Church Discipline is for Restoration

Below is a teaching outline that I’ve used to train others concerning the process and purpose of church discipline. In short, church discipline is for convincing the wayward of their sin and restoring them. I pray it would be beneficial for your congregations.

Scripture References

Matthew 18:15

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
ἐὰν δὲ ἁμαρτήσῃ εἰς σὲ ὁ ἀδελφός σου ὕπαγε ἔλεγξον αὐτὸν μεταξὺ σοῦ καὶ αὐτοῦ μόνου ἐάν σου ἀκούσῃ ἐκέρδησας τὸν ἀδελφόν σου

2 Tim. 3:16

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…”
πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν πρὸς ἔλεγχον πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ

John 16:8

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”
καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐκεῖνος ἐλέγξει τὸν κόσμον περὶ ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ δικαιοσύνης καὶ περὶ κρίσεως


  1. Matt 18:15 tells us that we must first proactively go (imperative) to our brethren.
    • Too often we procrastinate or let sins against us fester.
    • If there is objective and substantial evidence of wrongdoing, you must approach them first.
  2. The next thing you must do is tell them (or convince them – also an imperative) of their sin.
    • The word ἔλεγξον is pregnant with meaning.
      • It signifies not just telling someone in an accusatory way they’ve done wrong, but aims to convince them that what they did was indeed wrong.
    • This requires patience, conflict/resolution skills, as well as love in order to go to them and explain why they must repent from X sin(s).
      • This isn’t merely just a case of someone explaining and hoping the other one gets it. It is involved. It is dirty. It is messy. It assumes a level of responsibility that oftentimes we do not take upon ourselves as believers.
      • We often just pawn it off to the next guy or just leave the Holy Spirit to fix it.
        1. Praying for them and waiting upon the LORD is most certainly applicable.
        2. But our attitudes should not be passive when it comes to sinful offenses.
      • This process also requires repeated attempts. Not just a one-and-done deal.
        1. And we should strive to extinguish any conflict and any sin in private first, between you and your brother/sister, with as much tenderness and concern as possible, before it erupts into a forest fire.
    • It is important during this process to use the Word of God. Not our own pre-conceived notions.
      • We have to remember that our aim is to convince the person of their sin. We want them to see the sin for what it really is — sin!
        • The best way to do it is to use God’s word. Not for bludgeoning but for building up.
      • 2 Tim 3:16 uses the same word for convincing and convicting as in Matt. 18:15 (ἔλεγξον)
      • Our best tool to convince them is the very Word that convicts and changes their heart.
      • And the Holy Spirit, when the heart is confronted, will apply those truths in order to convince (ἐλέγξειthem of sin, righteousness, and judgment (see John 16:8).
  3. Notice that Matt 18:15 says go to them, alone.
    • Too many like to broadcast people’s sins to others before going to the person themselves.
      • One might seek wisdom from an older saint, or someone they trust as a wise counselor, but we are not to be gossipers and busybodies of other’s transgressions.
      • The Greek, like the English, emphasizes going to them, and them alone.
      • Giving room to deal with sin privately is providing an opportunity for the person to explain or humble themselves. But it also ensures that the person is not shamed in an ungodly fashion.
        1. Conviction of sin involves shame, but a shame that is meant to restore (gain) the person, not embarrass them unnecessarily.
  4. Keep two goals in mind: 1) You want them to take heed and 2) You want to win them back.
    • The real reason why we take great pains to convince and confront is not so that we can puff ourselves up over the other. Or justify ourselves in the face of another’s sins. But so that you can win them!
      • If your goal is not so that they might be restored and conformed to Christ and godliness, and you have some hidden agenda, your confrontation is Pharisaical.
      • Take heed not to cloak your hidden agenda by convincing yourself that you are confronting for the goal of restoration when you really are not. God knows your heart and will oppose your hypocrisy.
    • The Greek word here for winning, or gaining them (ἐκέρδησας) implies gaining something of value. Such as something for profit.
      • It is indeed valuable for the local church to gain a straying brother or sister, as well as for that person to be restored.
  5. If after your attempts at pleading and convincing have failed, then you must bring others with you (Matt 18:16).
    • The idea here is the same as when you go to them alone. But this time, you involve other godly, wise, and trustworthy saints, so as to convince them of their sin so that they might repent.
    • The contingency of having more with you is so that it is no longer a “he-said-she-said” situation. If the sin or conflict is serious enough, you must involve more so that there are no lone wolves, and no gossipers, spreading rumors or controlling the problem at hand.
    • Also, as with any disciplinary measures, greater consequences should be matched in accordance with the measure of resistance.
      • The greater the resistance to repentance and change, the more the issue escalates, which would involve bringing it before the local congregation.
      • And again, the idea is restoration. Not undue shame and embarrassment, or cultic ostracism. But to purify the body and bring restoration. We desire to win them!
  6. Notice how, if after we’ve pleaded with the unrepentant by the few, we move to the many in the church (Matt 18:17)
    • By the time we arrive at this step, the conflict has escalated almost to the point of no return.
      • Depending on what the transgression is, it should not come to anyone’s surprise that this last action is taking place.
    • The reason for escalation is, as the Scripture says, the person’s “refusal” to listen.
      • The Greek word παρακούσῃ connotes an attitude of omission and dismissal of what is being said.
        1. This can happen in many ways, even if the person expresses verbal repentance, or happens to demonstrate sorrow in some way (think of Pharaoh; Exodus 9:27)
        2. But the idea here is that the overall admonishment and correction are blatantly ignored.
        3. Because of this, the church now must be informed.
    • If they refuse to listen to the church, then they must be regarded as a Gentile and tax collector.
      • This is written in the imperative. They must be treated as a class of people who were often avoided in those days.
      • This last attempt in the process can be substantiated within Scripture as the last move for restoration.
        1. Avoidance is a strategy of discipline that can be found at various points in Scripture (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:11; 2 These 3:14)
        2. The main purpose here is not to avoid them because you now despise their very being. But to bring shame so that they might repent of their sin and be restored!
          • What we first sought to prevent in the beginning is to be poured out in the last.
          • Avoidance is meant to cause the person to feel the weight of their sin.
          • If they go out into the world, and they are truly his, it will not be long before they return. And if they do, you have won them!
          • If they are won, we must welcome them with open arms back into the fold so that they might be restored to a right fellowship within the body, and chiefly, to Christ.

– Until we go home

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