Fellowship, Breaking Fellowship, and Church Discipline


© Paul L. Hudson, Jr. 2003


-An excerpt from his book on House Church Planting



Chapter 21

Fellowship, Breaking Fellowship, and Church Discipline

God has called those who believe in Jesus to be holy.  Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”[1] Many of us think of personal holiness is important.  I want to be holy before God.  Personal holiness is important.  But the Bible also teaches us to be holy collectively.  The entire church is to be holy before God.  Paul wanted to present the church in Corinth as a chaste virgin to Christ, not merely one or two of them that were walking righteously before the Lord, obeying the doctrine of Christ.


Due to rampant sin and unbelief in religious establishments that are called churches, some teachers have developed the concept of the visible church and the invisible church.  The visible church is the organized structure of the church, while the invisible church is composed of those who are truly believers within the organized church structure. 


It is God’s will for the visible church to walk holy before Him.  The Bible does not teach the church to tolerate sin and unbelief in the church, and simply wait for God to sort out his saints from the wicked within the church on the Day of Judgment.  In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the wheat and tares do grow up together.  But if we read the parable carefully, we see that the field in which the two grow up together is the world, and not the church.[2]  The visible church that we can see is supposed to be righteous.


Encouraging One Another Not to Sin

Why is it important that we encourage one another not to sin?  Some Christians think they will sin, that everyone sins, and that it is no big deal.  But if we read the words of Jesus, we know that sin is a very big deal.  How man of us would rather lose a hand or an eye than fall into sin?  Jesus took sin very seriously.[3]  If we read the apostles writings, we can see that they did not have a casual attitude toward sin, either.  Sin is destructive.  Even if someone is forgiven of a sin, he can still reap horrible consequences.  Even though the Lord forgave David for his sin regarding Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite, David still had to suffer the consequences that resulted in his household as a result.[4]


We as the body of Christ must think of ourselves collectively, and not only individually.  God does deal with us individually, but he also deals with us collectively.  We as Christians must be concerned, not only with our own spiritual health, but with the health of the body of Christ, and the local expression of the body of Christ that we are a part of. 


As the author of Hebrews shows us, one of the ways we can help protect the local body from sin is to exhort one another.


Hebrews 3:13  But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.


Exhorting one another to be obedient and not sin is one of the tools God has given the church to maintain it’s purity.  We need one another in the body of Christ.  Encouraging your own family and Christian friends that you meet regularly to obey the Lord can help strengthen them against sin.  If there is a believer you know who has no Christian relatives or friends near him, believers among us can make a special effort to reach him to encourage him in the Lord. 


Exhorting one another can take many forms.  It can be having a conversation with a brother or sister in Christ over a cup of coffee, talking about how to overcome a problem in life in accordance with Christ’s teaching.  Conversations by phone can encourage believers in the faith.  Taking time at the end of the day to read the Bible with your own children and pray with them can help keep them from sinning.  We believers need to walk with the Lord daily.  If we make it a habit to constantly speak of the things of the Lord with one another, even when we are out of church meetings, we can be a great encouragement to one another.  There is something a lot more fulfilling when one meets with a fellow believer and the two discuss the things of the Lord and how to walk in a way that is pleasing to the Lord, than when they meet and talk about things that are not really important.  We must remember that every aspect of our lives is to be subject to the Lord.  A discussion between two believers about a problem raising children, paying the light bill, or many other normal things we face in life can be a ministry opportunity for both of them. 


Some think that visiting people and encouraging them in the Lord is the work of an overseer.  This type of ministry is certainly within the scope of an overseer’s ministry, but all believers, even if they aren’t overseers, are supposed to encourage one another. 


The Importance of Fellowship

Many people think that there are two keys to a successful Christian life:  prayer and Bible study.  These two keys are very important, but there are also others.  One of these is fellowship.  The healthy church mentioned in Acts 2:42 not only continued in the apostles’ doctrine and prayer, but they also continued in fellowship and the breaking of bread together.  Notice the emphasis John puts on fellowship in the following passage:


I John 1:7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.


Those who are in the light have fellowship with one another.  The Christian who is living a healthy life, who is walking in Christ’s cleaning power, is in fellowship with other believers.  He shares with them in that koinonia, that ‘common union’ they have with one another.  To be healthy believers, we need more than just Bible study and prayer done as individual actions, we also need the body of Christ.  One part of the body should not say to another “I have no need of you.”[5]  We need one another to be healthy.  One of the ways other body parts help us is to encourage in the faith and to keep us from sin.


Exhortation Not to Sin and the Assembly

Church meetings are an opportunity for us not to sin.  Remember what the author of Hebrews said in chapter 3:13, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”  The author of Hebrews also indicates that we should exhort one another in our meetings, so that we not sin.


Hebrews 10:24-25

24  And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

25  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.


We are to provoke one another to ‘love and to good works.’  This the context in which the writer tells us not to forsake assembling, but rather to exhort one another.  When we assemble, reading the scriptures, singing, words of exhortation, and teachings can all encourage the body to love, to do good works, which will help strengthen us against temptation to sin. 


