Dealing with Sin in the Church, Part 3 (Matthew Sermon 87 of 151)
February 08, 2009 | Andrew Davis
The Purity and Unity of the Church, Church Government (Polity), Indwelling Sin
So this week the staff had an opportunity, privilege, of going to a conference up in Minneapolis, evangelism conference at John Piper's organization. He organized it. Why it had to be in Minneapolis in February, I don't know, but there it was. Some people get to go to Southern California, some people to Hawaii, some to the Grand Caymans, we go to Minneapolis in February. But it was an incredible conference.
And on the way as we were on the plane, providentially I had the opportunity to share the gospel with a young woman, a woman in her mid-20s, her name was Jennifer. And the Lord just providentially put that together. She was across the aisle from me and we talked for two hours on that flight. Before you pity her, realize that she could have slid over and sat, there were no seats next to her, she wanted to talk. And we had the opportunity to talk about the most precious and the most important things there are in this world, about the gospel, about her walk with Christ, about her eternal soul.
She had a very traumatic childhood, very traumatic. And it's led to an even more traumatic adulthood now. She's had a couple of children out of wedlock, she was flying to see them from - she was down in the South, she was flying up to Minneapolis to see her children. In recent years, however, the biggest problem in her life was her addiction to crystal meth. Methamphetamine, a devastating drug that absolutely enslaves people and ruins their lives. And what amazed me about her statement to me, is that she felt, she said she'd been clean now for two years, but she said she felt no less attraction to it now than she did two years ago, when she first quit. Still has that much hold on her.
And as we talked, at one point, she pulled out a combination scrapbook and journal which had all kinds of things in it, and she showed it to me, I thought that was incredible that she was opening up her life to me, and she opened up to a particular page, and there was a poem that her sister had sent, concerning the danger of crystal meth and its addictive power. The poem is entitled “I Am Meth.” And I read it, and as I read it, literally tears came to my eyes, and I felt a dark kind of chill come over me. And I'd like you to bear with me as I read that poem, I found it on the Internet and I'd like to read it to you.
It's entitled “I Am Meth.” “I destroy homes. I tear families apart. I take your children and that's just the start. I'm more costly than diamonds, more precious than gold. The sorrow I bring is a sight to behold. If you need me, remember, I'm easily found. I live all around you - in schools and in town. I live with the rich, I live with the poor. I live down the street, maybe next door. I'm made in a lab, but it's not like you think. I can be made under the kitchen sink, in your child's closet, even in the woods. If this scares you to death, well, it certainly should. I have many names, but there's one you know best. I'm sure you've heard of me. My name is crystal meth. My power is awesome. Try me, you'll see. But if you do, you may never break free. Just try me once. And I might let you go. But try me twice and I'll own your soul. When I possess you, you'll steal and you'll lie. You'll do what you have to, just to get high. The crimes you'll commit for my narcotic dreams will be worth the pleasure you'll feel in your arms, your lungs, your nose. You'll lie to your mother, you'll steal from your dad. When you see their tears, you should feel sad. But you'll forget your morals and how you were raised. I'll be your conscience, I'll teach you my ways. I take kids from parents and parents from kids, I turn people from God and separate friends. I'll take everything from you. Your looks and your pride. I'll be with you always, right by your side. You'll give up everything, your family, your home, your friends, your money, then you'll be alone. I'll take and take till you have nothing more to give. When I'm finished with you, you'll be lucky to live. If you try me, be warned, this is no game. If given the chance, I'll drive you insane. I'll ravish your body, I'll control your mind. I'll own you completely. Your soul will be mine. The nightmares I'll give you while lying in bed, the voices you'll hear from inside your head, the sweats, the shakes, the visions you'll see, I want you to know these are all gifts from me. But then it's too late, and you'll know in your heart that you are mine and we shall never part. You'll regret that you tried me, they always do. But you came to me, not I to you. You knew this would happen, many times you were told, but you challenged my power, you chose to be bold. You could have said no and just walked away. If you could live that day over, now what would you say? I'll be your master, you will be my slave. I'll even go with you when you go to your grave. Now that you have met me, what will you do? Will you try me or not? It's all up to you. I can bring you more misery than words can tell. Come take my hand, let me lead you to hell.”
Absolutely chilling, as I read that. There was a blank page facing this poem in her journal. I asked permission if I could write a response. She happily agreed, and handed me the journal and a choice of pens, she's very artistic. I chose just a regular pen, that's me, I'm not very artistic. And I wrote this: “Yes, this is all true; but Jesus said this, ‘Everyone who sins is a slave to sin, but if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ John 8:34 and 36.”
Why am I sharing this with you today? Do I think that crystal meth addiction is a big problem here at FBC? No, I do not. Do I think it's likely soon to become a big problem here at FBC? Probably not. If you asked me whether I thought I could become addicted to crystal meth, I have been trained by the gospel to say, absolutely, yes. Because there's really no sin I'm finding that I don't have some connection with, in some way. And that if the Lord withdrew his gracious protection of me, and let Satan and his demons have at me, I could be a crystal meth addict within the week, if not sooner.
But that's not really why I read that poem to you. Rather the “I Am Meth” poem personifies the drug as a taunting power that communicates with its victims and has enslaved them. It speaks as an intelligent force, and so it reminds me, generally, of the power of indwelling sin. If we could only see it now. The spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm, Satan and his demons arrayed against us. If we could only see that magnetic alluring power of the world, if we could see it with our own eyes, even worse, if we could see somehow as though it were a living thing, sin living in us, what would we think then of the battle that all of us are in for our souls, in sanctification? As we grow in grace in the knowledge of Christ, we battle every step of the way with the power of indwelling sin.
Romans 7:15, Paul says, “I do not understand what I do. What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:17, “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Sin living in me. With Paul, we can cry out, “What a wretched man I am, who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature, a slave to the law of sin.” That is reality, friends, and I need to hear just as much as Jennifer, “If the Son sets you free, you'll be free indeed.” I need to know that, I need to know that Jesus can free me from this indwelling sin, don't you?
And if you don't think you have a problem with it, you don't know yourself, you don't know the power of indwelling sin. Friends, we need all the help we can get, we need all of the avenues of grace that God has lavished toward us, we need them all and we need a good healthy local church that knows that. We need to be for one another what God intended that we be for one another. We need to watch over one another in brotherly love, we need to care about what each other's going through. How sin is making an assault.
Now for two weeks, we've talked about church discipline, I've called it “Dealing with Sin in the Church.” We looked at Matthew 18. I'm not gonna go into detail in these at all. Urge you to look at the text, but there it says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. If he listens to you, you've won your brother over. If he doesn't listen then go, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses, and if he doesn't listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he will not listen to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” It's a process of dealing with sin, all the way to the final step of what we generally know as church discipline.
1 Corinthians 5
Last week, we looked at 1 Corinthians 5 and supported the same point where Paul says three times something like this, “You should have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this.” Or he says, “Hand this man over to Satan so that his sinful nature may be destroyed, and his spirit saved in the Day of the Lord.” Or he says at the end, 1 Corinthians 5:13, “Expel the wicked man from among you.” Says it three times, he's utterly clear about it. If this unrepentant sinner, he will not turn, he will not yield, he is a cancer in the church. He is a virus, he must be put out for the benefit of the whole church.
I gave you five motives, the glory of God above all. The possible salvation of the sinner, that they might come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil who has taken them captive to do his will. The protection of the church from the encroaching power of sin, the preservation of the reputation of the church and of the Lord in that community, so that the church can be salt and light and continue to do its gospel work in the community. And then, fifthly, the restoration and reconciliation of relationships in the church. For all of those reasons, we have to do church discipline.
A Third Key Passage: Hebrews 3
Now I wanna give you a third key passage, and then I wanna talk for the rest of the time today on practicalities of this issue. Practicalities of dealing with sin in the church, and more specifically the final step of church discipline. I wanna talk about that today, but look with me at Hebrews 3:12-14, which you heard Jim read. Hebrews 3 is a letter of warning, written to some Jewish people who had made professions of faith in Christ, but now under the wilting pressure of persecution from the Jewish community, they were now shrinking back from their commitment to Christ, they weren't going to church anymore, they didn't wanna be named as Christians, they were pulling back. And so the author of this epistle writes this letter of warning to them concerning this.
A Clear Command for Us to “Watch Over One Another in Brotherly Love”
It says there in Hebrews 3:12-14, “See to it brothers that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God, but encourage one another daily as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first.”
