Discipline of a Different Style

When a man refuses to repent from his sin the church disciplines him which includes no longer allowing him to participate in communion. When a man is repenting from his sin the church provides discipline of a different style which includes providing weekly opportunity to participate in communion. There is discipline in not communing, there is discipline in communing.

Discipline almost always has the idea of negative feedback, equated to punishment and involving pain of some kind. But discipline and disciple are related terms, and both are rooted in the Latin word discipulus which means “learner” at the most basic level. A disciplined person is a person who is learning, not just suffering something unpleasant.

There is discipline for disciples in coming to the Lord’s Table week by week. The way we approach it, it is not unpleasant, but it is not easy either. There is necessary work to get ready for it and to partake in it. What do disciples learn here at Supper?

We learn, or are regularly remembering what we’ve learned, that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. We learn that salvation is not by any of our works. We learn that atonement is substitutionary. We learn that God fulfills His promises. We learn that faith gets fed. We learn that God desires fellowship with us. We learn that we are not alone. We learn that we are always proclaiming something, and that we are privileged to proclaim in eating and drinking the good news of Jesus’ death. We learn that today is not the end, but we must eat and drink “until He comes.” We learn that thankfulness is the necessary tone, and the Table trains us get in tune.

Left Without Discipline

We are still in a series of exhortations to confession focused on being blessed. Recognizing our blessings from God and giving Him thanks for those blessings is a part of our evangelistic strategy. This is not a prosperity gospel, though prosperity can be a blessing. There are other blessings that are harder to recognize, so we want to see them and boast in the Lord about them.

The last couple blesseds have been from the Beattitudes, and there are more worth covering from that Sermon, but for now let’s consider that one of our heavenly Father’s great blessings to His children is discipline.

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD,
 And who you teach out of your law. (Psalm 94:12)

The version we sing at our church is, “blessed the man whom You chastise, Lord, whom You teach to know Your way” (“God of Vengeance, O Jehovah”). Discipline is training, often that corrects disobedience. Discipline can include rebuke or pain that turns us away from sin and back to holiness.

The author of Hebrews says a lot about discipline without using the word blessed, but it certainly applies. He even quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 which has some overlap with Psalm 94:12.

How is discipline a blessing?

Discipline means that we are not abandoned, but loved. God’s discipline is a father’s love for a son, not a judge’s punishment of a criminal. Worse than that, perhaps, is being allowed to have whatever we want, left to sit and stew in soul destroying sin. Discipline displays our Father’s wise affection applied to us. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). And, “if you are left without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8).

Discipline also means that we are not finished, but still being shaped. The Father wants us to “share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). That would be preposterous if God Himself hadn’t said it. Discipline is “for our good,” it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

So don’t be weary when He corrects you (Hebrews 12:5). Don’t treat His discipline like an unwanted intervention. Discipline is blessing, and we ought to receive discipline in such a way that makes others jealous to have it.

We Eat What We Are

Because of how the gospel connects indicatives to imperatives, we can not only say: you are what you eat, but also you eat what you are. When we eat and drink Christ's body we are being knit together and strengthened. Our faith is strengthened by His bread, our hearts are gladdened by His wine.

But we are also eating what we are. We are, in Christ, bread that strengthens the faith of others. We are, in Christ, wine that gladdens the hearts of others. We are a new lump, and what is it good for? It is good to be eaten. We are new wine, and what is it good for? It certainly can’t stay in old wine skins.

So Christ's body is bread and wine to us, and also we are bread and wine as Christ's body. We celebrate all that we have in Him because He is our Passover lamb who has been sacrificed. And that celebration is not limited to one day of the week or one week of the year. That celebration extends to our lives.

Feast here on Christ in communion, and remember that you eat what you are. How will you celebrate with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth? Put off the old self which is corrupt through deceitful desires and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24). Do honest work so that you have something to share (Ephesians 4:28), speak for the building up of others that gives grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up as a fragrant offering (Ephesians 5:2). You are that fragrant offering in communion with Him.

The Limits of Pretending Friends

First in the field of blesseds according to Jesus is being "poor in spirit." It is a unique way to start a sermon, and certainly not an easy sell to a worldling who (thinks he) wants blessing. Previously we considered the second in the list, namely, that mourning is a blessing that includes the promise of comfort. As one example, Paul called the Corinthians to mourn over sin in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:2). They likewise would have been benefited by planting this tree in their soul: humility (1 Corinthians 5:6).

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Again I want to argue that the happiness is not just in the future, or in the grasp of the future now by faith. There is blessing coming later (a kingdom), there is blessing in the current knowledge of what is coming (hope), but it is blessing to have a proper view of one's self.

Humility is a blessing because self-exaltation turns out to be really hard. It is a discouraging work to hunt for reasons to praise something or someone (like oneself) that isn't so great, let alone to lobby a group to pretend there is greatness. Most pride has the unfortunate position of not fitting with reality, and even friends have limits for credible imagination.

