Discipline is also necessary to improve the health of the church. The Protestant Reformers of the 16th century said that any true church is, “Where the word of God is truly preached and taught, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline faithfully exercised, there the one true holy and apostolic church is present.”[i]Discipline has always been part of the church. In our culture, the discipline to improve one’s athletic skill is applauded, but the discipline to improve the church of the living God is derided. We desperately need to recover a healthy, robust understanding of church discipline. We must desire a pure
Regular Precautionary Church Discipline
The church must protect their church membership. The church is for the believers in Jesus Christ. The call of the gospel goes wide and far. We invite all to come. We want all to gather with us. We love having visitors come, but membership must be kept for those who are believers of Jesus Christ. The church is the community of the faithful, those who have been brought into fellowship of the Son. Listen to 2 Timothy 3:10-12,
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Paul makes a distinction of Timothy. He says, “You, however.” Timothy, you are different from others. How is Timothy different? He followed Paul’s teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He believed that Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day. Timothy was a Christian. He also demonstrated that he was a Christian by following Paul’s conduct and patience, and steadfastness, even being willing to suffer persecution for his faith.
How was Timothy so different? From whom did he differ? Chapter 3:1-9,
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
Timothy was different than the people in the world. In particular, he was different than those who opposed the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” To oppose the truth is to oppose Jesus Christ. Timothy was different, because he believed the truth. The first form of church discipline is to cautiously guard the church from people who do not follow the truth.
Before people join the church, it is our responsibility to make sure they are Christians. Do they believe the Bible? Do they believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? Do they believe in the Trinity? Do they believe that people are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone? Because if they don’t believe this, they are opposed to the truth and eventually they will either walk away from the church, bring division to the church, or bring shame upon the church. We must open our arms wide to invite people to our church, but we must show them the narrow road of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the door. He is the gate. All are welcome, but they must come through Him.
If you are a guest with us today, we are glad you are here. There no other place that we would desire you to be than here. We do not think of ourselves as particularly great people or special because of our good works, but we view ourselves as special because of the special grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life. Everyone deserves death, but everyone has the opportunity to receive eternal life. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God offers eternal life for whoever believes. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe he died in your place on the cross bearing your judgment. Believe in his resurrection from the dead as your hope for your resurrection from the dead. The church is an exclusive group, but it is the most inclusive exclusive group there is. All are welcome, but all must come through Jesus Christ, for no man comes to God except through him. This is why the church must practice precautionary church discipline, to protect people and the church from those who oppose the truth.
Regular Formative Church Discipline
Every church already practices church discipline. They may not realize that they are doing it, but they are practicing a form of church discipline. Formative church discipline is what the church does to “form” or mold or shape people into the likeness of Christ. The goal of the Christian life is to grow up to be mature like Christ; to be transformed by God’s grace into the image of the Beloved Son. This primarily happens with the hearing and receiving of God’s Word. Paul gives Timothy a plan for his own growth as well as for the church as Timothy is a pastor of the local church in Ephesus. 2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:2,
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Paul tells Timothy to continue in learning and believing the Word of God. This incredible gift of God’s Word is given to make one wise for salvation and to make the believer competent and equipped for every good work. Formative Discipline is when we allow our lives to be formed and shaped around the Word of God. All Scripture is breathed out by God. God speaks to his people. The Creator of the Universe wants to mold and shape you through His wise counsel. As we read the word of God we see how it is profitable or useful for teaching us the right way to live. The word exposes us and reveals the things in our lives that need to be changed. The Word corrects our thinking and our living so that we can be trained in righteous.
The greatest good we can do as a church is to align our corporate practices and our individual lives to the Word of God. Mark Dever writes,
If we were to compare discipline in the body of Christ to discipline in the physical body, then formative discipline would be like eating right and exercising…Formative discipline is how the church gets in shape, stays in shape, and grows. So preaching, teaching, discipling, leading small group Bible studies, and gathering for corporate worship are all examples of formative discipline. These activities shape the way we grow, and they strengthen us for work, both as individuals and as a church. They can help prevent serious risk of false teaching, public scandal, contentiousness, or a host of other spiritual maladies; and they can even make the local church look more attractive to those on the outside.[ii]
Formative Church Discipline is essential for the spiritual health of the church. And fundamentally, how does this formative discipline occur? It happens through the regular hearing and preaching of the Word of God.
