Posted by: missionventureministries | July 5, 2018

DEALING WITH SIN IN THE CHURCH – Matthew 18:15-17

“Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch…” (1 Corinthians 5:7) 

Paul is commanding the church in Corinth to get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch. Leaven or yeast in the Bible is represented by any type of sin. If you put a small amount of yeast in flour, it spreads throughout the entire lump (1 Corinthians 5:6). Paul is saying symbolically that the church needed to discipline the sinning man and if that did not work, they needed to expel the wicked person so that the purity of the church would be restored and the sin would not spread any further (vs. 5:13). 

This principle can be observed in a family. If parents do not consistently and impartially discipline a defiant child, very soon the other children learn that there are no consequences if they disobey their parents. The sin of the first child spreads to the others. The same thing happens in a classroom with a teacher who does not enforce discipline. Soon the entire class is out of control. On the government level, if the authorities do not enforce the laws, the whole country soon gives into anarchy. 

In the local church, God has given authority to godly elders who are living a holy life (Hebrews 13:17). Part of their responsibility is to uphold God’s standards of holiness and do all that they can to keep the church doctrinally and morally pure. Because, if we don’t uphold God’s standards of holiness, it doesn’t take long for the church to become just like the world.  

Scripture is clear that the church is to be distinct from the world by being separated unto God, who is holy. The church needs to be willingly to distance itself from this corrupt world. As 1 John 2:15 states, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 

We need to understand that the Bible is clear that we cannot love our brothers and sisters in Christ if we do not deal with their sins in the way that God orders. God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness…and He chastens everyone He accepts as his son (Hebrews 12:10, Hebrews 12:6). We need to understand that sin destroys people and relationships; therefore, to be indifferent toward someone who is sinning is really to hate that person. 

Sin is like leaven, it spreads. It’s like a contagious disease that if not taken care of will infect others. That’s why James 5:19-20 says, “my brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone  turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death...” Christian love seeks to turn a sinner from his sin by applying God’s love and His Word. 

The goal in church discipline is never vindictive. We are not seeking to punish people or to throw them out of the church. Our aim is to restore the offender. In Galatians 6:1, Paul writes, “brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted;” meaning that we are to do it without being arrogant, but gently, remembering that gentleness does not mean weakness, but strength under the control of the Holy Spirit.  

Some might ask, “what if it doesn’t work?” The answer is we need to be obedient to God and leave the results to Him. There is no biblical guarantee that it will work every time. Jesus said, “if your brother or sister sins go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15). 

The objective is not to “get things off our chest” by letting the sinning person know how wrong they are. The aim is to get them to listen to what Scripture has to say to win them back to the Lord because God’s Word is the ultimate authority. 

Jesus says that if you have knowledge of your brother in Christ’s sin, then you are the one to go to him. Before going we need to pray and ask for guidance and discernment from our heavenly Father. We need to check our own heart, to make sure that we have taken any log out of our own eyes (Matthew 7:3-5). And we need to check our motives to make sure that we are not going to try to prove that they are wrong and we are right, because if that is the case we are going for the wrong reason.  

We also need to make sure that we get true facts. If someone tells us about someone else’s sin, tell the informant to go directly to the sinning person following these biblical guidelines. We do not go to someone on the basis of hearsay or gossip, unless we are personally going to find out the facts. We need to go in gentleness and wisdom received through prayer, with the aim of restoring the brother to God and to those he has wronged. If the sinning person knows that we genuinely care for them, they will be more likely to listen and respond positively. 

If the person does not listen to us, Jesus says to take two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16). These may be others who know of the problem or it may include church leaders. The point is to strengthen the reproof and to cause the offender to realize the seriousness of the situation. The goal is to bring the sinner to repentance and restoration. 

And in last resort Jesus says: If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector (Matthew 18:17). 

If the sin has to be made public, if someone’s sin is damaging the reputation of the church, he needs to be exposed and removed from the fellowship quickly. 

If after a while, the person expresses genuine repentance, which involves godly sorrow over their sin (2 Corinthians 7:10) and repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds (Acts 26:20), then the church should be informed and the person should be forgiven and accepted back into the fellowship. The restoration process, however, needs to include training to help the person grow and avoid the sin in the future. 

A church should be a fellowship of forgiven sinners who, by God’s grace, are pursuing a life of holiness and obedience to our Lord. We dare not fall into spiritual pride by thinking that we are better than a member who has fallen into sin. Paul says that our response to sin in a church member should be to mourn (1 Corinthians 5:2). 

We need to be mindful that if we do not deal with those who refuse to repent of sin as the Lord commands, His church will soon blend in with the world and the salt will lose its savor. The Lord warns that He will come and remove our lampstand (Revelation 2:5).  

Consequently, we must practice biblical church discipline toward those who profess being Christians and who persist in sin. And we need to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:26-27). 

So watch out and, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8).

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