As we saw in a previous post, church discipline must be done in light of the greatest purpose we could have … to love God and love others (Matt. 22:37-40).
A lack of church discipline, when it is needed, therefore means we are not loving as God loves us.
What might keep us from exercising church discipline?
While we could list a number of possible causes, perhaps fear is one of the greatest reasons we fail to discipline when needed.
- fear of rejection
If our primary measure of worth is based on being liked, then we wouldn’t want to risk upsetting the erring person or others.
- fear of what others might think
If our primary ambition is to appeal to the world, then we wouldn’t want to be considered intolerant.
- fear of losing people
If our focus is primarily on numbers, then we wouldn’t want to risk losing people over church discipline.
When our primary standard of measurement, focus, and ambition is on living out God’s Purposes to love Him and others, then we must let go of these fears and do what is best for God’s glory and people’s highest good.
What’s at the core of such fears?
When we are governed by the fears listed above, we are putting self at the center.
our church’s reputation …. but what about God’s glory?
our church’s growth (numerical) … but what about the individual’s spiritual growth into Christ-likeness?
We might not like to admit it, but sometimes church becomes more about us and how we appear to others.
Could this be the pride referred to in 1 Corinthians 5 when that church body failed to discipline? The Apostle Paul confronted them about the sexual immorality among them saying, “And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” (1 Cor. 5:1-2)
Perhaps they were feeling proud of themselves for being so tolerant. According to Paul, however, they should have dealt with this sin in their midst because of its harmful effects on everyone. He continued, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (1 Cor. 5:6) Let’s remember what Paul said elsewhere in Romans 13:10 — “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Why must fear not keep us from God’s Purposes?
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 Jn. 4:8)
If we are following God’s purposes, love will be the motivating factor for why we discipline; love will be the way discipline is handled; and love will cause us to have the person’s restoration and growth as our desired outcome. Consequently, these fears must be laid aside for it isn’t about you.
Exercising God’s love will cause us to take every measure we can to restore the person to a place of spiritual health before enacting church discipline. But, love for God and people will also require that the unrepentant person who willfully remains in their sin after being given opportunity upon opportunity to yield to God must face church discipline. This must be your course of action if love truly is at the core.
To Do: This article calls for some self-examination by church leaders and the church as a whole. But, stop to pray first. The words of Psalm 139:23-24 would fit — “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” After praying, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I / we really have God’s glory and people’s good at the core of all we do, including church discipline?
- Do I / we display signs of fear and pride that keeps us from doing what is best for people?