Four Nonnegotiables of Church Life VI (Matthew 18:15-20)

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“Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). What a question! The Lord Jesus Christ had been telling His disciples of His increasingly imminent betrayal, arrest, suffering and crucifixion. The One who loved them was going to experience the most ignoble means of torturous death. He was going to do so for their sakes. He was going to do so for the purpose of laying the foundation for His church—a church which, by sovereign grace, they were blessed to be a part of. That should have been sufficient privilege to end any and all pursuit of selfish ambition. But it wasn’t, and as you and I can testify, it still isn’t. Not that such a blessing is not in itself sufficient, for certainly it is. Rather, the problem is our appreciation/estimation of that privilege.

In his classic book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer highlights what it means to be the church in communion. He writes,

It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual, is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.

That day of loneliness soon came to him as he was arrested by the Gestapo and eventually hanged at the concentration camp of Flossenbürg in Germany on 19 April 1945.

I fear that in our day being a part of the church is a privilege that is merely taken for granted. It is for this reason that we have had this series on four nonnegotiables of church life. The Lord taught His disciples that the church which He builds is characterised by humility (vv. 1-4), honouring others (vv. 5-14), holiness (vv. 15-20) and harmony (vv. 21-35). And so we have learned that those who humble themselves will honour others by helping them to be holy and this will create harmony in the church.

Because, like the Twelve, we do not adequately appreciate what it means to be born again and thus to be a member of the church that Jesus builds, we often find ourselves pursuing lesser goals and thus in conflict with one another. Rather than being consumed with the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, we become obsessed with our own exaltation. And in our sinful self-absorption we find ourselves sinning against the community of disciples; the very community in which the Lord Jesus Christ has sovereignly and graciously placed us.

We gossip because we desire to exalt ourselves. We display angry outbursts because, in our ambition to be first, we morph into control freaks. We commit sexual sin because our own “needs” become paramount. We withdraw from the body because of our self-righteous and judgmental cynicism. We entertain doctrinal divergence because we assume that we have been given exceptional light. We become bitter toward others because we are so important that we have a right to be treated in an appropriate way and how dare any one violate such a paragon of importance!

Sin is a reality in the local church. How then do we deal with those who so sin against us and the body? How should each of us expect to be dealt with when we commit such sins? The Lord very clearly tells us in Matthew 18:15-20.

The context of this teaching must never be neglected. To do so may lead to an abuse of the procedure laid down in these verses. I even hesitate to use the word “procedure,” for these verses are not to be obeyed in a merely mechanical way. In other words, the Lord Jesus did not give us these words so that we could conduct a cold CCMA investigation when a brother or sister sins. Rather the context of this mandate of accountability (perhaps a better term than “church discipline”) is one of love for the flock of Christ; this command to restore a sinning brother is given in the overall context of love for the community of Christ. One pastor has noted,

The reality that the first New Testament passage on church discipline is buffered by pursuing the lost sheep on one end and forgiving magnanimously on the other, ought to tell us something of its importance. Here was no casual statement to fill in needed literary word count! Instead, the essence of church life and purity—love and forgiveness—can be seen in a church so loving one another that every member joins in concern for the body’s holiness.

Thus far we have examined the Author of church discipline, as well as its aim, its approach and its arena. As we come to our last study on this particular passage we will study the assurance for church discipline, the appreciation for church discipline, and we will conclude with an appeal for church discipline. May God the Holy Spirit move our hearts in such a way that we will humble ourselves to help the holiness of this church and as a result, rescue the perishing who are harming themselves thereby harming the body.

The Assurance for Church Discipline

For most reading this, the subject of church discipline is not new. Certainly that is true for members of BBC. However, in this particular series of studies, it is being addressed in a fresh way. We are coming to appreciate the reality that the local church is a flock of sheep to which the Chief Shepherd is passionately committed—and that He expects for each of us to be passionately committed as well. We are to keep an eye on the flock and when we see sheep harming themselves—by harming others (vv. 5-14)—then we are to do what is necessary to seek their welfare, which implies that we will go after them. Don’t miss that word in v. 15; the Lord commands that we “go” to them and seek to reconcile, that we seek to restore them. Someone has observed, “Too often we confuse love with permissiveness. It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a baby. True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability.”

