As we consider the subject of church discipline, we should first ask ourselves the purpose of discipline. Note that there is a close connection between discipleship and discipline. A disciple is one who submits himself to the teaching and training of a master teacher. In so doing, the disciple submits himself to the discipline of learning from the master teacher. With the Holy Spirit being our teacher, the Holy Scriptures our textbook, and God-given pastor-teachers our guides, let us then learn of the duty of the church in discipline.
The text before us tells us that the duty of the disciples is to make disciples. We are to preach the Gospel, calling men to yield to the Lordship of Christ by repenting of their sin, trusting Christ, with the understanding that we are obligated to obey Him. Even faith in Christ is called obedience (Romans 10:16-17), and the unbelieving are called the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:1-3). We are then to discipline the believers in following Christ. We are to teach in order that discipleship occurs. One cannot be a disciple without learning the way of Christ, who said we are to learn of Him (Matthew 11:28-30).
This is why the Scriptures are given to us, that we might become followers of Christ. Paul told Timothy, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:14–17) Notice how this passage corresponds with our text. Just as we are to make disciples, Scripture shows us that salvation comes through faith in Christ; and, just as we are to teach the disciples the Word, the Scriptures disciple us by teaching us, showing us our error, correcting us, and training us to be the follower of Christ that He would have us to be. Scripture is given to us that we might come under the discipline of Christ by trusting Him and following Him.
The early church took the discipline of teaching seriously, it seems. When many were converted to Christ on Pentecost, the next thing we read is, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41–42) New converts were immediately brought under the doctrine/teaching of the Word of God. We also see that the apostles took the ministry of the Word very seriously, and refused to be distracted from the task, and so the office of deacon was established (Acts 6:1-7). Finally, when Paul would say his farewell to the Ephesian elders, he commended them to God and His Word, saying, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)
Then we see that the church has been gifted with leaders whose job is to teach. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16) These teachers are given so that we would grow to become followers of Christ. Their teaching is to form us into the image of Christ in our sanctification. This is why pastors are required to be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2), to apply themselves to teaching (1 Timothy 4:16), and to preach by teaching the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-3).
Thus we are to yield to the discipline of the Word, by both hearing and doing it (Hebrews 13:22;James 1:21-27;2:14-26). Discipleship occurs when we yield to the teaching and direction of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. This is both the beginning and the most important part of discipline within the church.
The word “doctrine” in 1 Timothy 4:16 & 2 Timothy 4:1-3, means teaching.