Question & Answer Forum

How long before a person put away from the assembly can be forgiven and comforted?

When Paul writes his second epistle to the Corinthians, he has received from Titus a report of conditions in Corinth (2Co 7:6, 7). Now as he writes, he is careful in his wording. At least one person who was put away from the assembly is likely to hear what Paul is writing. Although that individual has caused Paul grief, he indicates that the greater concern is the grief that the sinning individual has caused to the entire assembly (2:5). The Revised Version’s translation of the latter part of the verse, “that I may not overcharge you all,” seems more consistent with the context. A number of other translations indicate that Paul is not thinking of the assembly alone. The following verses support this. The excommunication had been sufficient to accomplish its purpose. Paul, informed by Titus, was aware that the sinning individual could be overcome with sorrow, so he spoke – and asked the assembly to act – in a way that would not overburden that individual with sorrow.

The passage in chapter 7 (vv 2-16) has a number of parallels with what Paul writes in chapter 2. A key difference is that chapter 2 deals with the recovery of a man who was put away and chapter 7 with the recovery of the assembly. The comments Paul makes about the assembly’s repentance and sorrow (vv 8-11) give us principles that apply to the individual. “Godly sorrow” produces repentance, which results in deliverance from the condition that caused the sorrow (vv 9, 10). Sorrow which results from submission to God and His Word results in repentance. Paul judged that sorrow had done its work in producing repentance; any further sorrow would be destructive.

The passage gives the answer to the question. The assembly’s forgiveness and comfort are predicated on the individual’s recognition of the seriousness of his sin in dishonoring the Lord, defiling the assembly, and grieving his fellow believers. His contrition of heart and submission to the discipline and to the Word of God will be evident. Determining this is a matter of spiritual discernment that assesses the work of God in that individual. This is not a matter left to the opinion of each believer in the assembly, with every man doing that which is “right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The elders who guided the assembly in the discipline of that individual will guide the assembly in recognizing when the assembly should confirm its love, forgive, and comfort the repentant believer.

D. Oliver

Do those who sympathize with a person under discipline hinder that person’s recovery?

When any individual is put away from an assembly, every other believer in the assembly should respond with sorrow (2Co 2:5), deep searching of heart (how could such a sin exist “among you”? 1Co 5:2), and a sincere, prayerful concern for the spiritual recovery of that person (Gal 6:1), no matter how grievous the sin. A shepherd is energized by divine love and cares for sheep because they belong to the Lord (compare Cain, 1Jo 3:12; Gen 4:9). Whether or not sheep are in the assembly, a shepherd heart cares about their spiritual welfare. Those who care about the disciplined believer will urge him to recognize his sin and submit to God and His dealings with him. Those who will give account to God for the well-being of the sheep (Heb 13:17) will do whatever is possible to further God’s dealing in an excommunicated believer. While those shepherds act individually, they must do so in fellowship with their fellow-elders. The unity of the oversight is crucial. The unity of the assembly results from a united oversight.

However, those who side with a disciplined believer in opposition to the judgment of the assembly are acting unwisely, to say the least. They contribute to division in the assembly and are working against God. Rather than helping, they hinder the work God purposes in the disciplined believer.

Is it possible that the believer has been judged wrongly? Yes, it is unlikely, but possible. Who will be able to discern this, a carnal or a spiritual believer? If a believer discerns that the assembly has been unjust in its judgment, and as a result he acts in anger, speaks against the overseers, rallies a faction within the assembly, and absents himself from assembly meetings in protest, he is acting carnally. Carnal acts flow from a carnal mind, which is incapable of righteous judgment in spiritual matters. If a believer senses injustice and reacts with burdened prayer, respectfully expresses his concern to the overseers, and avoids any behavior that will divide the assembly, he has chosen the best possible path to help both the disciplined believer and the entire assembly.

The Lord reserves the strongest of language for one “that soweth discord among brethren” (Pro 6:19); that person is an abomination to the Lord (v 16). The welfare of a disciplined believer is inseparable from the welfare of the assembly. Whatever help can be given to him will be consistent with lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2, 3).

D. Oliver

Is it appropriate to give out a hymn between partaking of the bread and drinking from the cup?

Making rules for conducting our gatherings is inappropriate. But so is creating confusion (1Co 14:33). Our singing together and our worship lead to the time when we remember the Lord by breaking the bread and partaking of the cup. The first three gospels give us the specific model for this sacred rite. Mark tells us, “Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, . . . And He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them: and they all drank of it” (14:22, 23). Paul tells us how the Lord conducted this, “after the same manner” (1Co 11:25) and records His instruction, “This do ye . . .”

This is the order: thanksgiving for the bread, then all break the bread; thanksgiving for the cup, then all drink from it.

D. Oliver