The Greek word notheteo is translated as ‘admonish’ or warn.  Believers are supposed to admonish one another in the Lord.


Romans 15:14  And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.


Paul apparently expected that the Roman Christians would admonish one another.  He probably expected them to do this as they used their gifts in their meetings.[6]  But they may have done this outside of the larger church meetings as well.


Songs can also admonish, or warn, fellow believers in church meetings.

Colossians 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.


Confronting Those in Sin

Jesus gave us instructions regarding how to deal with those who sin.


Matthew 18:15-17

15  Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

16  But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

17  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.


Following Jesus’ instructions here may seem very difficult for us.  Jesus actually teaches us to confront those who sin against us.  Some Christians think that it is noble to suffer silently when fellow-believers sin against them.  Remaining silent when someone sins against you may require that we deny ourselves, and there is a place for this.  But when a fellow believer sins against us, we should confront him, as Jesus says. 


Here, in this passage, we see three steps the Lord tells us to take.  If the brother repents, we stop and do not proceed to the next step.  First, confront the sinning brother alone.  Then take one or two others.  If the brother still refuses to repent, he is to be brought before the church.  If he will not repent, we are to treat him as a heathen man and a publican?


What does it mean to treat a man as a heathen man and a publican?  Many religious Jews in the Holy Land in Jesus’ day did not fellowship or eat with heathens and publicans.  The heathens were mostly idolators.  Publicans were seen as traitors to God’s people because they charged tax money to God’s covenant people to support a heathen government, and kept some of the money they collected for themselves.  But Jesus did eat with publicans to minister to them?  So what do we make of this passage?  Fortunately, Paul gives us some further insight on how to treat the brother who sins. 


Cutting off Fellowship with the Unrepentant

II Thessalonians 3:14-15

14  And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

15  Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.


Here we see that Paul, Silas, and Timothy taught believers to withdraw fellowship from those who are disobedient to their apostolic teaching.  This idea is foreign to many Christians today.  The idea of withdrawing fellowship from Christians who do not obey Biblical doctrine seems to be rarely taught or practiced. 


Paul deals with a specific case of an unrepentant member of the church in Corinth, as recorded in I Corinthians 5.  This man was fornicating with his father’s wife.  The Corinthians had not mourned over the issue, and cut the man off from fellowship.  Rather, they were arrogant about the situation.[7] 


Paul had judged the situation, apparently by spiritual means.[8]  He gave the Corinthians instructions to deal with the situation in I Corinthians 5:4-5.


4  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5  To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.


Here we see, as in Matthew 18:17, that the church has the responsibility and the authority to cut unrepentant brethren off from fellowship.  Neglecting to do so can have devastating consequences on a local body.


The Dangerous Leaven of Sin

Paul warned the Corinthians about the dangerous of not cutting off an unrepentant member from among their midst.


I Corinthians 5:6-7

6  Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

7  Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:


Here, Paul compares sin to leaven.  Leaven is a fungus, a microscopic organism that grows quickly.  If you put some leaven in bread dough, it will grow quickly and the whole lump of dough will be full of leaven.  The Old Testament commanded that unleavened bread be eaten for seven days during the Passover season.[9]  The Jews had to remove the leaven from their houses.


The sin in the life of the fornicator in Corinth could contaminate the church there if it were not dealt with.  Unrepentant sin is contagious.  If one member sins and other members accept it, or even knowingly ignore it silently, this encourages others to sin.  The standard of holiness for the whole congregation falls.  The bad example of unrepentant sinners has a bad effect, but we must not also ignore the idea that allowing sin to remain has a negative spiritual effect on the congregation that causes contamination.

Consider the example of Achan in the Old Testament.  Achan sinned by stealing treasure from Jericho that the Lord had commanded to be destroyed.  Because of Achan’s sin, 36 Israelites died in battle.  So that the Lord would be with the Israelites again, Israel stoned Achan and his family.[10]  In the Old Testament false prophets who taught the people to worship other gods, worshippers of other gods,[11] those who presumptuously would not listen to the priest or judge, and murderers, adulterers, and various other sinners were to be removed from the people of Israel by being put to death.


The New Testament does not tell Christians to stone all who commit such acts within our midst.  But it does teach us to break off fellowship with those among us who sin in some cases.


Not Eating With the Unrepentant

Let us consider what Paul had to say about how to deal with the unrepentant man in Corinth.



 I Corinthians 5:7-8

7.  Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

 8.  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.


In verse 11, Paul will tell the Corinthians not to eat with such a man.  Here we see Paul making references to the Passover.  It is possible that Paul has the Lord’s Supper in mind here, as the Lord’s Supper was initiated during the Passover meal.  Whatever the case, the fact that the Corinthians were not to eat with the unrepentant man certainly forbade them from eating the Lord’s Supper with him.  The Christians of that time often came together to eat, and remember the Lord, and we must keep this in mind when we read of the saints eating together. 


