Dear Church Family,

The seventh section of our newly adopted church covenant reads: “We will submit ourselves to the discipline of this church as a testimony of our desire to always walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. And for our brothers and sisters, we will seek their spiritual advancement as dearly as our own.”

As we begin a new year, I think this statement is profoundly encouraging. You might wonder how I can even remotely find encouragement from a section that includes submission and discipline, but let me explain. Probably many of you have set goals for yourselves this year or in years past regarding your own personal discipline and self-control in any number of areas. That’s all well and good, but setting goals like these can have the tendency of creating a self-sufficient, independent, “I did it my way” spirit within us. So, when we’re making progress or seem to be reaching our goals, the world is our oyster, but when we struggle or even slip, it’s the end of the world.

You see, when we believe everything rises and falls with us, that belief sets us up for either pride or despondency—neither of which is where we want to be as Christians. From the very beginning when God created man, He said that it was not good for him to be alone. God designed us to live in community with one another. This was true before sin entered the world and it is also true after the Holy Spirit enters the believer. Local churches are established because God designed us to need one another. That’s what this section of our church covenant is about.

As Christians, we have committed ourselves to always walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, but the beauty is, we’re not alone in this commitment. God in His wisdom has gathered us into local churches where we covenant with one another to pursue the same commitments, together. One of those commitments is that we will seek the spiritual advancement of our fellow church members as dearly as our own. If each member is seeking the growth of every other member, every other member is seeking the growth of each member. What greater way is there to express our love for one another than by seeking each other’s growth in love for God?

It’s only once we understand we’re linked together in our commitment to pursue God that we are enabled to understand how submission and discipline factor in. Although we truly have committed ourselves to always walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, we also recognize with the hymn writer that our hearts are prone to wander. In other words, the commitment we’ve made to walk down the straight and narrow isn’t always backed up with feet moving down that path. We know that we are new creations in Christ Jesus, but we are also still fighting not to live like we did before. So, by committing to submit ourselves to the discipline of our local church, we are acknowledging the battle ahead of us and are preemptively making the first strike.

Here’s what I mean: we know sin is bad and God is good, but we often forget His goodness and are deceived by sin. When that happens, God has already providentially provided us with a family who loves us too much to sit idly by and a biblical process to guide them in how to best pursue us. Of course, most of the discipline we experience within the Christian life is what’s called formative discipline. This kind can be anything from conviction from a sermon or a challenge from a conversation that God uses to make us more like Christ, even if the one speaking is unaware.

However, the Bible also prescribes what’s called corrective discipline or church discipline. This process outlined in Matthew 18:15-20 primarily begins with addressing sin on a private or person-to-person level, and then adds one or two others, and then brings in the whole church if there is no repentance. Sadly, this passage and passages like this one have been wrongly viewed as judgmental when they should really be viewed as humble and loving. Humble, because we all recognize we have the potential within us to be in need of the same correction. Loving, because sin can’t deliver what only God can, and it will lead us down a path of destruction. Now don’t get me wrong, I do think we should feel a little tremor of fear within us when we read passages about church discipline, but we must remember the context of family love in which they are written.

There is much more that could be and should be said, but for now let me ask you, how do you respond to correction? How are you seeking the spiritual advancement of your fellow church members as dearly as your own? How are you committing to intentionally seek your own spiritual advancement in 2018?