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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Matt's Messages - The Search & Rescue Church

“The Search & Rescue Church”
October 16, 2005
Matthew 18:12-35

This is the fourth message this Fall on the doctrine of the local church. We’ve been answering the question: “What makes it a church?” What are the essential ingredients in a healthy, biblical, God-honoring church?

The first week (The Newborn Church), we basically said that it was a God-glorifying purpose. Ours is to glorify God by bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service. Or as we’ve been saying recently: loving Jesus, learning of Jesus, linking to others in Jesus, luring others to Jesus, and living for Jesus. Those purposes were all present for the Newborn Church.

The second ingredient of a healthy, biblical, God-honoring church is God-glorifying leadership and followership. God desires for His church to have godly, qualified leaders that joyfully watch over the souls of God’s flock and godly followers who obey and submit to their leaders’ authority. The Joyfully-Led Church.

Last week, we saw that the third essential ingredient for a healthy, biblical, God-honoring Church is being Cross-Centered. The Cross-Centered Church. Gospel oriented, evangelical, built on the Good News of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Being Cross-Centered in our proclamation of God’s Word and Cross-Centered in our celebration of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Cross-Centered Church.

Now, this week, I want to talk about the fourth and last essential ingredient for a healthy, biblical, God-honoring Church. Next week, I’m going to preach on commitment to the local church, but this week, we are going to talk about the fourth and last essential ingredient for a healthy, biblical, God-honoring, Christ-Centered Church: Discipline.

Church Discipline.

Now, just saying those two words probably raises a lot of emotions in this crowd this morning. For some of us, the emotion is confusion: “Church Discipline? What’s that? Never heard of it!” And the sad reality of the American Church in the 21st Century is that church discipline is widely unpracticed and therefore unknown. Such has not always been the case, but sadly, it is the case today.

For some of us, the emotion is anger. “Church Discipline? Oh yeah. I’m familiar. Church discipline wrecked my life. I hate church discipline. A bunch of hypocrites trying to tell me how to live my life! Dividing the church. Ugly stuff. Fights and church wars. That’s church discipline for you.” And sadly enough, church discipline has been abused and done poorly in churches from time to time and people have gotten hurt. The Bible says to practice it carefully lest we fall into dangerous temptations. (Galatians 6:1)

And going along with that, for some of us, the emotion is fear. Church Discipline raises the specter of witch-hunts and a scarey invasion into our private lives. Maybe we have something to hide and the fear is warranted or maybe we don’t have anything to hide but the mention of Church Discipline makes us want to duck and run.

And for others of us (mostly leaders, I expect), the words “Church Discipline” make us feel tired. It can be exhausting to lead a church through the discipline process with a member, and it’s not unusual for the subject to make a church leader feel worn out.

However, church discipline is an essential ingredient for a healthy, biblically functioning, God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Cross-Centered Church.

And church discipline is God’s idea. In fact, the Lord Jesus is only recorded as using the word, “church” twice. Both times occur in the Gospel of Matthew. In chapter 16, Jesus promises to build His church (and He won’t fail!). And here in chapter 18, He instructs His disciples to practice church discipline.

Church Discipline is Jesus’ idea.

And it’s not a bad idea. It’s a good idea, motivated by love.

There is a little brochure out in the foyer from Peacemaker Ministries entitled, “Church Discipline: God’s Search and Rescue Plan.”

And that’s right. Church Discipline is like these Search & Rescue Teams that saved the day in New Orleans last month. There were an estimated 25,000-50,000 people who were rescued from New Orleans by Search & Rescue Teams in September. And a lot of them were dangerous rescues with swiftboats and helicopters.

That’s what Church Discipline is supposed to be–a Search & Rescue operation.

Jesus says as much in Matthew chapter 18, verses 12 through 14. Let’s read that.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (NIV)

Matthew chapter 18 is full of the Lord Jesus’ instructions on living in relationships within the messianic community. If you belong to the Messiah, you need to live a certain way with one another. It begins with a lesson on humility. Which is the path to true greatness. I’m reading a book right now by C.J. Mahaney with that title, “Humility: True Greatness” taken from this story. And then, Jesus says that we need to be careful to not lead others into sin (especially children). And then, we need to do whatever it takes to lead ourselves out of sin.

And then, he says this truth (v.12 again), “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

God wants His church to go after those who wander off.

God wants His church to be a Search & Rescue Church.

