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Running The Race Together Part 5

July 21, 2019 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Running The Race Together

Topic: Church Discipline Passage: Matthew 18:17–20, 1 Corinthians 5:1–13



An Exposition of Matthew 18:17-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   July 21, 2019

Series: Running The Race Together

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



At the heart of this “Running The Race Together” sermon series is the Bible’s teaching that God’s will for us is to run the Christian life together, encouraging one another to stay on track, guarding one another from the pitfalls along the way, and seeking to rescue those who have wandered off course. We don’t want a church culture in which we let people make a shipwreck of their faith – and then after the fact we look upon the ruins and say, ‘Oh my, so much promise, all gone to pieces, what a shame!’ What a shame indeed – that we sat idly by and watched it all go down! Instead, we want a church culture in which we are pursuing holiness together.

In this particular sermon we will be talking about late-stage compassionate confrontation and the eventual church discipline that must take place when a wayward runner refuses to accept correction. Late-stage compassionate confrontation doesn’t come out of nowhere after a church community has been asleep at the wheel, but grows out of a healthy congregation that is in the regular practice of early-stage forms of compassionate confrontation.

What does a ‘pursuing holiness together’ church culture look like? It begins in the gracious soil of mutual love. Our hearts are knit together, our lives are shared with each other, and we truly want one another to flourish in the Lord.

Then in this gracious soil of mutual love there is the grace of preventative exhortation (see Hebrews 3:12-13). Before sin captures any of us, we are already in the habit of engaging seriously with each other in an effort to protect each other from the encroachment of sin and to edify one another in the riches of God’s grace.

Even so, there are times when we do get stuck in sin. So there is also the grace of initial one-on-one confrontation after a brother or sister does fall into sin (Matthew 18:15). This compassionate confrontation isn’t nit-picky meddling but a loving response to the brother or sister who has been captured by the craftiness of sin.

Proactive encouragement, preventative exhortation, and one-on-one confrontation ought to be happening on a regular basis within congregational life. By God’s grace, we won’t need to resort to mid-stage and late-stage confrontation as frequently, and yet we need to be prepared for it.

When initial confrontation doesn’t bear the desired fruit, there is the grace of follow-up confrontation by a two- or three-person rescue team (Matthew 18:16). This small rescue team must establish the facts of the case and then, on the basis of those established facts, urge the sinning brother or sister to repent and return to the ways of the Lord.

When the follow-up confrontation by the two- or three-person rescue team doesn’t bear the desired fruit, then comes the late-stage confrontation by the whole congregation.


This brings us to the two passages that we will ponder in this sermon – Matthew 18:17-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Let me first read Matthew 18:17-20, then later I will the 1 Corinthians 5 passage. Our Lord Jesus Christ says:

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:17-20)


In Matthew 18, the compassionate confrontation began with a one-on-one conversation (v. 15), then proceeded to a two- or three-person rescue team seeking to win back the sinning brother (v. 16). If these first two rounds of confrontation don’t result in the brother’s repentance, then we go to round three: “tell it to the church.” At this point the two- or three-person rescue team (from v. 16) testifies to the whole church family about the sinning brother or sister who refuses to repent.

“Tell It To The Church”: Three Things The Church Family Must Do

Now what is the church supposed to do when this happens? Three things.

1) The church family is obligated to receive the testimony of the two or three witnesses. This is obvious: if the initial confronter must “tell it to the church” and his fellow witnesses must testify about it, then we are obligated to receive, listen, and evaluate what is said.

2) The church family must stand together in unity about the issues at hand. This is implied by the fact that the church is supposed to address the sinning brother and call him to repent. But how can the church family issue a credible and compelling call to the sinning brother, if the church family is divided in its assessment? If 52% of the church family was convinced that the sinning brother had indeed sinned, but 48% of the church family was not convinced, that would not result in a clear and compelling call to repentance. The process of compassionate confrontation and church discipline is not intended to divide the congregation, but rather to unify the congregation in its opposition to sin and in its love for the straying sheep. So, a 52%–48% divide is unacceptable. Such a slim majority will probably only succeed at undermining the church’s unity and dividing us from one another. The fact that the church family is called to speak to the sinning brother and, beyond that, to enact discipline against him if he refuses to repent, implies that the church family must be united in its speaking and in its doing. So the church family must experience overwhelming consensus that the judgment of the two or three witnesses is correct.

