"Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me" John 14:1
MATTHEW 18:15-20 Print E-mail
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

SERMON OUTLINE, Operation Restoration: Jesus' Approach to Church Discipline


[All verses printed out at the end]



Many years ago, a great-aunt of mine died of cancer four years after a fall.  She wouldn't go to the doctor and it was costly.  She paid with her life.  Sometimes, what we fear most (e.g., doctor) is what we need the most. 


What is the visible means through which a church remains pure, or stays healthy?


"As the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the Church, so discipline forms the ligaments which connect the members together, and keep each in its proper place.  Whoever, therefore, either desire[s] the abolition of all discipline, or obstruct[s] its restoration, whether they act from design or inadvertency, they certainly promote the entire dissolution of the Church." (John Calvin, Institutes)


Before we dive into our main topic, let's define church.  "The local church is a group of baptized believers who meet [regularly] to worship God, fellowship with one another, see themselves as a church, and often partake of the Lord's Supper (Acts 2:44-47).  This group also submits to their leadership and serves each other.  Furthermore, these believers seek to tell others about Christ so unbelievers can know Jesus, become a faithful part of the local church, and grow in their faith." (Howard, Growing Up in Christ, 45)


Is the modern American church sickly?

  • My dad joined a church at age 11; at age 50, his name was still on the roll even though he hadn't been there in 30 years.
  • In a church my dad pastored, a person was still on roll after 25 years of absence.
  • One church's membership claimed more than 1,400, yet only averaged 200 for Sunday morning Bible study.

Perhaps, we're so sick because we don't biblically seek to restore and discipline.


The question is not, "Do we want to discipline?" but "Will we obey God?"


How do we do that correctly?  When?  Why?


Read Mt 18 Text


We conservative evangelicals say we love the Word.  The real test is, Will we obey Mt 18:15-20?  Central Idea of Text: Jesus taught how the church should deal with professing Christians willfully living in sin.  (Briefly explain larger context--forgiveness and restoration.)


1. The choice to sin leads to confrontation (vv15-17a).

{At a Houston press conference in 1974 with President Nixon, Dan Rather introduced himself when Nixon called on him for a question.  In response to the way Rather introduced himself, Nixon asked jokingly, "Are you running for something?"  Rather responded seriously, "No sir, Mr. President.  Are you?"}


What sort of sins are we talking about? (see under second point below)    


Let's look at a brief overview of the whole Mt 18:15-20 discipline/restoration process.

A. Private encounter (vv15-16) [no detectives needed to discover sins of others]

                (v15) Individual--STEP ONE (beware of gossip)

                                "show him his fault"--rebuke (Lev 19:17)

                                "won"--gained (1 Cor 9:19-22)

                (v16) Two or three--STEP TWO (Dt 19:15)

B. Public encounter (v17)

               (v17a-b) The "church"--STEP THREE (Mt 16:18)

               (v17 c-d) If no repentance--STEP FOUR "let him be to you as a Gentile and

               a tax collector."


"Although each step leads to the next, if the errant brother repents at any point in the process, the process has been successful and is therefore aborted" (Clayton Hall, http://semperreformada.wordpress.com/2007/10/21/rediscovering-church-discipline-among-southern-baptists/, Retrieved on Nov 9, 2007).  The goal in the Mt 18:15-20 process is to honor Christ by obeying his teachings in how we interact with each other.  The end result will hopefully be restoration of the relationship between the offended and the sinning person(s), and between the sinning person(s) and Christ.


2. The refusal to repent calls for discipline (v17b-d).  "tell it to the church...a tax collector."


{When I was a teen, my parents grounded me for a whole summer.  Discipline was necessary.}


The third step is the public announcement to the church.  If he repents, restore him--forgive him publicly.  If he refuses, the fourth step is to dismiss him.  Think of the third and fourth stages as preventative maintenance.  They serve as a warning not only to those sinning but to would-be sinners. 