It's the second of a series of three warnings that come in progression that the author gives us. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” This one here talks about the danger of turning away from the living God through a sinful unbelieving heart. Then in Hebrew 6 it says there, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age; if they fall away, to be brought back again to repentance, because to their own loss they're crucifying the Son of God all over again.”
So he gives us some steps to apostasy: Drift away, turn away, fall away. And this is, like that poem, crystal meth, this is the enslavement of sin, as it grabs hold and starts to move people away from a profession of faith in Christ.
Remedy: A Loving Church Filled with Spiritual Guardians
And the remedy here is, at least in Hebrews 3:12-14, an active, loving church filled with brothers and sisters who care enough to step in and not let it happen. It's a matter of love. And so, look at verse 12, “See to it brothers,” it says, “that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart.” So that he's talking about the context of the church, this is a church issue, and it's a call to spiritual vigilance within the Christian church. “See to it,” literally watch, be vigilant. Look. See. Have your eyes open, please. Pay attention to each other. See to it, brothers. So this is something we do for other Christians, “that none of you,” it says. We are to care about the whole church. We're to care.
Now, we may not be actively involved in every case or whatever, but we should be caring about whether the whole church is walking well with Jesus. We're to be concerned about that, and that people would finish their salvation journey, that they wouldn't just begin, but that they would actually finish. That we would share Christ's zeal that none would be lost of all that God gave him. Jesus said, “Of all that the Father has given me, I will lose none but raise them up at the last day.” I don't believe that any true Christian truly justified by faith can ever fall away from Christ. I don't believe that, but I believe that these warnings are essential to our ongoing salvation. We need these warnings, like you need the reflectors along a dangerous curve, and you need the guardrail, it helps you make the curve. We need the warning to keep us going the way we need to.
And so, we need to care. Remember the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 on the hills and goes to look for the one that's wandering off. We need to care about whether an individual Christian is wandering away from Jesus, it should matter to us. We should be aware.
“See to it brothers that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” The issue here is that power of indwelling sin. It's the attack, the assault of sin, and it has a work on the human heart. And it causes the human heart to become hardened toward God, to turn away from God, to be unattracted to Jesus. He's not appealing anymore, he's not enticing anymore, we don't love him anymore. And so there's a general gradual hardening of the heart and a turning away, it says, from the living God. He's not a dead idol, he is the living God, he's the only God there is. And now something's happened to make a created being, someone who began the Christian walk, it seems at least, now turn away. They're no longer interested.
See to it that that doesn't happen, that that doesn't happen with anybody in this church. “But encourage one another daily as long as it is called today.” There's the remedy. Encourage. It's a strong word in the Greek. It shows up in that teaching in John's gospel about the Comforter, or the Counselor, the Paraclete is actually almost a literalistic translation. The work of the Holy Spirit then is to be energetically active in our lives, encouraging and consoling and instructing and warning us. He's just there, and he is our guarantee that we're gonna make it through this world. But here now, it's addressed to us, we are to take the Holy Spirit's part, we are to be filled with the Spirit and do this kind of encouragement in each other's lives. “Encourage one another, daily,” it says.
Now I don't read in here any kind of future for FBC to be meeting seven days a week. Phew, I'm glad that's not happening. Seven days a week. But I think we can encourage one another seven days a week. We can be active in each other's lives. This is a daily issue. We fight a daily battle, don't we, with sin? Every day, we fight. Encourage one another daily. And why? So that no one would be hardened by sin's deceptiveness, or deceitfulness, like crystal meth. Like any sin, it doesn't come to you honestly. It doesn't come and say, “Hello, my name is sin. I am here to destroy your world. I'm gonna take you on a journey, and we're going to go hand-by hand. I'm gonna take you down a dark path. And when you're done, your marriage will be ruined. Your parenting will be ruined. Your job, you'll be out of a job, you'll have no respect or esteem left of any of your acquaintances. You'll have no life left. And I would like to continue, I'd like to take you right to the grave and beyond. I'd like to take you to hell.” It doesn't do that. It says, “Hi. I'm sin. I'd like to show you a good time. I'd like to entice you a little bit.” It's deceitful and it's a power to harden us.
The Exhortation: Keep Running this Race
So the exhortation said is that we should run this race with endurance, right to the end. “We have,” look at verse 14, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” A bit of a mysterious verse, friends. It speaks of a past event. We have come to share in Christ. But then it puts a condition on it. Now that's odd. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, if. Well, if he was. If I got it right on the test. Did it happen or not? Well, that's a big question.
