2018 03 18 pm Dealing with Delinquents Joshua 7

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

It is in Acts 2 that we read about Peter preaching the Pentecost Day sermon and that about 3000 people joined the church!  Wow!  But those 3000 were ‘baby Christians’?  They were right at the beginning of the Christian life.  And one commentator has said this about these baby Christians: “New babies mean great responsibility and a lot of work.  These newly born again believers were 3000 bundles of joy and 3000 accidents waiting to happen.”


And while that might sound a bit negative, sure enough, it wasn’t long before trouble appeared in that church.  In Acts 5, we read about Ananias and Sapphira, in Acts 6 we read about complaints concerning food distribution based on ethnicity, and the rest of Acts and many of the Epistles deal with repeated clashes between Jews and Gentiles about keeping the Law of Moses, divisions, false teaching, and immoral and ungodly behaviour in the church.  Life in the church, because the church is made up of sinful people, means there will be sin that has to be dealt with.


And we acknowledge this today when people publicly profess faith.  One of the vows all members make is:: “I promise to submit to the government of this church and also, if I should become delinquent either in doctrine or life, to submit to its admonition and discipline.”

And boys and girls, to become delinquent means to neglect or to do wrong.  When you have been asked to put your bike in the shed and you forget to do it or you refuse to do it or you hide it behind the garage instead, you are delinquent.  And so, to become delinquent in doctrine or life is not a good thing.  It means you are being a lazy Christian at best or demonstrating that you are not a Christian at all at worst.


So What should happen when church members become delinquent?  Should they be dealt with or is this just between them and God?  And if misbehaving church members should be dealt with, how should it be done?


Well, this is a part of what we want to think about this afternoon as we consider discipline in the Church of Christ.  And our three heading will be: The command to discipline, general discipline, and finally special discipline.


Please turn with me to Matthew 16:13-19 (p. 1026).  Our Lord’s Day talked about ‘the keys of the kingdom.’  And this is where that terminology comes from.  So this is where we begin to think about the command to discipline.  Let’s read these verses…


  1. Now, I think we all know how keys Right?  Keys lock shut and unlock open.  Well, the kingdom of heaven is not found on the other side of a physical door.  So the keys in view here are not physical keys.  So what are they then?  Well, we read here about binding and loosing.  Let’s think about that for a moment.  And there are two important things to note about binding and loosing.
    1. The first is that the terms bind and loose were terms borrowed from the Jewish teachers of that day. They saw themselves as those whose task it was to study God’s law and work out what was forbidden or binding behaviour and what was permitted or loosing
      1. One example: In Acts 1:12 we read that the disciples of Jesus had travelled from the MT of Olives to Jerusalem, which was ‘a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.’ The Jewish teachers had worked out that if you walked 1100m or less, that was OK on the Sabbath day; this was a loosing  However, walk 1101m and you were guilty of breaking the Sabbath Day; this was a binding decision.  And they had thousands of these binding and loosing rules.
      2. Well, with the coming of the NT age, a whole lot of decisions needed to be made because there was not yet a complete NT! All sorts of matters to do with faith and life in Christ needed to be worked out.
  • And Jesus is here entrusting that task to the disciples. It is they who must work out what is forbidden and what is permitted in terms of Christian faith and life.
  1. So the binding and loosing in view here was about behaviour and ideas, not people. The word Jesus uses is ‘whatever,’ not ‘whom’  The disciples were to decide and write down what behaviour and doctrine was right and wrong.


  1. Secondly though, a better literal translation of these words reads like this, “Whatever you bind on earth, shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, shall have been loosed in heaven.”
    1. And I make this point because as the words read here it could be understood that as the apostles decided something about what was permitted or forbidden on earth then God agreed up in heaven. But actually it is the other way around.
    2. Verse 17 helps us here. Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ.  But look what Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”  Peter’s confession was the result of the Father’s revelation.
  • And so it will be with the decisions of the Apostles. They will be guided by the Holy Spirit so that their decisions will reflect heaven’s decisions.  When they judge behaviour or beliefs to be good or evil, because of their special office as Christ’s Apostles and the leading of the Holy Spirit, they will be echoing God’s perfect will.
  1. And this is a very important principle, as we shall see later.


