Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Best Place For an Unrepentant Sinner is Church, Right?


Another busy day, another short post.  Hopefully tomorrow things will be back to "normal" busy and not these long days I have been having.  Today I am again going to focus on an area where people choose to ignore God.  In fact, I have heard Christians actually say that they know the Scripture, but just can't believe it is to be applied.  Once again, we have a case where we think we know better than God.  The Scripture for consideration today is:
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.  Matthew 18:15-17 NKJV
Many people believe that the unrepentant sinner needs to be in church to be loved on and to hear the Word.  It would almost make sense and I can certainly understand the desire to reach out in grace and love no matter the offense, but that is not what Jesus says.  These are the words of our Lord, not the opinion of some preacher.  We can not say we know better than our Lord, so despite all that we may think is right, there comes a time to trust that God knows better and submit to His authority.  While it is a last resort, and while there are supposed to be several opportunities to repent, there comes a time when the unrepentant brother or sister living in sin must be excommunicated from the church.  That is what Jesus means when he tells us to let him be to us as a tax collector or a heathen.  God clarifies this point through Paul.
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet [I] certainly [did] not [mean] with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NKJV
A tax collector is an extortioner and a heathen is an idolater.  Jesus, in Matthew, was just using them as examples of sinners.  Paul also gives this instruction right after instructing the Corinthian church that they should have ejected an unrepentant sexually immoral person and chastised them for thinking that they were somehow being open and loving for allowing that person to remain in their fellowship.
It is actually reported [that there is] sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles--that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 NKJV
In chastising the Corinthians for being prideful that they continued to allow this man in their fellowship, he also begins to address the reasons why this is necessary.  First of all, it is for restoration.  We may think that the person will be won over by an outpouring of love and an steady diet of God's word through the church's teaching, but obviously it has not worked so far.  We need to ask ourselves, if the unrepentant brother has had our love and fellowship and heard the Word of God yet continues to sin, why do we think it will somehow start to work now?  Obviously, it won't, and more drastic measures are required to bring the fallen brother back into fellowship.  That is why we cast the person out, so that God can truly begin to deal with the person.  Think of the Prodigal Son and what had to happen to him in order for him to finally come to his senses and realize what is important.  Paul then gives the other reason.
Your glorying [is] not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 1 Corinthians 5:6 NKJV
The other reason is for purity of the church.  A sinner brother is a negative influence on the rest of the body and will inevitably cause others to go along with his sin, or at the very least accept it.  Once this happens, sin takes hold in the church and strife and division grow.  We must cast the sinner out not only for the sake of the sinner, but for the sake of the church as well.  A church is a place of worship and a place for those living for Christ to come together in fellowship.  Church is no place for the unrepentant sinner to sit comfortably while corrupting and causing strife in the rest of the fellowship.

Finally, there must be a means for restoration.  Even Paul alludes to this when he says the person is cast out for destruction of the flesh so that the spirit may be saved.  When the person is away from God and lives on in the sin they chose to hold on to, it is only a matter of time before that sin takes its toll.  That toll can take many forms including but not limited to financial, emotional, and health.  Sin is not good for us and God will allow it to run its painful course in order to bring that person back to Christ.  Again, think of the Prodigal son.  It took him losing all of his money, working a terrible filthy job, and without friend or family to finally come to his senses.  Just as he did and returned to his father, so will the Christian who chooses sin over God and tries to enjoy that life.  When that time comes, it is not for us to make hoops for that person to go through, but it is for us to restore him to our fellowship. 
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.  Galatians 6:1 NKJV
It is not for us to hold a grudge, but to earnestly hold out in prayer that God is dealing with the sinner while he is absent from our fellowship and our friendship.  When the time of repentance comes, it is then time to rejoice.  Just as the father celebrated the return of his Prodigal Son, so should we rejoice when the sinner finally comes to his senses and returns in repentance.  We should rejoice because Heaven rejoices.  We should rejoice because the power of God was just demonstrated in that person's life in a very real way. 
I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:7 NKJV

2 comments:

  1. Thanks Ben!

    I think the only thing to note here, that many people may miss, is that treating someone as the heathen and tax collector doesn't mean disown them from your life. I can see taking them out of fellowship in terms of being there worshipping with the church, however, if you look at Jesus' example, he spent most of his time with the heathen and tax collectors. His desire was to be there for the sick and the lost. Now he didn't invite those people to come into the upper room for communion or to fellowship with his disciples, but he spent endless hours with them outside in their comfort zones reaching out to them and trying to win their souls. Basically, what I hope is becoming clear is that yes they are removed from fellowship, but now we have a greater responsibility to spend time with them outside of the church like Jesus did trying to win their soul to Christ.

    ~Brian

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  2. Brian, You are correct but also note that I am talking about Christians who refuse to repent, not unbelievers who we should reach out to. For those who are Christian, I refer you again to 1 Corinthians:

    I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet [I] certainly [did] not [mean] with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NKJV

    Note that Paul says exactly what you said, that we need to go out to the world to reach out to sinners who do not know Jesus. But then Paul makes a clear distinction with those in the church who live a life of sin. Again, excommunication is an absolute last resort and only for the Christian who actively refuses to repent after being given several chances. In the end, it is not the church who disfellowships the unrepentant Christian, but the Christian who chooses his sin over Jesus and over his brethren. It is truly a sad and somber event, but one that is necessary for ultimate restoration.

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