I wasn’t sure why my friend invited me to breakfast. Walking up to the locally loved but overrated breakfast spot, I noticed another friend, John, an older mentor, was here too. Hmm, why’s he here. I joined them at the booth, ordered coffee, and it happened.
“Jeff,” John began, “we are here because we need to talk to you about something. A sin.” My stomach hit the warped wood floor. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What did I do? What’s happening? Scrambling for words, scanning my memories, I said, “Oh. Man. Okay.”
As John began to talk, it became clear what was happening to me. Church discipline was underway.
John said that Lucas tried to talk to me about a time I was a complete jerk to him. How I acted in arrogance, talked down to him, and was abusing my position as a leader. It all came back to me. Haunted me.
“Lucas told me he tried to talk to you about it, to seek reconciliation, but that you blew him off again. Belittled his concerns.” It was true. Stage 1 came for me, and I evaded it.
“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”Matthew 18:15
“And that’s why I’m here. He called me, frustrated and concerned about how you were acting. I’m here to call you to repentance and reconciliation with him.” My heart met my stomach on the floor of this greasy spoon cafe. I knew what this all meant. Stage 2: A brother brings another along to help. And I knew Stage 3 could be right around the corner of this meeting if I didn’t repent.
“But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you.”Matthew 18:16–17
By God’s mercy, as Jesus says, “I paid attention,” and, “Listened.” They won their brother. Honoring Jesus and honoring my brother mattered to me; I didn’t realize I had dishonored both of them. A breakfast meeting changed the way I see my sin, one another, community, and unity.
I looked at John and Lucas and saw the grace of God. I confessed my sin, asked for forgiveness, and thanked them for pursuing me, for putting discipline among the body of Christ to work. It works. It worked on me.
You may not have realized it, but you’ve gone under church discipline too.
Church discipline isn’t just the final stage we often think of—removing from membership, fellowship, and so on. I went under church discipline in the booth of The Nook Cafe. It didn’t go all the way to the end because my brothers helped me. Our Lord loved me.
Every Christian is under church discipline. We don’t always make it to the formal process of Stage 3, but informal church discipline happens in the everyday of Christian community.
When your spouse points out a sinful attitude, what is happening? Stage 1: A personal and private pointing out of sin. You received the correction, repented of the attitude and moved on. That was church discipline too. When a friend calls out your selfishness or being inconsiderate, discipline is done.
Every Christian constantly lives under church discipline. We are under the authority and care of the risen Christ and his body—the church. Receive it. Revere it. Listen. Ten years ago it kept me from derailing. It can do the same for you.