Loss of self-control and church discipline

I've been digging into the concept of character lately and its relationship to self-control and long term perspective. For many people, someone without self-control, basically an adult that acts like a child, is usually unpleasant company. In the church though, the story is much more complicated. We are to be a community of grace and mercy. Jesus's religious opponents frequently complained about the company he kept. In Luke 15 they were muttering about his mingling with tax collectors and "sinners" (Luke 15:1-2). This resulted in three amazing parables of his about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. His point was, every sinner who repents, who was lost but now found, who was dead but now alive, causes celebration in heaven. So like a good shepherd, a poor woman, and a prodigal father, he seeks those that are lost. The lost are usually notorious, yet Jesus sought their company so he could tell them how to get "home," back with their Father. Hence, followers of Christ need to seeking out the lost and telling them the good news and inviting them to our Father's house.

As a result, people in the church building will be at different levels of self-control. Some won't even consider themselves part of the family. However, baptism is usually the symbol to identify those who belong to the family. It's partly why I favor believer's baptism over infant baptism. The question for churches is what to do with those in the family who are regressing into their sinful past or discovering new avenues of sin instead of maturing in their faith and becoming more Spirit controlled and less flesh controlled. Jesus warned his disciples that belief and acceptance of the good news will not guarantee ever upward maturity in his parable of the soils, Luke 8: 1-15. Some receive the word with joy but have their faith has no root and wilts under hardship, Luke 8:13. Some receive the word and it takes root but life's worries, riches and pleasures choke it and they do not mature, Luke 8:14. But there are those with a "noble and good heart" who hear it, retain it, and "by perservering" produce a crop, Luke 8:15. Obviously, we'd all like to have good and noble hearts that return a harvest to the One who gave everything to redeem us.

But what can our church community do with those stuck in the weeds? How do we love them? How do we practice mercy and grace? It's a narrow path and the church usually responds in two extremes. They'll point to every green nub poking out of the soil and proclaim it a weed and begin digging to uproot them. Alternatively, the church will see so many weeds that they'll leave things to the divine gardner or rename the weeds altogether, denying their reality and destructiveness.

The first approach is called legalism. It will make a person insecure. They will fear every inclination of their heart. It will make them dependent on people instead of the Holy Spirit to guide them into maturity. It also makes their faith very weak, because the soil around them is constantly torn up by over-zealous gardening. It makes the person inward looking and afraid of contamination by the sinners Jesus wants us to reach out to, and the entire church loses its mission to a lost and dying world in need of Jesus's good news.

The second approach calls itself grace, but is really licentiouseness, which is the opposite of self-control/character/maturity. This church looks like an unruly garden the produces no fruit and attracts no one from a lost and dying world in need of Jesus's good news.

The Bible offers a response to the second kind of behavior. Paul writes a letter to the church in Corinth and rebukes their acceptance of a man who shacked up with his step-mom. Ick! The details are in 1 Corinthians 5.

5:1 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. 5:2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? 5:3 For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present. 5:4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5:5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

5:6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough? 5:7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough – you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 5:8 So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

5:9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 5:10 In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 5:12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 5:13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.

Paul demands a harsh response, by today's standards anyway, to this couple. He says stop being proud of your tolerance, in fact, repent of it, and kick them out! Tell them they aren't welcome to worship with you anymore. This is an example of a seed that is being choked out by pleasure. Paul is concerned with that weed spreading to other parts of the garden, the church, as weeds tend to do. He is NOT concerned with the sin of unbelievers, but that of believers. He is concerned with specific sins within the family that can spread and cause great harm. They are listed in v. 11 and those who are sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler earn themselves ejection.

I think I'll look at these individually over the next few posts.

There is a mysterious component to this passage. Handing over a believer to Satan, v. 5, is bizarre in my mind. But the offender has already handed himself over to Satan. The church is told to simply acknowledge what already has occurred and not stay in denial about it. It seems by the time Paul writes his 2nd letter to the church in Corinth, the guy has responded to the discipline. He has recognized the weeds and has disentangled himself from them. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2: 5-11
2:5 But if anyone has caused sadness, he has not saddened me alone, but to some extent (not to exaggerate) he has saddened all of you as well. 2:6 This punishment on such an individual by the majority is enough for him, 2:7 so that now instead you should rather forgive and comfort him. This will keep him from being overwhelmed by excessive grief to the point of despair. 2:8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 2:9 For this reason also I wrote you: to test you to see if you are obedient in everything. 2:10 If you forgive anyone for anything, I also forgive him – for indeed what I have forgiven (if I have forgiven anything) I did so for you in the presence of Christ, 2:11 so that we may not be exploited by Satan (for we are not ignorant of his schemes).
The goal of saving his spirit by the destruction of his flesh worked and Paul encourages his restoration. The goal of all discipline is perfection. If we are unable to discipline ourselves then our brothers and sisters are supposed to help us, but the method of love is a tough one.

Comments

Renee said…
Hi John,

Let me apologize upfront that this comment is not in response to your topic, rather it is to address the link to Gayle Erwin's videos.

I am the owner of The Schoolmaster site and have moved the videos to my new site, Good News Dispatch, www.goodnewsdispatch.org/erwin.html, and wanted to ask if you would mind updating the links on your site?

I'm trying to contact all the folks who link to the videos asking if they would mind to update their links. John, if you could do this, I would appreciate it very much. I had hoped to email you but your email address isn't in your profile. If you have any questions for me, you can get in touch with me at renee@goodnewsdispatch.org.

Thank you for your time.

Renee Settle

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