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Church LifePodcast

Admonishment, Peacemaking, and Healthy Church Life

Young people say that the #1 reason they walk away from the faith is hypocrisy in the church.

What is the cause of this hypocrisy and how can we solve it?

In this episode we talk about the missing elements of admonishment, peacemaking, and church discipline. Surprisingly, this is important for a healthy church life and a healthy family life.

Resources From This Podcast

New Covenant Christian Church Church Covenant
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, by Paul David Tripp
Humility: True Greatness, by C.J. Mahaney

Topics Covered in This Week’s Podcast

00:11 Podcast introduction
01:40 Sermon introduction: God’s gives instructions for running His church
09:20 Jesus actually calls you and me to have hard conversations with each other
24:16 Jesus actually calls us to practice church discipline

Podcast Transcript 

Chap Bettis:  Young people say that the number one reason they walk away from the faith is hypocrisy in the home or in the church. What can we do about this problem?

Hi, I’m Chap Bettis, author of The Disciple-Making Parent, and you know, hypocrisy is a huge stumbling block for many growing up in the church. I remember that lukewarmness and church conflict and hypocrisy almost caused me to lose my faith when I was a young person. My church growing up had some real health issues. And just as a healthy home makes a church stronger, so a healthy church makes the home stronger.

I remember in college I was so surprised to discover that, lo and behold, Jesus actually gave instructions about how a church should run. I mean, who would have thought?  So I invite you to listen in on this episode to a message I recently preached as I give a brief overview on the subjects of admonishing, peacemaking, and church discipline. And I know those don’t directly relate to family discipleship, but they do affect it.  After all, the choice is clear. You’ll either have some sort of church discipline and correction, or you’ll have hypocrisy in your church. And our children are watching.

Well, it’s always a joy to preach the word and minister. And as I was sitting there, a couple thoughts went through my mind. One was just how much of a gift Craig and Doug, and now Mike, are to you. Ephesians 4 says that our shepherds are gifts to us from the Lord. And then also Jeff, just appreciating his leading us.

And another thought I had is that in the book of Philemon, Paul is urging a favor. And then as he’s saying that, he says, “Not to mention you owe me your very life.”  And in other words, I’m asking this favor, and just think about how indebted you are to me. And I was thinking about how indebted I am to this church. A lot of the things that I say are things I observed in some of you, and learned from some of you, and other things that as I studied, I was privileged to study and bring the word for all those years. I don’t know if you’ve thought about that. You’re saying, Who am I actually indebted to? Who would I say I owe things to? But I definitely feel that way towards you. So thank you so much.

Well, Craig asked me to speak on these two lines of the covenant, which are: to be peacemakers by quickly bringing people together when offenses occur within the body, and to admonish one another with great patience and follow the instruction of our Savior in regard to church discipline.  So in a way, those two are somewhat contradictory. Be peacemakers, peacemakers.  And also say un-nice things to people and remove people if they need to be.  And yet I think we’re going to see that those actually go together.

So I appreciate the privilege on preaching on this subject from the covenant. I grew up in a church that preached the gospel of salvation in Christ alone by faith alone, and I’m indebted to that church. That a person has to be born again.  That this book is the very revelation of God. So I’m appreciative of that church. But that church also had trouble getting along with each other. There were constant disagreements, gossip, and other things going on. Even as a teen, I knew this wasn’t right, and because of it I almost walked away from my faith. And so when I came up here to go to college and got involved in the church that started New Covenant, I saw they had this radical idea, and the radical idea was this:  God’s word has instructions about how God’s household should operate. Boom! Who would have thought that God actually says, You’re my household, here’s how I want you to operate?

And so scattered throughout the pages of scripture are instructions of how God’s people should operate. What makes a healthy church? What causes the visible church to make the invisible God visible? And that’s one of our callings as a church: that we take our cue from God. And the church is a sociological miracle.  I don’t know if you’ve thought about that, but we welcome all comers, in terms of saying you don’t have to be from the same sociological background, the same educational background. And there’s something mysterious about the church that is both diverse and unified. And in that time, we’re actually displaying God.

