Here is how Greg Gilbert introduces his article entitled Before You Discipline, Teach This First.
Pastor: “So, because of all that, it’s with great sadness that I move that we as a church remove Joe from membership as an act of discipline. Is there any discussion?”
Sister Sue: “Pastor, I have some discussion. I don’t see how we can do this. What right do we have to say whether Joe’s a Christian? Only God can say that!”
Pastor: “Yes, of course that’s true. But First Corin- . . .”
Brother Bill: “Oh come on! I agree with Sue. I believe in the Bible and everything, Pastor, but a lot of that just isn’t going to work now.”
Deacon Doug: “And we’re all sinners. Why should we single Joe out?”
Pastor: “[Sigh.] Alright. All those in favor, say ‘aye’.”
[the sound of crickets chirping]
Pastor: “Those opposed?”
[After the meeting] Chairman Charlie: “Pastor, the deacons want to meet with you tomorrow night. We have some concerns….”
That is the scene in a church that has not properly prepared for church discipline. One of the passages that could be used to teach and prepare a church for corporate discipline is our passage this week: Ephesians 5:7-14.
“Therefore Walk” in the Light (Ephesians 5:7-14)
God is Light (Psalm 27:1). The Word of God is light (Psalm 119:105). Christ is light (John 8:12). Therefore to “walk as children of light” means to walk in holiness according to God’ Word as seen in Romans 13:12-14. These were the verses that God used to convict profligate Augustine and bring him to Christ.
A. Believers walk as children of light because we don’t want to be partners with unsaved.
With the “Therefore” in verse 7 Paul connects the content of verse 7 with the warning in verse 6. We must not be “partakers” with the unsaved or we will be partakers of the wrath of God. The inference is if we are partakers then we are unsaved. Since we are “partakers” of God’s promise along with all other believers in the Body of Christ (3:6) we will not be partakers of His wrath. You are either “partakers” of God’s promise in the gospel (3:6) or “partakers” with the unsaved and their future judgment. It can’t be both ways.
B. Believers walk as children of light because we are changed persons (5:8-14).
1) We were “darkness” as unsaved.
Formerly we were totally depraved (4:18) under the influence of the rulers of the darkness (6:12). We loved darkness or sin rather than light or holiness (John 3:19-21). The unsaved who are darkness (totally depraved) now will spend eternity in “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12).
This is the third major distinction Paul has made between believers and unbelievers: The unsaved who are “dead” (2:1-4) must be made alive by God to be converted. “The old man” who is unregenerate must be converted to become a “new man” (4:22-24). When believers act like unbelievers, because the church is made up of only believers, then church disipline is necessary.
2) Believers are now “light.”
We have been translated from the kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:12-13) and have become “children of light.” The “Light of the World” (John 8:12) is in us. Just as the children of disobedience produce vices (Paul mentioned three) the children of light produce fruit (Paul mentions three).
a) Light produces Fruit (5:9, 10).
Goodness or generosity toward others (Nehemiah 9:25), righteousness toward God (1 John 2:29), and truth or personal integrity. This is the lifestyle of the believer as the sins mentioned in verse 3 are representative of the lifestyle of the unsaved. Jesus said, “Every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit….Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruit you shall know them” (Matthew 7:15-20). One bad apple can spoil the whole barrell. Or, to use Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 5, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” One church member living in sin, damages the whole local church’s influence and power and therefore must be confronted as Paul called for in 1 Corinthians 5.
b) Light reveals Darkness (5:11-12).
We do not “fellowship” or partner with the unsaved. Paul will use this word in Philippians 1:5; 4: 14-17 and describe how the Philippians partnered financially with him in his missionary work. But in 5:11-12, Paul says Christians who are walking in the light are also exposing the sins of believers who are fellowshipping with the unfruitful works of darkness. According to 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, God reproves sinners outside of church and the church reproves believers in the church in sin with church discipline. Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 tells us how.
c) Light dispels Darkness (5:13).
The first reference to “light” is Christian light. The second is literal light. Literal light dispels darkness and Christian light, the rebuke of sin in believer’s life, can also dispel darkness if responded to. This is the purpose of church discipline as prescribed by Christ: “If he shall hear you, you have gained a brother” (Matthew 18:15).
d) Light can rescue out of Darkness (5:14).
a) Paul commands sinning believers to wake up. (Paul uses “awake” 5 times: Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6, 7, 10). Believers walking in the light must wake them up.
b) Paul commands sinning believers to arise. This word “arise” is used in Acts 12:5-9 of the angel who awoke sleeping Peter, after the light of the angel’s presence did not awake Peter, by smiting him in the side and telling him to “Arise up quickly.” This pictures our responsibility to believers who are asleep in spiritual darkness. Church discipline can be like a punch in the gut, but the consequences of not dealing with sin are much worse. This was the result of the action taked in 1 Corinthians 5. Read 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 for the happy results of Biblical church discipline.
The subject of church discipline is dealt with in the 9Marks eJournal (November/December 2009, vol. 6, issue 6. There are six very helpful articles. The article by Greg Gilbert entitled Before You Discipline, Teach This First fits our lesson today. Gilbert notes that before the pastor teaches Church Discipline, he must first teach the following Biblical truths, otherwise the church will not accept what Scriptures says about Church Discipline.
1. THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
2. WHAT A CHRISTIAN IS
3. THE REALITY AND MEANING OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP
4. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD
5. THE CHURCH’S RESPONSIBILITY TO JUDGE
For a full discussion of these five points see Gilbert’s article.
Nine Marks Journal has a series of articles on church discipline.