  1. Now, having said that the binding and loosing was about beliefs and actions, these decisions affected people. If you came across a father and mother talking about biting, it would be safe to assume that one or more of their children have been misbehaving.  And in the same way, as I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon, it was not long before bad behaviour and false doctrine appeared in the NT church.  And this needed to be dealt with then and it needs to be dealt with today also because the church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ.  And He died to make the church spotless and blameless.  The church is to be His witness to a dying world.  And although we will never be free of sin until we go to be with the Lord or He returns, it is important that the church does not tolerate open and ongoing sin, for the sake of its witness to the world.  So there must be discipline in the church!  That is why these verses are a command to discipline.


Well, before we think in more detail about what we will today call special discipline, which is how the church deals with delinquent members, we need to take a few moments to think about what we are calling general discipline.  And what is in view here is preaching.


  1. We have already spoken about preaching as one of the Keys of the Kingdom. The Lord’s Day puts it like this: “preaching … opens the kingdom of heaven to believers and closes it to unbelievers.”
    1. Congregation, when the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ is preached, we cannot see it or heart it but the door to the kingdom of heaven is being opened. In Revelation 3:20, the Lord Jesus puts it like this: “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  It is a beautiful way to picture preaching.  In here and in churches all over the world, when the gospel is preached, the door to heaven is being opened, wide, and people are commanded to enter.
    2. But like every door that opens, there also comes a time when it shuts. When people hear the message but refuse to believe in Jesus, well, then the door to the kingdom of heaven closes.
    3. Now, this opening and closing of the ‘door’ to the kingdom of heaven happens every time the gospel is preached. But my friend, if you are sitting here today and you have not yet entered the kingdom of heaven, you have not yet put your faith in Jesus Christ, please don’t tell yourself that you can put this off until later.  Don’t think that you can wait until tomorrow or next Sunday or when you are older and have enjoyed life a bit, because you don’t know if there will be a next time!  The command and invitation of Jesus is always Now!  Today!  You must go in and take hold of Christ now!


  1. But I have called this point the general discipline of preaching. And that is because preaching is the chief way that God disciplines believers.  A disciple is one being disciplined, which means trained/corrected/instructed/counseled/encouraged/ challenged/ convicted/warned/comforted.  And the chief way that this happens is by the preaching of the Bible.
    1. When the Apostle Paul was writing to young Pastor Timothy, there are many things that he could have told him to do as his first priority. But what did he say?  He said, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching … Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction.”
      1. My seminary ring – “Preach the Word.”
    2. In many parts of the wider church there has been a move away from preaching towards counseling. The thinking is that we are all so unique and our problems are so individual that what we all need is one to one counseling.  So seminaries are changing their whole curriculum to focus more on counseling than preaching.  Bad move!  That is not in keeping with Scripture.  Of course there is a time and place for individual counseling.  But the emphasis of Scripture is public preaching.  And this is because your and my sins and problems are not actually that unique.  “There is nothing new under the Sun,” we are reminded in Ecclesiastes.  And when the living word of Christ is preached, faithfully, the Holy Spirit counsels or disciplines the whole congregation of believers.  And I see this at work as I listen to people who have heard the same sermon explain how it spoke to them in many different ways.
    3. So this is why we, as churches, pay a lot of attention to the theological training of our ministers. We want the seminaries that train our men and examinations and vicariates to equip men to preach the word.  We should pray often about this.