Did you come to Christ, or not? Did you? Did you really come to Christ? Is there a doubt in your mind? Well there can be, when you start to live a certain way, you start to sin, you start to get into certain patterns, there starts to be some doubts. Am I really a Christian? We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first. Genuine Christians do.
You know who these warnings are for? They're for the elect of God. They're for the genuine Christians, they heed them. The others, they don't, they blow them off. You know who takes these things seriously? I do. And if you're a child of God, you do too. And we listen, and we will stand firm to the end, won't we? Because we know that there's a danger of apostasy. And so that's the function here. Alright, so what are we to do? Well, we're to obey those verses. Encourage one another, get involved in each other's lives, love one another, care, know and be known, get involved, pray, listen, talk about real things, spiritual things, develop intimacy with one another, so that you can help each other.
Practical Issues of Church Discipline
Now, I wanna talk about some practical issues of church discipline. Now church discipline, you generally think of only that final step, getting voted out, excommunicated, those kind of things. Well, first of all, I think, I hope I've established in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 that that is biblical, it is right, it is a good thing to do if need be, but what I wanna do with you now is to show that the church has been given an array of tools or instruments in each other's lives to deal with sin at a deep level all the way, comprehensively, before you get to that final step, the ultimate step of church discipline. And I wanna talk about that.
Two Kinds of Church Discipline
There are two different kinds of church discipline, there's formative church discipline and there's punitive church discipline. Formative happens beforehand, early on in the sin process, so that the sin gets nipped in the bud early. So that sin can be dealt with early on before it gets to have a deep root system. So formative is going on all the time, and it's all part of church discipline or, if you prefer, discipleship, church discipleship, they're related. And so it's going on all the time. And then punitive is that final step, dealing with an unrepentant sinner, you get to that final stage. Punitive.
Daily Ongoing Ministry is a Form of Discipline
Now, what I wanna give you here is a sense of a toolbox of dealing with sin that the Lord has given. What I did was I looked at different verbs that there are in the New Testament of what we are to do and be for each other. And so I studied all of these different verbs and all that, and I started to see different tools. Now, that's me, I'm a guy. I think like tools, okay, you got a job to fix, it's something to fix, you gotta fix the washing machine, like I did when I got back from my conference this week. “I get to fix the washing machine. Oh joy!” And so I got out my tools, “I get to use my tools!” I wish I could tell you that was my attitude, but at any rate, I had tools, and you pull out the right tool for the right thing, the socket wrench for this and the screwdriver for that, etcetera.
Or, if you prefer, we have some medical people. You have your surgical instruments out on the tray and you know what each of those instruments is for. You're skillful, you're trained, you understand, and you pick up the right instrument, maybe you're a dentist, you know the right instrument, and you know what it's going to address.
Or perhaps you like to cook, and so your kitchen is arrayed with all kinds of kitchen utensils, and you know what you use in order to cook. You know what to use to peel the potatoes, what to use to cut them up, what saucepan to use, I'm out of my depth here, so I'm gonna move on. You know, you get the point. So different things you use for different tasks.
And so here it is also, God has given us different things we are to do for each other depending on the sin situation, or the threatening sin. So this is all long before you get to that final stage of church discipline. Do you see what I'm saying? It's a whole life together that we have.
There's a hint of this in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Listen to the verse, it says, “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, and be patient with everyone.” So here you've got different categories of people and you're given a different task to do with each one, right? You're told to warn those who are idle, you're told to encourage those that are timid, and you're told to help those that are weak. So you have to be discerning to know who is idle, who is weak, who is needy in various ways, and you can pick up the tool and use it properly.
Alright, so let's start with these different conditions. Let's say a person just needs information about the spiritual life, they just don't know. They are ignorant in some way of God's will. It's not a moral issue, they just have never learned. The Bible tells us to teach or instruct or inform that person. So we'll start there. The sin then would be that they would over that long period of time continue in an ignorant state of things they should know by now. And so therefore, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:1, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers. I do not want you to be ignorant.” So how does he remedy their possible ignorance? He teaches them many things about spiritual gifts over three chapters, 1 Corinthians 12, 13, 14 are all about spiritual gifts in the church. He teaches them.