As a church family listens to and deliberates about the testimony of the two- or three-person rescue team, we should give great deference to that team. If those two or three witnesses are faithful brothers and sisters whose character we have come to know and trust – in other words, if we know them to be credible witnesses – then we should take what they say with great seriousness. A church family must have very good reasons and strong counter-evidence to overturn the judgment of the rescue team.

3) Once the church family has received and approved the judgment of the two or three witnesses, then the third thing that the church family must do is speak – it must speak with one voice to the sinning brother or sister, calling upon him or her to repent. That the church must so speak is clearly implied by the words “if he refuses to listen even to the church” (v. 17), which means that the church has spoken to the wayward sheep.

How shall we speak to the sinning brother? If the sinning brother is in attendance at the meeting where we are sorting all this out, we could speak to him then and there. If the sinning brother is not in attendance, then we could send a representative delegation to speak to him or we could send a letter, whatever seems best. Individual congregants could plead with the sinning brother as opportunities allow. But one way or another – or in a combination of ways – the church must speak with one voice, and with great compassion. Our desire is that the sinning brother reverse his course and return to the path of righteousness.


That was round three, now to round four: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (v. 17)

Every Self-Respecting Entity Practices Discipline

Before we dig into this, I think it would be worthwhile to stand back for a moment and just recognize the fact that every self-respecting entity practices discipline, polices its borders, and purges itself of contaminants.

If a football team comes to the conclusion that you are not good for the franchise – whether because of incompetence on the field or scandalous behavior off the field – you’re gone.

If a governing board realizes that it can no longer support the vision and leadership of the CEO, he or she is cut loose. 

If the border patrol has good reason to believe that you are up to no good, you may get taken in for questioning or turned back.

If a jury renders a judgment of guilty in a criminal trial, then you are removed from society-at-large and handed over to corrections.

These kinds of disciplinary actions are happening all the time. Any given disciplinary action may or may not be just, may or may not be done with the right motivations, and may or may not bear good fruit. But the point to note is that all self-respecting entities seek to practice discipline and remove those who don’t meet the standard of approval.

As a church family, there is a great deal more to consider, but not less: we also ought to be a self-respecting entity that pursues the overall health of the whole body – and this means that cancers and diseases must be removed. In saying that the church should be self-respecting, I don’t mean that we should stand in awe of ourselves; what I mean is that we ought to be profoundly respectful of what the Lord has called us to be and do. We must endeavor to be and do all that God has called us to be and do, and when someone among us persists in conduct that undermines our ability to be faithful, then we will need to remove that sinning brother or sister.

Enacting Discipline According to Matthew 18:17-18

Verse 17 points us to a judgment that must be made after a sinning brother has rejected all three rounds of confrontation. He didn’t listen to the initial confronter, he didn’t listen to two or three witnesses, and he didn’t listen to the church. Now, after all that, a judgment must be made, namely, that this sinning brother can no longer be regarded as a brother. The instruction is to render a judgment – and this instruction is actually addressed to the individual who was the initial confronter (in v. 15), but it would also apply to every individual member of the church family (in v. 17). The instruction is “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” – in other words, you must now regard him as an outsider, an unbeliever, a pagan. John MacArthur’s comment is spot on: the church must now “regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother.”[1]

When the confrontation process began, the sinning brother was regarded as a brother (v. 15), as an insider, as a part of the church family. The sinning brother was regarded as a brother throughout the confrontation process, up until that point when he comes to be regarded “as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In making this judgment, we are not claiming to know whether the sinning brother is, in fact, an unbeliever who needs to be savingly converted or a backslidden believer who shall soon recover his footing. We don’t know, one way or the other. He might be an unbeliever who needs to repent and believe the gospel. Or he might be a wayward child of God who needs to repent and believe the gospel again! We do not know. But what we do know is that his persistence in sin means that we can no longer regard him as a believer, we can no longer treat him as a brother, we can no longer say with confidence that this man is a fellow disciple.

