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The Way of Christian Discipline

Because Christian discipline is such a serious thing, careful rules are laid down for it in the Word, especially in Matthew 18. These rules are of the greatest importance.

For one thing, as we have noticed, discipline ordinarily begins with private admonition. When someone has sinned against us or offended us we are required to go to them and point out their sin to them.

Several things need emphasis in that connection. First, it is the sinner himself who must be told, not everyone else. Telling everyone else the sins of others is itself the sin of talebearing or gossiping and is a deadly evil in the church (Prov. 26:20-26). This is the reason Jesus says in Matthew 18:15, "tell him his sin between thee and him alone."

Secondly, it is the person sinned against who has the primary obligation to go to the one who has sinned (vs. 15). All too often in our pride and anger we wait for the person who has sinned to come to us and the result is that we are not reconciled to one another.

Third, rebuking of sin must be done with humility and love. Thus Jesus emphasizes, too, that we are "brothers." Very significant is II Thess. 3:15, which tells us that even one who has been excommunicated must still be admonished "as a brother." Too often our failure to gain a brother is due to the way in which we point out his sins.

Only if the sinner will not receive admonition and repent is the matter brought to the attention of others, but then not in the way of tale-bearing. He must be approached in the presence of witnesses (Matt. 18:16 - according to Num. 35:30), who also have the obligation, if they are convinced he has sinned, to admonish him (Matt. 18:17).

The matter is brought to the church, functioning through its ordained elders, only if the sinner continues unrepentant. Then, eventually, he is excommunicated, both for the sin he committed and for his refusal to repent. This excommunication, as the very word suggests, involves his being barred from the Lord's table, and thus from membership and fellowship in the church.

Here too, however, Scripture has something to say. There must be admonitions, not just a single admonition. Love demands that every opportunity must be given for repentance. Also, as much as possible, the sinner must be spared, especially if he repents (II Cor. 2:5-8). Thus, Scripture says, love covers sin, not to hide it, so that it is not dealt with (cf. James 5:19, 20), but in sparing the sinner unnecessary shame and reproach.

In a few cases, however, Scripture indicates that sin must be immediately and publicly rebuked. Thus did Paul deal with Peter (Gal. 2:11-14), probably because of Peter's prominent position in the church. I Timothy 5:20 gives two cases where this may be necessary: (1) where the person has "sinned before all," i.e., sinned publicly; and (2) where the person is a leader in the church (Paul is speaking here especially of elders).

In these ways sins will be dealt with in the church and will not destroy it. So too, our Holy God is not mocked but glorified in the church, and sinners saved.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 6
  • Issue: 21
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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