Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

   by Rayola Kelley

  Church discipline is either the most abused, the most ignored or the most misunderstood part of the Christian’s responsibility. Either it is abused because of personal causes and vendettas or it is ignored out of so-called ungodly love and tolerance. Because of the extremes, it has become greatly misunderstood by many believers who struggle with this issue. As a result, much confusion arises in Christianity in regards to confronting a brother or sister in Christ. What is the correct procedure to avoid misunderstandings, hurts and abuses?

   The Bible clearly deals with the issue of church discipline. But, it involves more than just calling a fellow Christian to some kind of accountability for offences. We are about to see that responsible church discipline has a lot to do with motive as well as defining what constitutes the grounds for godly confrontation.

   Jesus set up the guidelines to properly reprove or rebuke a Christian brother or sister. We find His instruction in Matthew 18:15: “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 they brother.” In this Scripture verse, Jesus stipulates the type of offence that will call for confrontation, the procedure to ensure godliness and the goal for such confrontation.

   The key word to consider in regard to the type of offence that requires confrontation is the word “trespass.” Trespass means missing the mark. The question is what mark is Jesus referring to—God’s mark of righteousness or man’s mark of personal standards? In the Old Testament, the word “trespass” implied transgression or the breaking of the law. To break the law meant that a person was trespassing into areas that were unlawful and immoral. To break the law meant one was missing the mark of God’s holiness. Romans 3:23 takes Christians one step beyond the law to tell them that when they sin, they fall short of the glory of God. Since sin mars the reality of God, it means a person is falling short of fulfilling his or her potential. This potential is to reflect the glory of God to a lost and dark world (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

   Trespass is also describing an offence that ends in the breaking of fellowship. This breaking of fellowship begins with God and will extend to other believers. The reason for this is because other Christians must not partake of such an offence. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 brings this out when he instructed the Corinthians believers to separate themselves from a fornicator.

   The reason for this distinction as to the type of fault or offence that must be confronted is because many offences have nothing to do with God and His moral law, but with the sin of pride. This is important to consider because most people are easily offended because their pride has been insulted. Such offence has nothing to do with trespassing or breaking the moral law of God or affecting a person’s spiritual well-being or eternal destination.

   This brings us down to pride’s attitude and reaction towards those who dare insult it. It judges according to unrealistic standards that demand restitution. It is touchy and judges according to how something or someone makes it feel about self. It demands to be placated, flattered or exalted in order to avoid from falling into the sights of its judgmental eye. It is self-centered, selfish and self-exalting. It demands that people conform to its way of thinking and doing to avoid future judgment or wrath.

   Although it is unrealistic, insidious and petty in its demands, it sees itself as being practical and righteous. In other words, it walks in delusion as its judgmental board blinds the person to his or her deceitful heart and arrogance. Anything that falls short of its self-righteous standards is considered an offence or unacceptable fault, and will be deemed as a rude and unacceptable action. From this point, pride will build a case against the culprit. This case will do nothing more than hide pride’s hypocrisy while justifying wicked and ungodly attitudes and practices towards the person. Needless to say, this pride is idolatrous and evil, but it can serve as an effective snare to others as they try to avoid its judgments, condemnation and wrath.

   Pride never has the other person’s best interest in mind. This is why when it is offended, it begins the process of tearing down that person to others. This tearing down is done in so-called Christian love or concern, but it is nothing more than gossip, slander and sowing seeds of discord among the brethren. This gossip, slander and discord is a legal form of murdering someone’s reputation in light of vain imaginations, speculations and slanted accusations. This legal form of murder is a way of making the so-called culprit pay without being called to personal accountability and exposed as a hypocrite and fool.

   To avoid the sins of gossip, slander and discord, Jesus instructed that if a person is offended, he or she must personally go to the individual and confront him or her about the fault or offence alone. This means the individual must refrain from going to others and complaining. As I have studied this part of His instruction, I could not help but appreciate Jesus’ psychology. He knew that a person who did not have godly grounds for confrontation would be forced to examine his or her offence if he or she properly applied His instructions. He also knew if the individual did bother to confront in the wrong spirit and for the wrong reason, the person’s pride would be exposed as the culprit.

   Jesus went one step further. If the first meeting did not acquire the desired results, the individual was to turn to the church body to acquire a witness to verify the fault or complaint (Matthew 18:16-17). Can you imagine going to the church body and complaining because someone did not treat you a certain way and your pride was insulted? Of course, at this stage the person could be walking in delusion and have developed quite a case against the other person. He or she can make it sound reasonable because it is based on his or her perverted conclusions.

   The beauty about godly confrontation is that the other side is illuminated. Once the light comes on, the speculation and deceivableness of sin is exposed. In the case of pride reigning it would be exposed as the real culprit. It is hard for some people to humble themselves and face their pride. Amazingly, Jesus’ instruction was a clever way of exposing and dealing with destructive sin at any level .

   Finally, we come down to the goal of godly confrontation: Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Pride is not interested in reconciliation, but restitution. It does not care about restoring fellowship, but does care about forcing people to conform to its way of thinking, feeling and doing so that the one who has been offended can once again feel good about self.

   The problem with the humanness of others is that it serves as a mirror to each of us. The human flaws that often irritate us the most are those that are plaguing our own character. When we encounter those flaws in others, they become a source of grave testing. In other words, they make us uncomfortable with ourselves. We do not want to face the fact that we are human and subject to the same depravity and ridiculousness as those who seem rude, common and inferior. Therefore, we can deem this uncomfortable state as rudeness and disrespect. The truth is pride resents such an infringement of having to face the harsh reality that when all is truly exposed, no one person is worse, and no one person is better.

   The next time you feel offended, examine yourself and see if your pride is reigning. Keep in mind Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 16:24, to deny self (neglect the demands of your pride), pick up your cross (nail your flesh to the cross) and follow Jesus up the path of righteousness. Every test of character will reveal how much of self is still alive and reigning because when self is put down, there is nothing left that will be offended in a personal way. As a result, you will be able to function in a godly, upright manner towards others.

   The next time you encounter the issue of offence, test yourself according to these guidelines:

1)       Judge righteously (John 7:24). This means your judgment is according to the righteousness of Christ and not your own personal standards or self-righteousness (Matthew 7:1-6).

2)       Make sure you are discerning sin and not judging human flaws. Sin breaks fellowship with God, while pride perverts and destroys relationships. If it is sin, make sure you confront out of love and in meekness of spirit for that person’s spiritual well-being. If they are human flaws, deny self and allow the love of God to cover such sins or offences in obedience to God’s character and disposition (1 Corinthians 13:6; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 4:8).

3)       Examine if you are seeking restitution or reconciliation (James 5:19-20). If you are seeking restitution, then you are operating out of pride and you need to repent because God is resisting you (1 Peter 5:5). Ask God to take the beam out of your eye before serving as a conscience to others (Matthew 7:4-5).

4)       Make sure it is about the other person’s spiritual well-being, and that it is not about personal feelings, religious beliefs or vendettas because your pride has been challenged, insulted or your feelings hurt.

5)       If it is a genuine trespass, refrain from sharing your concerns with others. Seek God’s perspective. Make sure all personal causes are out of the way, then follow His instructions in the Word of God to ensure integrity and godliness in the situation.