Some of you, no doubt, have experience with “tough love.” Maybe you’ve needed to exercise “tough love.” Maybe you had to do so with a child; maybe you had to let your child reach “rock bottom” before he or she could be helped. Maybe you had to do so with a parent; I’ve known several adult children who have needed to exercise “tough love” with a parent. Some of you have been in supervisory roles; did you ever need to practice “tough love” with an employee?
Maybe you’ve had to exercise “tough love” in a church setting. Did you ever have someone whom you love deeply be disfellowshiped? Some of you men have served as elders; did you ever need to practice “tough love” and withdraw from someone?
Disfellowship is an act of “tough love.” I have seen people gravitate to one side or another. Some brethren were so “tough” that I almost got the feeling they were enjoying destroying friendships. It was almost an egocentric way of saying, “I’m better than you are.” Some brethren have erred because they went too far to the loving part; they would overlook sin they had no right to overlook.
Church discipline is an act of tough love. Today, we’ll think about church discipline as an act of love; tomorrow, we’ll think about church discipline as “tough” love.
I have no doubt that many in this world would view any use of church discipline as an exercise in cruelty. Many years ago in Collinsville, Oklahoma, Marian Guinn sued the church after the elders disfellowshiped her for adultery. When the jury returned a verdict in her favor, the jurors said they wanted it clear that churches couldn’t be that cruel to church members. Disfellowshiping, however, is an act of great love.
Disfellowship shows a love for a soul.
“Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5). Those who have come to Jesus can forsake Him and be eternally lost. Those who turn back from following Jesus face hell (Lk 12:47-48; Heb 10:26-27). “If, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Pet 2:20).
How can it be considered loving or kind to allow people to lose their souls and stand by and idly do nothing? Want to understand how disfellowship is an act of great love? Do two things:
One: Contemplate the reality of hell.
If you want to understand the love of a soul disfellowship shows, think about the eternal destiny of those who live in sin. Go through Scriptures where we learn the reality of hell:
Hell is a place of darkness: “The sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness” (Matt 8:12).
Hell is a place of fire (Matt 13:40-42).
Hell is a place where God is not. “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess 1:9). Those in hell may very well call upon God for mercy, but He will not hear. He will not be in hell!
Hell is an eternal place. “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41).
Hell is a place of pain: “The sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:12).
Two: Pray for the unrepentant sinner.
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Rom 10:1). If disfellowship is an act of love, we will pour out our hearts “that they may be saved.”
Whom do you know who has wndered away from the Lord and is, therefore, bound to a devil’s hell unless there is repentance? Pray. Pray. Pray for them.
Disfellowship shows a love of a Savior. When we disfellowship, we demonstrate to that sinning soul the love that God loves him or her.
We must never forget that God deeply loves those who are in sin. That is why He sent Jesus into this world: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16). God doesn’t want anyone to be lost: God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).
How does disfellowshiping someone demonstrate the love of God? I’m sure many would say, “That makes no sense whatsoever. . . . You cut off fellowship with someone and you’re showing God’s love?” Well, think with me: One purpose of disfellowship is to see a person’s soul saved (1 Cor 5:5). God gave us guidelines to disfellowship because he loves those in sin!
When someone repents, God, like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, runs to wrap His loving arms around that penitent soul. When did that prodigal son go home to his father? Was it not when he was in a distant country, without family, without friends, and without support? God knows what He’s doing when He commands His children to act in a certain way.
Not only does disfellowship demonstrate God’s love to the unrepentant sinner, but disfellowship shows the world that we love the Lord. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15). If someone needs to be disfellowshiped and we do nothing, how can we claim to love the Lord who instructed us to act?
What do you do to demonstrate the love of a Savior? You carry out disfellowship. Disfellowship is a congregational activity. “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor 5:4-5). When the church disfeldlowships, we must sever fellowship with such people–no Facebook, no phone calls, no going out to eat.
Disfellowship shows the love of a saint.
I’ve already mentioned that one purpose of disfellowship is to save a soul on that last, great Day.
Another purpose is to keep sin from spreading in a congregation. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor 5:6-7). When people see that a church winks at sin, they’ll be far more likely to wink at sin. On the other hand, when we see the church is serious about sin, we’ll be far less likely to persist in sin: “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (1 Tim 5:20).
Fellowship is so important. When God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, He created the woman from Adam’s side. When the church in Jerusalem did not believe Saul of Tarsus was truly a disciple, Barnabas took him to the apostles. When we have burdens, we can help one another bear them and so fulfill the law of Christ.
As important as our fellowship with one another is, our fellowship with God is immensely more important. “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Gen 5:24). I can only surmise the special fellowship God and Enoch shared. God calls us to fellowship: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9). One day, I will have great fellowship with my God: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev 21:3).
If I can help you have fellowship with God, please contact me!