II Peter 2 and the book of Jude contain very similar messages.  Both are addressed to churches warning them about false teachers.  Jude writes the following about these false teachers.


Jude 1:12  These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;


Clearly, it was a bad thing that the church was allowing these evil men to participate in their love feasts.  They were spots on the feast, making it impure.  Compare this to Paul’s concern that the unrepentant man, or his sin was leaven that could spread through the whole lump of dough.  The church at Corinth, Paul wrote was one bread, because they all partook of that one bread at the Lord’s table.[12]  The recipients of Jude’s letter are told that the false teachers were spots on their love feasts.  The implication is that these men should not eat with the saints. 


II Peter contains a parallel verse, which describes false teachers as spots and blemishes that feast with the believers.


II Peter 2:13  And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you;


With Whom Should We Not Eat?

 9.  I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

 10.  Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

 11.  But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

 12.  For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

 13.  But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.


Here we see that Paul did not want the Corinthians to withdraw fellowship from sinners.  Remember that the religious leaders of Christ’s day looked down on Him for eating with publicans and sinners.  Christ would eat with such men.  But He taught that if your brother sinned, and refused to repent after he were properly confronted and brought before the church, that he should ‘be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.’[13]  The religious Jews of Jesus’ day did not eat with such people.  In I Corinthians, we see that Paul’s apostolic application of Jesus’ teaching is that Christians should refrain from eating with ‘any man that is called a brother’ who engages in certain sinful activities.


Let us consider the activities Paul lists here.  The idea of withdrawing fellowship from a fornicator or an idolater may not be too hard for us to do.  But we are also to confront those who are extortioners, covetous, or slanderers, and if they will not repent, refuse to eat with them.


Fornication is a more obvious sin to deal with, if it is made known.  Hebrews 12 also warns of the defiling influence of fornication.


Hebrews 12:12-16

12  Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;

13  And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

14  Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

15  Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

16  Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.


For His Own Good

The idea of breaking off someone in the church fellowship from someone who refuses to repent may seem cruel, particularly the idea of delivering him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.


I Corinthians 5:4-5

4  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5  To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.


Notice that the man in this situation can benefit from being delivered over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.  His spirit could be saved in the day of the Lord as a result of the church delivering him over to Satan.


Paul delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan.  These men were shipwrecking the faith of some believers by teaching that the resurrection had already taking place.  Delivering these men over to Satan was actually beneficial to them.  Paul did it “that they might learn not to blaspheme.”[14]


Paul instructed the Thessalonians to withdraw fellowship so that the offending person might be ashamed.[15]  When we realize that sin is dangerous and destructive, as Jesus taught that it is, then we can realize that the actions we take to remove the unrepentant one from among us is for his own good.  It may help him repent from his sin.  We also need to realize that removing the sin from the church helps prevent the contamination of sin from growing among us.


Restoring the One who Sins


In II Corinthians 2:2-10, Paul tells the Corinthians to forgive a certain man among them.  Some believe that this is the man spoken of in I Corinthians 5 who had sinned by fornication.  It is also possible that the man was someone who had been judged by the congregation for some offense against Paul.[16]  Whatever the offense this man was guilty of, the punishment meted out by the majority of the Corinthians was effective.  He was apparently sorrowful over his sins, and ready to receive forgiveness.  Paul wanted the man restored to fellowship.


After teaching the disciples about what to do ‘if thy brother shall trespass against thee’[17], and the authority of the church to deal with such a situation, that we read the following teaching on forgiveness:


Matthew 18:21-22

21  Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

22  Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.


Jesus then tells the disciples the parable of the unforgiving servant.  Notice in this passage that Jesus wants Peter to keep on forgiving.  When we read this passage, we must realize that it is connected with Jesus teaching on church discipline.  The man who does repent is to be forgiven.


Here, Peter asks about a man who sins against a brother repeatedly.  He should forgive such a man over and over again.  We must remember that the issue here is personal offenses.  Apparently, Jesus is talking about someone who confesses his sin regarding a personal conflict with another believer before two or three witnesses are brought to him. 


But what do we do with the person who is in sin and figures out that if he says, “I repent.  I repent,” but continues in his sin, that he will be able to remain in fellowship?  I Thessalonians 3:14 says to have no fellowship with a man who ‘obeys not our word.’  The church should judge those in the congregation who sin, not merely based on their words, but on their actions as well.

But we should also realize that some people are sincerely struggling.  They are sincere when they say “I repent,” but fall again later.  For these people, we must remember not to break the bruised reed, or quench the smoldering flax.[18]  Sincere, struggling believers need to be treated with mercy and compassion.  They need to be restored in love with mercy.  The author of Hebrews instructs the church to ‘lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees.’ [19]


The member of the body who is weak who is inclined to fall into sin might be compared to a hands that hang down, or feeble knees.  We need to take extra care to encourage these members.  They may need special attention from the elders, and extra telephone calls and visits from believers in the church.  Going to the house of a weak brothers or sisters, showing them to pray and study the Bible, and encouraging them to do so regularly may help encourage them.  Teaching these people how they can overcome sin by reckoning themselves dead with Christ, and acting accordingly by the power of the Spirit can help them overcome the temptations that they face.[20]


Who Should Restore the Fallen Brother?