Listen to how important the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Almighty God, thinks the preaching of the Word is in the life of the local church. Paul says to a local pastor,
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
These are the marching orders for every pastor in the church. We preach so you can be reproved, rebuked, exhorted, with complete patience and teaching so that you will be wise for salvation on that day when you stand before Jesus Christ, who is to judge the living and the dead. Do you see how important this is?
Beloved, I do not believe that church attendance saves you, but I believe what God says in His Word and God loves His Word. He wants you to hear it. He wants you to gather with God’s people to hear His Word so you can be formed and shaped into the likeness of God. The regular discipline of hearing the Word of God will grow your spiritual health and the health of this church. This is why as a church we will continue to preach the Word of God.
Regular Corrective Church Discipline
Ephesians 4:15 says that we are called to be, “speaking the truth in love,” to one another. This helps see our sin and to be corrected. The problem is that we do not like to be corrected. I knew when I got married, I had to grow a lot as a husband. I periodically asked my wife “Is there anything I can do better as a husband?” The problem is that my wife told me how I could do better, and I really did not want to hear it. We must develop hearts that invite correction so we can grow to be like Christ. We have to see the value of corrective discipline. Listen to these verses that speak of this corrective discipline,
Proverbs 17:10, “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.”
Proverbs 5: 22, 23 “The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.”
Proverbs 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline, loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
Proverbs 27:15, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.”
Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Hebrews 12:5-11 “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Corrective Discipline is not a bad thing, but rather is a blessing. God disciplines us for our good so we may share in his holiness and bear the fruit of righteousness. Do you want that? Do you want to share in his holiness and to bear the fruit of righteousness? Then invite people to correct you.
In order for this corrective discipline to happen, you must work to develop godly relationships. Do you know anyone in the church well enough where if you were to ask them, “Do you see any area of my life that could use improvement?”, they would be able to answer you? It is not enough to ask the question, people have to know you well enough in order to answer the question honestly. We all have blind spots. We all need correction. No one is immune to the need of the body. We all need each other. Beloved, we must protect ourselves from being ineffective and impure. We do this by willingly listening to and inviting our brothers and sisters to speak the truth in love to us.
This is the picture Jesus gives in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” When you are wronged, Jesus says that you should go and practice regular corrective discipline. If your brother sins against you, go and correct him, privately. We can never be the sin police. We want to be gracious and charitable to our brothers and sisters, but if there is an obvious offense go speak the truth in love. And when the person is corrected, if they listen, they gain a brother.” Many people think that Church Discipline is legalistic and produces self-righteous snobs. And wrongly understand, it can certainly do that, but corrective church discipline is a gift to protect us from ourselves. Jesus says before you help correct your brother in their sin, you must examine your own heart. Luke 6:41-42,
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.
Beloved, let us grow in our desire and our willing to be corrected and in lovingly speaking the truth to our neighbor so that we may share in God’s holiness and bear the fruit of righteousness.
Irregular Protective Church Discipline
We are in the last days. We are living in dangerous times for souls. After Paul exhorts Timothy to preach the Word, he then provides his reason in verse 3-5,
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
A time has come when people will not endure sound teaching. They do not listen to the Word of God, but listen to teachers that speak lies and they wander off into myths.
When people start to oppose the truth either with their life or with their belief, it is necessary for the church to protect their soul by removing them from the community. We are going to look at this in depth next week, but as we close, look at God’s Word. Paul is at the end of his life and he says,
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6-7).
Paul fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith. And because he did not wander into false belief and false living, but trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, he says,
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Paul received the crown of righteousness from Jesus Christ, the righteous judge. That crown that he was guaranteed is also guaranteed to all those who have loved his appearing, those who have loved the truth. How did Paul finish the race well? Listen to 1 Corinthians 9:24-27,
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
We must restore the practice of church discipline to protect people from wandering into myths and from opposing the truth because we want them to receive the crown of righteousness on that Day. We want to practice discipline so that we should not be disqualified from the prize. So let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.