Like a Tax Collector and a Sinner

April 7, 2019 in Authority, Bible - NT - Matthew, Communion, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Responsibility, Sacraments, Sanctification, Satan, Sin

Matthew 18:15-18

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 

The Scriptures make plain that our love for God is directly connected to and demonstrated by the fruit in our lives (Luke 6:43-49). As we have seen in the Gospel of John, love for God is not defined by our feelings but by God’s law-word: Jesus says that if we love Him, we will obey His commandments (Jn. 14:15; 15:10-17). Because our love for God is revealed in such visible fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-26), Jesus instructs us in our text today how we are to respond when a brother fails to bear such fruit and sins against us.

Recently, we went through this passage in detail. We saw that following private attempts to confirm that our brother really has sinned and that he refuses to repent, the church is to come alongside this brother publicly and correct him. When the church acts in this way, then the brother is summoned “to hear the church” – to take ownership for his sin, make concrete changes in his attitude and actions, and submit to his brethren in the Lord. This is the Lord’s calling upon us as His people.

However, if he refuses “even to hear the church”, then Jesus instructs us, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Mt 18:17). Jesus insists that we are no longer to treat him as an erring brother in need of correction but as an unbeliever in need of the saving grace of God in Christ. This action is a mercy to him for it endeavors to speak God’s own word to the man, warning him that a refusal to humble himself now will only incur God’s judgment later. After all, Jesus’ command is accompanied by the sober promise that heaven itself will concur in the sentence of excommunication: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Mt 18:18).

As elders it is our duty to apply Jesus’ words to a member of our church. A little over a year ago, we told the church that —— was refusing to repent of his contribution to persistent strife and discord in his marriage and home despite receiving over a year of marital counseling with three different pastors in our community. At the time, we asked you to come alongside him in prayer and, as your relationship permitted, accountability. Rather than respond to this attempt at increased accountability with humility, however, he has steadfastly refused “to hear the church.” He has absented himself from worship and from meaningful accountability. He has refused the elders’ offers to meet with him and help him grow. Most recently, he has asked that we remove him from membership at Trinity.

Since he has refused “to hear the church”, our obligation is to put him out of the church. Therefore, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we, the elders of Trinity Church, hereby excommunicate ——- from the church of Jesus Christ and hand him over to Satan, praying that God may yet have mercy on him and restore him to the true faith, that his soul may be saved in the Last Day (1 Cor 5:4-5).

As we do so, we would deliver to you two exhortations. First, remember prayer. As you think of —-, please pray that the Lord would humble him, expose his sin, and bring him to a true faith in Christ. As you think of his family who remains in the church, please pray that God would empower them, by His grace, to continue to serve the Lord in humility, to honor —— as a husband and father, and to be faithful witnesses to —— in his unbelief that they might be a means of touching his heart with the Gospel. Remember prayer.

Second, remember humility. Apart from the grace of God, we none of us would humble ourselves before Him. Our hearts are deceitful, our thoughts are vain, and our consciences are darkened. We all of us stand in constant need of God’s grace and mercy. So if you meet or interact with —–, be gracious, be kind, be loving, express your desire for his salvation, and your commitment to the well-being of both him and his family. Remember that Jesus regularly ministered to tax collectors and sinners, bringing them the truth of the Gospel in the hope that they would repent and turn in faith to Him. —– needs the Gospel. But hear the Word of the Lord: so do you. So beware the lies of the devil, the lusts of your own heart, and the snares of the world. Remember humility.

And so reminded this morning of our call to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, let us kneel and acknowledge our sin to Him, praying for His mercy and grace. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Restoration to Fellowship

February 17, 2019 in Authority, Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Confession, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations, Responsibility, Sin

2 Corinthians 2:5–11 (NKJV)

5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. 6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, 7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. 8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. 9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

For the last couple weeks we have been studying Matthew 18, in part to prepare for today. We have seen that Jesus teaches us to deal with our brother’s sin compassionately and to rejoice over the one lost sheep who is restored to the fold. Today the elders have the privilege of restoring a lost sheep to worship and to the Lord’s Supper. We are pleased to report that after —- sin was exposed, he responded by confessing his sin and professing repentance. For the last few months he has been walking out this repentance and has humbly submitted to the discipline of the church. He has sought the forgiveness of those he has wronged, has developed a plan for accountability and growth, and has striven to reconcile with his wife. Therefore, based on his profession of repentance and the fruit that has accompanied that profession, the elders rejoice to restore him.

