I would like us to consider how we should go about disciplining or correcting a brother or sister who is either in sin, or has wandered away down the wrong path.
Discipline, or admonition is an important and serious part of church life which needs to be done correctly and sincerely when the need arises.
It would be the pleasant hope that the need never arises yet as we know in the Church we are dealing with people and when people are involved there will always be problems.
It is too often that when we have a problem with somebody we do everything but the right thing when it comes to resolving it. And it has been my unpleasant experience that when people are admonished incorrectly, then more strife results, and often people are hurt; and resentment and bitterness tend to rise up in the hearts of one another.
So as we proceed, I would like us to look at three points.
I The Need for Admonition
II The Method of Admonition
III The Outcome of Admonition
Now I would like us to just consider two words I will be using. That is, admonition and discipline.
1. To admonish somebody is to reprove them for a fault; it is to counsel, caution or advise them.
2. To discipline is to take action after the admonition fails; it is to punish by way of correction.
We will discover as we go on that if admonition is not heeded, then it will lead to discipline.
I The Need for Admonition
The need for admonition in the local assembly is for two reasons.
1. Firstly, that a holiness and reverence is maintained before God.
2. Secondly, so that the sin doesn’t spread and infect as it were the other members.
And there are a number of different people who are subject to admonition and discipline.
As we know we are living in lawless times. The air is full of independence from all authority - be it in the government, the workplace or in the home. And we need not be surprised that the same spirit characterises the Church. As in the days of the judges, “Every man does that which is right in his own eyes.” And anarchy is often the result.
We find in the Church that false professors creep in unawares turning the grace of God into lasciviousness. (Jude 4) Once within the Church they exhibit in doctrine and their walk the fruits of evil.
Titus ch. 1:10-13 says,
“For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Wherefore, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”
Such people give rise to the need of discipline and admonition.
However, unfortunately, and much more commonly, the necessity for discipline is not only in the presence of false teachers, but from the fact that the flesh still exists in the children of God.
The children of God may well fall into some kind of sin themselves, and this needs to be corrected promptly. Firstly, as we said, to maintain holiness, and secondly, to avoid infection.
Ephesians ch. 1 verse 4 tells us that we are to be holy and without blame before God. This is in reference to Christ’s body, the Church.
Now God has saved us and called us to an holy calling.
I Peter 1:15 says,
“But, as He who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of life.”
God expects those of His household to maintain a holiness that is worthy of Himself.
God, as we know, cannot and will not accept sin in His presence, hence that sin must be dealt with and put away to maintain that character of purity amongst us.
So we need admonition and discipline when necessary to hold on to the holiness and reverence that should be found in the house of God.
Secondly, we need to keep sin from amongst us so that infection does not occur. In other words, so that the particular sin or sinful person does no affect other people for the worse by their actions.
I Corinthians 5:6-8 makes mention of this.
“Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
We are to purge out the old leaven, lest the whole lump be affected.
This reference in Corinthians refers to excommunication which we shall refer to later.
However, sin needs to be dealt with so that the rest of the believers in the local church are not led astray or affected by that sin.
So there is a need for admonition and discipline in the Church, to maintain first our holiness before our God, and to keep others from falling into sin.
II Method of Admonition
There are five steps to take in correcting a brother. We shall look at these shortly but first let us consider the way in which we should initially approach the person.
Galatians 6:1 reads,
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye who are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”
We learn a few things from this verse.
a) If you are to correct your brother, you in the first place are to be spiritual. “you who are spiritual.”
This is the qualification for anyone who sees the need for correction. If you are not spiritual then you have no place or right to be telling another how they ought to behave.
And of course it is for all of us to be spiritual, though sadly this is often not the case.
The spiritual state of the believer is reached by diligence in the Word of God and in prayer; and it is maintained by obedience and self judgement. And such a person will be led by the Holy Spirit.
b) Secondly, the correction is to be given in the spirit of meekness.
“Gentleness is the characteristic of true spirituality.”
Now a spirit of meekness does not mean an easy-going tolerance of evil. We are to always be intolerant of any evil in our midst.
Our Lord Jesus here becomes our perfect example. As we know He is intolerant of any kind of evil yet He also possessed a spirit of meekness.