I had this idea growing up in the church, reading Genesis 1 and 2, that God was kind of like this lonely bachelor. And he didn’t get a dog, he just made some people, and that’s why he created Adam and Eve. He was lonely from eternity past. But actually, what I realized is that no, actually God was in triune fellowship from eternity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And in that trinity, in that triunity, there is perfect love, perfect joy, perfect unity, and diversity. Amen. And so a lot comes out of that, but one thing that comes out of that is that he made Adam and Eve out of his love, not out of any need in and of himself.

But another thing is this: that the Christian church, Christian religion worships a God who is both unified and diverse. So you’ve got diverse religions, like Hindu religions, and you’ve got unified, like Islam. But Christianity says our God is unified and diverse, and his church, his people, are to be unified and diverse. Even biological families, unified and diverse.  And sin destroys that unity.

And so that’s the text we’re going to look at this morning, which has already been read. And if you’ve got your Bibles, hopefully they’re open to Matthew 18. I’m not going to read them again.

Let me just start by saying a couple of things I missed. I have not listened to the first sermon. But if you’re not familiar with why there is a church covenant, one of the things about Christians is that God brings us into relationship with him through the covenant. That’s his commitment to us. But also, just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we are in community with each other. So I can go to a music concert or I can go to a play, and have great enjoyment with other Christians, but there’s not that commitment. And that’s what a covenant does.

So a covenant has a man and a woman who forsake all others and say, We’re going to have a special relationship. So, similarly, a church covenant says we are going to live in community with each other.  And so God, Jesus, gives us instructions in Matthew 18 about realistically living in that community. And I want to approach this topic clearly. For some of you this may be old news. You’ve read this passage, you’ve had teaching on this passage, and I don’t know if I’m going to say anything new. But maybe this is an entirely new concept, and in fact it almost seems unloving.  Or maybe you’ve seen it done poorly, or maybe you’re not a Christian, and so this is, again, kind of shocking to you.  But, we’re going to look in Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, and if you’re looking for the main point, I’ve said it this way: Jesus calls his followers to both calm conflict and create conflict. And I’m going to put scare quotes around conflict.  He calls his followers to both calm conflict and create conflict.

So let’s look at Jesus’ words, and the first point here is this: that Jesus actually calls you and me to have hard conversations with each other. Jesus actually calls us to have hard conversations. Look in verse 15.  “If your brother or sister sins against you”- some versions, some manuscripts don’t have “against you”- “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you’ve gained your brother.” Jesus calls us to be community, but you know, where you have two or three gathered, you’re going to have conflict, right?  And if we don’t have conflict resolution skills from the Bible, we’re not going to survive. And that’s what I saw growing up. A group of people who claim to represent the name of Christ, but didn’t resolve the inevitable conflicts that came up. And so I think actually Matthew 18:15 may be one of the most violated verses in the Bible.

Why? Because Jesus is commanding his disciples who are in a church to approach and bring up sin.  In the back, I have a handout if you’re interested on the way out. Seven principles are already in your bulletin, but I’ve got 12 or 13. But there’s some, the Bible gives us some foundational things for handling conflict. One is: there’s some things we’re just to forebear with.  So to forebear means “to bear with.” My wife is never going to change some certain things about me.  I can try, but. . . and the call is to just forbear.  There are other things that we need to overlook. Scripture says love covers a multitude of sins. So there are things that we consciously overlook in others, knowing that God is not done with any of us.

There are some things that we just need to forgive, trusting that the day of judgment will bring it to light. So Joseph was able to say, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.“ And so his forgiveness of his brothers in Genesis 50:20. But all those things being true, Jesus actually commands us at times to go to our brothers and sisters.  Now, if you’ve never heard this concept, you might think, Wait a minute, isn’t that being judgmental?  Didn’t Jesus say, don’t judge one another?  And actually, in Matthew 7 he said, “Don’t judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you’ll be judged, and the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  So why do you look at that speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, let me take the speck out of your own eye, when all the time there’s a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you’ll see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Jesus assumes, and actually commands us, because in the next verse he talks about, don’t throw your pearls before swine. So he judgmentally calls some people swine.

