Friday, February 25, 2011

Suspension from the Lord's Supper

Several weeks ago we spoke of the necessity of discipline within the Christian community. Even as our fathers separated themselves from the mixed multitude in Nehemiah’s day, the church is commanded to publicly censure those professing the Name of Christ who refuse to obey the Word of God. Listen as Paul commands the Thessalonian church to implement the first stage of this public discipline, a stage we commonly refer to as Suspension from the Lord’s Supper:

2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 (NKJV)
13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

Paul begins his words on discipline with an exhortation to the congregation at large, “brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” Note that Paul’s command presumes that it is a temptation to grow weary in doing good – after all, we don’t warn about things that aren’t threats. In endeavoring to do good we face much opposition – both from within and from without – and so Paul commands us to never grow weary. The temptations of the Evil One, combined with the allurements of the world and the lusts of our own flesh, often make the task of doing good challenging. Add to this that other people frequently discourage us from doing good and we begin to understand that the temptation to grow weary is indeed great.

Because of the strength of this temptation, the temptation to give up doing good and simply start doing whatever, Paul exhorts the church to take seriously those who refuse to obey the Word of God. As Paul remarks elsewhere, a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. If a congregation permits sin to go unchecked, then that congregation cannot be surprised when such sin spreads. So notice that Paul urges the Thessalonians to act – “if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” Paul’s command involves two parts – first, the Thessalonians are to “note” – mark – point out – publicly identify such a one. Second, they are to refuse to keep company – refuse to enjoy communion, including normal fellowship at the Lord’s Supper – with such a one. Why? What is the purpose of this marking? This suspending of normal fellowship? Note Paul’s words: “that he may be ashamed.” In other words, the purpose of this discipline is to awaken the sinner to the seriousness of his sin. As Solomon writes in Proverbs 20:30, “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, As do stripes the inner depths of the heart.”

It is with sober hearts that the elders inform you today – in accordance with Paul’s words that such things are to be announced in the public assembly (1 Cor 5:4) – that ------------ have been suspended from fellowship in the Lord’s Supper. For the last eight years and more the elders of Christ Church in Spokane and the elders of Trinity Church have endeavored to help ----------- overcome sinful habits of communication in their home. These sinful habits include anger, outbursts of wrath, malice, dissension, lies, false accusations, bitterness, resentment, and all manner of evil speech (cf. Eph 4:25-32; Col 3:8-11). Despite repeated warnings and numerous attempts at accountability these habits have remain unchanged. As a result, ------------ are living separately for the second time in as many years. Because they have failed to give heed to our private exhortations, we are now announcing this to the church, praying that God will use this to convict and restore them to one another and to the fellowship.

In so announcing, we would remind you of Paul’s exhortation, “do not treat [them] as enemies but admonish them as our brother and sister.” Your duty is to pray for and admonish ------------- as professing Christians to repent of their sinful conduct and be restored to one another and to the body. And remember that we are to do this in a spirit of gentleness, taking care lest we also be tempted (cf. Gal 6:1-5). How might you be tempted in the midst of correcting them?

• Pride – Imagining that you yourself are above such sins and superior to -------------. Such is not the case. But for the grace of God, we would all be in like circumstances. So please pray for -----------, asking God to show them mercy.
• Gossip – Using this as an opportunity to speak uncharitably about ----------- with others rather than as an opportunity to pray for them and long for their restoration.
• Slander – Listening to false accusations that may be made against the elders, accusing us of heavy-handedness or insensitivity in disciplining them. Let us assure you that this action is the culmination of years of patient shepherding that has borne no fruit.
• Flattery – Listening to sob stories from either ---------- in which they blame others for their plight. By listening you would be allowing them to say what they want to say rather than calling them to hear what they need to hear. Admonish them to deal with their own sin in a godly fashion – by confessing it to the Lord and forsaking it (2 Cor 7:8-12).

These warnings against sin serve as a reminder to all of us of our need to confess our sins to the Lord. So let us confess our sins – first privately and then corporately using the prayer found in your bulletin. Let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

1 comments:

Michael said...

The instructions of the elders are very clear here in the spiritual arena of guarding our own hearts in this matter, but I would appreciate guidance on the practicalities of how to interact with persons on the receiving end of discipline.