Alright, so it says in Colossians 3:16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” So, that's the first step. You discern that somebody just doesn't know something, and they need some help. That's what Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos, he just didn't know some things about Jesus. And so they instructed him.
Secondly, suppose a person is doing well in their Christian life, they're being fruitful, things are going well. Should we do anything? Well, is there any possible sin? Yeah, they might stop doing well. Or they might just plateau, when they could really be doing even better. And so therefore, the Scripture tells us to encourage such a person or even praise them, “Honor such a man as this,” Philippians 2, Epaphroditus. He almost died for the work of Christ, so honor him. So there's a sense of encouragement that happens. We should be praising and encouraging one another at the human level, not ultimate worship, but we're just saying, “Well done, you're doing well, thank you. That's a good ministry you're doing.”
So we have this, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally brothers. We instructed you how to live.” That's the instruction, we already told you how to live in order to please God, instruction, “as in fact you are living.” So there he encourages them. You're doing it, good job. Well done. “As in fact you are living. Now, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more,” keep it going, keep it going, keep it going. Alright, second. So we deal with the person who's doing well and they're being fruitful.
How about thirdly, a person who just needs to get going in the Christian life? They know what to do, but they really haven't been doing it, They haven't gotten off the dime. They need to get going in the Christian life and so, they're delaying obedience in some area. The New Testament then would use language like “exhort” or “urge” or “spur on.” I love that one, spur one another on toward love and good deeds. What a picture. I got spurs, that jingle jangle jingle, I got some spurs here, I'm gonna spur you on to love and good deeds, alright. Hey, look there's good ways of doing that spurring in bad ways. I've been spurred in some ways I thought were bad, but they were effective any way, they did get me going. Alright, but it's a matter of exhortation.
Alright, think about Hebrews 6:1, “Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.” He's urging them, he's exhorting them to move on so that they won't continue in spiritual laziness. So again, there's that urging, like a coach saying, “Come on now, you know what to do, do it, let's get going.”
Alright, fourthly, suppose a person is going through a great trial in their lives, suffering a great trial. They cry a lot, they're having a hard time. The New Testament tells us to comfort or to console such a person so that they won't become discouraged or depressed and be susceptible to Satan's attacks. Comfort them, console them, okay, so that they can be encouraged. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our trouble so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” In other words, God brings us into trials, makes us hurt for a while, brings some kind of comfort and consolation. We remember that, and then we are now equipped to go and do that for somebody else.
Now do you see why it's important to pick up the right tool for the right job? Woe to us if we misdiagnose. If we use spurring on or exhortation when somebody could use a word of comfort and consolation, an arm around them, some weeping and some prayer. Rejoice with those who rejoice, yes. But mourn with those who mourn. We've got to be wise here, let's know each other enough to know what the situation calls for. But there is a great danger when somebody's going through a tough trial that they'll become discouraged and depressed and be vulnerable to Satan's attacks, and we need to help them not be. Let them know that there's a body around them to help them.
Fifthly, if a person is starting to go wrong in a new habit that is just beginning to form, beginning to nibble a bit at the bait of a potentially serious sin pattern that may lead to sin. The New Testament tells us to warn or correct or admonish. Those are stronger words. This I think is the beginning of that Matthew 18 process. If your brother sins against you, now go deal with him. “Reprove him” is the word there, show him his fault, deal with him, please. Because this is a dangerous thing. Warn him. So he says in 1 Corinthians 4:14, “I'm not writing this to shame you, but to warn you as my dear children.”
Sixth, suppose a person is determined to go wrong. I mean, you've been through all of these other stages with them, you have worked with them, you have done Matthew 18 with them, and you're trying, they're willfully progressing deeper. The Lord then would pull out the word “rebuke.” Alright? Rebuke. It's not something you use quickly, it's something that you've been through other steps and they're just not listening. And so it's like a verbal slap, a warning, okay. Titus 1, as Titus was there ministering in Crete, Paul writes him about the Cretans. He said “even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’” Wow. “This testimony is true,” said Paul, “therefore, rebuke them sharply so that they will be sound in the faith.” You see the motive again, the motive is to bring health, but you're at that level where you've gotta rebuke them sharply, okay?
And then finally, sadly, if the person after all of this is unrepentant, then they must be removed from the church. Do you see where it fits then, guys? That there's this whole array of things we're to do for each other, and church discipline the final step. But the church must have this tool, it must. And if it doesn't, it actually changes everything. We need to have the right, the power, the authority to expel sinful people from among us after all the work has been done. And so we do.