What Jesus is forbidding here is not making judgments, it’s being judgmental as a heart attitude. In fact, in John, he says, “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.”  So all the time we’re to judge and we’re to discern. So what Jesus is forbidding is judgmentalism. So I want to just make a careful transition here, because while there are judgmental Christians, and there’s probably all of that in us, as Jesus commands in Matthew 7, who “live for a disagreement.” We’re living for a disagreement, judging others. A lot of us, though, and I can say this, having led this church for many years: our temptation is to be conflict avoiders.

So our view of healthy Christianity is one without conflict.  The problem is that Jesus commands us to move towards each other and have hard conversations.  If we don’t, there’s going to be a shallowness and hypocritical churchiness precisely because members will not admonish each other. And so if you’re, if you’re not a member of this church, and you’re thinking about what makes a healthy church, or if you’re a young person thinking about, My parents dragged me to church, what makes a healthy church?

Well, there are a lot of things that make a healthy church, but one of them is: a church is not just a preaching point. It’s not a place, it’s not a gas station, I come to be filled up and then I go my separate way. It’s actually a community, and that community actually has inevitable disagreements. But that’s okay because Jesus has prescribed a number of ways for us to deal with those and one of those is that we have hard conversations with each other. That’s part of a healthy church.

Why do we need to go to each other?  Because what the Bible says is that the very nature of sin is that it’s deceiving, it’s blinding, and it’s dulling.  And Jesus already alluded to that in Matthew 7 when he says, we can very easily pick the speck out of each other’s eyes, but in terms of seeing the plank. . . why? We’re deceived, we’re blind.  Jesus is saying we can be hard on others, but easier on ourselves.  And so to weave in that part from the covenant here, we’re actually called, Jesus calls you as part of having conversations to actually admonish one another.  And admonishment is to give words of warning.

Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another one another with all wisdom.” With wisdom, yes, but admonishing each other.  Now, what makes that more helpful is if we have a pre-commitment and we can say it: “Yes, I have a pre-commitment and I want you to speak into my life.”  And that requires humility.  Paul Tripp said it this way: that my self-perception is about as accurate as a carnival fun house mirror.  Do you believe that? You know what I’m talking about, right? The mirrors that make the thin person fat or the fat person thin.  And that’s the view we have of ourselves.

So just to be a little transparent, Sharon and I might have a little time of “intense fellowship.”  And she says, “Stop yelling!”  I’m like, “I’m not yelling. I just got a little intense for that moment.”  No, I will listen and receive that back because I know my self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror. He goes on to say it this way: “If I’m going to see myself clearly, I’m going to need you to hold up the mirror of God’s word in front of me.  We get offended when people act as if they see us better than we see ourselves.”

In another book entitled Humility, the author suggests inviting input from others. So, inviting. Is there some particular area of sin or weakness that you think I don’t see?  Ask someone that.  Is there anything you don’t think I see about my leadership or my parenting? Now, a few years ago, when that was book was really affecting me, I did. And I had breakfast with some men and, and thankfully two or three of them were like, “Oh man, I can’t think of anything. But if I should think of something, I’ll let you know.” And one gentleman, he was just, he had an answer. I’m like, “Sure you don’t want to think about that?” It’s like he was just waiting and it was helpful! It was helpful.  And of course, another question to ask yourself or to ask others, Do others find it easy to correct me?

Psalm 141 verse 5 says, “Let the righteous man strike me. That is kindness.  Let him rebuke me. That’s oil on my head.”  So if I have this commitment to admonishment, to gracious truth-telling, that’s a way to grow. That’s a way to get the blind spots away.  I can say this, having been in the faith for a while, to others of you who are in the faith for a while: if you are too mature to receive correction, or to invite correction, you are not mature. You’re just an old Christian. We never outgrow our need to repent.  We never outgrow the deceitfulness of sin. And more and more, I’m convinced that one secret of Christian maturity is to never stop repenting.  Hopefully I’ll be repenting on the day I die, Saying, Oh, Lord, thank you that you’ve accepted me. I never ever saw that about myself.  Even as I was preparing to present this sermon I was praying. It’s familiar material to me, but I was praying, Lord, show me some way that I’m not living this out, that I’m not seeing this. That was my way of, hopefully, repenting.

