The Point of Church Discipline

Topics : Discipline Scripture: 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Transcript | Audio


Good morning to you all. My name’s Anthony. I’m the campus pastor here. Turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 9 through 13 this morning.

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ’Purge the evil person from among you.’” Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Father, we know you give what you demand and you demand what you give. Lord, you have been gracious to us. You have been kind to us. Your salvation of us was not pretend. Lord, you really have purchased us. You really have saved us. Holy Spirit, we pray you would help us to walk out newness of life because of what you have done on our behalf. Lord, we have sung to that end. Lord, now we pray to that end. Lord, now I preach to this end. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Among the many horrific stories coming out of 9/11 was the story of Tania Head. Tania Head recounted how she and her fiancé were visiting the Twin Towers; she in one tower, her fiancé in the other. When the planes hit, she tells of how she had to throw herself out of a window and plummet to the ground. Making her way then, crawling amongst smog and smoke and debris and, yes, even dead bodies, she recounts of how she made her way to safety only to find out her fiancé did not make it out alive.

So moved by her experience that day, she began to raise money and became the head of a non-profit organization that raised millions of dollars in relief effort for the families who were left. She did magazine interviews, and she did interviews for the newspaper, and over and over again, Tania Head became the leading spokesperson on behalf of the 9/11 victims.

The only problem with Tania Head’s story is that on the day of 9/11 she wasn’t even there. The book coming out that chronicles her story is called The Woman Who Wasn’t There. It’s indeed true she raised millions of dollars and became the head spokesperson and it is true she did interview after interview, but the testimony, the story she proclaimed, she never lived. She was a fake, a phony, an imposter.

I have one probing eternal question for you today. Does the story you proclaim, does the testimony you proclaim with your mouth, line up with the life you live? Are they one and the same? If you make peace with sexual immorality then you might be a poser, a fake. Do you make peace with greed? Do you make peace with any of these sins mentioned here and other sins? Do you make peace with those things?

What’s behind texts like this, where we get the concept of church discipline, is this great day (it’s not a fictitious day but a great day that is coming) when God himself will rise up and he will judge. This is Matthew 7, where God will judge those who, on the one hand, profess something with their mouths yet live something completely different with their lives. God himself will say, “Poser! Imposter! Fake! Phony!”

I know what you’re doing, believer. In your mind right now you are saying, Yes, but grace. Right? Anytime someone lifts up a demand for holiness (flee sexual immorality) we lift up grace as if they’re in opposition to one another, as if they are enemies of one another, but what I want you to see from this text is that grace is not the problem. Grace is the solution for right living, for holiness.

As a matter of fact, church discipline is the confirmation the gospel really has set us free. God can demand we live like it. I want you to see this. Look in verses 6 through 8. “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” Good news this morning. You’re new, but you’re just a lump. Nonetheless, you’re a new lump.

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump…” Why? “…as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Did you catch that? Because of what Christ has done on our behalf, we now are demanded to walk in newness of life. We can’t jump over verses 6 and 7 and 8 and jump to 9. We would miss the point here. Grace has set us free. There are three reasons why we don’t get this. Three reasons why, when someone demands holiness of life for the Christian walk or Christian piety, we always lift up grace in opposition for three reasons.

1. We don’t understand grace. We think grace is merely… Hear me well. We think grace is merely God declaring something of us that is not true. That certainly is our Scripture. God declares of us everything that is true of Christ’s work. We are holy and blameless, redeemed. That is true, but grace has something more than that.

Let me help you understand this. My mother, when she would leave to go to work when we were children, would give us two commands. She would say to us, “When I get back, this house had better be clean.” Then the next thing she would say was, “Y’all better not be acting a fool.” We would act a fool while she was gone and just go crazy.

Ten minutes before we knew mom was about to come home, we would start making contracts with one another. “I won’t tell on you for throwing that rock and breaking that car and then that person had to swerve off the road if you won’t tell on me for cutting you right there. I’m sorry I did that. Don’t ever tell on me. You can’t tell because if you tell…” Right? You make all these contracts with one another. “Don’t tell. Nobody tell.”

Then with regard to cleaning the house, you take stuff and you just start stuffing it everywhere. Just putting it in gaps, stuffing it in things. The hole you put in your wall in your room, you put a poster over it. Right? Put a poster over the wall. Mom comes home, and she looks, and she goes, “Oh, baby. It’s clean.” Right? That’s what we think God does to us. That he looks at us, and even though it’s really dirty and filthy, and we have issues stuffed and tucked away, and there’s really this big hole in our lives, God just kind of declares we’re clean.