General Douglas MacArthur once said that, in war, all tragedy can be summarised in two words: “too late. Too late perceiving, too late preparing for danger.”

Alas, all too often with regard to our fellow church members who are seemingly going astray, we delay in going after them. Such delay is a dereliction of duty. And the results can be tragic. But why is that we are hesitant to engage in constructive church discipline? Why do we delay in our duty to exercise loving mutual accountability? Primarily because going after those who have caused harm is not easy. To undertake this vital task can be daunting to say the least.

The story is told of two explorers were on a hunting safari when suddenly a ferocious lion jumped in front of them. “Keep calm,” the first explorer whispered. “Remember what we read in that book on wild animals? If you stand perfectly still and look the lion in the eye, he will turn and run.”

“Sure,” replied his companion. “You’ve read the book, and I’ve read the book, but has the lion read the book?”

When it comes to the matter of church discipline, the issue of lovingly holding each other accountable in the local church, you may be confident that you have “read the book,” but you may not be as confident that the one you are about to confront has read it! And the result is often that church discipline is left “in the book” and the church loses out on the benefits of its application.

Consider some fears which often prove to be stumblingblocks to the health of the church.

First, there may be some uncertainty over how the other party will respond. In other words, fear of a negative response. Jesus used the word “if” in v. 15 to speak of a possible repentance upon the first confrontation, but the very use of the word “if” indicates the possibility of rejection. There is always the possibility that the sheep will become defensive and perhaps even offensive in their response. Believers can behave in some pretty nasty ways!

There is perhaps the fear of being yelled at, being lied about, or being given the cold shoulder. These are very real possibilities, but they should not dissuade us from obedience to the Lord’s commands.

Second, let us consider the fear that such a confrontation will put you at the risk of having your own faults rebuked. There is always the chance that someone may turn around and point a finger at your own sin in the past in response to loving confrontation. Of course, this is precisely why consistent application of this practice is healthy for the body: It results in self-cleansing! Self-discipline is a requirement of those who seek to carry out the mandate of church discipline.

Third, we must consider the lurking fear that the church will be known as “strict”—or worse! After all, we would like to be liked, and discipline just flies in the face of what most in the community expect from a church. To put it bluntly, most assume that the church is to be a “benevolent blob” where we are to live and let live. After all, didn’t Jesus say something about not judging lest you yourselves be judged?

BBC certainly has something of a reputation of being a “strict” church, because we take the mandate of church discipline seriously. I have met people whom I get the impression have been surprised that I don’t have horns! Living with misconceptions may be something that we have to accept if we will take Christ’s command seriously.

Fourth, there is the fear that, if such discipline is carried out, people will leave the membership and church growth will suffer. This is perhaps the biggest stumblingblock to obedience to this command of Christ. But when you think about it, it is an irrational fear. If the Lord of the church—who laid down His life for the church—has determined this discipline for the church, then we can be sure that we have nothing to worry about! After all, He desires church growth far more than we can even imagine!

Despite this obvious truth, the excuse of stunted church growth remains a very real stumblingblock to church discipline. Ken Hemphill has written a book entitled, The Bonsai Theory of Church Growth: Grow Your Church to Its Natural God-Given Size. Hemphill argues that you cannot remove members from the church and still expect the church to grow as Christ expects it to grow. But again, if Christ Himself instituted church discipline, and if He is the one who grants church growth, it should obvious that church discipline will in no way stunt church growth.

Fifth, and quote obviously, there is sometimes the fear that, at the end of the day, it just won’t be effective—a fear of failure. Of course, this is often due to a wrong assessment as to what is effective; nevertheless, it is a fear that we often experience.

In reviewing these concerns let us note that they all have one thing in common: fear. It is fear which hinders reconciliation in the church. It is fear which slows the process of sanctification. It is fear which paralyses obedience and which retards the purifying of the church.

Allow me a brief excursus.

To reiterate what I said previously, the local church is God’s chosen means for the sanctification of His people. And a huge part of this ability lies in the issue of accountability. By God’s design the body of Christ is designed to heal itself. God has equipped the local church with all that it needs to confront and counsel and correct itself.