As we have learned, Jesus instructed the disciples to confront a brother who sins against them.  We must take this teaching of Christ seriously, and confront brethren who sin against us.


There are times when brethren commit sins that are not against us personally, but their sin can still contaminate the church.  If someone in the church is in sin, who should confront them?  Paul teaches them that ‘ye which are spiritual’ should restore him. 


Galatians 6:1-2

1  Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

2  Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.


Often, the more mature, spiritual brethren are the ones to realize that another brother’s sin is a problem.  Confronting a brother in sin should be done in the spirit of meekness.  Some people will repent when confronted with meekness, whose hearts might harden if they are confronted with harshness and arrogance.  Those doing the confronting must confront others the way they would want to be confronted if they fell into sin.


The elders of the church, as mature, spiritual leaders within the church, can help restore those who sin.  James 5 tells of a ministry that elders can perform.


James 5:14-16

14  Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

15  And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

16  Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.


The elders are to answer the call to visit the sick in the flock.  Some people, though not all, may be sick because they have committed a sin.  When the elders pray for the sick, they can also pray with them about sickness.  Verse 16 says “Confess your faults one to another….”  It is possible that James would expect the sick man who had committed a sin, and called for the elders to come, to help him pray for the forgiveness of his sins.  James does not require that believers confess their sins only to elders.  He says to confess our sins one to another.


A few verses, later, at the end of James’ epistle, we read:


James 5:19-20

 19.  Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

 20.  Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.


The elders of the church can labor to restore brethren who sin.  But this ministry is not limited only to the elders of the church.  Regular believers can confront sinners.  Paul does tell the spiritual ones to restore the one who sins.  But what should the believer in the church do who does not consider himself to be especially spiritual?  What if he sees a sin in the congregation that no one is confronting?  Should he confront the offending brother about the sin?  Nothing in Galatians 6 forbids the less spiritual believers from confronting.  We all must learn to confront sin as we grow in grace.  This was even a principle God gave Israel in the time of Moses.


Leviticus 19:17  Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.


A ‘regular believer’ who does not consider himself to be especially spiritual may still find times when he needs to rebuke those who sin.  As he grows more and more spiritual, this will be a practice that he will need to mature in.


Notice that Leviticus associates hating your brother in your heart and not rebuking his sin.  Those who love the Lord and love their neighbor, who understand the Lord’s teaching, will naturally rebuke those who sin because they do walk in love.  If we love the Lord, we do not want sin contaminating his church.  If we love the congregation, we will not want to see it contaminated by sin.  If we love the brother who sins, we will rebuke him so that he may be restored.  Rebuking sinning brethren may be uncomfortable and difficult for us to do, but it is important for us to die to self and obey Christ.  Love should motivate us to restore brethren.  We should put our love into practice by helping believers who fall into sin. 


Proverbs 27:5-6

5  Open rebuke is better than secret love.

6  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.


Who Is to Disfellowship Unrepentant Brethren?

Some of Paul’s instructions could be followed without having a formal meeting of the church to disfellowship an unbeliever.  Some Christians attend churches that totally ignore Christ and the apostles’ teaching on church discipline, or have to interact with unrepentant believers from other churches.  Paul’s instructions to withdraw fellowship from one who sins in I Thessalonians 3:14, or his instruction to “mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” could be followed by individuals without a formal meeting of the church.  But churches should obey the teachings of the Lord and His apostles on this matter, and confront unrepentant brethren.


Some church leaders think it is only the job of leaders to disfellowship the unrepentant.  Some pastors will meet with someone in sin alone, and without involving the rest of the church, tell him not to return to church.  This is not what the Bible teaches.  Another mistake is for leaders to gather together as a group and confront the one who sins against his brother, before following the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17.


It is clear from Matthew 18 that the unrepentant brother in this scenario is to be brought before the church.  He is not merely to be rebuked privately by leaders and told not to return.  The church should be involved in removing the sinning brother from fellowship.  Paul’s teaching on disfellowshipping a fornicator agrees with Jesus.  Paul gave instructions to the Corinthians:


I Corinthians 5:3-5

3  For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

4  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5  To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.


Who is to deliver the man over to Satan?  The church is.  Notice that Paul makes reference to the fact that the church gathers in the name of the Lord Jesus, and that the power of Jesus is present.  Compare this to Christ’s statement in the Matthew 18 passage on church disciple, that ‘where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” 


In I Corinthians 5:3, we see that Paul acts as a judge in the case of the man in sin.  He was able to judge the man by spiritual means, even from far away.  The Corinthians were to apply this judgment by exercising the power of Christ in their assembly to disfellowship the fornicator.