That’s what we think grace is, and that is true on the one hand, but because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, what the Spirit of Christ does in our lives is to clean out all the filth, to dig into the nooks and crannies and to grab that stuff, to take the poster, yank it down, and to fill the holes in our lives. There’s a gift of the Holy Spirit that makes us new in Christ! We have new natures.

It’s not just God pretending; it’s God actually accomplishing on our behalf making us something new. It’s not like God putting lipstick on a pig and dressing it up and pretending it’s something different. It’s God actually cleaning up and making us something new. We don’t understand grace, and we don’t understand what grace accomplishes. In every courtroom when someone is bound by chains, with the pronouncement of, “You’re innocent,” the chains fall off. There is no more slavery and bondage. The chains drop.

A while back…you’re going to be able to tell how long ago it was…I was watching the NBA playoffs, and they did a special at halftime on this guy who had been wrongly accused and had been sent to prison for 29 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He received $1.4 million plus lost wages for his time with the state. After he got out… This was a halftime interview. They interviewed him and asked him, “How are you feeling?” He had this to say. He said, “This is the greatest day of my life. It’s pure joy.”

“I have no hate for anyone,” said the 52-year-old Cleveland native in a phone interview yesterday. “I suppose hoping to see LeBron play in person is too much to ask, but at least I can watch the games from outside the barbed wire. I get to start a new life, and the Cavs are going to win the championship. It doesn’t get much better than that.” He didn’t know LeBron would take his talents to the South, reach them, and bring them back again.

I want you to catch what he says. “I get to start a new life.” Did you hear that? Is it that he is completely starting all over again? No, no, no. Here’s what he is saying. For so long he has been in captivity. Someone has told him, “This is when you eat. This is when you sleep. Now get up. Go there. Go play. Come back. Go to sleep.” He has been in captivity for so long, now that he’s outside of the bars, he has been set free. Chains off. He now has to learn to live life anew.

This is what grace does for us. It takes and removes the chains and the bondage of sin. Unbeliever, this is not for you. The best thing we can say to you right now is you are captive to your sin, and we would plead with you to know the freedom that is Christ.

2. We always revert back. It’s not only that we don’t understand grace or we don’t understand what grace accomplishes, but we always revert back. It’s interesting. When I was watching the Olympics a few years ago, they did a special on this guy who came from the killing fields of Sudan to the United States. He was adopted as a child, and they did this special on him because he was just doing so well at the Olympics.

His adopted parents went on to tell the story of how often it was, every time things would get difficult with him, he would revert back to his old way of life. In the Sudan when he would take a bath, he would go down and get a bucket, and he would fill it with disease-infested water and would bring it back up, and he and his family would take a bath with that water. Here it is now as he’s growing up in the United States, every time he gets ready to turn on the bath water he would struggle with getting the temperature just right.

He would turn it either to the right and it would be too hot (it would scald him) or it would be freezing cold. He would get frustrated, and he would revert back. He would just get a bucket of water. He would fill it, and he would put it down in the tub. He would wait for it to get to the right temperature. He’d get in the tub, and he would bathe. Here is this technology that’s right in front of him, but when things get difficult he reverts back.

This is us. Every time things get difficult warring with sin or issues, we revert back, but we’ve been set free in Christ. I do all of that because I want you to understand how grace is leading out for us to understand church discipline. Everything I’m about to say is grace. Don’t text me. No emails. Don’t come at me on Facebook and Twitter. No, no, no. Leave me alone.

This is a grace-filled interpretation. I don’t ever want to interpret a text outside of grace. A believer outside of grace is like a fish outside of water. This is a grace-filled interpretation. Everything Paul is about to say here is to a collective group of jailbirds who have been set free in Christ and no longer held captive. Here’s my statement. Here’s the sentence I would give you that governs everything I’m about to say.

A true believer must live life out of the house he is called to and that he is in. We claim to live out of Christ. If we are in Christ, the demand is we would live like it. We don’t expect this from unbelievers. Paul says to them in verse 9, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.”

Catch this. The technique is disassociation. Believers, pick up on the technique. Disassociation. But Paul quickly tells us you can have the right technique but apply it to the wrong location. I started coaching my son’s soccer team. I started coaching him when he was around 4 years old. What’s so interesting when you’re coaching soccer is you can put a ball down, and you can make them have a single-file line (which is difficult in and of itself), but they all line up and you tell them, “Take this ball and put it in that goal.”