Paul provides us guidance for this action in our text today. Paul had written to the Corinthians commanding them to censure a man in their congregation who was committing sexual sin. The Corinthians acted on Paul’s command and inflicted a fitting punishment upon him – they suspended him from the Supper. It appears that after they disciplined him the man was moved to repentance. Consequently, in our text today, Paul urges them to forgive the man and to restore him to fellowship in the body. Paul writes, “you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.”

Jay Adams notes that the “word reaffirm is a specialized term… meaning to officially reinstate.” As part of the restoration process, therefore, the elders want to give you opportunity to reaffirm your love for —— and to assure him that he is forgiven and welcomed back into the congregation. Hence, we have asked him to come up front, to confess his sin to you here in the assembly, and to seek your forgiveness. At the conclusion of his letter, I will invite you to reaffirm your love for him; to declare loudly and thankfully, “You are forgiven. Alleluia!”

Form for Readmission to Fellowship:

Public Confession

Pastor: Brothers and sisters, this sheep that was lost has been found and restored to the fold. So let us reaffirm our love for him.

Congregation: You are forgiven! Alleluia!

Officer Prayer

Family of God, moments such as this remind us how great the Father’s love is for His flock. He forgives us and removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west, He remembers our sins no more. Though our sins be like scarlet, yet, through the shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ, He makes them white as snow, white as wool. He grants us forgiveness freely and fully so that we can, in turn, forgive one another. And so, reminded of the greatness of His love and the freeness of His forgiveness, let us all together confess our sins to the Lord and seek His face. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Restoring a Brother in Sin

February 10, 2019 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Children, Confession, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Meditations, Parents, Sanctification, Sin

Galatians 6:1 (NKJV)

1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

In our sermon today, we continue our study of Matthew 18. Last week we saw that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is he who deals with his own sin relentlessly and who deals with his brother’s sin compassionately. The truly great disciple is the one who realizes how much he has been forgiven by God and who therefore extends to his brethren the same grace that God has extended to him. As Jesus teaches in Matthew 7, he removes the plank from his own eye before attempting to remove the speck from his brother’s.

So notice that in our text today Paul insists on this same thing: it is he who is spiritual who is in a position to help a sinning brother. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness… The spiritual man who has removed the plank from his own eye, who has dealt with his own sin relentlessly, is in a position to remove the speck from his brother’s eye, is able to deal with his brother’s sin compassionately.

So what does it mean to deal with our brother’s sin compassionately? We will explore that in more detail in our sermon. However, Paul gives us the basic outline. We are to restore our brother when he is ensnared in sin. We are to pursue him even as the shepherd pursues the one lost sheep. And how are we to pursue him? Paul tells us that we are to do so in a spirit of gentleness. Webster defines gentleness as “mildness of temper; sweetness of disposition; meekness; kindness; benevolence.” Knowing how much the Lord has forgiven us, knowing the way in which God in Christ has pursued us as lost sheep ourselves, we are to pursue our brother in kind.

We must be careful, however, that we not mistake a spirit of gentleness for a spirit of indifference or foolishness. After all, Paul tells us that while restoring our brother, we are to consider ourselves “lest you also be tempted.” Satan would like nothing more than to tempt us into sin so that rather than help our brother who is overtaken in a trespass we join him there.

So, parents, consider your calling to restore your disobedient children. When your child disobeys you, your calling is to restore him to fellowship with God and with you in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. But here’s the dilemma we often face: when we are qualified to restore our child we are often disposed to overlook his disobedience but when we are zealous to discipline him it is often because we are not qualified. What do I mean by this?

Well imagine that you come home from a great day at work or you wake up from a particularly great night’s sleep. You’re walking faithfully with the Lord and well with your spouse. Everything is right with the world. Then junior decides to disobey you – defying a clear command that you have given. You are qualified to discipline. What’s your temptation? Your temptation is to let the disobedience pass. But what should happen? You should thank God for the opportunity to discipline your child and you should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.

