The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)

Text: 15 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 18 Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19 Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them (Matt. 18:15-20).

Sadly, many congregations of the Lord’s church have NOT practiced church discipline in years. They have allowed people to drift away into the world without a word. Although it would be easy to follow the example of these congregations and do nothing, we cannot ignore the commands of Christ concerning discipline and be the church that we read about in the Scriptures.

Church discipline includes the church’s obligation to withdraw fellowship from those who CANNOT otherwise be reached with more moderate approaches. In being a member of the Lord’s church you are expected to live right. Those who walk disorderly should expect to be disciplined. 

In this lesson we will consider some of God’s reasons for practicing church discipline.

First of all, there is ample New Testament authority for the practice of church discipline. Jesus said, Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  But if he will NOT hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses  to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a publican (Matt. 18:15-17).

Paul made clear that withdrawing fellowship is a command. He wrote, But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ {by His authority Matt. 28:18}, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us (2 Thess. 3:6). The word "withdraw" means to remove one's self, withdraw one's self, to depart; to abstain from familiar intercourse with one. If the Thessalonians wanted to please God, they had to withdraw from the disorderly.

God’s word also says that those who offend due to un-Christ-like behavior are to be marked and avoided. Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for (or mark) those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them (Rom. 16:17).

The scriptures teach that church discipline is both corrective and protective in function. It certainly is NOT an act of revenge toward those who have fallen from the faith. A person’s disposition is frequently the determining factor in when, or whether, withdrawal of fellowship should be administered. A fornicating church member who relentlessly pursues his or her immoral lifestyle should be taken away from among you…delivered unto Satan…and put away (1 Cor. 5:2-13).

Church discipline is designed to warn the sinner. Ezekiel wrote, Son of man…hear a word from my mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity…Yet if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul (Ezek. 3:16-19).  Church discipline makes clear to the sinner that he is on the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14).

Church discipline is designed to save and restore the erring child of God. Paul wrote, turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord (1 Cor. 5:5). Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted (Gal. 6:1).

Church discipline is meant to make the sinner ashamed. And if anyone does NOT obey our instruction in this letter, take note of that person; don’t associate with him, so that he may be ashamed (2 Thess. 3:14).

Church discipline is also used by God for the protection of the church. God has always practiced correction to keep His people pure. For example, in the Old Testament, God corrected Nadab and Abihu to serve as an example to those who would add or subtract from His plan for worship (Lev. 10:1-3). In the New Testament, God corrected Ananias and Sapphira to serve as an example of the Jerusalem congregation of the seriousness of sin (Acts 5:3-5). It is clear from the record of Luke that the correction of Ananias and Sapphira had a purifying effect upon God's people (Acts 5:11-14).

Hymenaeus and Alexander were among those that had made shipwreck of their faith. Paul said he had delivered them to Satan, so that they may be taught NOT to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:19-20). The irreverent and empty speech, of Hymenaeus and Philetus was to be avoided because it was overturning the faith of some  (2 Tim. 2:16-18).

God’s church must remain pure because He sanctified and cleansed His people by the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:26).  He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless, without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). The Corinthian church could NOT be
clean until they had removed the unclean brother. 9 I wrote to you in a letter NOT to associate with sexually immoral people… 11 But now I am writing you NOT to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person (1 Cor. 5:9, 11). Those who are practitioners of such sins as fornication, covetousness, extortion, idolatry, drunkenness, etc. will certainly be candidates for church discipline, even up to withdrawal of fellowship.

Church discipline preserves our integrity as God’s church before the eyes of the world. Society has bias enough against us without having the legitimate complaint that we harbor evil within our fellowship. The child of God should never want the way of truth to be evil spoken of (2 Peter 2:2).

Since those in the world often judge the church by one erring brother or sister, it is imperative that the conduct of each part of the body be such that the name of God and His doctrine be NOT blasphemed (1 Tim. 6:1).

Christians are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16). We therefore must NEVER give occasion for the adversary to accuse and look down on us (1 Tim. 5:14). When a brother or sister in Christ lives a life of sin, they are hurting the church's influence and they are bringing reproach upon the name of Christ and the family of God (1 Pet. 4:15).

Christians need to let the world know whose side we are on, and that we are doing our best to serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15). Church discipline will display to the world that we do NOT approve of the actions of those involved in sin (Eph. 5:11). Church discipline is used by God to prove the obedience of His church.

Concerning the man that had been disciplined in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul later wrote them that God had used this case to test their character to see if they would be obedient in everything (2 Cor. 2:9).

Inspired writers make clear that God's blessings are only for the obedient. For example, God's blessings for the nation of Israel were conditioned upon obedience. Moses wrote Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.... But it shall come to pass, if you do NOT obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you (Deut. 28:1-2, 15).

Today, God's blessings for the church are conditioned upon obedience. John wrote, Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is at hand {near} (Rev. 1:3). We CANNOT receive God's blessings without practicing correction or church discipline. If we reject the words of Christ, we will be rejected by Him (John 12:48)

The practice of church discipline is necessary to love like Jesus. The love of Jesus involves correction. In Hebrews, we read, And have you forgotten the exhortation that speaks to you as to sons?  My son, do NOT regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when rebuked by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives (Heb. 12:5-6). In the book of Revelation, Jesus said, As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten {discipline}. Therefore be zealous and repent (Rev. 3:19).

Since the love of Jesus involves correction, we CANNOT love like the Lord (John 15:12) without practicing correction. The most unloving brethren today are those who will NOT practice church discipline.

God also uses church discipline to strike fear in the hearts of the rest. Paul commanded the young preacher Timothy to publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid (1 Tim. 5:20).

This teaching and practice may cause our numbers to drop radically over this next few months; but don’t marvel at that. The church needs to be purged and pruned from time to time. We are commanded to purge out the old leaven (1 Cor. 5:6-8). The branches that are NOT bearing any fruit for God’s glory need to be cut out so that the fruit bearers can be pruned to bear even more fruit (John 15:1-8). AMEN!

The Final Act

In every congregation where qualified men are serving as elders, it naturally would be the case that the eldership would lead the church in the withdrawal of fellowship from the unfaithful. Let it be stressed, however, that the withdrawal of fellowship is NOT an “elder act” or an act of the leaders behind closed doors. It is an activity on the part of the entire church, and the formalization of the procedure must be enacted in the public assembly (1 Cor. 5:4).

After the Lord gave His instructions regarding the procedures for restoring the brother who had wrong his fellow, Jesus declared: For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them (Matt. 18:20). Few people seem to recognize that this comforting promise of our Lord was given in a context exhorting church discipline!

Since Christ is thus in the assembly of the church or present when two or three are convicting a brother of sin, it is the Lord who acts with His church and its members when they carry out His word in church discipline.


Loving discipline was as much a trait of the New Testament church as correct worship, organization, etc. The question must then haunt us: “Can a church that utterly refuses to practice church discipline be a New Testament church?” May each of us as Christians ponder and practice what the Bible says about church discipline. If men and women are unwilling to repent and return after repeated efforts to restore them, may each of us have the conviction to practice the plan of God.  

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