This is soccer. We did this drill, and one of the kids picks up the ball. He runs over, and he throws the ball in the goal, and he does a dance I’m quite sure he prepared beforehand for about five minutes. As we’re watching him we’re like, “He technically did it.” He threw the ball in. First, you have to teach them right technique. You have to kick the ball.

Then we do this game with them called Wrong Way Game. We give them all balls and they all start dribbling the ball this way. Then the parents and coaches and everybody yell out, “Wrong way!” The goal is they take the ball and turn it around and come back this way. They go that way. “Wrong way!” They turn around and come back this way. Why?

Because inevitably, here comes the day of the game. One of the little guys gets off by himself. All the little grandmas are yelling. You can’t hear anything. You can’t hear the coaches. Moms are yelling. Everybody’s cheering. One little guy gets off by himself and he kicks the ball in the goal. Yay! Wrong. Right? Wrong location. Right technique. Wrong location.

What Paul is going to say of us is we can have the right technique (disassociation), but we can apply it to unbelievers and apply it in the wrong location. We’re doing a good job avoiding them. We’re avoiding them like they have the plague. The problem is we’re not to avoid unbelievers. Paul’s point is you would have to leave the world. Where are you going to go? You can’t get a house far enough outside. You can’t find a school far enough outside. There are unbelievers, and guess what? They’re acting like unbelievers because they don’t live in the house.

Here we go. “I can’t believe unbelievers act like that! I can’t believe unbelievers! Look at the way they’re dressed. Look at their pants! Look at them! Look how they’re behaving. Look how they’re voting. Look what they’re doing with their money!” Do you know how inconsistent that is with the gospel? That we would demand of them they would act like they live in the house prior to them actually being brought in by Christ?

What we’re saying is, “Lord, I know with regard to my salvation I came by faith alone, by grace alone. I was radically opposed to you and yet your Spirit got ahold of me, and you brought me to yourself, but as for them, I want them to clean up and get right first.” I’m trying to figure out how it is that lost people acting like lost people, or unbelievers acting like unbelievers, is an apologetic for us not getting them the gospel.

We should expect they live this way. They don’t know. They don’t have the gospel. Of course, they’re going to behave in that way. Let me put it like this. An interesting take on the parable of the good Samaritan. Here it is you have in the Levitical law and you have in the Old Testament where a statement is made that priests should not or will not go near anything dead or unclean.

Here you have then in the parable of the good Samaritan the religious folk (you have the priest) and you have the person over here who is not yet dead, who is hurting, and who is dirty and filthy. They choose to walk around all the way on the other side of the street. It’s as if they’re saying with their mouth and pronouncing of this person, “You are too far gone. You are dead and unclean. We’re going to walk away on this side.”

Do you realize how hypocritical it is if we do that? If we look at people and we think because of the way they dress, the way they talk… If we think they’re too far gone from the gospel? Here’s the irony of it. Our gospel is the thing that gives them life. Our gospel is the thing that cleans them up. Or did you just think you somehow became a model citizen all by yourself?

You think well. You have a great worldview. You think well about money. Whatever, but it is by the grace of God. How convenient of you that you would demand of them they would act right before they come in. That’s what the Spirit does. Right? It cleans us out and brings us in. Of course, they’re acting like that. Our gospel is the thing that gives them life.

Perhaps we should say we’re making a bigger statement about what we believe about our gospel than what we believe about how dirty they are if we won’t go to them. Is our gospel not powerful enough? Is it powerful enough for this neighborhood, or is it too far gone? Is it powerful enough for your co-workers, for your friends, for your family? It was powerful enough for you, and it will be…it will be…sufficient for them as well. We have to do our job in taking the gospel there. They’re not too far gone.

It’s texts like these where we get the concept (Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5) where we get the understanding of church discipline, but our discipline (our disassociation) is not for those who are outside the house but rather, verse 11: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”

The technique is for the one who is more committed to his sin than he is to Christ. That’s the one who we put out. I know what you’re thinking. “Man, this sounds harsh. It doesn’t sound American.” But there is a biblical theology here, a way of understanding the Bible and understanding our relationship to God, that is at work here.

