When I was a young man, back when seat belts in a car was not a thing, my brother and I would be cutting up and horsing around while our dad was trying to drive. Naturally, this would not go on for long before we would get our first warning, “Will you guys settle down back there!” Of course, being young boys, we did not always heed the first warning and a more intense, second warning would soon follow accompanied by a piercing stare from the rear-view mirror, “Don’t make me come back there!” That usually did it for us, we listened and submitted to dad’s authority.
While the Apostle Paul lived some 2,000 years ago, his problem was the same as my dad’s. He often had to convince those he ministered to of his authority and records himself having a “don’t make me come back there” moment in 2 Corinthians chapter 13, “This will be the third time I am coming to you. ‘By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.’ I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare – since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you” (2 Corinthians 13:1–3 NKJV).
Although Paul’s words are slightly different than my dad’s, they seem to be written with the same intensity, “If I come again I will not spare.” Apparently, there were a minority of believers in the city of Corinth that were not taking Paul’s teaching on sin very seriously and continued in it. Evidently, Paul had told them previously that he would return and expose their sin to the rest of the church. He quotes Deuteronomy 19:15 which states the Old Testament practice of establishing a pattern for verifying the truth of an accusation, by using two or three witnesses.
What Paul was saying to them was that he would not spare them the embarrassment of exposing them at the risk of their sin destroying them or the others. This same practice, more famously taken from Matthew 18:15-20, is used today by God-fearing church leaders to restore those caught up by sin and to stop the spread of sin into the lives of others.
Paul then gives the unrepentant sinners the evidence they were looking for by stating that his unwillingness to tolerate sin was actually proof that Christ was speaking through him, “Since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me.”
All too often the disciplining of sin in the church today is overlooked for all the wrong reasons. You have probably heard some of them:
- We are not to judge people.
- Jesus loves everyone.
- Christians are to forgive everyone.
- People make mistakes.
Fortunately, Paul understood the price that Jesus paid for the remission of sin and was willing to take a stand against its spread in the church. By caring for the flock of God and by teaching them that their spiritual growth and God’s blessing will require the disciplining of sin, Paul was displaying his authority as God’s minister, as well as the power of God and His Word.
Just as my dad’s statement, “Don’t make me come back there” was a way to restore our relationship, church discipline is required to restore our relationship with God.