But to do so means that we must be willing to face the issues of fear that we have just noted. And it is largely because of a fear of inadequacy and the fear of inability and the fear of ineffectiveness that many churches turn to “counsellors” rather than to each other.

Yet this passage instructs us that apart from a believer being held accountable by his fellow sheep, there will be little progress in his fellowship with the Lord. It is for this reason that much of so called “Christian counselling” is no more effective than secular counselling. You see, when you reject the sufficiency of the body (cf. Romans 15:14) you have rejected, to some degree, the sufficiency of Christ.

So how do we overcome this debilitating fear? The answer is obvious: by faith. Faith as defined by Scripture is obedience to God’s Word because of a confidence in God’s character. Knowing God’s immutable character, being assured of His love and wisdom, we can be confident as we carry out His mandate of Matthew 18:15-17.

According to the Lord Jesus, the fears which hinder our obedience to communal mutual accountability are ungrounded, for when these Scriptures are obeyed we have the affirmation of heaven. God approves of what we are doing. At the end of the day, this is to be our primary concern. As Paul wrote to the Colossians,

Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.

(Colossians 3:22-23)

Let’s note the heavenly reasons why we can be sure, why we can be confident as we carry out this measure on earth.

The Authority is from Heaven

The authority to grant forgiveness to the repentant, or to sadly excommunicate the unrepentant sinner from the church, cannot come from within us. We are sinful ourselves, and so there must necessarily be a transcendent authority by which pardon is granted or excommunication enacted. And that authority lies in heaven itself. “Assuredly, I say to you,” said Jesus, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (v. 18). And since (God in) heaven as appointed these measures and this means, we can confidently obey.

Let us note some things about this verse.

The Terms Give Assurance

The key terms here are “bound” and “loosed.” These were familiar concepts to the Jews who understood that the priests had authority to pronounce a man either forgiven or unforgiven, based on his response to the Word of God. The priest, for example, could pronounce whether or not an acceptable sacrifice had been brought. Priests had the God-given authority to pronounce a leper clean or unclean, so long as he followed the Scriptures regulating this.

The use of these familiar old covenant terms serve to give assurance that God’s authority is indeed behind church discipline. We can therefore confidently obey Christ’s mandate.

The Tense Gives Assurance

The tense of these verbs point us to the reality that something, literally, has already been done in heaven. The Greek tense can legitimately be rendered “has been bound/loosed in heaven.” The will of God is a settled matter. God’s Word settles matters of discipline.

What Jesus was saying is that when we confront someone in accordance with Scripture (Scripture defining whether the conduct is sinful) then heaven stands with us. This means that the standard is God’s, not ours, and thus we will be careful to deal with precepts not preferences. Such discipline is guarded from being a personal thing but rather it is a matter of principle, God’s principle.

I have on certain occasions, during counselling sessions, literally taken a Bible and placed it between me and the counselee. I have made it clear on such occasions that the counsel being offered is not mine, but God’s. As they can see in a tangible way, the Bible stands between me and them; the final authority is God’s Word, not mine.

Because God’s Word is the standard that settles the sin, it also is the final say regarding both repentance and impenitence. When the brother repents then they are loosed of the guilt, according to heaven, and when they refuse to do so then they are considered guilty, according to heaven. The church is merely carrying out heaven’s (God’s) will on earth. In the words of John MacArthur, “Believers have authority to declare that sins are either forgiven or not forgiven when that declaration is based on the teaching of God’s Word.”

The Agreement is with Heaven

But Jesus continued, “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” (v. 19).

A word of caution is necessary at this point: This verse is not a carte blanche promise for any and every prayer meeting. Rather it is governed by the context. Our Lord was telling us that when those involved in the discipline process are in agreement concerning the Scripturally-defined sin, or when they are agreed concerning the repentance or impenitence of the brother, then heaven stands with them in this decision—assuming of course such decisions are in accordance with Scripture. As G. Campbell Morgan said it, “If the Church has consulted the will of God concerning him, because the Church has gathered in the name of Jesus, then her decision is binding, authoritative, final. Heaven ratifies it.”

