“This hurts me more than it hurts you,” my dad told me when I was being disciplined. I did not believe him at the time, but repeated the same line to my children when, as an adult, I realized how hard it was to ground a teenager or take away a privilege for the purpose of bringing about change in behavior. Now I watch those grown-up children doing the same things with their own families, in their best efforts to shape the character and values of their offspring. I wince when I see one of my grandchildren tearfully protesting a correction, when I see the “pain” that they have to endure when their Dad takes away their phone or sends them to their room! The Grandpa in me wants to say, “Ah, just it go. It’s no big deal.” But, I am so thankful for the discipline that is a love in action.
In the Church, discipline has become all but non-existent. For many reasons – shallow relationships, an inability to agree on standards of right and wrong, mistaken understanding of grace, cowardice – we tolerate sin in the lives of our brothers and sisters without saying a word about it. Ours is an unloving kindness! We mistakenly think that our tolerance is an expression of ‘love.’ Actually our silence is a way of saying, “Go ahead and destroy yourself!”
In the church at Corinth, the message of the Gospel’s grace had been taken to an extreme. Paul heard of sin in the congregation that nobody was talking about. Look at the correction he sent to them. “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship. Even though I am not with you in person, I am with you in the Spirit. And as though I were there, I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns. Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:1-6, NLT)
“Remove him from fellowship … hand him over to Satan.” Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Don’t offer this person the comfort of your fellowship, of fooling himself that he is in good standing with the Lord. Let him taste the loneliness of being separated from the family of God and the table of Holy Communion, Paul told them. When the Church does this today, and it does so rarely, the backlash is quick and strong. “How could they be so narrow-minded? How could they think they have a right to judge someone like that? They are so unloving.” And, the person under that kind of discipline goes 2 miles down the road and is welcomed into another fellowship with open arms, in spite of his lack of repentance.
I make no appeal for cruel, harsh, or mean actions. There is no cause for seeking public humiliation of another person. Certainly church discipline cannot be practiced in an atmosphere of fear or favoritism. But, where there is deep love, the Church must be bold enough to say to another, “that is wrong and if you persist in your sin, you cannot fellowship here.” Indeed, there are several steps in discipline that ought to be taken before excommunication! Jesus says that when someone offends, we should seek a private meeting, speaking gently and loving to the errant one. If that appeal fails, we should engage another mature Christian to join the conversation. Only then do we take the hard step of breaking fellowship.
And always, the discipline is to be aimed at restoration, not destruction. A father who lovingly disciplines his son does not abuse that child. If he does, he is wrong and steps are taken to correct him! A parent aims at bringing about change for the better, basing the discipline in a loving relationship. So it is in Christ’s church. When we call a person to change with discipline our hope is to restore the relationship as soon as there is evidence of repentance. In the Corinthian situation, we know that the discipline was effective, because in Paul’s second letter, he urges the church to restore the man who had sinned. “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Corinthians 2:6-9, NIV)
We must remember that ours is an imperfect world, filled with imperfect people, who live in less than ideal situations. Sometimes we have to face the facts that what is done cannot be undone. Our goal is not some rigid ideal of holy perfection. We are invited to pursue Jesus, forgiven and forgiving. Where there is an acknowledgment of sin, we come quickly alongside of the sinner and offer loving support that helps toward wholeness.
Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit give us insight to understand the letter and the spirit of the command so that we will be the beautiful and holy Body of Christ before our world. “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that.
Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.
Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!— harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.” (Galatians 6:1-8, The Message)
Father, thank you for the amazing grace of Jesus
That reaches me in my worst moments.
May that grace make me graceful!
Teach me to live in love, a bold and engaged love for Your people.
Help me to love others enough to be truthful,
But never harsh, nor condemning.
Keep my mind always aware that I am prone to sin,
Holding tightly to Your hand lest I fall.
Make Your Church a holy and beautiful one,
Marked by love and redemption.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen