I’ve been suffering with bursitis and tendonitis in my left hip and leg for the last year. The pain in this one area affects the functioning of my whole body and my lifestyle. Limping and favoring that one side throws my back off. I can’t sit at my computer working for long periods of time. I could keep going, but I know you’ve got the point.
Paul’s body analogy for the church helps us understand so much about the body of Christ. For instance, when one member suffers or rejoices every member suffers or rejoices with her. (See 1 Corinthians 12:26.) We’ve probably all experienced this. For instance, if a fellow believer loses a loved one, we all gather around her with prayer, encouragement, and support.
But what about sin? Let me clarify before we go further: We all still sin. None of us will be perfect this side of eternity.
However, there is a difference between a repentant believer and a Christian who blatantly and unrepentantly continues in a habit of sin.
What should the church do with that kind of situation?
Paul dealt with this in his first letter to the Corinthian church. A member of that church had an ongoing sexual relationship with his stepmother. He was unrepentant and the church had done nothing to stop him. In fact, Paul said they should have “been filled with grief” and put the man “out of your fellowship” (1 Cor 5:2).
Hmm. Doesn’t that seem harsh? Shouldn’t we be more tolerant than that? Where does Paul get that anyway? Paul got it straight from Jesus! In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus laid out a process for dealing with an unrepentant brother living a lifestyle of sin. Here it is in a nutshell:
- Go to the brother or sister in private and show them their sin.
- If they refuse to repent, go back with one or two witnesses.
- If they still won’t listen, bring them before the church.
- Still unrepentant? Remove them from the fellowship of the church.
What? Why? Two important goals sometime require this drastic measure.
1. The health and witness of the rest of the body. Just like pain in one part of your physical body affects the whole, sin in one part of the body of Christ affects every member. The actions of an unrepentant sinner can bring temptation, pain, anger – the list goes on! And it affects the operation and effectiveness of that church within the Kingdom of God.
2. The restoration of the unrepentant sinner. When Paul gave his instructions to the Corinthian church to expel the sinner from their fellowship his hope was that the man’s “sinful nature may be destroyed” (1 Cor 5:5). The end goal was for the discipline to bring the man to repentance so his relationship with God and the church body could be restored. I love that God graciously recorded the outcome of this particular situation for us in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Based on what we read in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, the church followed Paul’s direction regarding the discipline of the unrepentant member. And in fact, the man was sorrowed over the separation and brought to repentance! So Paul directed the church to bring him back into fellowship with love and encouragement.
Not many churches today practice discipline as Jesus commanded. Jesus’ teaching is clear. The example of the New Testament church demonstrates the benefit to the unrepentant sinner and the church body. I have witnessed the benefit of it in the lives of Christians.
So, why do we hesitate? Why don’t all our churches practice discipline as Jesus taught? Why do you think? What have you seen?