This is amazing for it indicates, once again, that the local church is the highest court of appeal on earth for the believer. Further, it encourages us that the Lord vindicates His people when they pursue holiness. Let us be confident as we obey!

Let me summarise the conclusion of this point by quoting John Calvin:

The substance of it is this: Whoever, after committing a crime, humbly confesses his fault, and entreats the Church to forgive him, is absolved not only by men, but by God himself; and, on the other hand, whoever treats with ridicule the reproofs and threatenings of the Church, if he is condemned by her, the decision which men have given will be ratified in heaven.

One of the most important truths that the local church of our day must recover is that it is a theocracy. Christ rules by His Word. Once we properly grasp this authority issue then we will repent of our hesitance and refusal to carry out the mandate of Matthew 18:15-17.

The Assistance is from Heaven

Again, we come to a verse that is very often cited completely out of context. Note the words of Jesus here: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (v. 20). We have all heard this verse claimed as a promise that God is with even a small gathering of believers for prayer or Bible study. It matters not how small the church is: So long as the believers present are gathered in Christ’s name He is there in their midst. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, it is not what Jesus was saying here.

The “two or three” who are “gathered together in [Christ’s] name” must be interpreted in the proper context. In accordance with the flow of the text, the “two or three” refer to the witnesses gathered in the process of church discipline. Stated another way, the “two or three gathered” is a reference to the biblical process of church discipline. What Jesus is therefore saying is that where church discipline is carried out according to the biblical method, He stands with the church in “binding” or “loosing” the sin of the offender.

The implication of the text is that the “two or three” stand in contrast to the sinning brother. In other words, Jesus was saying that when church discipline is properly carried out, He stands with the church, and not with the offending brother. Those who therefore stand with the offending brother against the church stand against Christ; those who stand with the church have Christ in their midst.

This is a vital principle to grasp. The Pharisees were correct when they asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). (Of course, they missed the truth that Jesus was God; nevertheless, they were correct in their understanding that God alone can forgive sins.) Therefore, when the church “looses” the sin of the offending yet repentant brother, it can only do so as Christ stands with it. Similarly, if the church must “bind” the sin of the unrepentant brother—thereby treating him “like a heathen and a tax collector”—it can only do so as Christ stands in its midst. We have no authority to bind or loose sins; that authority can only come from Christ.

R. V. G. Tasker neatly summarises the teaching of v. 20 when he writes, “The Jews believed that the Shekinah or divine presence rested upon those who were occupied in the study of the law. Christians are here given the assurance that Christ is present with those who are diligently concerned with understanding His mind and will.”

God stands with the rulers and judges of His people. In this case, the “judge” is the local congregation as it obeys the judgment of heaven.

William Hendriksen notes, “The expression ‘Jehovah (“God” or “I”) in the midst of you (“her,” “us”)’ is in Scripture generally associated with the impartation of strength, direction, protection, and consolation.” Consider, for instance, Psalm 46:5, which reads concerning God’s covenant people, “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.” Or consider some references from the Minor Prophets:

  • Zephaniah 3:15—“The LORD has taken away your judgements, He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall see disaster no more.”
  • Zephaniah 3:17—“The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
  • Zechariah 2:10—“‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ says the LORD.”

In light of the above we should be encouraged to obey this mandate for, in the words of John Calvin, “There is therefore no reason to doubt that those who give themselves up to his direction will derive most desirable advantage from his presence.” Be encouraged to obey. “If the Church has consulted the will of God concerning him, because the Church has gathered in the name of Jesus, then her decision is binding, authoritative, final. Heaven ratifies it” (Morgan). Let us heed the words of the apostle: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

The Appreciation for Church Discipline

Whilst church discipline is more despised than appreciated today, there are several reasons why we should in fact appreciate this Christ-ordained practice. Consider some of those reasons.

It Helps the Church to Be Authentic

First, we should appreciate church discipline because it helps the church to be authentic.