So preaching is God’s general discipline.  It is how he corrects/warns/instructs all.  The fact is though that sometimes more than preaching is needed to deal with members of the church who become delinquent.  It is the same with parents and children.  Parents are always teaching their children and giving them guidance.  But is that enough, boys and girls?  Do your parents just give general rules to all of you children and you all obey them?  Or are there times when your parents need to take you aside and deal with your bad behaviour?  Well, it is like that also with delinquent members in the church.  So that is why we need, lastly, to consider special discipline.  In the OT, as we saw in our earlier reading from Joshua 7, special discipline came by way of stones, which were thrown at you by the crowd, until you were dead!  It was drastic and it was severe.  But in NT times, in our times, special discipline is by way of Christian or church discipline.  Let’s see this now from 1 Cor. 5:1 (p. 1196).  Here the Apostle Paul is writing to the Corinthian congregation and instructing them about a specific situation of delinquency.  Let’s read vv1-11.

  1. There was a member of the Corinthian congregation who was engaging in sexual activity with his step-mother; his father’s wife. And Paul is very clear about how this situation needs to be dealt with.  He tells them that they should have put this man out of their fellowship.  And in v12 he says, “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
    1. As much as it might grieve us, there comes a time when if a person refuses to repent of his or her sin, he or she must be put out of the communion of the church. They are no longer to be viewed as a brother or sister in Christ.  We call this excommunication – out of communion.
    2. We don’t have time today to go into the whole process, but if you want to look it up, you will find the process described in articles 67-81, which is in the back of the back of the Forms and Confessions book. It is based on the steps described in Matthew 18.  It usually involves many visits and warnings and announcements that happen over a period of time.
    3. But because of the example we have here in 1 Cor. 5, if a person refuses to repent of his or her sin, he or she must eventually be put out of the communion of the church.


  1. And it is important to note why this is done. The Apostle Paul said in v5, “Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”  Church discipline is not done because we hate people and we want to punish them.  It is done out of love and care for a person in the hope that they might come to repentance and be restored to full fellowship in the church.
    1. And you know what? In terms of this man here in 1 Cor. 5, the church discipline had exactly that result.  In 2 Cor. 2, we learn that this man had repented!
    2. And this is why immediately after the form for excommunication that we have in our book of forms, you will find the form for readmission! I know people who have been excommunicated and readmitted.  It is so wonderful!


  1. Well, by way of conclusion, I want us to note something Paul says in this passage. It is very important in relation to church discipline but also in general.  And I especially ask you young people to pay attention here.  Verse 3, “I have already passed judgment on the one who did this.”
    1. Many of you will know that at one time Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Yes?  So you often hear people today, even Christians, say that we must not judge others.  Have you heard that?  But here we have the Apostle Paul saying, “I have passed judgment on this man.”
    2. So, did the Apostle not get Jesus’ ‘memo’ maybe? Of course he did.  But the Apostle understood that Jesus was making a very specific point there.  Jesus was talking to Pharisees.  He as talking about their man-made regulations.  He was talking about their hypocrisy.  He was not saying that we can never judge the actions of another person.
    3. You see, the Bible is very plain about good and bad behaviour. This Corinthian man was committing incest.  And this was the judgment of Paul not because of his opinion, but because incest is wrong according to God’s word.  And today, also, the elders of the church implement can pass judgment and implement special discipline when people engage in behaviour that is wrong according to God’s word.
    4. And in general life also, when we see people engaging in behaviour that God’s word calls sin, we also can pass judgment. And we better understand this.  Today it is homosexuality.  Most people now say that homosexuality is fine.  Who are you to judge?  But we must say that God has judged.  And God says homosexuality is sin.  And we must echo God.  For if we don’t say this, then we will have nothing to say tomorrow when society decides that polygamy or incest between consenting adults or bestiality or pedophilia or even some forms of murder are fine.


Brothers and Sisters, shortly we will pray for those who we know and love who are under the special discipline of the church or who have been excommunicated.  We will ask the Lord to bring them to faith and repentance, and to restore them to the fellowship of the church.


But may we remain faithful when we must deal with delinquent members, for the honour of the Lord, for the purity of the church of Christ, and for the eternal welfare of those who come under the discipline of the church.  Amen.