“The discipline of Jehovah . . . do not reject.”—PROVERBS 3:11.
1. Why should we accept divine discipline?
KING SOLOMON of ancient Israel gives each one of us a good reason to accept discipline from God. “The discipline of Jehovah, O my son, do not reject,” says Solomon, “and do not abhor his reproof, because the one whom Jehovah loves he reproves, even as a father does a son in whom he finds pleasure.” (Proverbs 3:11, 12) Yes, your heavenly Father disciplines you because he loves you.
2. How is “discipline” defined, and how may a person be disciplined?
2 “Discipline” refers to chastisement, correction, instruction, and education. “No discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous,” wrote the apostle Paul, “yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11) Accepting and applying divine discipline can help you to pursue a righteous course and thus bring you closer to the holy God, Jehovah. (Psalm 99:5) Correction may come by way of fellow believers, through things learned at Christian meetings, and from your study of God’s Word and the publications of “the faithful steward.” (Luke 12:42-44) How thankful you can be when something needing adjustment is thus brought to your attention! But what discipline may be required if serious sin is committed?
Why Some Are Disfellowshipped
3. When does disfellowshipping take place?
3 God’s servants study the Bible and Christian publications. Jehovah’s standards are discussed at their meetings, assemblies, and conventions. So Christians are in a position to know what Jehovah requires of them. Disfellowshipping takes place only if a member of the congregation unrepentantly engages in gross sin.
4, 5. What Scriptural example of disfellowshipping is presented here, and why was the congregation urged to reinstate the man?
4 Consider a Scriptural example of disfellowshipping. The congregation in Corinth tolerated “such fornication as [was] not even among the nations, that a wife a certain man [had] of his father.” Paul urged the Corinthians to “hand such a man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, in order that the spirit may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-5) When disfellowshipped and thus handed over to Satan, the sinner was again part of the Devil’s world. (1 John 5:19) His expulsion removed an evil fleshly element from the congregation and preserved its godly “spirit,” or dominant attitude.—2 Timothy 4:22; 1 Corinthians 5:11-13.
5 Before a very long time had passed, Paul urged the Christians in Corinth to reinstate the wrongdoer. Why? It was so that they might not be “overreached by Satan,” said the apostle. The sinner had evidently repented and cleaned up his life. (2 Corinthians 2:8-11) If the Corinthians refused to reinstate the repentant man, Satan would overreach them in that they would be as hard and unforgiving as the Devil wanted them to be. Very likely, they soon did “forgive and comfort” the penitent man.—2 Corinthians 2:5-7.
6. Disfellowshipping can accomplish what?
6 What is accomplished by disfellowshipping? It keeps Jehovah’s holy name clear of reproach and protects the fine reputation of his people. (1 Peter 1:14-16) Removing an unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation upholds God’s standards and preserves the congregation’s spiritual cleanness. It may also bring the unrepentant one to his senses.
Repentance Makes a Difference
7. What effect did failure to confess his transgressions have on David?
7 Most who sin seriously are truly repentant and are not disfellowshipped from the congregation. Of course, genuine repentance does not necessarily come easily. Consider Israel’s King David, who composed Psalm 32. That song reveals that for a time David did not confess his serious sins, likely involving Bath-sheba. The result was that anguish over his sins depleted his vigor, just as summer’s dry heat saps moisture from a tree. David suffered physically and mentally, but when he ‘confessed his transgressions, Jehovah pardoned him.’ (Psalm 32:3-5) Then David sang: “Happy is the man to whose account Jehovah does not put error.” (Psalm 32:1, 2) How wonderful it was to experience God’s mercy!
8, 9. How is repentance manifested, and how important is it in connection with the reinstatement of a disfellowshipped person?
8 Clearly, then, a sinner must be repentant if he is to receive mercy. However, neither shame nor fear of exposure is repentance. “To repent” means “to change one’s mind” with regard to bad conduct, because of regret. A repentant person has “a heart broken and crushed” and wants to ‘right the wrong’ if possible.—Psalm 51:17; 2 Corinthians 7:11.