I included on the handout in the back, if we want to bring up a conflict, one easy formula is just to say, “I’ve noticed that you _______”- whatever the issue is.Can you help me understand what’s going on?  I’m concerned about it.”  We don’t necessarily have to go in with guns blazing, but, that’s a formula to help us move towards one another with hard conversations. So that’s dealing with the commitment in the covenant to admonish one another.  Related to that, what is the goal? What is the goal in going to one another? Well, look, you can go back. We’re still in verse 15. “If he listens to you, you’ve gained your brother.”  So the purpose is not to win the argument. The purpose is not to be, Well, I’m the elder. You need to listen to me. No, the person is to win back the brother.

And I want to take this point just to talk about peacemaking.  So, our motive- and this is right out of the covenant as well- is to be peacemakers,  is to help each other walk in the light. So Cain’s question at the beginning of Genesis is, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” expecting an answer, No. The actual answer is, Yes, actually I am.  And so we’re called to be peacemakers. There’s a very interesting triangle in Matthew that Jesus gives for people who are in conflict. So Matthew 3 talks to the offended: If your brother sins against you, you go to him. That’s the verse we’re looking at. Matthew 5 talks to the possible offender: If you are going to the altar and know your brother has something against you, go.  So Jesus is covering the offended and the possible offender. And then in Matthew 6, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” He covers the observer.  So all parties in a disagreement, Jesus has got instructions for.

The reason I say Matthew 18:15 can be one of the most violated verses is if someone offends us or we have a disagreement, what’s our temptation?  It might be to bury it or what? Go talk to somebody else about it. Can you believe she said that? I can’t believe she said that.  And so if we’re the observer, what are we supposed to do? Well, besides saying, Hey, stop, we’re also, let’s go talk with this person so that we want to bring as much as possible peace. Now, are there times when peace is not possible? We’re going to get to this, such as false doctrine or blatant sin, then yes, there are times. But in the vast majority of situations, the issues can and should be resolved. Unity is that important.

So the very nature of sin is that it blinds and dulls our souls. Ephesians 4 talks about making every effort to keep the unity of the spirit.  And so sometimes that involves overlooking sin, sometimes that involves acknowledging, having hard conversations, putting off. One of the fruits of the spirit, contrary to popular belief, is not being nice. Being loving, being kind, is a fruit of the spirit. But sometimes we have those hard conversations. So we’re to go prayerfully, we’re to go gently, we’re to go tentatively, lovingly, open-handedly, but we need to move, go, and move towards those. Does that make sense?  So maybe, maybe, just as a way of application, you can ask yourself, Is there some area where God would have me to go?

Or B, have I communicated to the men’s prayer meeting? Have I communicated to my women’s Bible study? Have I communicated to others? Yes, I want to hear what you don’t think I see.  Tell me. I am open to that. I will not. If you rebuke me, Psalm 141:5, I will not come back right at you. I want to hear those things because I want to grow. I want to grow no matter what anyone else does.  So that’s the first point, is that Jesus calls us to have hard conversations.

The second, we’re going to now go through the rest of the text, is that Jesus actually calls us to practice what some have called church discipline. These are Jesus’s words. If these are new, if they seem hard, we need to allow Jesus to describe what is love. And so Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” We’re trying to keep it as small as possible. “If he listens to you, you’ve gained your brother.” Another version has, “you’ve won your brother.” That’s the goal.  But Jesus is establishing his people in a realistic society and sin is tenacious, sin is cancerous, sin is everywhere. And so he’s not going to promise that that’s going to be success.

