Proper Viewpoint of Discipline
“NO DISCIPLINE seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”—Heb. 12:11.
When the great Universal Sovereign, Jehovah, disciplines an individual, that individual will want to exert himself strenuously to take corrective measures in harmony with Jehovah’s requirements. He should not look lightly at the correction that comes from God. The Christian apostle Paul said: “My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.” (Heb. 12:5, 6) Because of God’s great love for his servants, and because “he does not desire any to be destroyed,” he disciplines in righteousness.—2 Pet. 3:9.
Some forms of discipline are more severe than others. The consequences are correspondingly more severe, as noted in the articles “What Disfellowshiping Means” and “Family Responsibility in Keeping Jehovah’s Worship Pure,” found in the July 1 and 15, 1963, issues of the Watchtower magazine.
If a person takes correction with the proper attitude, the benefits and blessings are many. Proverbs 6:23 says: “The reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” Yes, everlasting life is bound up in the way one receives discipline from Jehovah.
This proper attitude toward discipline is especially needed when one has been disfellowshiped, or excommunicated, from Jehovah’s visible organization. One who has committed sins against God and man to the extent that he must be cut off from the Christian congregation has lost Jehovah’s favor. It is imperative that he regain it if he wants life in God’s new world of righteousness. But how is it possible for one who has been disfellowshiped to be reinstated in Jehovah’s organization and reestablish a proper relationship with Jehovah?
HOW REINSTATEMENT IS POSSIBLE
To be reinstated means to be put back, or established again, as in a former state. For someone who has been cut off from God’s visible organization to be reinstated means for him to be put back, or established again, as a member of the congregation.
To put oneself in the way of being restored, one should do as Jehovah commands at Isaiah 1:18: “Come, now, you people, and let us set matters straight between us.” The results of doing this or not doing it are noted: “If you people show willingness and do listen, the good of the land you will eat. But if you people refuse and are actually rebellious, with a sword you will be eaten up.”—Isa. 1:19, 20.
Reinstatement is not just a matter of waiting for a specified time to elapse and then making the proper request in writing to the congregation. No; during the period of excommunication the wrongdoer’s heart condition, his basic attitude, must undergo a profound change. The sinner must fully realize the gravity of his wicked course and the great reproach he has brought upon Jehovah and his organization. He must feel cut to the heart. But he must do more. He must go farther than mere recognition of a wrong and feeling sorry. He must repent, which means to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life for the better. There has to be a converting or changing of his entire course of action. Yes, he must “set matters straight” in harmony with God’s righteous requirements. Then he can approach the congregation committee, acknowledge his wrong, and give evidence he is living a clean life and will continue to do so. In this way he will prove that he is worthy of receiving Jehovah’s undeserved kindness and be reinstated.
If these necessary evidences of sorrow and change are present, then his reinstatement could be considered by the congregation committee after sufficient time had elapsed, which in most cases is at least a year.
When the Christian considers the Scriptural aspects of disfellowshiping it should make him keenly aware of the displeasure God expresses toward persistent wrongdoing. It should make him realize just how serious a thing it is to practice sin. It should make him reaffirm his determination never to pursue a course of wrongdoing. How disastrous it is to be disfellowshiped! What great reproach is brought upon God, upon God’s congregation, upon the individual concerned and upon his family members!
With such grave consequences involved, a few who have fallen into sin might be tempted to reason this way: ‘Well, I know I have done wrong, but I also know that if I tell anyone about it I might be disfellowshiped. I’ve learned how terrible this can be, and I don’t want to go through that. I had better not tell anyone about this. Nobody will ever know, and all that shame will be avoided.’
Such reasoning ignores many things. One is God’s quality of mercy. Another is the benefit that comes from being disciplined by Jehovah. The heart attitude of such a person is wrong. His reasoning is fallacious and dangerous to himself. In the first place he does not appreciate that this will begin to sear his conscience and open the way for more wrongdoing. Since he “got away” with it once, it will be easier to do again. The fallacy is that his sin is not against just another person, or against just God’s congregation. His sin is against Jehovah! While it might be possible to hide a course of wickedness from other people for a while, it is not possible to hide it from Jehovah!
Jehovah observes what men do. “Jehovah is in his holy temple. 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.” (Ps. 11:4, 5) “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, keeping watch upon the bad ones and the good ones.” (Prov. 15:3) “For my eyes are upon all their ways. They have not been concealed from before me, neither has their error been hid from in front of my eyes.” (Jer. 16:17) “As for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.”—1 Sam. 16:7.
From this it is evident that a person overtaken in serious violations of Jehovah’s laws should not try to “get away” with sin and think he will be free from Jehovah’s discipline. “God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (Jas. 4:6) Jehovah will oppose any who sin grievously and who then try to remain in his clean organization without confessing their error to the visible authorities in the Christian congregation. The person who falls into sin, but who wants to do what is right, should go to the overseer of the congregation and make an honest confession of his transgression. Said the Bible writer James: “Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed.”—Jas. 5:16.