Jesus poses the question, “What do you think?” Work this one out for yourself. It’s a parable. A lot like the one in Luke 15 about the lost sheep, but here it’s not so much unbelievers as professing believers who have wandered away from the truth.

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not...” go on a rescue mission? Of course, he will. That’s what shepherds do.

And if he finds it, there’s going to be a party! That’s the kind of heart that God has.

“In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” In the context, the “little ones” are Christ-followers who have humbled themselves like dependent children.

Your Father in heaven doesn’t want any of His followers to wander away.

So, he sends out Search & Rescue Teams.

Isn’t that loving? Isn’t that great? Doesn’t that just sound wonderful? Search & Rescue!

The only problem is that the reason these sheep are lost is because they chose to get lost in the first place. They have wandered sin. And they don’t always want to be found.

That’s what makes Church Discipline: God’s Search & Rescue so difficult. The Search is prompted by sin.

And even though the Search (when done correctly) is motivated by God’s love, we don’t always want to be Rescued.

So, sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes it’s hard. But it’s always good.

It’s good for the whole church. It keeps the church pure. My best-friend Kipp loves to say that the end result of church discipline is always a pure-church. Whether or not the sheep return to the fold, the fold is always kept pure. Holiness is maintained.

And it’s good for individuals within the church to be warned. I heard a story this week of a marriage that was saved by a member of a church watching another member go through the discipline process. This man was knocked back into his senses and saved from adultery by watching another man be disciplined by the local church.

And it’s good for our witness as a church. Church discipline says that we have standards and we actually stand for something. The community knows that this church actually holds people accountable. And even though it’s full of sinners (and I’m the chief), those sinners are searching and rescuing each other from their wanderings.

And it’s good for our protection as a church. Especially when false-teaching is included in the wanderings. Church discipline protects the body from heresy.

And it’s especially good for the person being pursued. Because they are in danger. James chapter 5 says, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

Church Discipline is hard sometimes. But it’s always good.

God wants His church to go after those who wander off. To be a Search & Rescue Church.

In verses 15-17, he gives 4 steps to follow. You can fill in lots of other details from other parts of the New Testament. Church Discipline is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, 1 Timothy, Galatians, 1 John, and lot of other places, so you can fill in lots of other details about Church Discipline from other parts of the New Testament, but these are the four basic steps that we are supposed to follow when we see a sheep wandering from the fold. V.15

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”


“If your brother sins against you [or if you see him sinning – Luke 17, James 5, Galatians 6], go and show him...” where he has gone wrong.


Church discipline starts as a very private matter. “Need to know basis.” The offender and the offended. If your brother sins, go to him and try to make it right.

Now, what does the world say to do when this happens?

If your brother or sister sins against you...what?

Go see a lawyer!
Go tell your neighbor!
Go gossip about it at work!

Whatever you do, don’t go to him or her, they should come to you. After all, they’re the ones that hurt you.

But that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus says, “Go to them.” Yes, they hurt you. They sinned against you. It was a real sin. A real hurt. A real debt. A real stab.

But you are to go and try to show them where they have gone wrong.

Do you do this in your relationships? Parents? Teens? Kids? Singles? Couples?

The first question I ask when someone comes to me with a relational problem is, “Have you talked with them about it? Directly? Have you told them what they have done to you?”

It’s hard. It takes faith and obedience and godly guts. It’s what Jesus says to do.

If we consistently practiced step #1 in our church, we would have very few people ever get to step #4. If we consistently practiced step #1 in our marriages, we would have very few people ever get divorced.

I’ve heard Ken Sande [the President of Peacemaker Ministries, who does a lot of teaching on this stuff] say that since they began teaching and applying these steps, their church of about 350 people have not had one divorce. That’s in over 10 years. No divorces. They’ve had families in crisis. They’ve had couples with lots of sin, lots of wandering sheep. But they’ve consistently taught on these biblical steps (Jesus’ steps!), and they’ve not had one divorce in the last 10 years.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

That’s the goal. All along, that’s the goal. To win your brother over. Restoration of fellowship. Debts forgiven. Relationship restored.

“If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” He’s rescued!

However, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, he won’t listen. We’ve all had that happen to us, haven’t we? Step #2. V.16

“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'”


This is only if step #1 failed to win your brother back. “But if he won’t listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Now, that last piece is a quote from Deuteronomy 19:15. It’s got a judicial ring. There is a case being built here against the person who has sinned that needs to be established in case this goes before the whole church.