Humility is also a blessing because it hurts less to be corrected. We sin, or we make mistakes, and pride multiplies the original problem: it makes us defensive and distanciung, and it makes the fall farther when the strike hits. A humble person is already low; you can’t crash to the floor when you’re already on it.

And humility is a blessing because it shuts the gate to a number of other sins. Pride is what provokes anger (“How dare you not praise me!"), bitterness (“Why don't you recognize me?"), envy ("I deserve to have that."), and slander (“They do not deserve to have that!").

Jesus promises the heavenly kingdom to the humble, and the humbled are blessed in the humility itself.

Fixed in Mind

The argument for church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 assumes at least a couple things. First, from the sinful man's perspective, he still wanted to be associated with the congregation. Paul confronted the flock for not removing the man; he had not removed himself. Whatever he was getting from his membership, he didn't want to lose it. Second, from the congregation's perspective, they should have something that the sinful man should want. Once removed and delivered over to Satan and the flesh, that bitter taste should turn him back to the fold.

In a similar remembrance that produced repentance, the prodigal son remembered all the blessings in his father's house. The difference for the prodigal, of course, is that he had left on his own whereas the disciplined man was removed. But what happened to the prodigal would hopefully happen to the disciplined man: he would remember all the blessings among God's people.

So part of our strategy for purity, preventative and remedial, is joy around the Lord’s Table. We share the blessings of salvation in communion, food for our faith and fellowship among the body in such a way as to fix in a man's mind something desirable. In the case of a disciplined man, the Lord may use remembrance of the shared bread and wine to draw him back. For us, we are encouraged week by week to not want sin more.

A couple Sunday mornings ago we welcomed to the Lord’s table two first-timers. They made their public profession of faith in the waters of baptism the previous Sunday evening, and we want for their first communion to be one of many sweet and serious celebrations. May our proclamation of the Lord's death until He comes be loud and compelling.

In the Orchard of Blessings

In this series of exhortations focused on God’s blessings, it would have been more awkward not to reference the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus sat down to teach He began with what we call the “Beatitudes,” so named due to the Latin word beatus which means “blessed.” Nine verses in a row start with the Greek word makarioi, translated by the plural form beati in the Latin Vulgate, and “blessed” in English. In the orchard of God’s blessings, these nine trees are planted closely together.

Skipping over the first in the list at the moment, here is Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Paul uses the same word for mourning (pentheo) in 1 Corinthians 5:2 in reference to how the church should respond to flagrant sin in her midst. Jesus uses it about those who are constantly mourning.

Matthew doesn’t record the reason for mourning, so perhaps it refers to any kind of sadness. But there is good reason in the sermon context to understand it as a grief for sin. That’s certainly true in the Corinth context. A man feels sorrow for the loss of holiness, which he was made to have. He grieves that he has caused insult to God.

Of all the blessings, this one seems the most difficult to connect. Happy are the ones who are sad? But that’s what Jesus says, and it’s not just because of the promise. Yes, those who mourn “will be comforted,” but if comfort was the only piece of blessing, wouldn’t the beatitude need to say, “Those who mourn will be blessed with comfort”? The comfort is blessing, but so is the mourning itself.

Mourning is part of the blessing because it means we see something as God does, and because we’re sharing His reaction to it. Those who are deluded or who are distracting themselves are not blessed, neither are those denying the truth. The blessing is as deep, or shallow, as the mourning.

He Invites Us In

What sort of God looks to make His people happy? This is not a characteristic of the gods of men. The idols men have created, whether in Greek mythology or Norse mythology or even today’s gods who go by less religious sounding names, these gods expect to be made happy by their worshippers. There is only one God, the only true God, who loves to make His worshippers happy. God blesses out of His generous nature.

What sorts of things does God give that make His people happy? We’ve seen that He forgives them, that He makes them fruitful, that He gives them purpose, even if that purpose seems overwhelming, i.e., fill the earth and subdue it. His blessings can be quite big.

His blessings are also personal, especially as God meets with His people in worship. He does not merely send them a message from a distant land, He comes Himself. He does not pronounce forgiveness but remain unapproachable, as if He told a guard to let us through the gate at the border of His kingdom but only let us look across the moat at the high walls of His castle. He invites us in. And this is blessing.

“Blessed is the one you choose
and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
”
(Psalm 65:4a)

“For you make him most blessed forever;

you make him glad with the joy of your presence.”
(Psalm 21:6)

“Blessed are those who dwell
in your house, 
ever singing your praise!”

(Psalm 84:4)

Happy are the ones who are near Him in worship, and you can tell who they are because they are the ones who sing. The blessed are anti-silent.

It is only through Christ that we have this access. Through Him “we have both access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). But we really are brought into God’s grace and God’s gladness. 


“May God be gracious to us and bless us

and make his face to shine upon us
”
(Psalm 67:1)

Blessing is His fatherly and favorable face upon us. Is this the blessing that we seek when we assemble to worship? Are we prepared to be made this kind of happy by His presence? If not, then we don’t yet understand His blessing nature.