It is shocking to some believers to hear that there is a sense in which the church is to judge those who sin.  But Paul does teach us that there is a place for judgment in the church.  Because of the Corinthians neglecting to judge themselves, they experienced judgment from the Lord.


I Corinthians 11:30-32

30  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

31  For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.

32  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.


Paul explained that Christians are to judge those who are within the church, but allow God to judge those who are without, as we see in the conclusion of I Corinthians 5.


I Corinthians 5:12-13

12  For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

13  But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.


Originally, there were no chapter numbers in the New Testament, and Paul continues his teaching on judgment in I Corinthians 6. 


I Corinthians 6:1-5

1  Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?

2  Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

3  Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

4  If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.

5  I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?


The Corinthian Christians were going taking one another before pagan judges to judge cases.  In Matthew 18, we see that some sins that need to be confronted are sins of one brother against another.  Here, Paul indicates that the Corinthians should already have chosen judges from among themselves. 


It is interesting that Paul doesn’t specify that the judges had to be elders of the church.  Naturally, many churches that pay attention to passages such as I Corinthians 6 will want their elders to judge cases.  There is an old tradition of monarchical bishops judging cases in the church.  Naturally, elders can be involved in this kind of judging.


Sometimes Christians have disputes.  One feels the other is sinning against him, and the other does not agree.  These issues need to be decided.  Christians who have a dispute can find a fellow believer to decide their case, and agree to abide by his decision.  They could also have a small group of saints decide the case.  In a small fellowship, a case might even be brought before the congregation to be judged, especially if it is urgent.  An elder or group of elders may be asked to resolve a conflict of this sort.  If the sinning brother refuses to follow the judgment given, and refuses to repent, the case can be brought before the congregation. 


 Jesus spoke of treating a man as a heathen man and a publican if he should refuse to hear the church.  This indicates that the church speaks to the man in sin.  New Testament church meetings allowed for the members of the body to speak to exhort one another.  If the church should hear a case against an unbeliever in one of it’s meetings, then the one found guilty of sin should ‘hear the church.’  The members of the church should speak to him and try to persuade him to repent.  If he hears the church, then he can confess his sin and be restored.  If he will not hear and repent, then he should be cut off from fellowship.  Even in cases where a judge or judges from the church make a decision, a man to be disfellowshipped should be given a chance to ‘hear the church.’


Suffering Yourselves to Be Defrauded

In I Corinthians 6:7, tells the Corinthians that it would be better to ‘suffer yourselves to be defrauded’ than to take a believer to court before an unbeliever.  Some Christians will not hesitate to take another believer to court over an issue of money, land, inheritance etc.  It would be better to lose money than to take a case like this before an unbelieving judge.


But there are those who interpret this verse to mean that the noblest thing a believer can do when another Christian cheats him is to be silent and say nothing.  They consider this to be denying themselves.  But is this in accordance with the teaching of Christ?  While there are times when we should deny ourselves suffer silently, we must also remember that Christ commanded His disciples to confront brethren who sinned against them.  If a fellow believer wrongs us or cheats us financially, our own well-being and comfort is not the only concern.  A brother who sins needs to be rebuked.  The church needs to be protected from the corruption of sin.


Some believers who are cheated by fellow-believers in business dealings or other matters struggle with their own motivations.  This is a key issue.  They ask themselves if they want to confront the person who cheated them merely out of a motivation from greed.  The cheated party should pray about his motivations, but he should still obey Christ and confront the sinning party.  Some believers who feel they have been cheated will find out that they have not been cheated at all when they confront their brethren.  Often, Christians are able to work out their own conflicts without having to find someone to mediate between them.


Apostles as Judges

There is no specific passage in the New Testament about elders judging cases.  But we do see that Paul, an apostle, judged the case of the fornicator in Corinth.  But Paul also indicated that the Corinthians should have made an effort toward removing this man from among their midst[21], and that they were able to judge matters of this life.[22]  The Corinthians could have judged the man without the apostle Paul serving as a judge in the case.


Paul instructed that the man in the case he had judged for Corinth be delivered over the Satan.[23]  He also wrote that he delivered Hymenaeus and Philetus  over to Satan, but makes no mention of a local church being involved in this[24]   It is possible that Paul had a special authority to deliver deceivers over to Satan, or that he merely did this by faith, acting in accordance with the will of God.  It may be that Paul did this with the help of the local church these men were deceiving.  Paul, as an apostle, had a special role in caring for the saints in churches that were started through his ministry.  As one of the men who initially brought these churches the Gospel, he had spiritual responsibility for them.  It was natural that they would want him to judge cases when he was able.


It is conceivable that Timothy may have been expected to act as a judge of cases brought against elders, as a part of his apostolic ministry. 


I Timothy 5:19-20

19  Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

20  Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.


Notice that it is Timothy who has to determine whether or not to receive the accusation.  Apparently the church will be involved as well, because Timothy would rebuke guilty elders ‘before all.’ 


What about Leaders Who Sin?

