Weekly Bible Study

Tuesday 3rd November  2020

Topic: Church Discipline 3
Text: 1 Tim. 5:19–21

In continuation of our study on Church Discipline, we shall examine today biblical guidelines for the discipline of Church leaders/Church workers. Worthy of note is the fact that church discipline is not limited to church members alone, but for all including the leaders in the church.

Discipline of Church Leaders

In our passage Paul gives special directives concerning the discipline of church elders. He said, never admit any charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.(19) As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without favour, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Tim. 5:19–21)

Paul here gives a special caution to protect elders from individual attacks: action regarding wrongdoing in this case should require the evidence of two or three witnesses. “Those who persist in sin” are to be rebuked “in the presence of all.” This is because the bad example of wrongful conduct by elders will very likely have a widespread negative effect on others who see their lives.

Then Paul reminds Timothy to do “nothing from partiality” in this situation, a very helpful warning, since Timothy was probably a close friend to many of the elders in the church at Ephesus.

Paul’s command to rebuke a sinning elder publicly means that some statement of the nature of the offence must be made to the church (“rebuke them in the presence of all.(v.20)

On the other hand, not every detail of the sin has to be disclosed to the church.

A helpful guideline is that the church should be told enough that

(1) they will understand how serious the offence was.

(2) they will be able to understand and support the discipline process.

(3) they will not subsequently feel the sin was minimised or covered up if more details somehow leak out later.

Such a public disclosure of the sin of a leader will signal to the congregation that the leaders of the church will not hide such matters from them in the future. This will increase the confidence of the church in the integrity of the leadership. It will also allow the sinning leader to begin the gradual process of rebuilding relationships and trust with the congregation, because he will not have to deal with people who have a hundred different speculations about what his sin was, but with people who know the specific sin, and can see the genuine repentance and change regarding that area of sin in his life.

What about the serious sins of people who are not church leaders? The Scripture gives no command to disclose publicly the sins of people who are ordinary members but not recognised leaders in the church. Leaders, however, are treated differently because their lives are to be “above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:2), and their lives should be examples for other Christians to imitate (1 Tim. 4:12).

Once discipline has occurred, as soon as there is repentance at any stage of the process, the Christians who have known about the discipline should welcome the repentant person back quickly into the fellowship of the church. Paul says, “You should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I beg you to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2:7–8; 7:8–11). Once again, our purpose in church discipline should never be to punish out of a desire for vengeance, but always to restore and heal.

The attitude with which discipline is carried out at any stage is also very important. It must be done with gentleness and humility, and with a genuine appreciation for our own weakness and with a fear that we might fall into similar sins. “If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). 

Therefore, it is unwise to set any timetable in advance, telling people how long the discipline process is expected to last. This is because it is impossible for us to predict how long or how soon the Holy Spirit will bring about deep, genuine repentance and a change in the condition of the person’s heart that led to the sin in the first place.

Finally, we should notice that immediately following the passage on church discipline in Matthew 18:15–20, Jesus strongly teaches the need for personal forgiveness of those who sin against us (Matt. 18:21–35). We are to forgive those who harm us “seventy times seven” (vs.22) and Jesus tells us that our heavenly Father will punish us severely if we do not forgive our brother from the heart. (vs. 35) We should see the passage on church discipline and this passage as complementary, not contradictory. As individuals we must always forgive in our hearts and not bear grudges. Yet we can certainly forgive someone in our hearts and still seek church discipline for the good of the person who is committing a sin, for the good of the church, for the honor of Christ and because God’s Word commands it.

If a church refuses to carry out church discipline, it will give room for the devil to easily operate in the Church and God might execute discipline in a way the church will regret not doing the right thing. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Almighty. The Church of Christ must take seriously Church discipline.

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