As we move to verse 18, we see that this judgment about the sinning brother is, in fact, a judgment that we make together. Verse 17’s “let him be to you” (italics added) put the emphasis on your individual responsibility to think and act a certain way. But verse 18 puts the emphasis on the church’s responsibility to take corporate action: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you [plural] bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you [plural] loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In other words, it is the entire church (of v. 17) that makes the judgment that an unrepentant brother can no longer be regarded as a brother; it is the entire church that decides to expel him from the fellowship and now treat him as an outsider. When we do this, what we are actually doing is exercising the authority of binding and loosing. The question is: What is that? What is the authority to bind and to loose?

When people talk about the church’s authority to bind and to loose, they may talk about it four different ways – and they all have to do with making distinctions.

Way #1: It is the church’s authority to declare which doctrine is true and which doctrine is false.

Way #2: It is the church’s authority to declare which conduct is right and which conduct is wrong.

Way #3: It is the church’s authority to declare which people are in the right (because they believe and live consistently with the biblical standard for true doctrine and right conduct) and which people are in the wrong (because they believe and/or live contrary to the biblical standard for true doctrine and right conduct.

Way #4: It is the church’s authority to declare which people are forgiven (because they continue to live in the blessed reality of turning away from sin and trusting in Jesus) and which people are not forgiven (because they are not living in the blessed reality of repentance and faith).

Some people may put more emphasis on any one of these four points, but there is really no need to split hairs between them. The bottom line is that the church has the authority and responsibility to declare the biblical standard of doctrine and conduct; and the church has the authority and responsibility to render a judgment on whether a person meets or fails to meet this God-given standard; and the church has the authority and responsibility to enforce the biblical standard by embracing those people who meet the standard and by excluding those people who don’t. To the degree that a congregation fails to exercise these powers, to that degree the congregation will be a confused and graceless mess. To be sure, a legalistic or mean-spirited or personality-driven congregation will misuse these powers to the detriment of many, but the answer to that danger isn’t to go the other direction and allow for doctrinal and moral chaos, also to the detriment of many. The answer, rather, is to hit the target by aligning our work with God’s work.

Church Discipline is God’s Work

In verse 18, notice that the binding and loosing that a church family does on earth is backed by the full authority of heaven: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” A local church family on earth is, as Jonathan Leeman puts it, an embassy of heaven. When we act and speak in alignment with the will of the kingdom of heaven, the full authority of the heavenly kingdom is behind us. The judgments that we render here on earth, are rooted there in the record of heaven.[2]

The same logic continues in verse 19: when we as a local church family on earth operate and pray in unity with the Lord and with one another, particularly in the work of church discipline (which is the context of verses 15-20), then our Father in heaven stands behind us and acts on our behalf: “Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

In verse 20, the local church family on earth is assured that the Lord Jesus Christ, who has “[all] authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), is with us when we gather together in His name: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” While this truth is applicable to all kinds of situations, we must again remember that the context of Matthew 18:15-20 is the practice of compassionate confrontation and church discipline. As we gather together to do this work, Christ is with us.


This assurance of our Lord’s presence in Matthew 18:20 is a very good segue into 1 Corinthians 5, because when Paul calls upon the Corinthian congregation to enact discipline against the sinning brother, he tells them that they are to take this action “with the power of our Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:4). What Paul tells the Corinthian congregation to do is a practical outworking of the church discipline that Jesus talks about in Matthew 18:17-18. Paul writes:

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

“For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-8)

The Situation

1) Consider the situation (v. 1-2). We have a sinning brother who is entrenched in sexual sin (v. 1). In the grip of pride, the Corinthians failed to grieve over this situation (v. 2). So the faithful apostle calls them to wake up: as long as this sinning brother remains in such a vile and visible sin, the church must exclude him from their fellowship (v. 2).