9 Repentance is a very important factor in connection with reinstatement into the Christian congregation. A disfellowshipped person is not automatically accepted back into the congregation after a certain amount of time has passed. Before he can be reinstated, his heart condition must undergo a great change. He must come to realize the gravity of his sin and the reproach he brought upon Jehovah and the congregation. The sinner must repent, pray earnestly for forgiveness, and conform to God’s righteous requirements. When requesting reinstatement, he should be able to give evidence that he has repented and is producing “works that befit repentance.”—Acts 26:20.
Why Confess Wrongdoing?
10, 11. Why should we not just try to hide sin?
10 Some who have sinned might reason: ‘If I tell anyone about my sin, I may have to answer embarrassing questions and may be disfellowshipped. But if I keep quiet, that can be avoided and nobody in the congregation will ever know.’ Such thinking fails to take some important factors into account. What are these?
11 Jehovah is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, preserving loving-kindness for thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin.” Yet, he does correct his people “to the proper degree.” (Exodus 34:6, 7; Jeremiah 30:11) If you were to sin seriously, how could you receive God’s mercy if you tried to hide your sin? Jehovah is aware of it, and he does not merely ignore wrongdoing.—Proverbs 15:3; Habakkuk 1:13.
12, 13. What can result from trying to hide wrongdoing?
12 If you have committed a serious sin, confession can help you to regain a good conscience. (1 Timothy 1:18-20) But failure to confess could result in a defiled conscience that could lead you into more sin. Remember that your sin is not just against another human or the congregation. It is against God. The psalmist sang: “Jehovah—in the heavens is his throne. His own eyes behold, his own beaming eyes examine the sons of men. Jehovah himself examines the righteous one as well as the wicked one.”—Psalm 11:4, 5.
13 Jehovah will not bless anyone who hides gross sin and tries to stay in the clean Christian congregation. (James 4:6) So if you have fallen into sin and want to do what is right, do not hesitate to make an honest confession. Otherwise, you will have a guilty conscience, especially when you read or hear counsel regarding such serious matters. What if Jehovah were to withdraw his spirit from you, as he did in the case of King Saul? (1 Samuel 16:14) With God’s spirit removed, you could fall into even more serious sin.
Trust Your Faithful Brothers
14. Why should a wrongdoer follow the counsel of James 5:14, 15?
14 So, then, what should a repentant wrongdoer do? “Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up.” (James 5:14, 15) Approaching the elders is one way for a person to “produce fruit that befits repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) These faithful and warmhearted men will ‘pray over him and grease him with oil in Jehovah’s name.’ Like soothing oil, their Bible counsel will prove to be comforting to anyone who is truly repentant.—Jeremiah 8:22.
15, 16. How do Christian elders follow the example set by God, as recorded at Ezekiel 34:15, 16?
15 What a loving example was set by our Shepherd, Jehovah, when he freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity in 537 B.C.E. and when he liberated spiritual Israel from “Babylon the Great” in 1919 C.E.! (Revelation 17:3-5; Galatians 6:16) He thus fulfilled his promise: “I myself shall feed my sheep, and I myself shall make them lie down . . . The lost one I shall search for, and the dispersed one I shall bring back, and the broken one I shall bandage and the ailing one I shall strengthen.”—Ezekiel 34:15, 16.
16 Jehovah fed his figurative sheep, made them lie down in security, and searched for the lost ones. Similarly, Christian shepherds see to it that God’s flock is spiritually well-fed and secure. The elders search for sheep who wander away from the congregation. Just as God ‘bandaged the broken one,’ overseers “bandage” sheep wounded by someone’s words or by their own actions. And as God ‘strengthened the ailing one,’ the elders help those who have become spiritually sick, possibly because of personal wrongdoing.
