[Biblemat] A> Cutting Back In Order To Grow
Steven C. Harper
harperwest at yahoo.com
Sat Apr 12 18:26:07 CDT 2008
From: TRUTH & REASON, a bulletin of the Glendale church of Christ, Glendale, AZ.
Editor: Steven Harper
April 13, 2008
Cutting Back In Order To Grow
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but cutting back certain limbs and branches from a tree [pruning] will often help it to grow - if it is done properly. The same is true of many flowering shrubs and plants. I remember cutting back a couple of plants in my front yard last winter and looked at the stubs that were left and wondered if I would ever see growth again. When spring came, they blossomed better than ever and I even had to do some more pruning just to limit the spread of those two plants. The pruning that was done helped rid it of the older branches and even some dead [frostbitten] branches that made room for newer and stronger branches.
According to the Texas A&M Cooperative Extension website, pruning is 'the removal of parts not required, that are no longer effective or productive, or are of no use' to the plant, and it is done to supply additional energy for the development of flowers, fruit, and the limbs that remain. It is essentially done to improve the health and value of the plant and, for younger plants, can be used to 'train' the plant to grow in a certain way. Pruning is an effective way of helping a tree's beauty, growth and productivity, if it is done properly; improper pruning, however, does more harm than good and - according to the Texas A&M website - is a cause for more trees being killed than those killed by pests! At best, improper pruning ruins or greatly reduces the tree's potential for growth and productivity.
In consideration of these things, I hope we can see a parallel practice within the church that can be just as beneficial if it is practiced regularly and properly: discipline. As hard as it may be to accept, the same things that are true for pruning trees is true of the church: a little pruning [discipline] goes a long way in strengthening the church and will even cause growth! This is not coldhearted and emotionless discipline, but discipline done within the guidelines of God's word and with genuine, but grave, concern for the church as a whole. Properly exercised discipline may cause the church to lose some members, but the result will be a church that is left with members that are strong and more productive.
If you doubt this, consider the history of God's people. When the Israelites left Egypt, it was by the mighty power of God that they did so, and they all witnessed it firsthand. Yet within days, they were complaining about their difficulties and lack of sustenance and within 40 days they were ready to appoint new leaders who would take them back to Egypt (cf. Num. 13-14)! For this, God exercised some 'pruning' and revealed that all who were 20 years old and above would die in the wilderness (Num. 14:28-30) as they would now take 40 years to obtain what had been promised to them by God. I'm sure someone might complain that the nation could have been even more numerous and more powerful if they had not died in the wilderness [because of God's words], but what kind of people would they have been when they arrived in Canaan? They would have been a weak, grumbling, contentious lot who wouldn't have been able to get along with each other long enough to fight their enemies! While we may mourn the loss of those who died in the wilderness, rejoice in the fact of those who remained!
And what about Israel after they had settled in the land? Well, as you probably already know, they didn't exactly remain faithful to God. It got to the point that God finally said, "Because they have forsaken Me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched" (2nd Kings 22:17). After they had gone into captivity and endured the seventy years of exile, less than 50,000 returned to the land. But those who returned were the faithful, while the weak and idolatrous ones were either killed in the siege or, as captives, remained in the foreign lands of their captivity (Jer. 22:27). The Israel that remained after that severe pruning of God included such men as Nehemiah and Ezra, who were instrumental in the return and growth of the once-great nation of Israel. The pruning obviously did some good because Israel never again followed after the false gods of the surrounding nations.
These things considered, let us now learn some pruning lessons that are applicable to discipline within the church and which will produce similar results.
Effective Discipline is Proper Discipline. As was stated in the A&M material, improper pruning causes more destruction than many pests; likewise, improper discipline within the church [whether it be because of inconsistency, bias, a lack of love, or simply delayed action], will destroy a church. When the one who has been improperly disciplined and the remaining members see what has been done, they will not be encouraged or edified by what they have seen - they will be offended, hurt, and confused. Paul urged the Corinthians to exercise proper discipline and welcome back the repentant one "lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow" and "lest Satan should take advantage of us" (2nd Cor. 2:7, 11). Proper discipline is exercised to save a soul (cf. Jas. 5:19, 20), not to simply rid the church of another member. Remember, Paul commanded that we are to not regard the erring brother "as an enemy, but warn him as a brother" (2nd Thess. 3:14, 15). The practice of 'shunning' is not from God.
Effective Discipline Follows A Plan. According to the A&M information, the best pruning is done according to a plan, and not simply done haphazardly. Friends and brethren, many churches could learn from this! In many cases, when discipline is needed, the members and even leadership within a congregation has no idea about how to begin - much less how to accomplish the desired goal. In some places, discipline is inconsistent and instead of causing growth and strengthening the remaining members, contention and division results because someone's family is treated differently or discipline is seen as more lenient for some and harsher for others. Unfortunately, many brethren take a hard, cold approach to discipline and the disciplined member never hears that it is done out of concern for his soul. Many times, a church will simply send a form letter or make a short phone call to inform the individual he has been withdrawn from and that is the end of it. The remaining members are left to wonder what their part now is, and how they are to treat the disciplined one. Is it any wonder that few disciplined members return?
God gave us a plan to follow when we are dealing with a sinning brother (Matt. 18:15-17; 2nd Thess. 3:14, 15; 1st Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1), but prior to that discipline must be an effort by all members to know one another well enough to avoid ever getting to the point of corporal discipline [punishment]. Effective training [i.e., regular discipline] will guide all the members in the way they should go and will reduce or eliminate the amount of pruning that must be done to rid 'dead' branches. When discipline is done in love and with the goal of saving his soul, it will be according to God's plan and will strengthen those who remain, bearing much fruit.
Friends and brethren, if we care at all for this church, I hope we realize the need for occasional pruning [disciplinary actions], but I hope we also know it is for the good of the individual and for the good of the congregation. An unpruned tree will soon be taken over by the dead limbs; an undisciplined church will be taken over by the 'dead' members and no fruit will be produced. -- Steven Harper
More to come next week.
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