When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Him He did not condemn her but simply said, “go, and sin no more.”
Likewise we ought not to condemn our brethren. we are not to stand either as their judge, for God alone can judge.
Often there will be those who self-righteously condemn the sinning brother; those who stand in judgement and look down upon the offender; those who use sharp and cutting words and tear them to shreds in their own conceit. Such an attitude will obviously turn the situation to one of bitterness, anger and wrath, and the brother in sin will more likely be turned further from the truth than be corrected.
II Timothy 2:24-26 says,
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose him, if God, perhaps, will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”
We must therefore be gentle, patient and meek unto all men.
c) And thirdly we learn from Galations that we should consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted.
When a believer has shown his responsibility in correcting a sinning brother, he finds himself in danger of thinking himself somewhat above that brother, rather than being one with him in his natural tendency and liability to sin.
We must take care that we do not fall into the same fault as the one we are trying to correct.
And believe me this can easily happen as I have personally found out. On the odd occasion I have given a brother a word of admonition, only to find myself fall into the same fault shortly afterward.
We ought then to take extra care to avoid this from happening, and we should judge ourselves to see that we are right.
Those who are pastors, evangelists or teachers must also take care not to neglect their own spiritual welfare in a zeal for the care of others.
Now let us consider the five steps to correcting a sinning brother. The five steps begin with admonition and lead to discipline.
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Before we consider this short passage, I would like us to draw our attention to the first few words. We read there, “if thy brother shall trespass against thee.”
Now in view of this passage I would suggest that the trespass or sin of that brother is not only a personal sin against someone. This of course is a large part of it but I think the sin is not just a personal matter but would also include sin in general. Apparently some Greek manuscripts do not have the words “against thee” in the text. And if we read the American Standard Version we see such a translation. “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private,.....”.
So I believe it is not just personal trespass in view here, but a trespass or sin of any nature.
1. Matthew 18:15
Now before we do any thing in the nature of admonition, the very first thing we are to do is privately bring the matter before the Lord in prayer. He should always first be consulted and as we are on our knees before Him we would ask for wisdom and gentleness in dealing with the matter. Ask also that a clear opportunity will present itself for you to speak to that brother and ask that the Lord will not only prepare your heart to give the admonition, but that He will also prepare the heart of the brother to receive it.
And then we go on to the first step as outlined in Matthew.
The first step is for you to approach your brother with his fault. This then becomes a matter between you and him alone. At this point it is no-one else’s business.
Too often we go gossiping the brothers fault to whomever has ears to listen. The sin is then spread about for all to hear which inevitably cause much strife and bitter feelings among the brethren, resulting in greater evils, slanders, backbiting and the like.
The first step is to be treated then as a personal matter, between you and him alone.
And “If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
If the brother accepts the admonition and corrects himself, then the matter goes no further. The problem ceases to exist and becomes a thing of the past, never to be remembered again.
2. But what if he doesn’t hear you?
vs16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
This second brother must have the same characteristics of the first. And he is to be wisely and prayerfully chosen.
Again, the matter remains private, with only the extra witness and yourself.
The extra witnesses are used, not to establish the truth of the sin for the one who has sinned is already convicted, but they are to bring the influence of the truth to bear upon him all the more by their confirmation.
They are to help make him realise the seriousness of the sin.
And again, if he hears you, you have gained your brother and the matter is closed.
3. But thirdly if he still doesn’t hear your admonition
"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: "
So thirdly, the matter is to be brought before the Church.
Now I would suggest that this be done in two steps.
I have no Scriptural basis for these two steps, however I feel it to be safe and logical.
Firstly, the matter should be taken before the oversight. They should become aware of the matter before it is made public, considering that they are the leaders of the assembly, and all that is done ought to be under their direction.
My suggestion would then be to leave the matter in their hands.
Secondly, as the elders see fit, the case should be presented publicly before the whole assembly.
I Timothy 5:20 says,
“them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”
So the whole assembly hears of the sin, and of course, from their point of view there is to be renewed seeking to gain the brother in love.
Hasty judgement is to be avoided and in all these steps of admonition, impatient haste is to be avoided. Remember to seek fist the Lord in prayer always.