 Paul’s instructions to Timothy are very applicable to us today.  In the first century, even elders were subject to the commands of Jesus and the apostles for dealing with sin.  Matthew 18 requires two or three witnesses for the brother accused of sinning against another disciple.  I Timothy 5:19 requires two or three elders for accusing an elder.  It would seem that accusing that elders do not receive a special privilege that puts them above being confronted if they sin.  If there is a difference regarding how elders that sin are to be treated, it is that the elders who sin without reconciling the situation before two or three witnesses are called to testify, are to rebuked before all, that others may fear.


It is also interesting to note that Paul speaks of Timothy receiving the charges against elders.  If an elder sinned and Timothy were present, it must have been easier for the church to deal with than when Timothy was absent.  Many believers are uncomfortable confronting leaders in sin, even though leaders must be confronted if they sin just like any other believer.  Having another leader rebuke a sinning leader makes it easy for the congregation.  Still, at least one Christian in Ephesus must have had to have had the courage to confront an elder, and at least one other would have had to have had the courage to serve as a witness before the case could even make it to Timothy. 


In churches that do not have an apostle present with them, having a plurality of elders to turn to is a great benefit.  If one of the elders sin, the others can help deal with the situation.  If there are no other elders, the church still must be obedient to Christ and the apostles’ teaching about dealing with sin.


Even apostles are not above Christ’s teaching.  Jesus taught, ‘For one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.”[25]  Even if Paul were to have preached another Gospel to the Galatians, he would have been accursed.[26]  In Revelation 2:2, Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for trying them that claimed to be apostles, but were not.  If someone claims to be an apostle, that does not put him above biblical rules for correcting sin.


The Problem of Unconfronted Sin

As in the Corinthian church of Paul’s day, many modern churches ignore those among them who sin.  This is very sad, and very dangerous.  Sin can grow and spread like leaven.  This is an area in which the church must return to Biblical Christianity.  If we do not judge ourselves, we may find ourselves being chastised by the Lord, as the Corinthian church was.


Unconfronted and uncorrected sin among leaders is another serious problem.  The leaven of sin can spread from any member of the body.  But when a leader sins, his example is all the more obvious.  Unbelievers can sneer at Christians when their leaders continue on in sin.  As the Bible said of the Jews,  “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.”[27]  Leaders should take the lead in confronting other leaders, but the church also has a responsibility to confront those in their midst that are in sin.


Unfortunately, the unbiblical way in which many churches function hinders the saints from confronting sin.  A format which only allows one leader to speak does not allow a saint with a legitimate issue that needs to be dealt with to raise his concern in the congregation.   Some churches have one main leader who is not held accountable by his own congregation.  Denominational rules are established so that if a man sins, those in some distant denominational presbytery, who do not know what is happening in his church, are theoretically responsible for correcting his sin.  This is not the system we see in the New Testament.  In many churches of a church leader blaspheme from the pulpit, lives in fornication, cheats the congregation out of money, or commits other sins, denominational rules leave the members of the congregation with few options besides going to church elsewhere.  Those who see the problems often leave the church, leaving behind, weak vulnerable followers [penikut-ikut] who follow the leader down his spiral into deeper and deeper sin or error. 


Believers need to know their responsibilities toward God to correct others who fall into sin, and to be open to correction themselves.  They need to know that the congregation is responsible to correct even leaders who fall into sin, if necessary, in a godly manner.  With the proliferation of men calling themselves apostles and prophets these days, believers need to know that apostles and prophets are to be tested.   None of us are above Christ’s teaching on correcting sin, no matter what we call ourselves.  God is not a respecter of persons.


The Sorrow of Disfellowshipping Brethren

Some people, if kicked out of a modern church for sin, will feel little sorrow.  One reason is for the lack of fellowship and body life in the church these days.  If a church has the kind of church life we see in the scriptures, then someone who has been among us for a long time who gets out will be cut off from close friends.  Missing church will not be merely missing a long meeting full of speeches, but will be like being cut off from close relatives.  This type of separation hurts.  It is supposed to hurt.


Paul was concerned that a man the Corinthians had exercised church discipline on might be ‘swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.”  He needed to be forgiven and accepted again.[28]  He must have been in deep emotional pain.  If a man were kicked out of the Corinthian church at that time, he couldn’t simply go down the street and join a church of another denomination.  The nearest church would have been far away.  After leaving the close fellowship of the saints, he would have been left without Christian fellowship unless some Corinthian Christian decided not to properly apply church discipline toward him.


The unrepentant person is not the only person who is hurt in this situation.  The rest of the church hurts when they disfellowship an unrepentant brother.  It hurts parents to discipline their own children, but loving parents do discipline their children for their own good.[29]  We must also be concerned with the health of the other saints in the church. 