Now in terms of formative discipline, the greatest ministry is the ministry of the Word, the ongoing ministry of the Word is the greatest power for formative discipline in the life of the church. So good, clear preaching, good work in your Bible for Life classes, home fellowships, your occasional Bible studies, men's Bible studies, women's Bible studies, all of that. The ministry of the Word, just in the halls as you teach and admonish one another, that work is the most important of all in this area of formative discipline.
So also is the ministry, the ongoing ministry of spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts has a power for dealing with sin. It just does, it's just formative discipline all the time. Let me give you an example. Suppose somebody just has a sweet gift of hospitality, they just have a wonderful gift of hospitality. I'm convicted by that, I am. I'll go to their home, the meal is phenomenal, the warmth, there's a sense of welcome, a magnetism there. People just have that gift, you know what I'm talking about? They just have that gift. And even though I may not have the gift of hospitality, it makes me wanna do better, you know what I'm saying? I just wanna be more hospitable when I'm around that. Somebody has the gift of encouragement. I may not have that gift, but it makes me wanna encourage more. You know what I'm saying. So the ministry of spiritual gifts in the life of the church helps us deal with sin, all the time, it's powerful.
So also do intentional discipleship relationships. Alright, I think that just the regular ongoing life of the church is important that we know each other in Bible for Life classes, that's important. Let's get to know each other, but there's not a lot of time. And it's not a great forum for intimacy there. Alright, regular church attendance is essential, very important, but again it's tough for intimacy. Home fellowships are really important in this. Do you see that? Build relationships in your home fellowships, share your requests with one another. Help each other.
And I also believe in intentional discipleship and accountability relationships. Men with men, and women with women, never crossgender, never. I mean not counting husband and wife. That goes without saying, and I will say that even in the husband-wife relationship, there can be a deepening and enriching spiritually, where you can hold each other accountable more, in a sweet way. Don't forget to be kind, please, alright, but just that loving relationship. But others, outside that marriage relationship, men with men, women with women, you're developing those deep relationships, know and be known, and develop intimacy over the years so that you can hold each other accountable.
CJ Mahaney in his book on humility, talks about the close accountability relationships that he's developed with his staff. And these men are really serious about holding one another accountable. It's very serious. And they deal with all kinds of stuff. And one time, it's a very humorous story, he tells that he was struggling with something, and he told about some incident and shared how he was sorry for his sin and just wanted them to pray and kind of hold him accountable. But they're like, they were just getting started at that point, they were intrigued, like, “Tell me more.” “Well, I've told you what you need to know” “No, no, no, no. Tell me more. Now what happened, what were you feeling?” They were digging in, alright. And he started to get a little offended, a little prideful, and there was just more work that needed to be done, and they were rooting around and they found something deeper and pulled it out. Not a pleasant process. Very humorous, the way he tells it, you have to get the book to read it. But the thing is there was that kind of intimacy and a willingness not to just accept the surface answer “Hey, I'm doing great.” Or the sacrificial sin, it's like, “I'm really struggling with such and such,” but what you're really doing with is this. But you’re giving this one up. Know and be known.
Now, I wanna deal with some common questions concerning church discipline and then apply this three-week topic to people of different categories in the church and we'll be done. First of all, in Matthew 18, it says we should go if our brother sins. Does this refer to any sin at all or only to serious sins? Well, again, as I said in that sermon, you need to be discerning, you need to ask for wisdom. We can't have the metal detector set to go off at a gum wrapper, as I said. So you've got to know what kinds of things are starting to root in and form a habit in somebody's life that you can help with or is there something you just need to bear with and put up with? So ask God to give you wisdom, don't go for everything.
What kind of relationship should the church have with somebody who's been disciplined, somebody who has been evicted from membership? Well, again, I mentioned at that time but we should carry on a normal human relationship with them in this sense, if they need medical attention we should give it to them. We shouldn't be unkind or rude to them. We should hold the door for them as they walk in, etcetera. We're not trying to be rude, unkind people, but there should be a constant abiding sense that there's a barrier between us. There's an issue. Because I love Jesus, and you don't, it seems. You're not willing to repent of sin. Oh, how I wish you'd come back. I want you to come back. But there's a problem between us.