Enacting Discipline

2) Consider the right judgment and its proper enactment against the sinning brother (v. 3-5). As we learn from 1 Corinthians 5, we must keep in mind that the churches were really young at this point in the 1st century. The New Testament was in the process of being written, but the New Testament as a recognized body of authoritative writings didn’t exist yet. And the apostles possessed an apostolic authority that is greater than the authority that pastors and elders have today. So there isn’t a perfect correlation between 1 Corinthians 5 and our situation today. But there is a strong correlation, and God intends for us to know and apply the clear principles that are being set forth. When you place Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 side by side, along with a few other passages, you have a very helpful manual on church discipline.

In Matthew 18:17-18, the church family itself must make a judgment, whereas in 1 Corinthians 5:3 the apostle Paul is the one who makes and pronounces the judgment (v. 3). And yet, Paul wants these arrogant, immature Corinthians to grow up, become mature, and be equipped to make and pronounce these judgments in the future. But even though Paul needed to make and pronounce the judgment this time around, notice that he makes it very clear that the church family as a whole, in solidarity with him and in the strength of the Lord, must enact the judgment against the sinning brother (v. 4-5).

This enactment of discipline and judgment against the wayward brother goes right along with Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18. Up until the moment of discipline, the wayward brother was reckoned part of the church family, an insider, a member of the covenant community. But the act of judgment against him removes him from the protection and shelter of the church family and hands him over to the realm of Satan. Now the wayward brother is treated as an outsider, and he is cut off from the covenantal grace that God pours out in and through the church family. In the language of verse 2, he has been “removed from among you” (v. 2); in the language of verse 13, he has been purged “from among you” (v. 13). Formerly he was a member of the body; now there is an amputation and he is cut off.

Motivation #1: Love for the Sinning Brother

3) Consider how remarkable it is that this act of removal is motivated by love for the sinning brother (v. 5). There are at least three motivations behind the act of church discipline, and one of these motivations is love for the unrepentant sinner. What does Paul say? “[Deliver] this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” In other words, the act of discipline is not aimed ultimately at the man’s destruction but at the man’s salvation.

In a physical amputation, we do not anticipate that the cut off body part will be redeemed. But in the amputation of church discipline, we amputate in hope that on the other side of the discipline the cut off person will eventually be redeemed. Of course, we do want something to be destroyed: we want his “flesh” – his sinful nature – to be destroyed. But we want the man to be saved on the last day! When we expel the man, we are sending him a clear message:

‘Brother, we love you and want nothing more than for you to be in joyful fellowship with us and with our Lord. But your clear and continued violation of God’s standard indicates one of two things – either you are a true believer who is acting terribly inconsistent with who you really are in Christ, in which case we hope that our discipline functions as a reality check; or you are an unbeliever who is acting perfectly consistent with your unconverted heart, in which case we hope that our discipline functions as a wake-up call.’

Not with gloating but with grieving, we push him into a far country in hope that its emptiness will compel him to return home.

It is at this very point that we must be earnest about loving people according to God’s Word, and not according to our fickle feelings. So many people, in the name of love, would reason in a way that is totally at odds with the apostle’s instruction. So many people would reason: ‘We don’t want to remove him, we don’t want to exclude him, because that will only push him farther away than he already is, and that will probably be the end of it. At least he’s around, at least he’s rubbing shoulders with us, at least we’ve got some relational connections, at least he still comes to some of our committee meetings, and maybe one of these days someone will get through to him.’ And the naïve fleshly mind thinks that this is love. But it is not love. God knows what love is; God tells us what love is; and shame on us if we don’t trust Him. It is love that hands the unrepentant sinner over to Satan; love does it as an act of war against the man’s sin; and love does it as an act of rescue for the man’s spirit. What is true in the realm of parenthood is also true in the realm of the church family: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24) “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” (Proverbs 19:18)

The sappy sentimentalists who go soft on sin in the name of grace hate the wayward sheep and are setting their heart on his destruction. They don’t think that’s what they’re doing, but such is the deceitfulness of sin. But the toughminded, tenderhearted brethren who, with humility and grief, discipline the sinning brother and hand him over to Satan, are loving their brother and setting their heart on his salvation. Don’t evaluate biblical instructions through the lens of your personal definition of love; instead, let biblical instructions inform and transform your understanding of love. Love God’s way! The initial confrontation didn’t get through to him; the follow-up confrontation by the two or three witnesses didn’t get through to him; the round three confrontation by the entire church family didn’t get through to him; now our hope is that the tough love of church discipline, of excommunication, of membership removal, will send a message that finally gets through to him – ­that he might soon come to his senses, turn from his sin, and be restored to fellowship with the Lord and with the church family.  

