This is a subject that most people outside of the church can’t understand. But all discipline is designed for one purpose. To show true biblical love, that is, to seek another person’s highest good.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians) was written to rebuke the church there for allowing sexual immorality to go on unchecked. Paul tells them, “what are you doing? Why haven’t you disciplined this guy who’s sleeping with his step mother? Not even the gentiles would do such a thing” [1 Corinthians 5].
Some individuals had gotten hurt/convicted at Paul’s rebuke so Paul wrote a second letter (2 Corinthians) to address the hurt feelings.
2 Corinthians 7:8-11
8 ¶ For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.
9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Paul says here that it wasn’t his intention to hurt their feelings but that it was good that it did. He then draws a comparison between two different types of sorrow. Godly sorrow, which we know as conviction, which leads to repentance and salvation. And, worldly sorrow which produces death.
The difference lies in the focus of our sorrow and the result it brings about. Godly sorrow or conviction is a product of the Holy Spirit [John 16:8]. Conviction is a sorrow for how we’ve treated God, at our separation from Him.
Worldly sorrow places self at the center. It’s what we know as shame or regret. Not because of how our actions have impacted God but because of the consequences we’re forced to endure over our choices.
In John 3:18-21 Jesus contrasts how two different types of people respond to light. He describes the light as doing the same function as the Holy Spirit, exposing deeds, convicting of sin.
He says, he who believes walks in the light having his deeds exposed. But he who doesn’t, hates the light, hates having his deeds exposed. He recoils from it. John will later explain this contrast further in 1 John 1:6-7. Where he says, “if we say we have a relationship with Christ while walking in darkness (this state of rebelling against conviction and refusing to have our deeds exposed), we’re lying to ourselves. But if we walk in the light (having our deeds exposed, being convicted and allowing repentance to take place) then we are in relationship with Christ and His blood cleanses us”.
You see walking in a state of hidden willful sin is hypocrisy, exactly what Jesus hated about the Pharisees. In fact the Greek word for hypocrite is hypocrat which means an actor, someone putting on a performance.
But walking with our deeds exposed produces humility. Because I can’t be judgmental or harsh to someone struggling in areas I have failed in also. It produces repentance because I long to have Him more than my sin. And it glorifies Christ because without Him I would be blind to my sin and damned.
In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus himself says that there is a threefold approach to Christian discipline. 1. Go to the brother and talk to him. If he doesn’t repent, 2. Confront him in front of witnesses. If he still doesn’t repent, 3. Confront him in front of the church. If he still doesn’t repent… break fellowship with him. These are Jesus own words and we see Paul repeat them in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.
The goal of breaking fellowship is the same as the prodigal son. To allow the individual to walk in the manner in which they choose and suffer the consequences for their actions. But just like the prodigal son, when the brother returns in the light, deeds exposed, in repentance, we restore them to fellowship and welcome the brother back in.
We see Paul talk about this in Galatians 6:1-2 as well. He says here that if you see a brother caught up in sin, you are to go to him and confront him, being careful not to get caught up in it yourself, and restore the brother. But then verse 2 says “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” How do we do this? When we confront the brother and he’s left broken, convicted and in need of help, we bear his burden. We counsel him, disciple him, encourage him and reassure him that restoration can be had in Christ. But only in walking in the light as John said.
God has broken me to my lowest point many times. Areas I was blind to, areas I was rebellious to. But John says that the way we know that we love our brothers is by loving God first [1 John 5:2]. And we demonstrate that by following His heart and His commands in Christian discipline.
As Christians we have to ask ourselves what is our greatest priority? Jesus said, to love God and love our neighbor. How do we show love? By putting God first, trusting Him, including His prescription on handling matters and by seeking our neighbors highest good. What is his highest good? Is it his happiness? If it was Jesus, Peter and Paul all have to repent because at times the truth offended people and hurt their feelings. No, seeking their highest good is not about their immediate happiness, but about their ULTIMATE happiness, in eternity with Christ forever. THAT is Christian love. THAT is the root of Christian discipline.