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Sin causes pain in the body of Christ

October 19, 2010

Image by Corbis

I’ve been suffering with bursitis and tendonitis in my left hip and leg for the last year. The pain in this one area affects the functioning of my whole body and my lifestyle. Limping and favoring that one side throws my back off. I can’t sit at my computer working for long periods of time. I could keep going, but I know you’ve got the point.

Paul’s body analogy for the church helps us understand so much about the body of Christ. For instance, when one member suffers or rejoices every member suffers or rejoices with her. (See 1 Corinthians 12:26.) We’ve probably all experienced this. For instance, if a fellow believer loses a loved one, we all gather around her with prayer, encouragement, and support.

But what about sin? Let me clarify before we go further: We all still sin. None of us will be perfect this side of eternity.

However, there is a difference between a repentant believer and a Christian who blatantly and unrepentantly continues in a habit of sin.

What should the church do with that kind of situation?

Paul dealt with this in his first letter to the Corinthian church. A member of that church had an ongoing sexual relationship with his stepmother. He was unrepentant and the church had done nothing to stop him. In fact, Paul said they should have “been filled with grief” and put the man “out of your fellowship” (1 Cor 5:2).

Hmm. Doesn’t that seem harsh? Shouldn’t we be more tolerant than that? Where does Paul get that anyway? Paul got it straight from Jesus! In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus laid out a process for dealing with an unrepentant brother living a lifestyle of sin. Here it is in a nutshell:

  • Go to the brother or sister in private and show them their sin.
  • If they refuse to repent, go back with one or two witnesses.
  • If they still won’t listen, bring them before the church.
  • Still unrepentant? Remove them from the fellowship of the church.

What? Why? Two important goals sometime require this drastic measure.

1.      The health and witness of the rest of the body. Just like pain in one part of your physical body affects the whole, sin in one part of the body of Christ affects every member. The actions of an unrepentant sinner can bring temptation, pain, anger – the list goes on! And it affects the operation and effectiveness of that church within the Kingdom of God.

2.      The restoration of the unrepentant sinner. When Paul gave his instructions to the Corinthian church to expel the sinner from their fellowship his hope was that the man’s “sinful nature may be destroyed” (1 Cor 5:5). The end goal was for the discipline to bring the man to repentance so his relationship with God and the church body could be restored. I love that God graciously recorded the outcome of this particular situation for us in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Based on what we read in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, the church followed Paul’s direction regarding the discipline of the unrepentant member. And in fact, the man was sorrowed over the separation and brought to repentance! So Paul directed the church to bring him back into fellowship with love and encouragement.

Not many churches today practice discipline as Jesus commanded.  Jesus’ teaching is clear. The example of the New Testament church demonstrates the benefit to the unrepentant sinner and the church body. I have witnessed the benefit of it in the lives of Christians.

So, why do we hesitate? Why don’t all our churches practice discipline as Jesus taught? Why do you think? What have you seen?

 

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2010 6:50 am

    Kathy ~ Thank you for tackling such a tough biblical topic so well!

  2. Julie Sanders permalink
    October 19, 2010 10:31 am

    I think we hesitate because no one wants to be labeled as “unloving,” but you are so right that Jesus gave us the pattern. He tells us how to do this in a loving way. I have seen church discipline carried out in a loving way with an emphasis on restoration. The body grieves together over sin, and it underscores our corporate longing to obey God’s commands. When we follow through with church discipline, it strengthens our accountability, our love for each other, and our testimony to the world. Just read 1 John this morning and am reminded that even the process of cleaning up sing can and should be done in love.

    • October 19, 2010 10:53 am

      Thank you for sharing that Julie. You’re right, the goal is the restoration of the sinner and protection of the body. All because of love.

  3. October 19, 2010 11:23 pm

    What a tough topic to tackle!

    I immediately thought of these verses from Galatians 6:1-2 – “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each others’ burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” With these thoughts and others on forgiveness, I think we can sometimes feel like we should just “forgive and forget.” But even these verses here in Galatians (which are great ones… as are the verses that immediately follow these two), Paul is teaching that sin must be dealt with and not overlooked. Dealt with in love and with caution.

    I think people may sometimes fear “harsh” discipline (or use “tough love”) because they don’t want to turn anyone away from the faith (or the people). However, as you showed with the verses from Matthew 18 and Corinthians, we can disciple in love and restore and welcome back in love.

    I think of these verses as well:

    Proverbs 28:23 – “He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor
    than he who has a flattering tongue. ”

    2 Timothy 4:2 – “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

    Revelation 3:19 – “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

    Very interesting discussion!

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