"OUR LIFE TOGETHER" Limitations On Our Fellowship INTRODUCTION 1. Throughout this study on "Our Life Together", the focus has been on enhancing the fellowship that Christians have in Christ, made possible by His precious death on the cross - cf. Ep 2:14-22 a. Jesus died that He might reconcile us back to God "in one body" - Ep 2:16 b. We are now "fellow-citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" - Ep 2:19 c. We have been "joined together" as a holy temple in the Lord - Ep 2:21 2. I hope that in some way I have challenged us to think about our fellowship, and the importance of doing what we can to nurture it... a. That we strive to develop the family-like intimacy Jesus intended for God's household b. That we appreciate the true interdependence we have as members in the body of Christ c. That we understand how our public assemblies with their various acts of worship help to develop fellowship d. That we receive one another as Christ received us e. That we use our liberty in Christ to serve one another in love f. That we allow the Scriptures with its exhortations and examples to guide us in building fellowship 3. Yet, while fellowship among brethren is wonderful, sometimes we are called upon to withhold our fellowship from a brother or sister in Christ... a. We may have to view a fellow disciple as "a heathen and a tax collector" - cf. Mt 18:17 b. We may have to "avoid them" - cf. Ro 16:17 c. We might have to "put away from yourselves that wicked person" - cf. 1 Co 5:13 d. We might have to "withdraw" ourselves and "not keep company" with a fellow disciple - cf. 2 Th 3:6 ,14 e. We might not be able to "receive him into your house nor greet him" - cf. 2 Jn 10 4. Indeed, there are "Limitations On Our Fellowship" we must respect if we are to be true to the teachings of Jesus and His apostles! [These "limitations" are related to the subject of "Church Discipline", and in this final study on "Our Life Together" we will briefly touch upon what the Scriptures teach in this regard...] I. THE COMMAND TO WITHHOLD FELLOWSHIP A. AS COMMANDED BY JESUS HIMSELF... 1. In the case of a brother who has sinned and refuses to repent - Mt 18:15-17 2. Jesus' own words: "...let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector." a. Spoken in the context of social relations at the time b. Jews had no social dealings with Gentiles, nor with their Jewish brethren who worked for the Roman government as tax collectors 3. The point is to withdraw social association from a brother who refuses to repent B. AS COMMANDED BY HIS APOSTLES... 1. Paul's charge to the church at Rome - Ro 16:17-18 a. Involving those who "cause divisions and offenses" b. The brethren were to "note" and "avoid them" 2. Paul's charge to the church at Corinth - 1 Co 5:1-13 a. Involving a man who had his father's wife b. The church was instructed: 1) To "deliver such a one to Satan..." - 1 Co 5:5 2) To "purge out the old leaven" - 1 Co 5:7 3) To "not keep company" - 1 Co 5:11 4) To "not even to eat with such a person" - 1 Co 5:11 5) To "put away from yourselves that wicked person." - 1 Co 5:13 3. Paul's charge to the church at Thessalonica - 2 Th 3:6-15 a. Involving those who would not work and support themselves b. The church was instructed: 1) To "withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" - 2 Th 3:6 2) To "note that person and do not keep company with him" - 2 Th 3:14 4. John's charge to the elect lady and her children - 2 Jn 9-11 a. Involving anyone who would seek their support, and yet not abide in the doctrine of Christ b. They were instructed to "not receive him into your house nor greet him" [It is clearly evident that "withholding fellowship" is necessary under certain conditions. What is the purpose of placing such a limitation on our fellowship?] II. THE PURPOSE FOR WITHHOLDING FELLOWSHIP A. TO SAVE THE SOUL IN ERROR... 1. One who refuses to repent of sin is in a lost state - cf. He 10:26-31 2. By making him (or her) "ashamed" of their sin, perhaps they may repent - cf. 2 Th 3:14 3. Consider Paul's words in 1 Co 5:5 ... a. The church is to "deliver such a one to Satan" 1) That is, to remove all godly influence from that person 2) This is done by withdrawing fellowship b. The purpose is "for the destruction of the flesh" 1) It is "fleshly desires" (of which pride plays a great part) that encourage one to persist in sin 2) But "shame" can go a long way to destroying these things of the flesh 3) Therefore the command to publicly note and withdraw from such a person - cf. 1 Co 5:4 ,13 c. The ultimate goal: "that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" 1) Our concern is not his (or even our own) temporary happiness 2) But the salvation of his soul on the day of judgment! 3) Therefore the need for "tough love" by withholding fellowship B. TO SAVE THE SOULS OF THE OTHER MEMBERS IN THE CHURCH... 1. This is Paul's point about the need to purge out the "leaven" - cf. 1 Co 5:6-8 2. Just as leaven infects the whole loaf, so can "sin in the camp"! 3. Sin left unchecked will destroy the other members in the congregation a. Either by tempting them to sin in similar fashion b. Or by their failure to exercise the proper discipline 1) For they would then be guilty before the Lord on that basis! 2) As was the church in Pergamos - cf. Re 2:14-16 4. Even if the erring brother does not repent, the church that exercises proper discipline will still be saved! C. TO MAGNIFY THE LORD AND HIS CHURCH IN THE EYES OF THE WORLD... 1. This was an effect of the first case of "church discipline" recorded in the NT. a. The example of Ananias and Sapphira illustrates how seriously the Lord Himself views "sin in the camp" - cf. Ac 5:1-10 b. The result was one of "fear", yet great "esteem", which lead to many conversions - Ac 5:11-14 2. The world is not going to take the gospel call to holiness seriously if the church does not deal properly with "sin in the camp" 3. But when a church deals with unrepentant sin in the manner of withholding fellowship, the reputation of the church is held in high esteem 4. When people decide to get serious about sin, where do you think they will go? a. To a church that winks at sin? b. Or one that provides every proper motivation to turn from sin? CONCLUSION 1. There is much more that should be said on the subject of "withholding fellowship" as it relates to church discipline a. Indeed, an entire series can be presented on this subject b. Which I plan to do myself another time, the Lord willing 2. But I trust this will suffice to make two points about "Our Life Together"... a. Our fellowship together in Christ has limitations 1) While it is true we are to have "a receiving fellowship" 2) ...there may come a time when we must have "a rejecting fellowship"! b. Our fellowship together in Christ needs to be very special 1) Not only so we might enjoy all the blessings Christ intended in the family of God 2) But should it ever be necessary to withhold fellowship as a last effort to save a brother's soul, what is withheld will really be missed! -- Church discipline often fails because the fellowship never was what it should have been to begin with! 3. So Christian fellowship serves a two-fold purpose... a. To "enhance" the relationship we have in the family of God b. To "preserve" the relationship we have in the family of God That we might enjoy the fullest blessings of Christian fellowship, let us all do what we can to strengthen "Our Life Together"!