Some believers who have learned about Biblical meetings as described in I Corinthians 14, are overjoyed when they get the chance to use their gifts with others in the assembly.  We can experience great joy as we meet and celebrate the Lord’s Supper in the most Biblical manner we can.  While we should be happy that a church is pursuing holiness by taking the commandments of Christ and the apostles about church discipline seriously, when a brother is to be disfellowshipped, we should naturally mourn.  Paul expected that the Corinthians should have mourned that the fornicator should be taken away from them.  Instead, they were proud.  There hearts were wrong on this matter.[30]  We should not neglect to deal with sin out of pride, and we should not rejoice over the sins of others.  If someone is really happy to have other members of the congregation disfellowshipped, and doesn’t grieve over the situation, that person has a wrong attitude.


Potential Problems

In Romans 14, Paul teaches believers with different points of view to accept one another without judging.  Some people can be very judgmental.  They may consider many things that are not sins to be sins, and want to bring accusations against their brethren before the congregation about these matters.  They carefully examine others for sin, but are not aware of their own sins.[31]  People like this in an assembly can cause a lot of damage.


One of the lessons we must learn from Romans 14 is that it is possible for Christians to hold to different ideas, even doctrinal ideas, and still remain in fellowship.  There are false teachings that attack the very nature of Christianity.  Paul dealt with men who denied the doctrine of the resurrection, and very important teaching.  The Bible warns us about false prophets, teachers, and apostles.[32]  We must be on the lookout for such men, but also accept he ministry true prophets, teachers, and apostles.[33]


Something interesting to note about false prophets is that Jesus taught that we would know them by their fruits.  We can see what prophets are like by their lives.  False prophets will bear bad fruit.[34]  The false teachers that Peter and Jude warned had lives that overflowed with sin.[35]  They were not merely teachers who erred in their understanding of doctrine in some small area, but men who did not have the Spirit, who should not have been teachers in the church.[36]  They were false teachers—men who were not truly teachers set forth in the church by the Lord.


Those in the church who are quick to condemn others as heretics for a different theological viewpoint on some issue like predestination or how many angels can stand on the head of a pin should be careful not to condemn God-gifted teachers as heretics over some small issue.


There are many issues that can divide churches that become serious about church discipline.  What proper steps should be taken divorced people who remarry without Biblical grounds before or after their conversion is a big issue that can break fellowship.  Even the issue of what to do with polygamists who become Christians can become a dividing point.  Churches dealing with such issues should really seek God for wisdom on these issues, and not just dive ahead with their own opinions.


Some people may wish to excommunicate others over smaller matters, like smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, or other issues.  We must be careful not to allow personal opinion or church tradition to take the place of the scriptures in dealing with sin in the church, and we must be open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.


Confessing Sins One to Another

Many modern Christians think of confession and forgiveness of sin as something personal, between themselves and the Lord.  But notice what James about confessing sin.


James 5:16  Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.


James goes on to talk about the effective prayers of Elijah, and encourages brethren to convert brethren who err from the truth.  We Christians need one another.  Prayers from other Christians can help us overcome sin in our lives, and help us be healed from sickness. 


Who should we confess our sins to?  If one believer sins against another, he should reconcile to the person he offended.  This will involve confessing his sin.  Someone who sins may wish to find other brethren in the Lord that he trusts, confess his sin, and ask for prayer.  There may be cases in which it is appropriate to confess one’s sin before the congregation.  Leaders who sin may wish to do this.  In some meetings, the Spirit may convict brethren in sin, and move them to confess their sins.  We need to allow room for this in our gatherings.  If the church hears a case against a man guilty of sin who has been confronted by one brother, and then by two or three, if the man decides to heed the churches advice and repent, it is likely that he will confess his sin right there before the whole church.  Another situation in which a church may wish to hear confession of sin is when a brother who has been disfellowshipped wishes to be restored to fellowship.  He may wish to come before the church and confess his sin, so that he might be restored to fellowship again.


Christianity is not just about “Jesus and me” as some people think.  Christians are a part of the body of Christ.  Our fellow brethren can help us in our Christian walk, even as it relates to struggles against sin.


Basics for Christian Holiness and Community

When Jesus sent the eleven apostles into all nations, He told them that they were to teach ‘them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”[37]  Christians need to learn to obey Jesus’ teaching so that we will not have disfellowship brethren.


Matthew 5-7 contains some of the great moral teachings of Christ.  These teachings of Christ are very important.  They teach us how to love God and one another.  Jesus warned His disciples against calling people names in anger.  He taught us against sinning in our hearts.  Many of these teachings are essential for us to obey if we want to resolve conflicts among us.


Some people have a difficult time asking for forgiveness or saying they are sorry.  Others have difficulty forgiving others.  For some, this difficulty arises from their culture.  Their culture teaches them not to apologize, or acknowledge their sin.  This is an aspect of culture that must be rejected by those who come to faith in Christ.  Reconciling oneself with others is essential to the Christian life.


Jesus taught us to reconcile with others.

Matthew 5:23-24

23  Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24  Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.


