In yesterday’s lesson we looked at the two main reasons for church discipline. Continuing today in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we find that he makes two qualifications about expelling someone from the church. One qualification is disassociating from a believer who is living in open sin. He does not apply this to the world, to the people of the world in general, because, he says, if you do that, where could you live? He said you would have to go out of the world if you’re going to live that way. He makes very clear, in verse 9 and following, that he is not talking about a kind of separatism. It is not a question of never rubbing shoulders with anyone who is a sinner. What he is concerned about is the purity of the Gospel and the reputation of the church. The problem is a believer or an alleged believer who lives that way. That must not be tolerated. For the second qualification, he says that it is to be applied to professing Christians, not only in this particular situation, but in other areas as well. He lists a number of things that must not be tolerated: “Anyone who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater, or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.” All of those are open sins that are contrary to the Gospel. He is saying that discipline must be practiced in those cases as well.
Now, this is not the only place Paul speaks of this problem. He deals with it again in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. The significant thing about his introducing the subject again in the second letter is that time has passed. The purpose for which Paul had the church deliver this offender to Satan has been accomplished. The man has realized the loss. He has been pained by separation from the body of Christ. He has sorrowed and repented of his sin. Paul says in these verses written sometime later, “I want you to forgive him, and bring him back, and restore him to your fellowship once again.”
As we read that passage in 2 Corinthians, we see the compassion that this has brought to the Apostle Paul. The chief object in discipline is the restoration of the offender, and it is the direction in which all such discipline should lead.
You may say, “Well, it doesn’t work well.” No, I think it does work generally when it is properly practiced. One of my friends tells of a story in which a man who had been a leader in the church fell into immorality, and when he was confronted with it, he refused to repent. He said, “It’s none of your business. It is between me and the Lord. You shouldn’t have anything to do with it.” Well, he went on from one sin to another. He became an alcoholic. He got on drugs. Naturally, the family was destroyed. He disappeared, and about fifteen years went by until he reappeared. This time, he was a changed man. He explained how, as he had sunk farther and farther into sin, he had come to the utter end of himself. God used the man’s own degeneracy to show what it means to go away from Christ. By the grace of God he repented of the sin and returned to the church. The church worked with him. They wanted to be sure that the change was genuine. They gave him counseling and he was most cooperative. They worked to help him find a new job and to get back on his feet again. When the time came for him to be received back into the membership of the church, they required him to appear before the leadership. The evening arrived. The leadership meeting was taking place at the home of the pastor. The man came to the door and knocked, not knowing what to expect. The leaders greeted him and took him into the backyard.
He quickly discovered that they were having a party. It was a barbecue. And you will get the idea when I tell you what they did. They had a coat for him. They put it on him. They had a gold ring for his finger and they put that on too. And on the barbecue was a fatted calf. Oh, there is joy in heaven over a sinner who returns, and that should be our desire. But at the same time, it should be our desire never to overlook sin.