Thursday: Tough Love
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According to Matthew 18:15-17, how is the church supposed to treat a person who has been disfellowshiped?

Image © Jeff Preston from GoodSalt.com

The matter of church discipline is one of the most difficult issues that a local church faces. Often an errant member is another member’s brother, mother, son, cousin, or best friend. Some members prefer never to discipline anyone; others prefer harsh sanctions. How does a church find the will of God in the midst of so many competing interests?

Matthew 18 suggests a clear and simple process. First, a one-on-one conversation between the offender and the one offended. The context indicates that forgiveness is to be the goal of that conversation, whenever possible (Matt. 18:21-35).Second, the offended member is to take one or two others along to avoid confusion as to what is being said by one party or the other. Only after these first two steps have been carefully followed should the process move to the church in business session. Then, if the offender does not respond to the church as a whole, he or she is to be treated as “a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17, ESV).

Here is the problem. What does it mean to treat someone like a Gentile and a tax collector? There are at least two different possibilities. On the one hand, Jesus could be calling the church to shun the offender the way the Gentiles and tax collectors were shunned in the society in which He grew up. On the other hand, it could be a call to treat the outcast the way Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors (with compassion and forgiveness).

What does Paul have to say about church discipline? 2 Thess. 3:13-15.


Rightly applying Matthew 18 and Second Thessalonians 3 to contemporary life is a challenge. No two people are alike. No two situations are alike. In some cases forgiveness softens the heart of an offender and brings reconciliation to the church. In other cases hardened offenders may respond only to a love that is tough enough to confront and administer consequences. This is why the General Conference does not disfellowship anyone. Such delicate processes are best handled by the local church, where the offender is best known.

Tough love is not a license for abuse. According to verse 15, the person being disciplined is still to be treated like family. The church must remain conscious that the offender is a brother “for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:151 Cor. 8:11, NKJV).

What experiences have you had with church discipline? How can the church maintain a balance between confrontation and acceptance?

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Thursday: Tough Love — 21 Comments

  1. I want to know how we need to respond when those in authority have been corrupted themselves, by the love of money, position in Church and power. How are we to deal with such individuals who would try and discipline us when we speak out against these values..?

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    • A surge of anger is a normal reaction when we feel that we have been treated unfairly or unjustly by hypocritical, unethical and unfair individuals. The question remains, however, how do we deal with such individuals? Well, the same way Jesus treated mean and unloving individuals; and even "forgive them for they don't even know what they do." It is not easy! A couple of years ago, I never thought that my beloved church would treat me the way they did. My heavenly Father, urged me to go to the throne of grace and bring to him all my trials. In return, He gave me peace that surpasses all understanding. My hurt, wounded pride, and the urge to retaliate were soon replaced by forgiveness and peace. Every time, I wanted to retaliate and speak out in anger, I would hear the Holy Spirit whisper in my ears: God will fight your battle. Pray for those that persecute us. God has a way to change things; even the heart of evildoers.

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  2. Robin, what we have been learnig from the writings of paul, its is important to face such leaders maybe on an individual basis. Honestly, from your heart, point out what you see as being wrong. There are leaders who may not acknowledge their wrongs there and then, but since you, yourself from deep down your heart you are honest and have not hinden motives, through your prayers to the Lord, He will vidicate you.
    But the sad reality is, we will always have such situatuations in our churhes, but it must not make us lose our focus. Two oppsing influences will ever be there till harvest time, one for corruption and the olther for purification. But be rest assured that the latter will always prevail. Nothing is impossible with God. Brotherly admonition should always be there in the house of God. The desire of you as a member is to see or have people who are worthy of God's call. Keep praying for them, the Lord at His own time will make them to realise their error. You will be amaized of the working power of the Lord. The Lord has never lacked to have leaders to take charge of His flock. If leaders persistently and willfully take on the wrong side, The lord will raise others to take charge. But spirit of brothery love must be excerised in admonishing such erring leaders.

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  3. I am happy for this lesson as it helps me to see clearly how to handle this situation however I do not believe this process of disfellowship is being practised in some of our local churches and this to me is worrying as the Bible gave us clear directions. Are we following the teachings of the Bible? Or are we following our sinful minds?

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  4. Dealing with members who are engrossed with money and power depends on how well we intercede on their behalf before God.
    The leaders are human as the members and that when they tend to fall to the temptations of this world, we are to help them by praying for them. The prayer should be centered on God revealing their weaknesses to them and give them the heart to repent of their sins.
    On the other hand if we happen to find these leaders reproaching us of our shortcomings we need to accept it in good faith because the ultimate Judge is Jesus. We are not to reject their counsel or reproach because we do not know their personal relationship with God

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  5. This is where we look to Christ as our example. Humans are not infallible. We can’t use our leader’s mistakes and incorrect influence as excuses to lose our own faith in Christ and drop out. There are many reasons people have to leave our church, and there are many reasons people have to stay with our church. I pray you will chose to stay. Now this does not mean that we don’t have a responsibility to make sure the Church is marching according to the commands of God, and to the church itself, albeit with love and longsuffering, forgiveness, and kindness…We take the issue 1st to the leader, then with a brother or sister if our concern is of the leader falling outside the instruction of Paul in these two books of the Bible we have studied this quarter Thirdly turn it over to the Church Board and leave it there (keep it confidential in all three steps), as to keep unity in the chruch. These steps keep you from being a judge (pharisee).

