Article by: Jeremiah Riner
The Christian life is a life of discipline. This is not accomplished out of legalism, but out of obedience. Jesus said in John 14:15 "If ye love me, keep my commandments." The reason discipline is so vital to our walk with Christ is because it's not in our nature to be obedient to the Lord. We are hard-hearted and carnal in and of ourselves. In fact, all of God's people are prone to this wayward, immature behavior and are in need of gracious correction. Thankfully, the Lord has given us instruction on how handle these unfortunate, but inevitable situation of rebellion if and when they arise.
There are 3 distinct areas which we'll look at in regards to discipline. The first in the area of Self-Discipline. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7, "But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness." The word there for exercise could be translated at "train" or "discipline." We do such a thing when we study the Word of God, pray, and obey the Scriptures. It's paramount that the best discipline in any church or the body of Christ as a whole begins in our own lives first. Proverbs 25:28 warns, "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls." In other words, we have no chance in our spiritual lives if we aren't disciplining ourselves for godliness because the enemy will turn unguarded souls into a playground for destruction.
The second area of discipline is what we'll call Developmental Discipline. This is carried out by the preaching and teaching of God's Word. We also aid in the development of our brothers and sisters as we pray for and with them, worship together, and fellowship together. It's here that the Word of God is literally unleashed to do what a thousand ministers could only dream of doing on their own: developing great disciples of Christ. Hebrews 4:12 states, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Here we are reminded that the Word of God instructs, corrects, encourages, strengthens, rebukes, and transforms our hearts and minds like nothing else in this world.
We desperately need this. Not gimmicks, not entertainment, and not pragmatism. To borrow a word which has been thrown around a lot over the last few years, developmental discipline is essential. This is why being invested in a local church is so vital to our own spiritual maturity and our family's. We need the preaching and teaching of Scripture in our lives. We need the prayers of others and to be in prayer for them likewise. We need to worship our Creator with our family and fellow laborers. Minsters, this is especially important for us to remember as well. If we truly love God and His people, we'll do as Jesus told Peter in John 21:17, "...feed My sheep."
The third and final area of discipline is Corrective Discipline. This specific type of discipline is centered around how we respond when brothers or sisters fall into sin or wrong us. Before we see the Biblical formula for such situations it's important that we establish what corrective discipline is and is not. First, corrective discipline is healthy. 1 Corinthians 16:14 tells us, "All that you do must be done in love." Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in when it comes to corrective discipline, we must heed the wisdom of Paul be dealing with others for the primary purpose of loving restoration. Second, corrective discipline is obedient. Scripture says in Proverbs 3:11-12, "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth." To put it bluntly, loving correction is the way of our Lord and true churches follow the example of our Master in correcting wayward believers in the most gracious and loving way. Third, corrective discipline is protective. Believers, and especially church leaders, we have a Biblical duty to guard the integrity and public testimony of our congregations. When we act recklessly and apart from grace we tarnish the reputation of our local churches, fail to help restore those who have sinned egregiously, and sinfully violated the World of God ourselves.
On the flip side of this coin, we must also examine what corrective discipline is not. This form of discipline is not vengeful or slanderous. We have no business taking these issues so personal that it drives us into sinful behavior and bitter feelings. As one old-timer wisely shared with me years ago, "When we sling mud at one another, everyone loses ground." Corrective discipline is also not abusive. Galatians 6:1 says, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Humility and compassion must win the day if we are going to be of any help in leading others back in repentance and faithfulness to The Lord. To use our positions as church leaders to coerce, harm, or gain leverage over others is to live according to Satan's standards and would put us in need of corrective discipline ourselves.
Finally, the actual process for corrective discipline is laid out by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. The first step is found in verse 15 as Jesus teaches us to take our concern over a particular sin issue to our brother/sister in a private conversation. It's important to note here that would should strongly pray the issue is resolved in this meeting and that hearts and minds are restored through repentance, grace, and forgiveness. However, if the person(s) resists you with opposition or unrepentance we are told by our Lord (Matthew 18:16) to meet with them again and take one or two additional witnesses with us. Again, we approach the situation with love, truth, and compassion for the soul of this person(s). Another important point to be made here is that this does not have to include your church leadership (pastor, elders, deacons, etc.) unless they happen to be involved in the situation.
Step three will ensue if the individual(s) is still unrepentant and defiant. Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 18:17 that when this occurs, we are to bring the matter before our church, pleading with the unrepentant to listen and call out to God for restoration. If a lack of repentance remains, the final step in this process is to view the person(s) in error as an unbeliever (v.17b) and pray that the Lord would would seek them out in mercy to save them in their sinful state and bring them into a right relationship with Him. Paul also mentions this in 1 Corinthians 5:5 as he writes to the church in Corinth concerning a wayward man who had been guilty of habitual sexual sin. Paul writes in verse 5 that, "you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." Notice how Paul did not say "for the destruction of the body." It's important to see how the Apostle was clear that they should be praying the erring brother's sin would be killed and not the man himself. The reason for this is spelled out in the later part of that verse as Paul tells the Corinthians that the man's soul was in jeopardy of being lost and punished forever and their concern should be for his salvation, not his destruction. The aim here is clear: restoring the soul, not destroying the soul.
In conclusion of this matter, I would encourage us all not to take discipline (mine, yours, or any others) lightly. Don't shy away from it, especially ministers, and don't use it as an occasion for abuse or personal vengeance. May God help us all to love people enough by graciously seeking after those who have sinned against us or wandered from the fold. After all, has Good Shepherd not done that for you and I?