Bible uses the words discipline, admonish, and punish over 325 times – and that’s not just talking about parents correcting their children’s bad behavior. That is talking about children, adults, and even entire nations being disciplined and corrected for their behavior.
After all, if you are a follower of Jesus, you are a child of God. And as the author of Hebrews says in 12:5-10, “And you have forgotten the divine word of encouragement which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not make light of the discipline of the Lord, and do not lose heart and give up when you are corrected by Him; for the Lord disciplines and corrects those whom He loves, and He punishes every son whom He receives and welcomes.’…For our earthly fathers disciplined us for only a short time as seemed best to them; but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.”
Therefore, one of the most important places for discipline to take place is in the church – and for the same reasons that it is done in the home.
1. For the sinner inside the church, he must be disciplined and must be instructed in what is right and wrong. While we as Christian adults have hopefully moved beyond sharing our toys so we can be a good three-year-old, we do need instruction on how to be a good spouse, parent, employee, grandparent, or boss. Those roles can be as new to us as sharing your toy ball was to the three-year-old. Therefore, when we fail to live rightly in those adult areas, when we have chosen to live a life persisting in sin, then the church must step in with discipline. We must face the consequences of our sin. And we must even repent of those sins before those whom we have harmed by our sin, which includes the body of believers.
2. Discipline is important for the good of the church body. When sin is rampant in the lives of the church it causes disunity and strife among the body of believers. In order to have peace and order, where all members are striving toward holiness and righteousness, those persisting in a lifestyle of sin must be disciplined.
Paul described it in 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 as “Do you not know that [just] a little leaven ferments the whole batch [of dough, just as a little sin corrupts a person or an entire church]? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new batch, just as you are, still unleavened. For Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” Paul is talking about the danger of letting persistent sin sit and rot inside the church. It eventually ruins the entire congregation because by not disciplining sin in your midst, you become just as guilty as the one who committed the sin. You have turned a blind eye to sin and by doing so have stamped your approval of it.
3. When sin is left unaddressed in the church, it trivializes the pain and suffering of the victim. Therefore, church discipline is necessary for those who have been injured by sin. Where there is a persistent lifestyle of sin, there is a hurting victim. Just like with our justice system, the victim needs protection and vindication, which comes when the offender is disciplined. The discipline of the sinner serves as a way to protect the innocent. It demonstrates to everyone that these actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
4. The church body desperately needs proper biblical discipline for our own sanctification process. Just like the child in a disciplined home, the believers can rest in the boundaries that everyone in the church is striving together toward Godliness and holiness. Though none of us will reach that while here on earth, it helps to know there is an accountability to one another. We should welcome that from each other as a safety net. It should please us to know that when we are blinded by our own sin, someone else can come along to take off the blinders Satan has bound us with so we can regain our right standing before God.
Now I understand this can be a very delicate topic because there are people who have been abused by church discipline. And my heart grieves for people who have been victimized in such a way. But the church cannot abandon discipline altogether, but rather, they need to implement church discipline in the proper way.
First, discipline must be based on biblical standards. As Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed [given by divine inspiration] and is profitable for instruction, for conviction [of sin], for correction [of error and restoration to obedience], for training in righteousness [learning to live in conformity to God’s will, both publicly and privately—behaving honorably with personal integrity and moral courage]; so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, outfitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (AMP) The basis of the discipline must be based on biblical doctrine and it must be based on a right judgment. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 7 about judging rightly, not hypocritically.
But look again at all the reasons Paul gives for the value of using Scripture for discipline. It is the conviction of sin, the correction and restoration to obedience, and training in righteousness so that we can conform to God’s will publicly and privately. This is to be done so that we are equipped to do the very work of God. Which means, when the church refuses to conduct church discipline, it is not equipping its believers for doing the work of God. In other words, you cannot have an effective ministering church and neglect the discipline of sin within the church.
Second, church discipline must be carried out in the way Jesus prescribes it. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens and pays attention to you, you have won back your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two others, so that every word may be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he pays no attention to them [refusing to listen and obey], tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile (unbeliever) and a tax collector.”
Jesus outlines the steps to take when a believer sins (notice, this discipline is not for unbelievers). You first go directly to the sinner in private to confront him about his sin. If there is no repentance, then you go with a few others so there are witnesses to the conversation – and witnesses if he refuses to repent. Then you bring the sinner before the church body so the sinner knows the entire body of believers stands in unison under God’s Word to draw them to repent of their sin. If there is still no repentance, then they are to be set outside the fellowship of the body of Christ.
Third, we must carry it out like Paul performed it. Paul illustrated what church discipline looks like and why Jesus said to let them be “to you as a Gentile and a tax collector,” where Gentile refers to an unbeliever. In Corinth, the church was allowing such sexual immorality that is even “condemned among the Gentiles.” Paul said that everyone was aware of this sin and yet the church was allowing it to sit among them without addressing it. His instructions were to “hand over this man to Satan for the destruction of his body,” which is exactly what Jesus said to do in Matthew 18. That may seem harsh but we must consider why this was to be done: “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
This is the ultimate point of discipline: the restoration of our souls. When believers are persisting in sin, the most unloving thing the church can do is ignore it. Sin must be addressed so there can be repentance.
The model of how this works comes from 2 Samuel 12. Nathan was called by God to confront the King of Israel in his sin. David had sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed. Those are two pretty big sins – two of the ten Commandments – but David was blinded by his sin. Nathan approached David using a parable to help David see clearly the gravity of what he had done. And when Nathan confronted him, David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” For the rest of David’s confession and heartfelt repentance, read Psalm 51. While David would still suffer the consequences of his sin, the “joy of his salvation” was restored because Nathan conducted church discipline.
Discipline within the church is necessary for the sinner, for the church, and for the victim. It gives security and accountability to all believers. So when a follower of Jesus in your church is engaged in a persistent lifestyle of sin of sexual immorality, adultery, addiction, idolatry, abandonment of Godly things, or anything else that is consistently drawing them away from following Jesus, then do the loving thing and go to them about it. Pray for them, yes, but be loving enough to speak the truth. You just might be the one to “win back a brother.”
A church who says they love the body of believers but does not discipline them, does not really love them. God loves those He disciplines; why should the church do any less?