It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles?—?that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. (1 Corinthians 5:1ff—NKJV)

The biblical idea of discipline did not carry all the negative baggage that the modern hearer associates with it. It is actually a very positive concept relating to regulation which paves the way for future success. Fundamental disciplines are necessary in education, in sports, in finances, in business, in human maturity, and in society at large. Self-discipline is the self-regulation afforded by integrating tools for successful living into your world view and into your daily routine. On the spiritual level it is the firm lordship of Christ in your life and the dethroning of all self-interest.

Our text under consideration is a primer for the local church when Christian self-discipline breaks down and a member begins to walk “disorderly” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–7, 15). Right off the bat in verse 1, you will notice that the Corinthian church was so weak it was not standing against something that even the unsaved world sees as wrong. When church discipline is not allowed to biblically function in a church then sin will creep in largely because church is a great place to make friends, or we go out of our way to avoid being judgmental, or perhaps because there may be some other focus we want to encourage in a wayward brother so we try to “pick our battles” wisely and in so doing we soft-pedal sin. Such well-meaning intents can blind a church to the impact sin within the membership has upon the watching world.

Having called the church away from its complacency, Paul underscores the manner that church discipline must be observed and applied. There must be no arrogance in allowing sin, as they had been doing, nor can there be any arrogance in removing the offending man from membership, as they needed to do. The proper attitude on the part of the church is “mourning.” There is no room in any sincere believer’s life for self-righteous pride. The humility of mourning for a brother who has wandered is the only proper atmosphere in pursuing obedience to Christ in church discipline.

In order to ascertain whether a church is exercising the command to discipline in the right atmosphere, there are certain biblical directives to be observed. The church must make sure it is maintaining humility and loving concernmdash;mourning displays a sense of loss (Galatians 6:1). It must maintain a ready spirit of forgiveness (Ephesians 4:31–32). It must maintain a firm stand and commitment to truth and against sin (1 Timothy 5:20, Titus 1:13). It must maintain love for the Lord and what He loves (2 Thessalonians 3:15). Finally, it must always seek the restoration to obedience of the errant one (2 Corinthians 2:6–11, 7:8–9, 2 Thessalonians 5:14).

Church discipline in the case Paul is citing here required excommunication (excluding from membership in the church) for the cause of sexual immorality, verses 3–5. Later in the context, Paul takes pains to express several reasons for excommunication. In verses 9–11 he says, “…but now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.” It was so important for the church to hear his words that he further underscores and expands the need for the fundamental discipline in the local church in the next chapter (6:9–11). As you read these verses do not fail to hear the tone of humility even as Paul calls for purity.

To be sure, discipline for sexual impurity is important, but there are some other areas to exercise diligent care and discipline, if necessary. Teaching heresy is certainly a reason for church discipline (Titus 3:10, Romans 16:17–18). Troublemaking and sowing disunity among the saints is also an error that deserves correction (Proverbs 6:19, 2 Thessalonians 3).

Why must every local church pursue discipline in its ranks? One reason (listed in 5:6) is in order to keep sin from spreading! It only takes a little leaven to leaven the whole loaf (Matthew 16:6, Galatians 5:9). Another reason for church discipline is to help the sinner realize the serious offense of his sin and for him to return to faithful obedience before God. The man referred to in chapter 5 was faced with discipline from the Corinthian church and we later learn he repented, ceased from his sin (2 Corinthians 2:5–7), and was restored. A final reason for exercising church discipline is to maintain Christ’s standards before the watching world (Acts 5:1–13).

Church discipline would not be largely necessary if every church pursued saved church membership and every believer practiced self-discipline by exercising Christian grace in obedient living. Let fundamental discipline be active in your heart, applied with humble thanksgiving for the grace of God at work in you! Trust and obey.