4. Fourthly, what if he doesn’t hear the Church?
"but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. "
In other words, have nothing more to do with the brother.
II Thessalonians 3:6-156
6Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
8 Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
So we are to withdraw ourselves from that brother and have no more company with him.
This however does not mean that we should make no further attempts to restore him. This action of the assembly is to prove that holiness is to be maintained.
Yet we are not to count him as an enemy, or as one who is opposed to Christ. To do this will drive him further to despondency or to hostility, rather than lead him to repentance.
We are instead to continue to admonish him as a brother, because remember, though he is in sin, he is still a brother in Christ, and our motive should ever be to see that brother returned to fellowship.
So by continual admonition, and keeping away from his company, that brother may be ashamed, seeing himself that the godly people leave him alone, thus bringing himself to the conclusion that he is at fault, and must repent of his sin.
5. Then we come to the last step. Step 4 and 5 take the form of disciplinary action.
Step 5 can be seen from I Corinthians 5:9-13.
9 wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
The final step then is that of excommunication.
This is the severest form of discipline, and should always be the last resort.
And it should only occur when it is evident that the sinning brother remains unrepentant and continues in his sin.
Now the sin he commits will be a sin that affects the assembly as a whole, or other individual members of it. It is something that may lead others astray, and rob God of his holiness.
As we know, a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump and the leaven is to be discarded before others are infected.
If the sin is however a minor, petty thing, then usually this course of action is not taken.
Now great care must be taken in this step of discipline.
We must never take such action on mere hearsay. There is always to be a definite evidence as to the guilt of the brother.
The Church should never jump to conclusions, nor should they believe just any scandal or gossip that circulates.
Excommunication is a serious matter and the Church simply must be sure of itself and know exactly what it is doing.
And remember it is always a last resort. Every effort should first be made to restore the sinning brother, but if he will not be restored, if he persists in his sin, and goes on defying the discipline of the Church, then and only then the time comes when the Word has to be acted upon, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
But again remember, such action is still given in the hope of restoring the brother once again to fellowship.
And this brings us thirdly to the Outcome of Admonition.
III The Outcome of Admonition
So we have seen the need for admonition, the method of it and now the outcome, or what is to be the end result. And this should be have already been made evident.
The end result of admonition and discipline is the restoration of that sinning brother.
Restoration is what was prayed for, hoped for and expected right from the start.
Whilst one who is put away from the Church is to be left alone, we should continue to pray for him; and we ought also to look out for him after some lapse of time.
This should especially be done if he is weak and untaught, and if he has submitted to the Lord’s judgement.
Now if the brother is repentant and has recovered, this will show clearly by his actions. He will have a sense of sin against God and acknowledge his wrong. He will judge himself for his sin and will repent of it.
He will also submit to the discipline given to him, and accept it graciously as of the Lord, even though it may have been severe.
And when we see these actions in the brother, what are we to do?
The assembly must guard against having a hard, unforgiving spirit. When all are satisfied that the sin has been judged and put right, that there should be no unnecessary delay in showing their love and acceptance to the recovered brother.
II Corinthians 2:5-11. That brother is to be received gladly back into fellowship, his sin is to be forgotten and made a matter of the past and holiness is to once again be maintained within the church.
So the outcome of all discipline is to see the sinning brother restored in love.
So we have considered three points as far as admonition and discipline are concerned.
* Firstly we saw the need for discipline, and that was for holiness, “be ye holy for I am holy.” and in case of infection, “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”
* Secondly the method of admonition and this was in five steps.
1. firstly, approach the brother privately
2. secondly, if he doesn’t hear you then take another couple of people
3. thirdly, if he still doesn’t hear, let the matter be known before the Church
4. fourthly, if he still doesn’t hear, then have nothing more to do with that brother
5. and fifthly, if that brother is detrimental to the assembly then he must be excommunicated.
* And thirdly we learnt of the outcome and that is always for the restoration of the brother.
Thus when we see a brother in sin, first prayerfully consider your position and then with the Spirit's leading, take practical action only in accordance with the Scriptural outline of discipline. It is vital that it is done properly before the Lord, that His name will be glorified in all.