  • Can we ever excommunicate people in private or at least in a much smaller group, like among the church staff? (Most likely no because the biblical mandate is to bring them and their sins before the church, presumably the entire church.)
  • Should non-members ever be disciplined? (If someone hasn't joined a church but fellowships on a regular basis and claims to follow Christ, that church's responsibility is to help him do so, member or not. If the church would love a non-member in other ways, like say, give him communion or provide clothes if his house burned down, why would it not also love him in the Mt 18:15-20 way? The church, however, would be well served to make sure all attendees know from the beginning of their affiliation with that congregation that they [non-member attendees] could be subject to discipline.)


In 1527, Michael Sattler, on behalf of the Swiss Brethren, drafted what became known as the Schleitheim Confession.  It was a church manual, and church discipline was one of the seven basic issues it dealt with.  This group of believers faced rampant persecution but still felt it necessary to obey Scripture on discipline.


Robert A. Baker, in The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607-1972, records that from 1877-1917, 1,021,782 Southern Baptists were disciplined by their churches and 336,348 people were restored.  This statistic shows that churches during this period cared about the issue enough to practice it.  For several decades in the 1900s, church discipline disappeared from many churches, especially Southern Baptist churches.  While not nearly enough congregations today follow through on the biblical mandate of church discipline, it has resurfaced within recent years.


  • How and when does the third phase of discipline--letting the church know--take place? (In church service--the Lord's Supper could be one good place to bring it out.)
  • What is our response in and outside the service to those disciplined, that is, those in the fourth phase? (Treat them respectfully, as you would any non-believer.)
  • What are they excluded from, both in and outside the service? (In service--Lord's Supper, leadership, and church decisions; outside service--any sort of interaction or fellowship that would leave them feeling like a believer or comfortable in their sin.)


The goal of church discipline is restoration (2 Cor 2:6-11; Gal 6:1-5).  We need to be cautious that we're not pulling splinters out of the eyes of others while having poles in our own (Mt 7:1-5).  Since restoration isn't always possible, because people don't always repent, Scripture guides us on some of the reasons that could warrant the final stages of discipline.


PASSAGES:                             SINS:                                       ACTIONS:

Rom 16:17                                (divisions/offenses)                   Avoid them

1 Cor 5:1-13                              (covetousness, idolatry, 

                                                 reviler, drunkard, extortion,     

                                                 fornication)                           Don't keep company

                                                                                            with (not even

                                                                                            a meal) &

                                                                                            Deliver to Satan

1 Tim 1:20                                (blasphemy/false teaching)        Deliver to Satan

2 Tim 3:5                                  (deny godliness)                      Avoid them

Tit 3:10-11                                (factions)                               Reject (after 2x)

2 Thes 3:6                                (unruly life)                             Keep away from

2 Thes 3:14-15                          (disobedient to Word, lazy)       Disassociate with

                                                                                            (admonish as a


1 Jn 5:16                                   (sin leading to death)              No need to pray for


But isn't church discipline mean?  Some believe so.  In the early 1990s, a college student asked W. A. Criswell about the teachings of Mt 18:15-20 and the modern church.  Criswell replied to the affect of, "You just can't do that to people these days."


But I contend that if Amos, Jesus, and John the Baptist could call folks, "Fat cows of Bashan" (Amos 4:1), "white-washed tombs" (Mt 23:27), and "brood of vipers" (Lk 3:7), then surely we can confront rebels both in private and in public, if necessary.


We want to remember what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Tim 2:24-26, "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."  But such a passage doesn't cancel out Jesus' injunction to discipline.


In fact, the same Paul that wrote 2 Tim 2:24-26 did something that would most certainly offend our sensibilities today.  He named a few people involved in conflict, or else those who were outright troublemakers:

  • Gal 2:11, 13 Cephas (Peter) and Barnabas are practicing hypocrisy.
  • Phil 4:2 Euodia and Syntyche are squabblers who should live in harmony.
  • 1 Tim 1:20 Hymenaeus and Alexander are blasphemers whom Paul delivered to Satan.
  • 2 Tim 1:15 Phygelus and Hermogenes deserted Paul.
  • 2 Tim 4:10, 14-15 Demas loved the present world and deserted Paul, and Alexander harmed Paul greatly and opposed sound teaching.