And so, Okay, Jesus, I did that. What’s next? Verse 16. “If he does not listen to you, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”  Sure, there are some issues that we just need to drop. We approach someone and they listen to us, or they didn’t listen to us and we just say, You know what? This is a smaller issue. It’s not worthy of bringing others in. But if it is, then Jesus commands us, we actually need at this point to take one or two others Why? Well, maybe the person thinks you’ve got it wrong, and maybe you do. Maybe you are a nitpicker, okay? This is the chance for the other couple people to go, Hey, chill out. You’re way nitpicking things. But because we hate disagreement and we’re tentative to do this, more likely we’re actually correct. And Jesus says right here, it’s that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. So there’s charge, there’s the wording of judging, of justice. And he’s saying, Okay, now two or three people can establish what was said and how the reaction was.

Here’s something to encourage you. In this tough process, usually by this point, elders are involved. Shepherds. They don’t have to be, but usually, that’s what happens. Look down in verse 19.  Jesus says, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  We use this verse for corporate prayer, and I don’t think that’s a misapplication. In the Psalms, Scripture says God is present in the company of the righteous. But the primary context is church discipline and conflict and having hard conversations. Jesus is saying that when we’re gathered in his name to carry out this difficult process, I’m there. So if you’ve had times of moving worship where you’re just like, Man, the Lord was there, “I’m there.” Praise the Lord.  And if you’ve had times when your heart is racing, and you’re saying hard things, Jesus says, “I’m there.”

This is God’s spirit working, but I can’t tell you the number of times I would have a hard conversation, and I didn’t want to, my heart was racing, I hated it. I hated it. And if you’d asked, “Do you feel very spiritual right now?” I’m like, “No, I feel like throwing up.”  But scripture says Jesus is there.  And actually, as I look back over ministry, there are encouraging times, discouraging times, but I remember one gentleman saying to me as an encouragement, “What I’ve appreciated about you, as opposed to other pastors, is you move towards hard conversations.”  And I just praise the Lord; that’s the Spirit’s work.  So we want to move gently, we want to move carefully, knowing that Jesus is with us.

Having said that, if someone is this point hardened, what does Jesus say?  Verse 17. He says if you won’t listen to them, tell it to the church. So we’re to bring it to the whole church. Again, why? Well, maybe he’ll listen to the whole church. And then the final step, “If he will not listen to you, even at that point, let him be as a Gentile or a tax collector.” So what Jesus is saying is we don’t have close fellowship with him. We don’t act like everything’s okay.  It doesn’t mean we ignore or shun the person, or if we see the person at the store, we don’t talk with them. It doesn’t mean we stop talking to them. But it does mean we stop acting like, hey, everything’s okay.

Now here’s a question. This is a really important question. What are the sins that a person would be removed for?  Where’s that list?  There needs to be one, right? Where’s that list? Because that’s important.  Do you know there’s only one sin that we’re removed for? What is it?  Only one: “If he will not listen to you.” Unrepentance. You see, you see, no, none of us is perfect. Every sin is forgivable. I can think of a young couple in 1982 who conceived a child out of wedlock. They confessed to the congregation and the congregation received them with open arms. Another conversation I can think about, I had with a man a long time ago who was involved in homosexuality. Again, repentance, open arms.  This is not about the sin category, it’s about the willingness when we’re approached. Is there repentance?

On the other hand, this church has taken these steps with, I can think of one person who was angrily threatening people. Another had a core false doctrine. Another was involved in an affair.  Another married an unbeliever. In all those cases, what was the sin? The sin was lack of repentance. All of us, all of us wrestle with sin. The question is, when someone approaches us, will we repent? In all those cases, people lovingly approached the person involved and encouraged them. And in all those latter cases, they didn’t.