But now imagine a different day – it was a stressful day at work, you had a terrible night’s sleep, you and your spouse just had an argument and you haven’t read your Bible in a couple days. You are on edge and junior decides to disobey you. You are not qualified to discipline. But what’s your temptation? Your temptation is to bear down on him with both barrells blazing. But what should happen? You should repent of your disqualification and then discipline your child in a spirit of gentleness. After all, your calling is to restore him not traumatize him.

And so reminded that we are to restore a brother who is overtaken in a trespass in a spirit of gentleness, that we are to deal with their sin compassionately, let us confess to the Lord that we often show indifference to those in sin or that we treat them harshly. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.

Children are a Gift

December 30, 2018 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Children, Christmas, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Marriage, Meditations, Sexuality

Psalm 127:3–5 (NKJV)

3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

This morning we meditate on Psalm 45 – a song of love, a song that celebrates the wedding day of the King of Israel. We will meditate on the King and Queen in their glory and rejoice in the ideal of wedded love that is presented to us. Psalm 45, as we will see, closes with this promise to the King and his Queen: “Instead of your fathers shall be your sons, whom you shall make princes in all the earth” (45:16). The psalm, in other words, anticipates the fruitfulness of the King and Queen. God would bless them with children.

It the blessing of children that Psalm 127 sings. Behold children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is his reward. Children are a heritage from the Lord – children are God’s reminder to us that he intends to bless us and to cause His people to inherit the earth. The fruit of the womb is his reward – a treasure far greater than second homes, new cars, expensive toys, or undistracted minds. But children are not an automatic blessing – the blessing of children is contigent upon parents raising their children in the nurture of the Lord so that those children fight alongside them against God’s enemies. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. Does it cost to have children? Absolutely. Is it at times a struggle to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Absolutely. But the psalms orient us to the blessing.

Increasingly, however, our broader society tempts us to view children as a burden rather than a blessing. Our culture of death has not only aborted over 60 million children, but is now making the morning after pill increasingly available to stave off the supposed curse of fertility. Rather than extolling the glory of sexual self-control and celebrating the wonder of children conceived in wedlock, we have endeavored to divorce the sexual act from fertility by murdering the unwanted by-products of our sinful self-indulgence. Tired of confining the fire of our passion to the fireplace, we have lighted it in the middle of the house – and now the house is burning down around us. Rampant divorce, skyrocketing rates of mental illness, the #metoo movement, homosexuality, transgenderism – all are the fruit of our hatred of God and our hatred of the fruit of the womb.

So what of you? Have you given thanks for the blessing of children? Parents, are you giving thanks for the opportunity to teach and train your children, to disciple them daily, to show them the paths of the Lord, and to invest in them? Grandparents, are you giving thanks for the opportunity to invest in the lives of your grandchildren and point them to the greatness of the Lord? Congregation, when the cries of children are reverberating in our sanctuary and you’re having a hard time following the sermon, are you grateful for the blessing of children?

Brothers and sisters, let us remember on this First Sunday of Christmas that Mary responded in faith to the news that she would bear a child. She rejoiced despite the challenges she would face. So let us imitate her by giving thanks for the children that God has given us and anticipating with joy the arrival of others. And let us confess that as a society we have despised the little ones – as you are able, let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Expose the Unfruitful Deeds of Darkness

November 25, 2018 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Communion, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Heart, King Jesus, Marriage, Meditations, Responsibility, Sexuality

Ephesians 5:8–12 (NKJV)

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

Paul reminds us in our text that when the Lord saves us, He delivers us from darkness and brings us into the light. Whereas we once walked in darkness, subject to the prince of darkness and in bondage to our own sinful nature, God in Christ has brought us out of Satan’s kingdom and made us part of His own. He forgives our sins and renews us in the inner man, giving us a new heart by the power of His Spirit. He makes us to be children of light.

As those adopted into His family and made citizens of His kingdom, He now summons us to walk as children of light. The Lord of Light pours out the Spirit of Light upon children of light. And the Spirit so works in the hearts of those who have truly believed that they practice, in Paul’s words, goodness, righteousness, and truth. The Spirit bears rich and abundant fruit in the lives of His own. He causes us to walk in God’s commandments.

Consequently, those who have been saved want to have open lives. They want to dwell in the light and to have the vestiges of darkness removed from their lives. In Paul’s words, they have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. They don’t hide their emails or their phone conversations. They don’t engage in filthy speech or coarse jesting. They don’t look at pornographic pictures or develop intimate relationships with persons other than their spouse. They cultivate a love for goodness, righteousness, and truth.