Jesus is talking to a Jewish audience, who were accustomed to bringing gifts for God to the altar in the temple.  Even though we do not take gifts to the temple in Jerusalem in our day and age, there is a principle here that we need to follow.  So many of us are concerned with doing things for God and doing things for Him.  It is not right for us to be concerned only with serving the Lord, and not with reconciling with our fellow man.  If we have hurt someone else, and we want to please the Lord, we must go to that person and be reconciled to him.


If we truly repent from our sins, we will not only be concerned with asking God for forgiveness.  We will also try to reconcile with others we have hurt.  Jesus went to the house of a tax collector named Zacchaeus.  Some criticized the Lord for eating with a sinner, but due to Jesus’ influence, Zacchaeus decided to repent.


Luke 19:8-10

8  And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

9  And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

10  For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.


The Lord apparently recognized Zacchaeus’ repentance as genuine.  Notice that Zacchaeus sought to make right the wrongs he had done to other people.  If we want to have a good relationship with God, we must treat other people right as well.


Church planters and teachers need to teach believers confess their sin to those they have wronged and be reconciled.  Believers also need to learn to forgive those who come to them to reconcile.  Jesus taught us to forgive others.


Luke 17:4  And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.


Jesus also taught the consequences of what happens if we do not forgive others.

Mark 11:25-26

25  And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

26  But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. 


These are serious words, words that don’t always fit with some of the teachings we hear about grace and forgiveness of sin.  But they are the words of Christ, and we must take them seriously.  Christians must forgive those who sin against them.


Church planters, teachers, and all the brethren in the church must encourage the saints to forgive one another and to reconcile with others if they sin.  This is essential for the spiritual health of the church.  If the brethren in a church do not want to reconcile with others they have wronged, or confess their sins, then that church will face many problems trying to implement Biblical teaching on church discipline.  Those who will not forgive or reconcile may all end up out of the church for their sinful, un-Christ-like behavior.  New believers who come to Christ who are from cultural backgrounds which teach them to be proud and not confess their sins to others need to learn to forsake that aspect of their culture, and follow Christ.  Parents must teach their children to forgive and reconcile.  These are essential teachings of the Christian life.


Churches that are serious about returning to New Testament fellowship, in which the saints really know and care for one another, will really need to obey Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness, reconciliation, and confronting sin.  If someone you barely know hurts you, it does not hurt deeply.  But when if someone you know well, whom you care about deeply, hurts you, it really hurts.  Many saints who participate in house churches are learning to return to the New Testament practice of having close relationships with one another.  This closeness is a great blessing.  But when you actually know the people in your church very well, and care for them deeply, it is also possible to get deeply hurt by them.  Churches must learn to follow the Lord Jesus’ teaching so that those who are wounded in conflicts between brethren can be healed. 


For the Lord

Jesus taught that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.[38]  The Lord has commanded us to love one another.[39]  He and the apostles He has sent have taught us how to maintain and preserve a loving community of saints that goad one another on to righteousness.  If we obey the Lord, we will have a holy, loving community.


We must remember that God the Father is preparing a bride for His Son.  If we love the Lord Jesus, we will strive be a holy people, so that, collectively, we will be a suitable bride for the Lord.  Paul, an apostle, who planted churches, had a heart to present the church as a chaste virgin to Christ.[40]   Our love for Jesus  should motivate us to maintain the love, unity, and purity of the body.  The saints should encourage one another to be pure.  Church planters and other ministers of the Gospel must teach the saints to encourage one another, to put away sin from among themselves, to reconcile with one another, and to forgive.  We must do these things for our Lord Jesus Christ.





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[1] II Corinthians 11:2.

[2] Matthew 13:28.

[3] Matthew 5:29-30.

[4] II Samuel 12:7-15.

[5] I Corinthians 12:21.

[6] Romans 12.

[7] I Corinthians 5:1-3.

[8] I Corinthians 5:3.

[9] Exodus 12:15.

[10] Joshua 7.

[11] Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 17:1-7, 12; 19:11-13.  Leviticus 20:10

[12] I Corinthians 10:17.

[13] Matthew 18:17.

[14] I Timothy 1:13.

[15] II Thessalonians 3:14.

[16] I Corinthians 2:10.

[17] Matthew 18:15.

[18] Isaiah 42:3. 

[19] Hebrews 12:12.

[20] Romans 6:11-14.

[21] I Corinthians 5:2.

[22] I Corinthians 6:3.

[23] I Corinthians 5:5.

[24] I Timothy 1:20.

[25] Matthew 23:8.

[26] Galatians 1:8.

[27] Romans 2:24.

[28] II Corinthians 2:7.

[29] Proverbs 13:24.  Hebrews 12:5-9.

[30] I Corinthians 5:2.

[31] Matthew 7:3.

[32] Matthew 7:15.  Matthew 24:11, 24.  Mark 13:22.  II Peter 2:1.  Revelation 2:2.

[33] Ephesians 4:11.

[34] Matthew 7:16.

[35] II Peter 2.  Jude.

[36] Jude 1:19.

[37] Matthew 28:19.

[38] John 14:23.

[39] John 15:12, 17.

[40] II Corinthians 11:2.