Mainly in the book of Genesis we read when God creates his people, he creates Adam and Eve, and they rebelled against him. As such, the image of God in them (the glory of God in them) is marred. It’s broken. We get an illustration of just how bad it’s broken with Cain and Abel. When Cain kills his brother, Abel, the heinous sin there going on is he is killing the image of God in his brother.

Then all throughout the Old Testament God’s people, the Israelites, are demanded they would represent God’s image, his glory, to all the nations. They continued to reject that for themselves. They reject that they represent God. They continually reject that, so they’re booted out. They’re not allowed to enter in the Promised Land. We go to the New Testament and the good thing is we read the One who is in the perfect image, the perfect glory, of the Father comes (Jesus), and he perfectly represents God the Father to the people.

He walks in holiness of life. But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus goes and sits at the Father’s right hand, but he purchases a people for his own possession, the church, who are now to represent what God is like, so much so, that when Paul is making an argument here in 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, he says they’re arguing over something like the color of the rug, and he says to them, “Is Christ’s body divided? What’s the point? We represent Christ who is declaring something about the Father.”

We are to say to the world, a lost people, that God is holy. We do church discipline to people who are lying about God’s holiness. Or we can look at it on the other side about the gospel. We do church discipline to people who are lying about the power of the gospel. It really does set us free from sin. There is a connection between God the Father and us as his children. There’s a connection.

I used to work in a daycare. It was interesting. You could see this connection. If you were to go over and watch my kids over there now, you would see them hanging from the rafters and being crazy. That’s because they’re my kids. I used to work at a daycare. We’d be inside and one little kid (little Johnny) would get upset because someone took his truck, and he would start using foul language. He’d start cussing, so we’d grab Johnny, pull him aside, and say, “Hey, Johnny, you can’t use those words.”

Johnny’s dad would come to pick him up. We’d take him aside and say, “Hey, listen. We’re not sure where he heard the words from but Johnny way saying this today.” Dad looks at you and says, “Okay, I appreciate it.” Takes Johnny to the side and starts cussing at him. Who we are as children says something about our fathers, and this is the concern.

3. We don’t want to lie about God’s holiness or the gospel. We discipline those who are more committed to their sin than they are to Christ. Let me give you some reasons, then, why church discipline is actually a good thing. It’s a gospel thing.

The first way is it mirrors God’s love of us. God bruises us to heal us. He bruised his Son to bring healing to the world, and he gave you a trajectory. He gave you a methodology, a way, of how God acts toward us. He bruises us to heal us. He disciplines those who are his. Jesus Christ died on a ghetto cross, and you think you’re going to live in spiritual suburbia. God bruises us. He’s like the Great Physician who reaches in and cuts stuff out. His cutting and bruising is to bring healing to us.

Let me help you with this, believer. There is never a time when we are more safe and loved and cared for than when God is focusing on us and disciplining us. When I go to spank my son to bruise him, to move him from foolishness to godliness, what I am doing is I’m focusing all my attention and efforts and love right down on him to discipline him. This is God’s love for us, when he focuses on us and he disciplines those he loves. This is what we do to people. We discipline them to bring love, to bring healing.

Secondly, it’s a reminder of the danger of sin. God is patient. He is kind. He is loving. Yes, but God is not weak. You realize Satan will send no one to hell. It is our sin that will send us there. It’s a reminder sin is dangerous. It’s for our life together. It’s helping us to make sure we order our lives together well. Here’s the big issue. We have to make sure we do life together well enough that it’s actually discipline when you’re put out.

Can you imagine taking a kid who is from, maybe, humbling circumstances in the inner city? He has seen people killed. He himself has done horrific things. You bring him in, and the discipline you give him is putting him in timeout? He’s like, “Ha! I’m going to do it again.” Right? The discipline is not enough, so what we have to do is make sure we do life together well enough that when we get put out it actually burdens us. It hurts us to be outside of the fold, outside of the body.

Another qualification I want to put on here for anyone who thinks you have the gift of bruising… You see other people’s sin. The pattern we have in 1 Corinthians is they are burdened by and they are mourning over one another’s sin. That’s what Paul is telling them to do, and then he’s telling them to go and confront their sin.

If in your heart there is no mourning, there is no burden by this other person’s sin in their life, then perhaps the first thing you need to do is to get down on your knees and beg God to help you to hate the sin that’s in your brother or sister. What you shouldn’t hear me saying is that you never go. What you should hear me saying is you should beg the Lord to break your heart and to mourn over sin in your brother or sister, and then you should go and confront your brother or sister in sin.