While the calling to expose the unfruitful works of darkness is often uncomfortable and unpleasant, it is our duty to do so. We have just welcomed the —- household into membership. I now have the sober duty to announce that the elders are publicly suspending —- from the Lord’s Supper for the sins of adultery and deceit. For several years, —- has been living in sin, preying on several different women, some of whom have attended our congregation. He has been deceiving his wife and others and has been repeatedly unfaithful to her. Thankfully, —- is professing repentance. However, given the length of time he has lived a life of deceit regarding the nature of their relationship and his own walk with the Lord, the elders have determined to suspend him from the Supper until he manifests fruits in keeping with repentance.

We know that this will come as a shock to you even as it has come as a shock to his family and to the elders. We had believed that —- was walking faithfully with the Lord and that he was faithfully loving his wife. The truth, however, is that he has been deceiving us all. He has been having fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness rather than exposing them. Thankfully the truth emerged this last weekend and there is now opportunity for genuine repentance and change.

So please pray for the —-. Pray for —- – that he would truly repent and repudiate the unfruitful deeds of darkness that have bound him for the last several years; that he would seek out help and, by the power of God’s Spirit, break with the sin that has enslaved him. Pray for —- – that she would continue to lean on the Lord, entrust herself to His loving care, and treasure her daughters. Pray for their children – that they would know the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ, experience the comforting presence of their Heavenly Father, and love and obey their mom in these trying times.

Moments like this should cause each of us to reflect on the treacherous nature of our own hearts and the deceitfulness of sin. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” (17:9) That judgment pertains to your heart and to mine. It was to forgive the guilt of our sin and to transform our hearts that Jesus gave His life on the cross and then rose again from the dead. So if you are in sin, ensnared by the darkness, come to the light before it is too late. Confess your sin in Jesus’ name and seek the forgiveness of the Lord.

Sobered by the pervasiveness of sin, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Restoration to the Lord’s Table

November 11, 2018 in Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Sacraments, Thankfulness

2 Corinthians 2:5-8, 10-11 (NKJV)

5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. 6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, 7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. 8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him… 10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

Despite numerous problems in the church at Corinth, they responded to Paul’s exhortations in First Corinthians in faith and obedience. Paul had commanded them to publicly censure one of their members who was living in sin (1 Cor 5) and the Corinthians responded in faith, doing that very thing. In our text today, Paul counsels them what to do now since the man they had censured had repented and sought forgiveness from the Lord and from the church.

The Corinthians thought that perhaps they needed Paul’s approval before welcoming the man back into their fellowship. But Paul insists that they didn’t need his approval – after all, he wasn’t the one who had been wronged. He writes, But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.” Paul wasn’t the one grieved but them; so it wasn’t Paul who needed to restore the man but them. They had disciplined him originally and, now that he was repentant and desirous of reconciliation, they were entirely capable of restoring him to fellowship on their own. “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority,” he writes, “is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.” They had disciplined him in love; now they ought much more to receive him back in love.

In accordance with Paul’s words here to the Corinthians, the elders have the joyful privilege of restoring — to fellowship in this congregation. — has taken concrete steps of repentance and has expressed to the elders her grief over her sin and her desire to be reconciled to the Lord and the church. —, her new husband, has done likewise. While we plan to read their letters at our next Head of Household Meeting, we wanted to take this opportunity to restore them to the Table and reaffirm our love for them.

As we do so, Paul reminds us not to let Satan take advantage of us. In times like this, Satan plots against us and seeks to undermine the work that God is doing. So how might Satan scheme to turn this happy moment sorrowful? First, he might tempt you to respond to their restoration like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The elder brother resented his father’s open-hearted and festal acceptance of his brother back into the home. And so what of you? Are you prepared to rejoice in God’s munificent grace to — and to pray that He would pour out yet more grace upon them?

