I want you to know that this matter of church discipline is not a New Testament phenomenon. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when God removed Adam and Eve from the garden.
Let’s look also at Exodus 32 and the account of the golden calf. This is a story of discipline exercised by the Lord and not by Aaron.
First, we see that the leadership failed, and let the people loose to do what they wanted (no restraint). Moses says that Aaron led them into this sin (v. 25). The people were “let loose” under Aaron’s leadership. The leaders make the difference. All you have to do is look at the Judges to see the difference leadership makes. I cannot emphasize this enough. Pastor, you are the leader, and the people cannot be allowed to just take over. That is what happened to Aaron; he let the people loose and take over. The people were leading the leaders, “Let us make for ourselves . . .”. That is what is happening today. The leaders are listening to the people rather than God. When the people are in control rather the leaders God put in place, you are in for trouble every time. That is why God ordained you to be a leader with strength and authority.
Second, the leaders listened to the people and did what they wanted to.
Third, the leaders made excuses. The people were to hard to handle, they said. If God put you in a position of leadership, you have to learn do deal with difficult issues, step in with courage and strength, and move in those situations and not allow people to take over the situation.
The leadership is held responsible by God. It was Aaron who Moses left behind who had been given the authority and responsibility. The people are responsible as well (v. 30, 31, 35). The people cannot say, “Our leaders didn’t tell us what to do. It’s their fault.” Nobody can make excuses for disobeying the Word of God. Here are the leadership and people alike who are out of control and making excuses.
>> What were the results of no discipline in the camp?
1. There was division (v. 26-28).
Whoever is for the Lord, come to me. Moses wanted to know who means business with the Lord and who was not. Verse 27 says that those who did not come were killed. This is a horrible sight!
2. People are vulnerable to the enemy (v. 25).
When good leadership comes in, discipline is practiced, and order is restored (v. 28).
Just when you think that the people learned their lesson, they were in trouble again. They were stiff-necked people, murmuring and rebellious.
Let’s look at a situation where discipline was applied. Let’s look at Numbers 16 and the rebellion of Korah. In this case, even the leaders rebelled against Moses (250 chiefs among the congregation). The central portion of the text:
20 And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 21 “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” 22 And they fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?” 23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Say to the congregation, Get away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.” 25 Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.” 27 So they got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones. 28 And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. 29 If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.” 31 And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. 32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.
What a tragedy, but here is a case where discipline was applied to those who wanted to go out on their own and exalt themselves.
1. They challenged the leadership (v. 3).
2. They accused the leadership of arrogating the authority to themselves.
The leadership turned the accusation around (v. 7).
3. The leadership said that rebellion against God’s authority is rebellion against God Himself (v. 11)
They “conspired against the Lord.” It was the Lord who had given Moses authority, and Moses was God’s representative.
4. The leadership didn’t hesitate to confront the people.
>> What were the results?
A. Division – Korah v. Moses (There is always going to be division).
B. Destruction of the Ringleaders – God is going to deal with those people
C. God purges the community – Rebellion is in the heart of every one of us, and that is why we need godly leadership.
1 Cor. 10 makes it clear that it was their complaining that the Israelites were scattered in the wilderness.
Some principles that emerge from these texts:
What about the leaders?
1. Leaders are going to be challenged.
2. Authority is given to you to use.
3. The leaders will be pressed to follow the people’s desires.
4. God will hold the leaders responsible for restraining the sin of the people.
What about the people?
1. The people are held responsible.
2. The people will be affected adversely or positively by how the leadership responds.
3. Discipline divides people, one from another.
4. Lack of discipline destroys the people. Discipline is to lead them out of sin and destruction; lack of it destroys the people.
5. Restoration is possible. Aaron was restored, and so were many who took their stand with Moses against Korah. Time may be rough before restoration occurs.
What about God?
1. If the leaders won’t discipline, God will.
I want to say something about “church-hopping.”
When you do the hard work of church discipline, and a member leaves to another church, and they do not recognize church discipline. If you are willing to take anybody in without finding out why that person left their last church, if you don’t consider what it is behind that, you will get in trouble. When you take a Jonah in your boat, you will find that the waves get rough. Not only that, you will have to throw him overboard yourself, just like he was in a previous church.
In my opinion, this was the best of Dr. Adams four messages. As he shared at the outset, discipline does back the Garden of Eden. A fundamental reality is the depravity of man, the accusation of the devil, and the temptation to evil. Dr. Adams also showed in the text that division will take place, for good or for ill, and we must be willing and have the courage to stand for holiness and for the truth of the gospel. I pray for our pastors–that they would be strong and courageous and not fear man but God. Practically speaking, for ministers to apply the truths of this message, as Jeff Noblit explained, would cause many to lose their ministries or forced out of their churches. We need leaders who care enough for the bride of Christ that they would be willing to suffer loss and pain in taking a stand and not “letting people loose.” With the meekness of Moses and the courage of Joshua, I believe God could bring a sweeping movement of renewal and revival in our churches.