How do you think you would feel if you gave your children a command to obey, but then they simply ignored the command? I imagine that it would upset you. Now, imagine how God must feel when He gives us a command, and then we refuse to obey it. Anger, disappointment, and hurt are just some of the words that come to mind. Unfortunately, there is such a command that many are ignoring. God has specifically dictated that the church engage in disciplining erring brethren. The goal of such discipline is that the erring brother repents. However, there are numerous times that process has not taken place. Let us notice some Scriptures that will help us to understand our responsibilities.
First of all, Jesus explicitly taught how to handle the issue of a brother sinning against another brother. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Matt. 18:15). By going to the erring brother, we can hopefully keep the matter as private as possible. Sometimes that is all that it will take for the erring brother to repent. Sometimes that is not enough. If the brother refuses to repent, then we are to continue the disciplining process.
The next step that is commanded is “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16). Again, the goal is the repentance of the guilty brother. With unbiased witnesses present, the issue can be addressed and confirmed. Hopefully, the brother will accept the rebuke, and repent. If not, then there is one other command that must be obeyed.
Jesus then stated, “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:17). If the erring brother will not accept that he has sinned, and needs to repent, then the matter must become known to the rest of the church. With the efforts of each member, the congregation will give one last effort to encourage the brother to repent. At that point, if the erring brother continues in his sin, then he must be treated “…as an heathen man and a publican”. This is a way of explaining that the church cannot continue to extend fellowship to the guilty brother. Sometimes this is called “withdrawal of fellowship”. This terminology follows the command written by the apostle Paul that states, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (2 Thess. 3:6). Please notice that both Jesus and Paul made it clear that withdrawal is the will of God in such matters. If we refuse to do such, then we are blatantly disobeying a direct command.
In First Corinthians, chapter five, we have an example of how the church at Corinth was to deal with an erring brother. This brother’s sin was not a private matter, but rather it was “reported commonly” (1 Cor. 5:1). Instead of withdrawing from the guilty member, the congregation had allowed the matter to continue. Paul explained, “And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you” (1 Cor 5:2). It was not an issue that was vague. Even in his absence, Paul had easily determined what the congregation should have already done (1 Cor. 5:3-5). By the authority of Christ, the church at Corinth was “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). This was Paul’s way of describing “withdrawal of fellowship”. Keep in mind that the goal is for the guilty to repent. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Hopefully the loss of fellowship with his brethren will lead the erring to repent. In the case of the guilty member at Corinth, that is precisely what happened. In another letter to the congregation, Paul described the need for the church at Corinth to forgive the penitent brother. “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him” (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
Some are unfortunately not willing to obey God in this area. They may have mistakenly believed that practicing discipline does not help. We cannot make the erring one repent, but we can make sure that we do not sin by refusing to do as God has commanded. Do we really think that we can refuse to obey God without consequences? I certainly hope that we will not ignore any of God’s commands. ~ Corey Barnette
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