4) Consider that the act of church discipline is also motivated by love for the church family (v. 6). Paul says in verse 6 that “a little leaven [of evil] leavens the whole lump.” To put it another way: a bad apple spoils the whole bunch. Or: unchecked cancer will metastasize to the rest of the body. So, with love for the church family, and with a desire to help the other members of the church grow in their walk with God, we must remove a rebellious member whose very presence threatens to pull others down and get the whole church family off-kilter.

5) This love for the church family is ultimately rooted in our motivation to be faithful to the Lord and His gospel. Notice how Paul calls the Corinthian congregation to practice church discipline on the basis of what God has done for us through the gospel – particularly through the sacrifice of Christ. Paul writes in verses 7:

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”

We as Christians are called to live a certain way because of what God has already done for us, and because of what God has already made us (v. 6-8). The message of verse 7 is clear: strive to become what you already are. “[You] really are unleavened,” Paul says. Which is a metaphorical way of saying: you are already holy, you are already set apart by God and for God, you are already clean and healthy. Therefore strive to become in everyday conduct what you already are in spiritual reality. “Cleanse out the old leaven [of malice and evil],” not in order to make yourself clean and holy in God’s sight, but because you already are clean and holy in God’s sight. And how did that decisive cleansing and transformation take place in our lives? Through the gospel of God’s grace: “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” We are forgiven and cleansed and purified and transformed and justified and reconciled to God and gifted with the Spirit on the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin. We do not pursue holiness together in order to become God’s holy people; instead we pursue holiness together because God has made us His holy people.[3] Since God, through Christ, has transformed our hearts and made us holy participants in His forever family, therefore we seek to live in accordance with what God has already done for us.

A healthy church family is not proud of anything that it has achieved; instead a healthy church family is humble and grateful for the grace that God has lavished on it, and that humble and grateful church family senses a stewardship to live in accordance with the grace that it has received. “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” How can we celebrate the Passover feast, how can we celebrate the broken body and shed blood of our Lord, how can we celebrate the gracious redemption by which He has delivered us out of sin, while we are coddling or quartering sin? It cannot be! We are called to gladly side “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”; we are to joyfully live in the “unleavened” and holy reality that we are. And what happens when someone in our midst sides with “the [old] leaven of malice and evil” and continues to side with it despite our repeated attempts to correct him? We must cleanse it out by removing the evildoer from our midst. In so doing, we are expressing our resolve to be holy and to honor our Lord Jesus Christ.

Church Discipline Applies Inside The Church Family

Moving to verses 9-13, Paul makes it clear in these final verses that rendering a judgment, enacting church discipline, and removing someone from our fellowship is meant to apply to our relationships inside the church family, and doesn’t apply to our relationships outside the church family. Paul says:

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to each with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”” (v. 9-13)

You should feel the liberty to interact freely with the unbelieving sinners of this world, so long as you are doing your very best to stay true to the Lord. You should want to evangelize these unbelieving sinners and bring them to the Lord, but you cannot possibly expect these non-Christians to act like Christians, because they’re not.

However, you have a different level of responsibility to those who “[bear] the name of brother.” These professing Christians may or may not be true Christians, but they profess to be so, and they are part of the church community, and all this matters a great deal. Expect professing Christians to act like it – not in the sense of perfection, but in the sense of genuine transformation and growth. When a professing Christian is indulgent in vile and visible sins like immorality, greed, idolatry, abusive speech, drunkenness, and swindling others, that is when we must practice compassionate confrontation and, in due course, church discipline.