If this openness, humility and willingness to confess are not manifested, then this person will be plagued by a guilty conscience whenever he hears or reads counsel regarding such matters in the future. If he hardens himself, he will eventually be taken out of God’s congregation by the angels. Jesus warned: “The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness.” (Matt. 13:41) Jehovah withdraws his spirit from such an individual, as in the case of King Saul. (1 Sam. 16:14) With this powerful force for protection gone, the person may be led to complete debauchery and control by demonic forces.—1 Cor. 5:5.
The honest-hearted person should not lose sight of Jehovah’s marvelous quality of mercy when he considers seeking out the overseer for confession and correction. If someone is overtaken and breaks God’s law, but quickly confesses, it may be that in Jehovah’s undeserved kindness he will not be cut off from the congregation. Instead, other disciplinary measures may be taken. However, this is for the congregation committee to decide in harmony with Jehovah’s just requirements balanced by His mercy and forgiveness.
What if a Christian knows definitely of a grievous sin that was committed by another in the congregation? Is he under obligation to bring it to the attention of the congregation? If the sin is the kind that would bring reproach upon God and upon His congregation, especially if it could lead to disfellowshiping, then the Christian is obligated to go to the congregation committee and tell them what he knows of this. One who fails to do this fails to show love for God and the congregation, because he allows uncleanness to remain in it.
HOW TO AVOID WRONG CONDUCT
To avoid a course that might lead to disfellowshiping, each Christian will want to stick close to God. This can be done by continually feeding from Jehovah’s spiritual table. Study his Word, the Bible, continually. Associate with other Christians who will strengthen you and serve as wholesome companions in this evil-filled world. Fill your time by participating in the work that Jehovah has given his servants to do at this time.
Constantly seek to improve the quality of your worship. Train your perceptive powers by using the things you learn in your daily life. This will help you to progress toward Christian maturity, for the apostle Paul said that mature persons are “those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Heb. 5:14) This does not mean that a mature person can be careless where sin is concerned. All must “keep strict watch that how [they] walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for [themselves], because the days are wicked . . . go on perceiving what the will of Jehovah is.” (Eph. 5:15-17) Yes, “having this advance knowledge, be on your guard that you may not be led away with them by the error of the law-defying people and fall from your own steadfastness.”—2 Pet. 3:17.
Sin begins in the mind. Wrong desire will grow if not curbed. It will eventually give birth to sin. As James 1:14, 15 states: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” Wrong desire is like quicksand and can pull one down into sin if not counteracted immediately.
If improper desires are aroused—and this is not difficult for imperfect humans—determine the source of those desires and seek to keep away from it. If one is susceptible to overdrinking, then he should not buy alcoholic beverages or accept them if others offer them. If one finds himself in dangerous situations with members of the opposite sex, then that association should be limited to gatherings where one will not be alone with one of the opposite sex. Do not overestimate your ability to resist temptation of this sort. “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12) Young people wisely will accept the grouping of themselves in company with others, under the guidance of a mature adult or Christian couple. Christian parents will carefully guide their young to keep them out of the way of immorality by not permitting their “going steady” or “dating” when too young. Do not let the corrupt standards of this dying world be the standards by which you guide your children. Since marriage is the proper reason for members of the opposite sex keeping company, they should obviously be of a more responsible age before going out together. However, even adults must carefully guard their conduct with the opposite sex. It is not only the young that can get into difficulty.
Do not take the first step toward sin, whether it is in regard to alcohol, sexual morality, or any other type of difficulty. Small things lead to big things. Small thefts will dull the conscience and permit big thefts. Small lies train the mind for big lies. Not saying “No” to that extra drink will weaken the resolve and pave the way for drunkenness. “Necking” and “petting” can lead to fornication. Irregularity in meeting Christian obligations will weaken one’s ability to fulfill his worship to God.
Profit by the discipline given to others. When discipline is administered through the medium of Christian publications or from the platform in Christian meetings, take the counsel to heart. See how it could apply to you. Let it serve as a warning for you to keep your guard up and not relax your vigilance where the performance of God’s will is concerned.—1 Tim. 5:20.
As you stay close to God’s word and his organization, and pray for his spirit to guide you, your love of God will grow. That love of God will serve as a mighty bulwark against the encroachments of sin, since it will help you to grow in your love for what is right and your hatred for what is wrong.
The proper viewpoint of discipline will aid all in the congregations of Jehovah’s people. It will enlarge our appreciation for God’s ways of dealing with his people. It will make us realize that, since thousands have been disfellowshiped, it could happen to us if we do not walk carefully in the ways that Jehovah has outlined in his Word. It will also encourage us to serve Jehovah God, who is so concerned with his people, when we understand the reasons for discipline and the benefits that are derived.
We can therefore look forward with confidence to God’s new world where all who are living will be educated and trained so they will worship Jehovah properly and enjoy loving, clean association with their fellowman.