The excommunication step is a serious one and not one to be implemented too hastily.  It deals with someone's soul.  Yet, the teaching is there in Scripture.  People rebelling against God and his church do so to their detriment.  (Mt 18:17 "...let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer."  See "cut off" idea in Gen 17:14; Ex 12:15, 19; 30:33, 38 [Blomberg, NAC, 279].)


  • Is there a delay between making sins public and excommunicating a person? (Possibly, if the person isn't there to respond, then giving a brief period, say a week, for repentance could be in order. Ideally, he would be notified in advance of what was going to take place and would be there to repent. If someone were not willing to repent, though, he might be absent. But making their sins public and excommunicating them would happen in the same service if the person were there and refused to repent or had indicated verbally that they would not repent and would also not be there when his sins were brought before the church.)


3. The decision to correct (discipline/excommunicate/restore) is pre-approved in heaven (vv18-20).


Unity of the decision

Father's provision (Mt 16:19; 18:10-14; Jn 20:23)

Son's presence

Many people quote verse 20, "Where two or three are gathered...," but do they know its context of discipline and restoration?


{Mom and dad gave the right to discipline us to our babysitter, teachers, etc.  Within reason, God has given the church the responsibility of disciplining and restoring wayward members.}



"What if someone sues us or our church?"  While we very well could be sued, that isn't the point.  The church will be corrupted if we don't practice church discipline and restoration.  The price is more costly if we disobey God.


"Nothing could be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin.  Nothing could be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin." (Bonhoeffer, Life Together)


I'm guessing that any church which has existed for at least a year but hasn't brought a rebelling person before the whole congregation is most likely disobeying Mt 18:15-20.  While many situations may resolve before the third and fourth phases, not all will.  And such would mean that at best, most churches are cutting corners with the Mt 18 passage, and at worst, disregarding it altogether.  Either scenario equals disobedience.


The question is not, "Does God want us to discipline?" but "How does God want us to discipline?"  (Hopefully, by now, you know the answer.)  Church discipline isn't a license to be mean, or a free pass to inflict pain, but a command to love--even when it hurts to confront and restore.


  • Just as a loving parent disciplines a rebelling child, so a loving God disciplines a rebelling child. And, in the same way, a loving church disciplines a rebelling member (or attendee).
  • If a congregation wants to fellowship in love, it must practice biblical discipline-- the fullest form of love.




(In the order of occurrence above)


Acts 2:44-47 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people and the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.


Mt 18:15-20 If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.  17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.  19 Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.  20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.


Lev 19:17 You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.


1 Cor 9:19-22 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.


Dt 19:15 A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.


Mt 16:18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.


2 Cor 2:6-11 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.  For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.  But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.


Gal 6:1-5 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.


Mt 7:1-5 Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.


Rom 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.


1 Cor 5:1-13 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife.  2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.  3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.  4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.  6 Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?  7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.  For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.  11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one.  12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Do you not judge those who are within the church?  13 But those who are outside, God judges.  REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.


1 Tim 1:20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.


2 Tim 3:5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these.


Tit 3:10-11 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.


2 Thes 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.


2 Thes 3:14-15 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.  Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.


1 Jn 5:16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death.  There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this.


Amos 4:1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, "Bring now, that we may drink!"


Mt 23:27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.


Lk 3:7 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"


2 Tim 2:24-26 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.


Gal 2:11, 13 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.


Phil 4:2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.


1 Tim 1:20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.


2 Tim 1:15 You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.


2 Tim 4:10, 14-15 for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.  Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching.


Gen 17:14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.


Ex 12:15, 19 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.  Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of the land.


Ex 30:33, 38 Whoever shall mix any like it or whoever puts any of it on a layman shall be cut off from his people.  Whoever shall make any like it, to use as perfume, shall be cut off from his people.


Mt 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.


Mt 18:10-14 See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.  [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]  What do you think?  If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?  If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.  So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.


Jn 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.

(Bible Gateway, NASV)




9 Marks (Mark 7)

Semper Reformada


Growing Up in Christ (Chapter 6)

Learning How to Follow Your Leader

The Lord's Supper: Finding Strength in Difficult Times (Sermon Outline)

Rethinking the Church: A Challenge to Traditional Ministry Methods


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