Another question is, can a disciplined person attend church? Absolutely, they can attend. Jesus said treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Pagans and tax collectors are welcome here at First Baptist Church. Bring them in, bring them in, alright? Our central ministry isn't directly to that kind, but I think at all times, we're gonna seek to preach the gospel and seek to bring people to faith in Christ, and they can come. Yes, they can come, but they can't take the Lord's Supper. They can't vote at member's meetings. They are not members of the church anymore. And we can't really say to them, “Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” There's a definite problem there, but yeah, they can be in the building.
Can a disciplined person be restored to full church membership? Absolutely, friends, that's the hope, that's the prayer that they will be liberated from sin and come back. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 5, this guy is disciplined, it seems he repented and came back in 2 Corinthians 2. Paul urges them to welcome him back. So we're desiring to see that.
What about lawsuits? Could the church be sued? Yes, the church could be sued. I could give a long answer to this. I won't right now, but it is an issue, and ever more so. But let me ask you a question, is it legal in some of these closed countries, for those Christians to assemble on Sunday morning and sing praise songs and worship? The answer: clearly no, that's why they're closed countries. They could get arrested for worshipping. Should they worship anyway? Yes, they should. Alright, so let's not be bound by fear, but we should be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Let's try to find out what the laws are and let's try to be careful, alright? We are very clear in our new member classes that if you join us, you might have to be disciplined, and we try to be clear about that so that people know ahead of time.
Important Discipline Issues
Now, I wanna cover some important discipline cases. The number one case of church discipline in this church up to this point, and it will continue to be so, the number one thing we discipline or vote people out for is failure to attend church. And it will continue to be so. They are forsaking the assembling of themselves together. I am not talking about homebound people or people with medical issues, neither am I talking about people who have excused absences for a long time because of business or other issues. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about able-bodied people who are not attending church, either in this community or wherever they are. They are not attending church.
So basic exhortation, attend church. Keep coming to church, friends, keep coming. I believe that failure to attend church is a masking sin for a deeper heart issue. They don't wanna come because they don't wanna come, and they don't wanna come because the hardness of sin has already started to take root.
Secondly, there's the issue of non-attending members of this church who are adult children of regularly attending members. So we've got regular attending members and they've got grown kids who are still on the roll here at this church, but they're not attending church anywhere, and the adults are regularly attending here, and it's a sensitive and touchy issue. They want to keep the names on the rolls, but they're not attending anywhere. And all I'm saying is the real issue is, are they converted? Have they been born again? Yes, they were baptized maybe when they were 12, some things happened, all that, but they're not going to church at all, they're not walking clearly with the Lord. They should be dealt with as anyone else.
And I guess what I'm asking is, if you're in that condition and you have an adult child who's not attending anywhere, please don't make it difficult for the elders in the church to do what they need to do. Actually, you should be active and involved in that same thing, saying, “You need to be involved in church, and if you're not, we need to vote you out.” You should lead the way in that and not hinder it. So look after your grown children. I know there comes a point where all you can do is pray, you can have some influence, but the church does have responsibility. There's no reason we should carry those names on our roll if they're not regularly attending here. And if they are attending somewhere else, that's fine, we need to clarify those records, and we need to get that information done, okay?
What kinds of sins do we do public church discipline for? Well, entrenched patterns of unrepentance, Matthew 18. Sins of divisiveness. Titus 3 says, “Warn a divisive person once, warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.” Okay, so sins of divisiveness that rip or rupture at the unity of the church. Sins of elders are dealt with in a special case. “Don't entertain,” it says in 1 Timothy 5, “an accusation against an elder, unless it's corroborated by the testimony of two or three witnesses, but those that have sinned are to be rebuked publicly,” it says, “so that others may take warning.” 1 Timothy 5. And then the spreading of false doctrine. Very serious and deadly for the church. Acts 20, Paul says, “Be on your guard, men will rise up from your own number to draw away disciples after themselves.” Watch out.