Body and Soul

Where is it most important for you to know that God is at peace with you? Maybe that seems like an odd question, but is it more important for you to know that God is at peace with you in soul or in body?

A while ago I was in a discussion with some men about the idea of “soul reports.” A soul report is an account of what’s happening in your soul. What are you learning? What are you excited about? What is difficult? It is curious to me that many Christians don’t seem to like the idea. For all of the criticism these days of superficialness and hypocrisy and focusing on things that don’t matter, isn’t it a good thing to account for our souls? Jesus asked what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul? So how is your soul? Is your soul “found”? How do you know? What is its state?

Our time of communion is for the soul. We’re reminded of Jesus’ death and resurrection to save our souls. Because of Christ we can say when sorrows overwhelm us, “It is well with my soul.”

Of course communion can’t take place just in our souls. There is a material table and it holds tangible bread and wine; it’s not merely a mental picture. We’re supposed to gather together and eat and drink. These are things for the body, our bodies as Christians and together as the Body of Christ.

It is not dualism to care more about two things, such as soul and body, worship and work. Dualism distinguishes in order to care more about only one of the things, and usually that means more about the invisible things. To fight dualism we don’t break down distinctions between things, we exalt the distinctions and what is valuable to both. Celebrate that in Christ your soul will be forever receiving God’s favor. Celebrate that in Christ your body will be resurrected and will forever be together with the saints in the presence of our Savior.

The Very First Blessing

We continue our series of exhortations to confession based on the idea of blessing. Receiving our blessings well is part of our worship as well as part of our witness to the world. We’ve considered already that forgiveness is God’s blessing, as is fruitfulness.

The very first blessing of God to man came on man’s very first day on earth. It is the second use of the word “blessing” in Genesis 1, but applied to human beings in verse 28.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth.

God looked on His newly created image-bearers with favor. He had given them life and, in light of how Genesis 2:15-25 fits between verses 27 and 28 in chapter one, God had given them each other. For Adam, breath and a bride were both blessings. But verse 28 makes the blessing seem like still more, and I think the blessing is connected with the rest of the verse. Blessing is purpose.

This is a big purpose. On the large scale, you are blessed to make family and culture and technology. But on the day to day scale, this is hugging and feeding your kids, this is filling the car with gas so you can get to work, this is trying to figure out how to help your boss or co-workers or clients better, this is putting the laundry away and baking bread.

We complain often about some of God’s best gifts to us. Our bodies are tired or hurting, but what an amazing grace that they work at all! Our spouses and our kids give meaning to our accomplishments and they provide stories to tell and retell, but we grumble about the challenges. The long task list doesn’t excite us, it overwhelms us, and it may be because we don’t see the blessings. Are you tired because there is a lot to do? Good, God gave you a lot to do.

Our unbelieving neighbors have been given no less purpose. They are made in God’s image. Though they don’t deserve all the meaning that is around them, their failure to recognize it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it means that they are more accountable for their denial. Life seems to them like vanity and striving after wind, but that’s because they refuse to relate their purpose to their Maker.

God didn’t have to give you relationships or responsibilities. But He did. A person with only potential isn’t finished, and we often give such a person grief, but many having many potentials to pursue is good. God blessed you with purpose. How are you receiving those blessings? Does how you’re receiving them make others jealous?

Making a Mess

In his “Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord and Only Savior Jesus Christ” John Calvin observed:

The devil, knowing that our Lord left nothing more beneficial to the Church than this holy sacrament, according to his accustomed manner, exerted himself from the beginning to contaminate it with error and superstitions, and to corrupt and destroy its fruit, has not ceased to pursue this course, until he has almost wholly subverted this sacrament of the Lord and converted it into falsehood and vanity.

What was true in 1536 is still true today; the devil is still our adversary and he still seeks to spoil our time around the Lord’s Table. Whatever specifics Calvin had in mind, what are the things that make communion “false” today?

  • Communion is false if men participate as frauds, that is, if they partake without love and pursuit of righteousness.
  • Communion is false if men participate as if the bread and wine themselves are magical, that is, if they do not partake of the elements by faith.
  • Communion is false if men participate in sadness, that is, if they partake without rejoicing in the salvation Christ purchased for them.
  • Communion is false if men participate in isolation, that is, if they partake either on their own apart from the body or in unresolved conflict with another member in the body.
  • Communion is false if men participate with presumption, that is, if they partake without giving thanks. Jesus gave thanks when He instituted the meal, twice, both before the bread and the wine. Being confident to share communion with God in a meal of peace does not mean He owes it to us.
  • Communion is false if men participate flippantly, that is, if they partake without a sober appreciation of the cost, namely, the death of God’s own Son. To be solemn does not require us to be sullen, but a lack of serious joy disrespects His gift to us.

Satan is working to make a mess of this meal. Is our communion true or false?