We noted in an earlier study that men such as John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon lamented that perhaps half of those who were members of their respective churches were not born again. They were burdened that many whose names were on their membership roles, who attended the services and who made a profession that they were “Christians,” were in fact still lost in their sins. Because these shepherds of souls saw little in the way of the evidence of spiritual life they rightly questioned whether such truly had been saved from their sins. Not much has changed over the years. There are still many who attend church (some even faithfully), who profess to be saved and yet whose lives evidence very little of the transforming power of the gospel. In some cases the conduct of their lives is a huge contradiction of the faith and repentance that they profess.

In recent years, surveys have shocked many in the professing church. John Piper cites the following statistics offered by the Barna Group:

  • Born again Christians are just as likely to divorce as are non-Christians.
  • Of 12,000 teenagers who took the pledge to wait for marriage, 80% had sex outside marriage in the next seven years.
  • Twenty-six percent of traditional evangelicals do not think premarital sex is wrong.
  • White evangelicals are more likely than Catholics and mainline Protestants to object to having black neighbours.
  • Only nine percent of evangelicals tithe.

Further evidence of the confusion about what it means to be born again is the title of a recent Ron Sider book: The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?

Added to this is this recent survey highlighting the reasons that many in the USA give for why they avoid going to church:

One of the biggest surprises to some people . . . is that a large majority of the nation’s unchurched population is drawn from the sector comprised of people who consider themselves to be Christian. In the United States, 83% of all adults label themselves “Christian.” The percentage [of those professing to be Christians who don’t go to church] is lower among the unchurched, but such self-identified Christians still outnumber those who do not embrace Christianity by a three-to-two margin (61% vs. 39%).

In other words, the majority of those surveyed who don’t go to church still claim to be born again! Putting it another way, a majority of those who refuse to gather with the church still claim to be a part of the church! They defy the command of Christ (see, for example, John 13:34-35; Hebrews 10:24-26) and reject any accountability to the community which Christ has founded, and yet they still claim to be His follower!

If you listen to those statistics and titles and statements one thing should be screaming out: a whole lot of people who claim to be “evangelical” (that is, to believe the gospel) are still lost in their sins; a whole lot of people who claim to be born again are not! To put it another way, there are many who claim to be saved and bound for glory who are in fact lost and are headed for hell. How about you? How about your fellow church member?

Dear friend, it is for this very reason that the church must appreciate that biblical church discipline is a means towards the end of the local church revealing authentic Christianity. It is Christ’s appointed means to enable the local church to be composed of sheep rather than goats.

Let me make this very clear: If someone appears to be a goat—because they manifest the appetite of a goat, because they display the actions of a goat, and because they exhibit the affections of a goat—then we can be pretty certain that they are in fact a goat! And as the Lord Jesus made very clear, there is coming a day when all appearances will be confirmed one way or the other when He eternally separates His sheep from the devil’s goats (see Matthew 25:31-ff).

Now, to be sure, the problem of a mixed multitude will always be a challenge to the church, and particularly to the local church, because people can be very good at self-deception. For example, there are many who sit around and criticise the church with a sharp tongue and a cynical, judgmental spirit as they seek to justify why they are not members of a local church. Nevertheless such will adamantly protest that they are believers and many undiscerning, though perhaps well-meaning, Christians will defend such nonsensical claims. After all, the person says that they “asked Jesus into their life” and claims to have repented and to have believed the gospel, and so who are we to question their profession? “After all, do we think that we are called to be professional fruit inspectors?” Hardly.

We are however Christ-appointed sheep protectors. And therefore we are called by Christ not only to protect the sheep that harm themselves but we are also called to protect the flock from the self-deceived goats that may harm the sheep. Hear these words from Mark Dever:

In joining the church, we put ourselves in a position where we ask our brothers and sisters to hold us accountable to live according to what we speak with our mouths. We ask the brothers and sisters around us to encourage us, sometimes by reminding us of ways that we have seen God work in our lives and other times by challenging us when we may be moving away from obeying Him.

J. C. Ryle comments further, “An increasingly high standard of qualification for full church-membership, will always be found one of the best evidences of a prosperous Church.”

This is why the Lord has given to the local church the responsibility for mutual accountability as a means of grace. It is His appointed means for the church to remain alive. And this will only occur to the degree that the local church is filled with those who are alive.