But I don’t think that the two or three going along is just for establishing “who said what.” I think that the two or three going back to talk with the erring brother is a more serious attempt at search and rescue. It’s getting a small group involved in someone’s life and showing how seriously concerned they all are about the well-being of this brother or sister who is wandering.

It’s also to introduce more help if the conflict needs mediation, arbitration, and conciliation. Sometimes, we just can’t handle conflicts on our own. We need help! And this is another reason to be involved in a small group of believers that will hold each other accountable before God.

Take one or two others along. But do it carefully. Do it gently.

Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

What does the world say at this point?

The world says, “Give it up! Forget it. He’s not worth it.”

The world says, “Get what you can. Cut your losses. Forget about that other person.”

But God says, “Search & Rescue!”

And not alone. You need a team. Take one or two others along.

Unfortunately, that also doesn’t always work the way we want it to. And now it’s time to get the church involved. Step #3. Verse 17.

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church...”


If the Pastor or another Elder was not part of your “Step 2 Team,” it’s time to get them involved. God says to go Search & Rescue. And the Church is supposed to be involved when it gets to this point.

Tell it to the church. Now, that doesn’t mean stand up on a Sunday morning during “testimony time” and gossip about your friend’s behavior!

It means to get church leaders involved, meet with the principal people in the situation, get counsel, get a larger group of members together to intervene, set people to praying, and make it clear to the member who is trapped in the sin that this is serious business and won’t be swept under the rug.

Tell it to the church. I will level with you: this part is no fun. Having been involved in two church leadership boards, there has been nothing more difficult in ministry for me than leading a church through this process at this step. Most of it is the role of a Pastor or Elder to do. And it’s a difficult business that no one enjoys at this point.

But it’s love! It’s love to Search and Rescue even if the person doesn’t want to be found.

We see the same thing with our children, don’t we? We don’t enjoy discipline with our children, but if we love them we will do it. Right? I know not everyone agrees with that these days, either. But that’s what the Bible says. Discipline is love.

Tell it to the church. The church needs, together, to search and rescue those who are wandering.
Notice that it didn’t start with the church. If things can be cared privately, that’s great! This is not a big sin-hunt or a publication of all of our many sins.

This is caring for someone who is not repentant in a way that is “tough love.”

Tell it to the church.

And sometimes, even that doesn’t solve it. The church has to go all the way to excommunication. Step #4. Verse 17.

“...and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”


The “you” here is singular. The church declares him or her an outsider, but each individual member needs to act that way, too.

If he refuses to listen to the church–the church has, as a whole, reached out to him and tried to bring him back, but he has refused to turn–then treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Not as an enemy, but as someone who is outside of the family of God, someone who is clearly not a believer because they are not acting like one. As someone who you cannot have fellowship. Other places in the Bible say to not eat with them. That definitely means to not eat the Lord’s Supper. If you are under discipline of any church (this one or another Bible-teaching one), you are not welcome to eat the Lord’s Supper with us. [Talk with me if that’s where you are. We need to know.]

Not eating also means to have fellowship. Food was for fellowship in ancient times. It’s not so much that you won’t eat with them as that you won’t relate to them as brother or sister in Christ. The gospel is between. Repentance is on the table. The issue of their wandering (sin, false-teaching, whatever) is between you. You cannot relate as brother and sister. You have to treat them as outsiders.

I know that brings up a host of questions. It takes wisdom and counsel to make good decisions about what is and what is not acceptable.

But the principle is clear. Step #4 to treat them as outsiders. Put them out of the church, and treat them like they are out of the church.

Here the world goes ballistic! It says, “How cruel! How unloving!” But it is really just the opposite.

You are still trying to rescue them!

The whole point is to rescue them (while maintaining the purity of the church).

Josh Harris quoted Menno Simons (founder of the Mennonites) in his book, Stop Dating the Church as saying “We do not want to expel any, but rather to receive; not to amputate, but rather to heal; not to discard, but rather to win back; not to grieve, but rather to comfort; not to condemn, but rather to save.” (From the Complete Writings of Menno Simons, pg 413, Quoted on pg.94 in SDC.)

This drastic action (Step #4) is meant to shock people back to their senses. It is “putting them outside” for their own good (and for the church’s purity).

And no one is to be exempt. Pastors are to be treated the same. Carefully, with two or three witnesses, but equally. 1 Timothy 5, “Those [elders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (20)

This is serious stuff. To be treated with prayer. V.18 says that we are doing the Lord’s business when you practice Church Discipline. V.18

‘I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven [or, better, has already been bound in heaven], and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven [or, better translation, already been loosed in heaven. This is the Lord’s business. It’s serious and needs prayer.] ‘Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.’”

