Summary: One of the most forgotten teachings of our Lord is that of church discipline. In this message we discuss the purpose for it, the process by which it is done and when discipline is to be practiced.

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Holiness and Discipline

Text: Matthew 18:15-20

Introduction: It is difficult to read a paper or watch the news today without hearing something about an upcoming, and according to some, inevitable pandemic of the avian influenza virus. You might know it as the "Bird" flu. This influenza A virus subtype occurs mainly in birds, is highly contagious among them, and sometimes deadly. The H5N1 virus, as it has been labeled by scientists, does not usually infect people. However, some cases have occurred in humans. Most of these have resulted from people having direct or close contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. Here are a few additional facts about the virus.

„X As of March 20, 2006, there have been 186 human cases of the "Bird Flu" reported to the World Health Organization since 2003. It has accounted for 105 deaths so far, about a 56% fatality rate.

„X The "Bird" flu has proven resistant to amantadine and rimantadine, the two most common antiviral medications used for influenza.

„X To date, human infections with avian influenza A viruses detected since 1997 have not resulted in sustained human-to-human transmission. However, because influenza A viruses have the potential to change and gain the ability to spread easily between people, monitoring for human infection and person-to-person transmission is important.

„X The most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease is to immunize healthy birds (China has recently found some success in this area) while destroying potentially affected animals.

„X There currently is no commercially available vaccine to protect humans against the H5N1 virus that is being seen in Asia and Europe. However, vaccine development efforts are taking place. Research studies to test a vaccine to protect humans against H5N1 virus began in April 2005, and a series of clinical trials is under way. Therefore, when humans are infected, the primary treatment is to quarantine those carrying the virus until it has run its course.

I’m not sharing this information with you to incite panic. The Bible tells us to worry about nothing, but to pray about everything (See Philippians 4:6-7). Neither am I attempting to convince you that mankind is about to suffer the wrath of God because we have filled up the measure of our sin (See Matthew 23:32). I can’t speak for God on that. No, I share this with you because it is important for us to understand that extreme measures sometimes need to be taken when a potentially destructive situation threatens the welfare of many.

This morning, in our last message in the series on holiness entitled, "In the World, But Not Of It," I want to look at what God has to say about how to keep the sin of some, with its amazingly destructive potential, from infecting others in the body of Christ. Lest we think for a moment that sin is not too destructive, let me remind you what the Scriptures say about it (See Romans 6:23a; Proverbs 14:11; Romans 5:12). When the sin of one believer affects the well-being of another, God has designed a way to bring spiritual health back to the body through a process that has become known as church discipline. Our Lord speaks of it in Matthew 18:15-20. I invite you now to turn in your Bibles to this text and let’s discover what God says about how to keep sin from spreading to the rest of the body.

I. The Purpose of Church Discipline. Just as loving parents discipline their children (See Proverbs 13:24) and God disciplines those whom He loves (See Hebrews 12:6), so the church is called to discipline its members. There are at least four good reasons for us to do so.

A. It results in reconciliation. The word ’reconcile’ means to change the condition of a relationship from one of conflict to one of fellowship. This happens as we remove the barriers to peace and unity. When a person sins against another believer, not only has their friendship been affected and a barrier erected, but so has the offender’s relationship with God (See Isaiah 59:2). Both can be reconciled when sin, which was previously hidden, is brought to the light, confessed and forgiven (See Matthew 18:21-22).

B. It results in repentance. Discipline is always intended to improve one’s character (See Hebrews 12:10-11). This is exactly what happened to the man who was living an immoral lifestyle in the church at Corinth (See 1 Corinthians 5:1, 12-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-8). He stopped walking in the flesh and renewed his commitment to follow after Christ.

C. It protects the body from infectious sin. When conflict is not resolved quickly, it is common that it will spread to others. The writer of Hebrews understood this (See Hebrews 12:15). The Apostle Paul agrees, warning that a little leaven, leavens the whole lump (See 1 Corinthians 5:6).

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