It is this concern for authentic Christianity which lies behind our Lord’s exhortation to the Twelve, representative of the church of all ages. Jesus was committed to holiness and thus He told the disciples that they must be holy—corporately so.

The Lord Jesus was the epitome of humility and He exhorted His disciples that without such humility they would not enter the kingdom of God. In the words of John 3, without such Spirit-wrought humility they would not “see the kingdom of God.” One must bow to enter.

It Guards Us from the Alternative

The Lord Jesus Christ believed in hell and thus with great pathos He exhorted those who profess His name that if they are careless in their treatment of His sheep, if they adopt haughtiness rather than humility, then there will be, literally, “hell to pay.”

And so I must ask, if you died today where would you spend eternity? A proof of that will be how you respond to the voice of the Shepherd as articulated by His sheep. Will you bow or will you “butt”?

When the Lord Jesus Christ said to Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say unto you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), He was making a dogmatic statement that was without room for debate. Unless you have new (spiritual) life, you will not see heaven—literally. If you are still blind then you are still bound.

If you do not see that you are a hopeless sinner apart from the sovereign and saving grace of God then you are lost in your sins; you are still a child of wrath, you are still doomed for you are living under God’s damnation (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:1-4). If you have no appetite to see and savour Jesus Christ then you are not born again. If you are not compelled to gather with others who by this saving grace of God have had their eyes opened then you have no spiritual life. If your appetites for the things of the world are no different than an atheist, then you are not born again—regardless of how often you have “asked Jesus to come into your heart.” If your life is characterised by the same things as those who articulate their rejection of Jesus Christ, then I care not how long you have been a church member, you are still dead in your trespasses and sins. If your life is no different than those outside of the church, then you need to hear the Word of Christ: You must be born again.

Bonhoeffer states the matter clearly: “The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.” If we are practicing authentic Christianity (see vv. 1-4) then we will increasingly have an authentic membership: one that is purposefully committed to the ethos of humility; one that is passionately committed to the exercise of holiness; one that is practically committed to engaging the harmful; and one that is painfully committed to expelling the hardened.

How authentic is your profession of faith? You can answer that by how you respond to the authority of the local church as it holds you accountable to the Author of our faith: the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, are you repentant?

The Appeal for Church Discipline

Remember that church discipline is Christ’s discipline. And the purpose is to be chastened by Christ in order to be conformed to Christ. Our exercise of this commanded means of grace must always be seen as a means of grace. It therefore must be gracious which means that those who engage in this must be humble.

When Augustine was asked by someone what the three greatest Christian virtues are, he replied without hesitation, “Humility, humility, humility.” Our motive and manner must be right.

Just how accountable are you willing to be? Are you accountable to Christ, through the local church, in your marriage, your parenting, your recreation, your vocation and your stewardship? If any of these areas are deemed “off limits” then we have failed to appreciate what it means to be a fellow-sheep in the fellowship.

What will such a radical embracing of church life do for us in the eyes of the community? Pretty much what it did for Israel: It will see plenty of critics and enemies silenced by the fear of God! It will also go a long way towards reaching our community with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is true greatness. As Morgan wrote, “We should hardly relate these two things, greatness and forgiveness; and yet they are intimately related, for the final proof of greatness is the ability to forgive. This is true of God, and therefore it must be true of men.”

As we conclude this study of this extremely challenging and helpful passage I trust that we will appreciate that church discipline, in accordance with the Word of God, is a most valuable means of grace. It is valuable because it is a means by which our Lord helps us to grow in holiness. And there is nothing better than that!

Joel Osteen is (in)famous for his book, Your Best Life Now. His philosophy is that we should not be negative and therefore sin should be addressed (if at all) only rarely. Let me suggest that, if you are an unbeliever, then your best life indeed is now. However if you trust the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour then this is all a dress rehearsal for an eternity of being the best; that is, an eternity of being like Christ. And church discipline is a means of getting us closer to that goal. It is God’s appointed means of our pursuing the mandate of being holy as He is holy. May God give us the grace, and the love for Him and one another, to humble ourselves so that we can help others to humble themselves as well.