Second, Satan might tempt you to look down on them, imagining yourself superior. But Paul asked the Corinthians, when they were boasting over one another, “What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it, then why do you boast as though it is something of your own?” Paul urges us to remember that it is the grace of God that enables us to walk uprightly. Consequently, when one of our own stumbles into sin, it is not an occasion for pride but humility, recognizing our own propensity to stray from the Lord. And when one of our own repents and returns to the Lord, it is an occasion for joy and thanksgiving to God for His outpouring of grace. As the Scriptures declare, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Reminded of God’s forgiving grace and that He extends this grace freely to all who call upon Him in truth, let us confess that we often respond to His grace to others with resentment or a sense of superiority. And as we are able, let us kneel before the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Discipline is Purposely Painful

September 30, 2018 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Discipline, Meditations, Parents

Hebrews 12:11 (NKJV)

11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Discipline should be a lively topic in our homes. We ought frequently to be reminding one another of the reasons for chastening. And as we do so, the text before us today should be on our lips.

Notice that Hebrews tells us two things about discipline. First, discipline is purposely painful. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful… No discipline seems enjoyable at the time it is administered; its intention is to be painful. And so, you children out there, when your parents give you a spanking or when your parents give you a consequence for your disobedience – don’t expect the discipline to be enjoyable. Paul tells us that it is supposed to be painful because it is the pain that trains us and fashions us; the pain that teaches us to avoid disobedience in the future.

Most of us parents are adept at delivering this lesson to our children. But how often do we deliver this message to ourselves? Brothers and sisters, the discipline of the Lord does not seem pleasant at the time. When the Lord puts us through some trial or when the Lord disciplines us for sinning against Him, why is it that we expect things to be jolly? He is sharpening us; disciplining us; chastening us. And no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful. We expect our children to learn that; so why do we have such a hard time applying it to ourselves? Discipline is purposely painful.

The second thing Paul teaches us is that while discipline is painful temporarily, it is not intended to end in pain. Nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. The ultimate goal of godly discipline is to cultivate the peaceable fruit of righteousness in our lives. Our Lord is training us, sanctifying us, making us more holy. And that which He uses to accomplish this growth is discipline. And it is this goal that should guide us as parents as well. We ought not to discipline our children to vent our anger or to express our frustration or to cover our embarrassment. Discipline is for their good, to train them in righteousness. Its goal is growth.

But note that this growth is not an automatic biproduct of discipline. If we are to see the fruit of righteousness in our lives then we must, in the words of our text, be trained by the discipline. In other words, we must take the discipline to heart and learn from it. We must not harden ourselves to the discpline; must not complain that we have been treated wrongly; must not kick against the goads. Rather we must take the discipline to heart and learn the lesson.

And so, children, how are you responding to the godly discipline of your parents? Are you taking that discipline to heart? Are you acknowledging God’s authority in your life by receiving your parents’ discipline? Does discipline produce in you the peaceful fruit of righteousness? Do you respond to their discipline with humility? Or are you becoming angry, resentful, bitter, or depressed? And what of you adults? Are you responding to the Lord’s chastisement with humility? Or are you becoming angry, resentful, bitter, or depressed? Does a dark cloud surround you when you’ve been disciplined or does the day shine brighter because of it?

As we come into our Father’s presence this morning let us confess that we often respond to His discipline poorly, grumbling and complaining, growing angry or resentful. And as you are able let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Save a Soul from Death

June 24, 2018 in Bible - NT - James, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Sacraments

James 5:19–20 (NKJV)
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

One of our duties as a congregation is to come alongside one another and assist one another to walk faithfully with the Lord. Our enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil – are relentless in their attacks upon our faith and faithfulness to the Lord. Consequently, the Lord has given us brothers and sisters to assist us in the fight. It is this dynamic that James addresses in our text. Let us note a few things.

First, notice that James views it as possible that those who profess faith in Christ be tempted to apostatize. Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth – each of us has names that we can attach to James’ warning. If we have walked long in the faith, we have known those who wander from the truth and fall into error and sin.

Second, James views it as possible that those who are so tempted can be reclaimed. Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back… It is possible, by the grace of God, to be God’s means of bringing an erring brother back to the truth. It is possible, in James’ words, to turn a sinner from the error of his ways.

Finally, James encourages us to reclaim those who have wandered for, in doing so, we save the erring brother from certain destruction. Brethren, 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 and cover a multitude of sins. This is the great privilege of helping those who are wandering astray.

Today the elders perform the sober duty of announcing to you that our beloved sister and daughter, —-, is wandering from the truth…. Consequently, we are publicly suspending her from fellowship in the Supper and calling upon you, her brothers and sisters in the Lord, to come alongside her and attempt to rescue her from the error of her ways. She knows the right thing to do and often desires to do it but has thus far lacked the strength of purpose to carry out what is good and right. So what can you do?