Let me just finish up by asking this. Why does Jesus give us this command? This seems so anti-Jesus, who is loving. Like, why?  Well, a couple of reasons. One is, you might think of it as like spiritual CPR. Spiritual shock. You know how when the heart has stopped, you put the paddles on people to shock them? Think about the deceptiveness of sin. Because this goes to the whole church, you have got to be in such spiritual lethargy that you’re able to say this: The whole church is wrong. I’m right.  Wow, really?  Everybody’s wrong?  So part of it is like, we’re going to put the CPR paddles on you and force you to go, Wow, this is how deceptive sin is. Everybody in the church is saying this is off. 1 Corinthians 5, if you want to read more about this, is when this was actually practiced in the church. It was to preserve the holiness of the church and the witness to the world. “Don’t you know that a little leaven,” Paul writes, “leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.”  You see, a church is going to have church discipline, or it’s going to have hypocrisy.  There’s really no choice there.  If we’re not going to do this, then there’s going to be hypocrisy.

And we’re not perfect by any means, but there has to be a display of holiness. I belong to a gym that says it’s a judgment free zone. Anybody belong to that gym? Yeah, judgment free zone, right? Except this. Could I set up a shop and hand out and persuade donuts? No, we’re not going to let you do this. Everybody who’s here wants to improve and you’re all sorts of places with exercise. That’s okay, but we’re all here to become better in shape, and no, you may not entice our customers to be against that. And similarly, the church is sinners anonymous. And we all come because we say we have a problem with sin, and we want to follow Christ. And so part of the issue is that it’s a witness to the world and to each other to say, “No, we’re pursuing Christ.”

And the last reason is actually down there in verse 18, that Jesus has given the church the keys of the kingdom. And he says, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” What Jesus is saying in essence is that when you join a church, the church is saying, We can’t know your heart, but it seems to us that you’re a Christian. And similarly, when the church removes somebody, we’re saying, We can’t see your heart, but we’re saying, in a sense, your sins be back on your head. We can’t verify your profession of faith. Like in Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount. You may be one of the deceived. You need to take that very seriously.  So it’s a message to the person.

I’m convinced that the pathway to maturity involves continual repentance.  Christ loves us as we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay that way. And he puts people in our lives to help us see sin that we may not sin. Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll obey my commands.” And sometimes you can get so entrenched or deceived by our sin that it takes a hard conversation to make us see that. Haven’t you ever had in your life a point where you went, Wow, how could I not see that? Right? In a sense, you were unblinded. Up until that moment, you hadn’t seen something. But then, whether it was through information or someone coming, you went, Wow. Whoa, how could I not see that? That’s why God puts us in community, and that’s why we have individuals who rub up against each other, sometimes for evil, but often for good.

In Matthew 18, these are commands from Jesus.  Man is not making these up, and if our definition of love does not include these, we need to readjust our definition. Jesus said, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline.“ Jesus had some hard conversations, and he was full of love.  So a healthy church is going to practice church discipline.

So maintaining our unity doesn’t mean that we have no conflict.  In fact, lack of conflict can actually be dangerous.  But it means that we resolve it in a biblical way. We walk through it.  You have a manner that glorifies the Lord. That’s really all the time we have for that. There’s so much more. I can recommend a book. If this is the first time you’ve heard about this and are wrestling with this, you’ve never seen it practiced, I can recommend some resources for you. But know God desires our holiness. God brings us into community, covenanted community.  And then part of our job is to encourage each other, yes, and also admonish each other.  And so praise God for those times. I hope you’ll say with me, as Psalm 141 says, “Let the righteous man rebuke me. That’s oil to my beard.” Let’s pray.

Lord, thank you that you desire our holiness, our eventual happiness, but it’s not in this moment. And Lord, you’re going to use either receiving hard conversations or actually giving those to grow us. And I pray, Lord, I pray for New Covenant. Thank you for this church. Thank you for the years of pursuit of holiness and having hard conversations in love, being open hearted and open minded and, but yet pursuing each other, not just being a preaching point that we come in and get filled up and walk out, but, but living in real community. And I pray for the future, Lord. I pray that you would work in the hearts here to continue that that quality may be true more and more. That out of love, we would care about each other, would not let the relationships wither, but we would move towards each other, speaking the truth in love. I pray in Christ’s name.