How Shepherds Provide Help
17. Why should we not hesitate to seek the spiritual help of the elders?
17 The elders gladly comply with this counsel: “Continue showing mercy . . . , doing so with fear.” (Jude 23) By falling into sexual immorality, some Christians have sinned seriously. But if they are truly repentant, they can expect merciful, loving treatment by elders eager to help them spiritually. Including himself, Paul said regarding such men: “Not that we are the masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy.” (2 Corinthians 1:24) Therefore, never hesitate to seek their spiritual assistance.
18. How do elders deal with erring fellow believers?
18 If you have sinned seriously, why can you have confidence in the elders? Because they are primarily shepherds of God’s flock. (1 Peter 5:1-4) No loving shepherd beats a docile, bleating lamb for hurting itself. When elders deal with erring fellow believers, therefore, it is a matter, not of crime and punishment, but of sin and spiritual restoration where possible. (James 5:13-20) Elders must judge with righteousness and “treat the flock with tenderness.” (Acts 20:29, 30; Isaiah 32:1, 2) Like all other Christians, elders are to ‘exercise justice, love kindness, and be modest in walking with God.’ (Micah 6:8) Such qualities are vital when making decisions involving the life and sacred service of “the sheep of [Jehovah’s] pasturage.”—Psalm 100:3.
Like ancient shepherds, Christian elders “bandage” God’s wounded sheep
19. With what attitude do Christian elders try to readjust someone?
19 Christian shepherds are appointed by holy spirit and seek to be led by it. If “a man takes some false step before he is aware of it”—as though caught off guard—spiritually qualified men try to “readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1; Acts 20:28) With mildness yet firmness for divine standards, the elders try to readjust his thinking, just as a considerate doctor sets a broken limb carefully, to avoid causing needless pain and yet care for the problem. (Colossians 3:12) Since any extending of mercy would be based on prayer and the Scriptures, the elders’ decision would reflect God’s view of matters.—Matthew 18:18.
20. When may it be necessary to announce to the congregation that a certain person has been reproved?
20 If a sin is widely known or will undoubtedly become known, an announcement to the congregation would likely be appropriate in order to protect its reputation. An announcement will also be made if the congregation needs to be informed. During the time that an individual who has been judicially reproved is healing spiritually, he might be likened to a person recovering from an injury, which temporarily limits his activity. For a time, very likely it would be beneficial for the repentant one to listen rather than comment at meetings. The elders may arrange for someone to have a Bible study with him to strengthen him where he is weak so that he may again become “healthy in faith.” (Titus 2:2) All of this is done in love and is not intended to punish the wrongdoer.
21. How may some cases of wrongdoing be handled?
21 Elders can provide spiritual help in various ways. For instance, suppose a brother who in the past had a drinking problem drank too much once or twice when home alone. Or perhaps one who long ago abandoned the use of tobacco smoked privately a time or two in a moment of weakness. Although he has prayed and believes that God has forgiven him, he should seek the help of an elder so that such a sin does not become habitual. An elder or two might handle the situation. However, the elder(s) would inform the presiding overseer, as there may be other factors involved.
Keep On Accepting Divine Discipline
22, 23. Why should you continue to accept divine discipline?
22 To enjoy God’s approval, each Christian must pay attention to Jehovah’s discipline. (1 Timothy 5:20) So take to heart any correction received when you study the Scriptures and Christian publications or when you hear counsel presented at meetings, assemblies, and conventions of Jehovah’s people. Remain vigilant with regard to the doing of Jehovah’s will. Then divine discipline will help you to maintain a spiritual bulwark—a strong wall-like defense against sin.
23 Accepting divine discipline will enable you to remain in God’s love. True, some have been expelled from the Christian congregation, but this need not happen to you if you “safeguard your heart” and ‘walk as a wise person.’ (Proverbs 4:23; Ephesians 5:15) If you are now disfellowshipped, however, why not take steps toward reinstatement? God wants all who have made a dedication to him to worship him faithfully and with “joy of heart.” (Deuteronomy 28:47) You can do so forever if you always accept Jehovah’s discipline.—Psalm 100:2.