First, regardless of whether you personally know —-, please pray for her and for those who do know her, especially her family, that —- would be disposed to listen to them, to do what is right, and to return to the truth with a whole heart. Pray that she wouldn’t flee from the truth but embrace it with a whole heart.

Second, if you know —-, please endeavor to reach out to her. Consider writing her a letter. Remind her of your love for her, of the Lord’s love for her, and urge her to return to the truth. The Lord is gracious and longsuffering and does not desire the death of a sinner but that one repent and return to Him. So this is what we desire for —-. Don’t treat her self-righteously; don’t lecture her in haughtiness or pride; appeal to her as a beloved sister.

And so, having been notified of —- sin, we are reminded of how susceptible we all are to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. So let us confess our own need of God’s forgiving grace and His merciful intervention to keep us in the truth. And as we confess, and as you are able, let us kneel together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Church Discipline: Suspension

February 18, 2018 in Bible - NT - 2 Thessalonians, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Sin

2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 (NKJV)
13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

Several weeks ago we spoke of the biblical rationale for practicing church discipline. In our text today, Paul commands the Thessalonian church to implement the first stage of that public discipline, a stage we commonly refer to as Suspension from the Lord’s Supper.

Paul begins with an exhortation to the congregation at large, “brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” Paul’s command presumes that it is a temptation to grow weary in doing good – after all, we don’t warn against things that aren’t threats. The temptations of the Evil One, combined with the allurements of the world and the sinful desires of our own hearts, often make the task of doing good challenging. So Paul commands us never to grow weary.

Paul then commands the Thessalonians to practice a particular good – to take seriously disobedience to God within the congregation. Paul knows that if a congregation permits blatant sin to go unchecked, then that sin will spread. As Paul says elsewhere, a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough (1 Cor 5:6). So Paul writes, “if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” Paul’s command involves two parts – first, the Thessalonians are to note – that is, mark, point out, or publicly identify – that person. Second, they are to refuse to keep company with him – that is, they are to suspend normal fellowship with that person, including sharing in the Lord’s Supper. Why? Note Paul’s words: “that he may be ashamed.” In other words, the purpose of the discipline is to awaken the sinner to the seriousness of his sin. As Solomon writes in Proverbs 20:30, “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, As do stripes the inner depths of the heart.”

It is in keeping with Paul’s words here and elsewhere (1 Cor 5:4) that the elders announce the Suspension of ——– from fellowship in the Lord’s Supper. Despite private counsel and warnings for the last year and more, ——– has hardened his heart in opposition to the wife of his youth, has ceased marital counseling, and has declared his intention to seek a divorce, something that God hates (Mal 2:16). Because ——– has failed to give heed to our private exhortations, we are now announcing this to the church, praying that God will use this to convict and restore him to his family and to the church.

In so announcing, we would remind you of Paul’s exhortation, “do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Your duty is to pray for and, as occasion permits, admonish ——– as a professing Christian to repent of his sinful conduct and to strive for reconciliation with his wife and with this body. And remember that you are to do this in a spirit of gentleness, taking care lest you also be tempted (cf. Gal 6:1-5). So how might you be tempted at this time?

  • Pride – Imagining that you are above such sins and morally superior to ——–. Such is not the case. Were it not for the grace of God, we would all be in like circumstances. So please pray for ——–, asking God to show him mercy.
  • Gossip – Using this as an opportunity to speak uncharitably about ——– or about his wife and children rather than as an opportunity to pray for him and them, expressing a longing for his restoration and love and affection for those he is hurting by his sin.
  • Slander – Making or entertaining false accusations against the elders, accusing them of heavy-handedness or insensitivity in disciplining him.
  • Flattery – In conversations with ——–, permitting him to blame others for his plight rather than urging him to take responsibility for it. We should want him to deal with his sin in a godly fashion – by confessing it to the Lord and forsaking it (2 Cor 7:8-12).

All this reminds us of our susceptibility to sin and our need of God’s grace and mercy; reminds us of our need to humble our hearts regularly and to confess our sins to the Lord. So let us confess our sins to the Lord and, as you are able, let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of private confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.