Specific Applications for Various People
To the Unbeliever
Alright, finally, I want to just apply these things to various folks. First I wanna speak to the unbeliever. I wanna speak to somebody here who has never trusted in Christ. You may say, “Well what is all this? Why would you even do this? It seems kind of unfriendly, unloving.” The reason is, I go back to the crystal meth thing at the very beginning, because sin is deadly. Sin is deadly, it wants to have your very soul, it wants to bring you to hell, it is dangerous. And it says, “Whoever has not received Christ is under the wrath of God already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God,” John 3:36. You're in great danger. I just urge you to repent, look to Christ, he shed his blood, his blood is sufficient. The Son of God shed his blood for sinners like you and me. Trust in him, apart from works, you can just trust in him and he will bring you to heaven, He will give you eternal life. Look to him. And just realize if this church deals so seriously with sin, then how much more someone like yourself who the Bible says is dead in transgressions and sins.
To Every Individual Christian
Secondly, to address individual Christians who are here, you may be visiting, you're a Christian, not a member of this church. I would urge you, first and foremost, and this is for all of us, seek personal holiness above all things. Yearn for it, be hungry and thirsty for righteousness in your own life, fight sin. This is an incredibly important issue. Be willing to do whatever it takes to address sin. Jesus said, “If your right hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” And be humble. Humility is essential. Don't say I don't really need this, I'm doing fine. It says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” so be humble and he'll give you what you need.
And then concerning membership, I would say, be a member of a good church. If you're not a member of any church, I'd urge you to seek membership. If you live locally here, become a member here at this church. A number of people, I think, that regularly attend for a long time, but they don't commit in membership, I would urge you to commit in membership. So that you can be watched over, and that you can watch over one another and we can have that covenant relationship together. So be part of a church. We've got the new members weekend coming up. Be part of that.
To FBC Members
To FBC members I wanna say a couple of things. First of all, please accept your responsibility for the holiness and the ongoing sanctification of other members of this church. Accept your responsibility for that, care about it, obey Hebrews 3:12-14, “Watch over one another in brotherly love, carry each other's burdens.”
Secondly, just very practically, if I could urge you to get a copy of the church's phone directory and pray through it daily. Just pray through it daily. That's what the elders are doing. There's 28 pages, I think it is, that works out well with the month, a page a day for the month, and then cycle around again. Pray for everyone in the church 12 times a year, at least.
You know what that's gonna do to you? You're gonna start noticing other people more. You're going to start caring about what's going on in their lives. Do it, not just the elders. We're doing it, you do it too. Get a phone list and start praying every day for the members of this church.
And if you see sin in a brother or sister's life, begin immediately by praying for them. God will give you wisdom whether you're to go, but begin praying for that sin issue. And when you pray for that sin issue, I had urged you to do what Jonathan Edwards did in resolution number eight, of all of his 70 resolutions. He said, “Resolved, whenever I see a sin pattern in someone else's life to think first and foremost that no one is as vile and wicked as I am, and that I myself struggle with the exact same kinds of sins.” Well that's gonna work that kind of humility in you. But please pray, and if you go, then go with that humility and go with that kind of brokenness.
And accept your responsibility in corporate church discipline, understand that mushy sentimental love that sees a damaging sin pattern in a brother's life but says, “Live and let live, it wouldn't be loving ...” it's no love at all, my friends. It is self-serving cowardice. Be courageous enough to go if the Lord is leading you to go. Go in love, go gently, but please go.
To the Elders
To the elders, of whom I am one, the greatest call in all of this to me is that I need to be holy, and the greatest thing that I can give to the church in this area is my own personal holiness, that I would fight the good fight. Pray for me that I would fight the good fight, and don't just pray for me, but pray for the other elders. But to the elders here, I say to you fight that good fight, walk in holiness, in newness of life, and shepherd the flock that's entrusted to your care in this area.
To Other Congregations
To other congregations who may be listening to this message online, if I could just say one thing, please don't, without any kind of inquiry or without any kind of investigation, accept disciplined members from other sister churches. You do not help the cause of Christ when you do that. Ask a person who's presenting themselves for membership, “Are there any outstanding discipline cases between you and your present church?” Ask that question. And if there are, send them back to that first church to deal with it. Now there are specific issues on my mind with that, with even some local churches here, and I'm just saying that ought not to be.
If You Are Ever Disciplined
And finally, if you are ever disciplined, if this ever happens to you, if this church or any church should vote that you be excommunicated, I would urge you to stop everything you're doing in your life and seek God with everything you have. And keep in mind this Scripture, 2 Corinthians 13:5,
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith: test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you, unless of course, you fail the test.” Test yourself to see if you're actually in the faith, and repent quickly and come back. We want you back. Close with me in prayer.