We should love one another. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an…unbelieving heart…” Right? Last week. “…leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ’today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

The last reason why we should do church discipline is it’s grace unexpected. When you’re driving down the road and those little bumps on the side of the road… Don’t they drive you crazy anytime you get a little outside the lines? They’re annoying when you’re coherent and you’re awake and you know what you’re doing, but on that day you particularly start to fall asleep and you start to drift off, those bumps that were annoying at first become grace unexpected. Just waking up. A startling of us.

Church discipline is setting a line in the sand lest any of us be more committed to our sin than Christ and go outside that line. Wake us up. What’s the extent of it? How far do we go? Verse 11b. We don’t even eat with such a one it says. No Burger King. No 7-Eleven. I don’t know if some of you eat food at the 7-Eleven every once in a while. I do. We don’t eat with them at all. You say, That’s harsh!

Listen to me. We know the state of this brother’s heart. He is boasting of his sin. To the person who is struggling with his sin to find freedom in Christ, we come alongside, and we war, and we battle alongside them. We don’t do church discipline with them. I hope what that does in your heart is to create a disposition and create a mindset that makes you war with sin. We come alongside and war with those brothers.

To the person who is unsure of their status in the house in Christ, we don’t discipline that person. We come alongside, and by the mercies of God, by the grace of God, we plead with them to repent of their sins and believe on Christ. This discipline, this technique, is for the one who is boasting, the one who is more committed to his sin than Christ.

We don’t eat with them. Eating here must at least include the Lord’s Supper we’re about to take here in a moment. Is not the blood that’s poured out and represented in the cup… Is that not a picture a reminder to us of the power of Christ’s blood that is poured out to free us from sin? Is not the bread we partake of not a picture of Christ’s body that is broken for us? We discipline those and we exclude those from partaking who are lying about how powerful that reality is in our hearts and lives.

The Lord’s Supper, while momentary… It’s not forever. We won’t do it when we gather with Christ. We won’t have to remember. He’ll be face to face there with us. The Lord’s Supper, while momentary, is not insignificant. It points back to the great Passover meal where God commanded his people to put blood on the doorposts. God’s wrath pours out, but it skips over (it passes over) everyone who had blood on the doorpost.

They then gather together, and they have a meal to celebrate that reality, that God’s wrath passed over. That’s how you know they’re Baptists. They have a meal together. Here we’re celebrating church discipline. We’re celebrating the supper together, the fact that those who are going to partake of that meal are saying of one another, “God’s wrath has passed over.”

But it’s not just for the past and here now. It also looks forward into the future. Revelation 19. The great marriage supper of the Lamb, where the Lamb has brought all his children whom he has redeemed and purchased together for a celebration. If we were to look and see there in context, the wrath of God has passed over all of those who are at the supper. What we are saying, then, is it is dangerous to be outside of this meal. Make sure you are part of this meal, that you are more committed to Christ than you are your sin.

As we conclude and move toward doing and partaking of that reality, of that reminder (the Lord’s Supper), unbeliever, if you are in here this morning and you are thinking, “This is not loving. This feels weird to me. I don’t like this. As a matter of fact, I’m definitely not coming here now.” Let me say this to you.

The Lord would rather you be naked, bloody, bruised, and nothing in your hands than fully grasping all of your idols and all the possessions of this world fully clothed and to be ushered into hell. Right? He would much rather bruise you and take everything from you and usher you into his presence than to have you grasping on to everything and be ushered into hell.

Because it’s no loss to put away everything that is of this world and have Christ. I love Elliot on this. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot earn.” It’s no loss to give up everything here to know Christ. It’s loving for God to bruise us to care for us. Then for you, believer, I want you to listen and to hear these words that will sum up what I am attempting to say well in Romans, chapter 6.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we should no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

We now choose to walk out our freedom that has been purchased for us in Christ. The demand is for all those who are in the house, who are in Christ… The demand is we would live like it. All eyes closed and heads bowed.

Lord, we thank you as we said in the beginning that you give what you demand and you demand what you give. Holy Spirit, we pray by your might, by your energy, Lord, you would help us to make that which we profess with our mouths and that which we do with our lives to be consistent. Help us to live in the newness of life that you have purchased for us. Lord, we pray if there would be any in here who do not know you, that they would ask and seek out how it is they can find freedom in you, Christ. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.