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  6. Today's lesson reminds me of a text in Jude 1:22
    The Message (MSG)
    22-23 Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven.

    Indeed, we are to be loving and compassionate with those that err and pray that we still make them feel loved and accepted that they may be drawn to Jesus. Praying for guidance will give us the appropriate words at the right time--something I've proved impossible when I have attempted on my own judgement or strength!, but effective when leaning on Him.

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  7. As correctly put, it is tough love. It is not easy to love the one who has backsliden.

    The counsel of Paul that love is kind and patient helps us to have a spirit of correcting but at the same time to redeem. We should not harbour any intetion of punishing or teaching a lesson.

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  8. Robin's is a very important question as it applies to many formations of our church. Will someone come up with an answer please?

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    • I do believe that Robin’s question was answered very well in the blogs posted. Go back and read them with thought, prayer and the Holy Spirit.

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  9. Perhaps the problem here is that when the process in Matthew 18 fails to achieve what we think it should, we become bitter or resentful instead of seeking further answers from the Bible. Maybe we should consider the advice of Jesus. "And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." Mark 6:11, NIV We are not saved by making sure our names continue to be on the books of a church denomination. We are saved by our relationship with Jesus. When our experience is detrimental to that relationship, we might want to consider changing that relationship. Sometimes we find it easier to understand the need to leave an abusive marriage than to leave an abusive church.

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  10. I wonder why committing adultery seem to be the most sin that the church looks into. We have heard of or come across people committing various sins ranging from fraud, corruption, stealing, speaking abusive words, etc but they don't get disciplined. I really don't understand why it is like that.

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    • Committing adultery? Well in our church, it's getting pregnant outside marriage! Even worse, the woman is the one being punished when clearly the males are doing the same. It just shows you how man thinks... are they really for correcting these things are just the ones that infuriate them most?

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    • If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.

      Reinstating Those Previously Removed From Membership—When persons have been removed, the church should, where possible, maintain contact and manifest the spirit of friendship and love, endeavoring to bring them back to the Lord.

      Those previously removed may be received again into membership when the period assigned by the church in a business meeting is concluded, when confession of wrongs committed is made, evidence is given of real repentance and change of life, and the life is consistent with Church standards and it is clear that the member will fully submit to Church order and discipline.

      Such reinstatement should preferably be in the church from which the member was dismissed. However, when this is not possible, the church where the person is requesting reinstatement must seek information from the former church about the reasons for which the person was removed from membership.

      This is an excerpt from The SDA Church Manual. We are praying for you. God loves you and that is why he gave his only son-Jesus our blessed Redeemer.

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  11. Are we saved by membership or transfered membership? Then why is the Church making a big fuss about membership. Well my Bible tells me that all whom accepted JESUS CHRIST as their Lord and saviour will be saved, based on the love of Jesus and his death on the Cross. We are saved by grace through faith. Please reply asap. I am looking foward for your response.

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  12. In the Adventist Church, the appointment of administration is done from the church body (its members). If indeed money, position and power has pervaded the minds of those in office, following the three step process as outlined by Paul in the lessons, should lead to point where it is not only one person who is aware of the offence. Hence likeminded members will ensure that these are not again voted into responsible positions.

    If successfully applied, the offender will be shamed by the "vote of no confidence" and in this manner, should see the folly of his /her ways. It further serves as the element that he /she has been admonished by the church, without making of that one, an enemy.

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  13. Ellen G. White did say that she saw whole conferences being lost.I have personally seen churches being selective in how they treat individuals .They treat some as outcast and embrace and sweep the misadventures of others "under the carpet."But I thank God that salvation is an individual thing and that we will not be judged based on what church we belong to.I have also personally seen God using brethren that have gone astray, replace and become powerful leaders. So don't give up because when family, friends everyone have forsaken you God is in your corner cheering you on.

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  14. Ellen White saved whole conferences with her sticking to the character of God, longsuffering, kindness, peace seeker, forgiving, persistence, faithfulness, joyfulness, and many more. In Testimonies volume #9 there is a testimony of how she turned around apostasy of an entire conference, beginning to spread to the next conference. The long suffering came about by taking 3 years to go public with it. The repentance began at campmeeting, and forgiveness was widespread after the conference president asked for it at the evening meeting by making a public confession. It would behoove us to go back and read that testimony. I'll see if I can't find the pages of the encounter by next week. There is an account in Selected Messages book two also.

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