This is serious and must be bathed in concerted, togetherness prayer.

Out of love, sometimes we must treat them as outsiders.

Sometimes, the Search & Rescue ends with them found but not willing to come along.

But even when that happens, God is protecting and blessing His church.

And sometimes, the Search & Rescue ends with a glorious restoration!

At any of these steps (1, 2, 3, 4), the person may repent and be restored!

And what should we do then?


Peter knew that’s where Jesus was heading with all of this. That’s why he came and asked him the question he did in verse 21.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ [That’s a lot! The rabbis just said 3. Peter is being generous. Have you ever been sinned against 7 times and had to forgive 7 times? It’s hard to do. But (v.22)] Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. [Again and again and again.] Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. [That’s over one billion dollars in today’s money.] Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt [and even that wouldn’t have done it.]. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master [the God-figure in this story] took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [not a small amount of money–a hundred days’ wages is a considerable sum – say $14,000 – it’s a real debt but nothing compared to what he’s just been forgiven].

[This fool] grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' [Sound familiar?] But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger
his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

If you have truly experienced the grace of the Cross, you will be gracious yourself.

If I have truly experienced the mercy of the King, I will extend mercy myself.

If someone repents and turns and asks for forgiveness [even if the church has had to put them out and treat them as an outsider], if they turn, what do we do?

We forgive them from the heart! Because the sheep is found!

The 99 have not strayed. But the wandering one has been returned!

They have been sought and rescued!

What else could we do who have been forgiven so very much?

We forgive them from the heart!

I heard a story this week about a man who was restored to full membership in his church after having gone through all four steps. This man had been working at a pornographic store and was unwilling to stop even though the church put him out of membership.

Several months later, he returned and wanted to be forgiven and restored. And the elders met with him, and checked that his repentance was genuine. They got him counsel and discipleship. And they had a party!

The lost sheep is found! We forgive them from the heart.

What else could we do who have been forgiven so very much?

Church Discipline is God’s Search & Rescue Plan for the Church. It is God’s idea, motivated by and practiced in love, and good for the church.

Let me give you three applications as we close.

#1. Join the Church.

It’s a lot easier for everyone if there is a clear membership list. A list of people who are a part of this local church and those who are not a part (a member) of this local church. It is loving for me to tell you that because it brings you directly under the discipline of this local church–and that’s a good and loving thing. We will still practice some form of church discipline if you have not taken the step of membership and wander from the truth, but it’s a lot harder for both of us to do it well if you are have not committed to membership.

Josh Harris put this as one of the 10 things to look for in a local church in chapter 5 of Stop Dating the Church. He says, “I gain a wonderful sense of protection knowing that if I committed a scandalous sin and showed no repentance, my church wouldn’t put up with it. They would plead with me to change. They would patiently confront me with God’s Word. And eventually, if I refused to change, they would lovingly kick me out...Look for a church...that will lovingly hold you to your commitments as a Christian–a church that will love you enough to put you out of fellowship for the good of your soul” (Pgs 94 & 95). Join the Church.

#2. Join the Search.

Practice these steps.

• Go and Show Him His Fault
• Take One Or Two Others Along
• Tell It To the Church
• Treat Him As An Outsider

And if he repents at any point, Forgive Your Brother From the Heart.

Join the Search. Do what Jesus says.

And if you are the one being searched for, allow yourself to be rescued! Listen, consider what they say, meet with the person you have wronged, turn from your sin, repent, be restored. We love you!

And #3. Join the Rescue Party.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul was upset because the church had not put out a man who was having sex with his mother-in-law.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul has heard that the man had repented, and he urged the people to forgive and comfort him, to reaffirm their love for him. To accept Him back as a found sheep. And join the rescue party that the Great Shepherd enjoys whenever the one lost sheep is found.

Be the Search & Rescue Church.

Recommended Resources on Church Discipline:

Church Discipline: God’s Search and Rescue Plan by David V. Edling

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (3rd Edition) by Ken Sande (President of Peacemaker Ministries.)

Discipline: God’s Gift and Blessing to the Church by Ken Sande [A sermon given at Covenant Life Church that I listened to this week in my car. I’m heavily indebted to his insights throughout this message.]


Good words! Helpful in this week's message. Of course, I took what you said, greatly improved upon it, and went from there... :)