Church Discipline Entails Not Associating With The Disciplined Person

When a church renders a judgment and enacts discipline against a wayward member, we are “not to associate with [him]” and “not even to eat with such a one.” In other words, church discipline is disassociation or un-fellowship: we officially exclude them from the fellowship, and we no longer relate to them as if everything is all well and good. The point isn’t that if we see this person in the aisle at Walmart that you have to avoid eye contact and immediately head the opposite direction. The point is that there is a heaviness and seriousness that you have in relating to them, because they are in grave danger, because their relationship with the Lord and the church family is so broken, and you refuse to act like everything is okay because, after all, everything is not okay.

Under most circumstances, those who have been removed from the fellowship would – like any unbeliever – be allowed to attend the public services of the church and hear God’s Word. But they would not be allowed to receive communion; they would not be allowed to attend fellowship meals; they would not be allowed to volunteer in the ministry activities of the church; they would generally not be allowed to participate in small groups. The official act of church discipline must be accompanied by the practical act of meaningful exclusion – otherwise the official act is an empty word. And we wouldn’t want church discipline to be an empty word, but a weighty word. The church must send a clear and consistent message: you cannot be in a right and satisfying relationship with the Lord’s people until you are restored to a right and satisfying relationship with the Lord Himself. If we fudge on the disassociation issue, we misrepresent our Lord and may unwittingly enable the disciplined member to feel more comfortable about his sin. And the last thing a loving church family wants to do is pave a ruinous path for the sinning brother. Love puts up a clear boundary, so that a clear turning, repentance, and restoration can eventually take place.

Brothers and sisters, God hasn’t instructed us to police the world. But He has instructed us to watch over one another, to hold each other accountable to biblical standards of discipleship, to patiently and compassionately and repeatedly confront a brother or sister who has rejected those standards, and in due course to remove the unrepentant offender from our midst: “Purge the evil person from your midst.” We do this in loving obedience to the Lord: for His glory and for the health of His church.


Let me conclude with this final word. We are called to run the race of the Christian life together, and when a runner gets way off track, he threatens to sidetrack the whole team. If that runner refuses multiple attempts at correction, that wayward runner must be cut from the team. This is because the team must not be sidetracked, but must keep moving forward and making progress in our walk with the Lord. And yet, when we cut that unrepentant man from the team, we don’t forget about him. Instead we wait and pray and long for his return.

The twentieth-century preacher G. Campbell Morgan told this powerful story:

“There is a story which comes back to me across the years…. It is the story of a mother

in Scotland, and of her lassie [named Janet] who went wrong, broke with her home, went to the city, went down into the uttermost degradation. Mother did not know where she was, had not heard from her for ten long years. One night, broken and ruined and wrecked, Janet took her way home, and arrived there in the dead of night. She went up the little lane that led to the cottage, and when she got near, she saw a light burning in the window, and she was frightened, wondering whether her mother had gone, or was ill. What meant the light in the dead of night? Softly she crept up till she got to the

cottage itself, and put her hand on the latch, and she found the latch was open, the door was not locked; and as she opened it, a voice said, “Is that you, Janet?” Mother upstairs waiting for ten long years. Said the girl, “What is the light burning for, Mother? I was afraid you were ill.” [Mother answered:] “It has never been put out a night since you left, lassie, and the door has never been locked!”[4]

This is the attitude that Mother Church must have! We discipline in love. We amputate in hope. We keep the light of prayer burning. We make sure that on our side, the door of forgiveness and fellowship is wide open, so that when they return from the far country, we meet them with nothing less than the comfort and mercy of the gospel. 

Let us pray.  



[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (New American Standard Bible Updated Edition). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006: p. 1394 (see comments on Matthew 18:17).

[2] Jonathan Leeman has significantly influenced my understanding of Matthew 18:18 and how the church on earth exercises the authority of the kingdom of heaven. See his Church Membership: How The World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012) and Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism (B&H Academic, 2016).

[3] Commenting on 1 Corinthians 5:7, Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner write, “It is not that the church will become God’s people when they get their house in order. That would be to put the cart before the horse and imply that a favored status before God could be a human achievement. Rather, the church is God’s people because of Christ’s sacrificial death…, and as such they must live up to that status.” See their The First Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010: p. 214.

[4] G. Campbell Morgan, Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of GOD. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998 (reprint of a much older book): p. 54‐55.

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