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1 Corinthians 5: Desperate for Discipline Print E-mail
1 Corinthians
Sunday, 20 September 2015

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“Tolerance is loving.” At least that is what our current culture wants us to believe. To point out sin is unloving. To hold people to certain standards is legalistic. And to tell someone that what they are doing is wrong is judgmental. This is what our culture is teaching. Of course, if those ideas were simply the approach of those living outside the Church, then as difficult as it will prove to be, it would not necessarily be a threat to the health of the local body of believers. Yet, when those ideas are believed and taught in the Christian community, then we are rapidly moving away from God and His Word of absolute truth. Tolerance is not just unloving or unwise in the Church, it is deadly.

The Church in Corinth had succumbed to tolerance. With their superior spirituality and worldly wisdom, it seems they were taking their ‘freedom in Christ’ much further than they should. Paul addresses the particular problem in verse 1. Look at that with me. The language indicates that a man was having a sexual relationship with a woman that was married to his father. Maybe they were separated, maybe the father had died, but either way, their relationship was not even close to being appropriate. Paul says that it is not even tolerated among the pagans! This is serious sin.

And what is his solution? Maybe they could just ignore it and hope that it will go away. No, Paul tells them to take action. Look at verse 2. The same people who were boasting in gifts and claiming to be kings (see ch. 4) were tolerating serious sin in their membership. Perhaps they were even boasting about their tolerance of sin (‘We are so loving’ or ‘We are so welcoming’). Paul tells them to mourn over this man’s sin and to remove him from the fellowship of the Church. He will tell them to deliver this man to Satan (v. 5), cleanse out the old leaven (v. 7), don’t associate with him (v. 11), judge him (v.12), and purge the evil person from among you (v. 13, quoting from Deuteronomy 17:7).

Paul tells them six different times to remove this individual from the Church. Needless to say, such action is not popular today. Although a local Church should never be quick to discipline, many have decided to just ignore such commands altogether. ‘We don’t want to be judgmental and unloving,’ is the typical response. While we should be careful and cautious in our practice of church discipline (following Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-20), we cannot pretend that the Bible does not call us to action when we see a brother in sin. And when un-repentance remains, the Church must act and remove the individual.

But why? Why would we ever discipline someone? Paul gives us three compelling reasons.

First, we discipline for the salvation of souls (v. 3-5)

What might seem to be unloving is actually the most loving thing we can do for a person. Paul tells the Corinthians to join him in pronouncing judgment on the individual. Look at verses 3-5. Paul knows that they need to remove this man from their fellowship and he encouraged them to do just that. They need to gather together in the name of the Lord Jesus and with the power of our Lord Jesus (pointing back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20) to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. That is strong language! What does Paul mean by this? As a member of the Body of Christ, this man was no longer in the sphere of Satan. Yet, when the Church excommunicates him, he will be returned to that place, to the world. This should happen for the destruction of his flesh. What does that mean? It could be taken as either physical destruction of his body or spiritual destruction of his fleshly desires. Although both are supported in other passages, it seems in this context that Paul is talking about his fleshly desires. He wants the man to see what his sex will cost him. When that happens, Paul’s hope is that the man’s desires will be destroyed. He will die to his flesh.

Why is this so significant? What is the purpose behind handing a man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh? Paul answers: so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Paul’s hope for this man is his salvation. He wants this man to see the cost of his sin and turn from it to Christ. Placing him outside the Church, in the sphere of Satan, is a hard thing to do, but it is not unloving if we believe in the gospel. For the gospel teaches that those who trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are no longer slaves to sin. We have forgiveness for sin and power to fight sin. We are not saved from our sins to continue in sin. It is Paul’s hope that church discipline will help this man see this truth so that he can truly repent and believe in Christ, that he might be saved on the last Day. One reason we should practice church discipline when necessary is for the salvation of souls.

Second, we should discipline for the sanctification of the Church (v. 6-8)

My mom has a friend whose daughter has been diagnosed with MRSA, or staph, infection in one of her fingers. They are doing all that they can to kill the infection, but they are prepared to take the finger if they have to. Why? Why would they take such a terrible measure? Because the infection must be stopped before it spreads. As terrible as it sounds, and it is terrible, it is better to lose a finger or part of a finger and live.

It is this truth that Paul explains next using the analogy of leaven. Look at verse 6. The principle is simple: a little leaven in dough will end up ruing the whole batch. Or as we often say: ‘One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.’ If this man’s sin is not addressed, then others will be encouraged to ‘believe in Christ’ while continuing in their sin. And before long, the gospel will be lost and the Church will lose its witness. So what should they do? Remove the leaven. Look at verses 7-8.

Paul is telling them to be who you are. He called them those sanctified in Christ Jesus (1:2) and now he is telling them to live like that. He does this by continuing the image of leaven and relating it particularly to the Passover celebration. In remembrance of God’s deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt, Israel was to spend a week removing all of the leaven from their homes. Then, they were to sacrifice the Passover lamb and eat unleavened bread just like they did on the night that God struck down all the first born males in Egypt. Paul says to these New Covenant believers: Christ is your Passover Lamb. Just like Adam was teaching us a few weeks ago from Luke 24, the celebration of Passover points us to Jesus. He sacrificed Himself for our sins so that God could justly forgive us in Him. So Paul is saying here, if all that is true, then we should be free of all leaven, all malice and evil. We should be who we are: blood bought slaves of righteousness who are no longer slaves of sin. We practice church discipline for the purity of the Bride, the sanctification of the Body of Christ.

Third, we discipline for separation from the world (v. 9-13)

Paul now goes on to correct a misunderstanding. He had apparently written them a letter instructing them to not associate with the sexually immoral. It seem that some of them took this to mean the sexually immoral among unbelievers. But that is not what Paul meant. Look at verses 9-10. The only way to avoid sinners is to leave the world. The truth is, we should associate with unbelieving sinners so that we can share with them the good news of Christ. You cannot preach the gospel to the lost and dying if you no longer associate with sinners. This does not mean that we tell them that their sin is no big deal or that we pretend like everything is ok. No, it means that we tell them about Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners so that they too can be forgiven and have new life in Christ. We don’t tell them to clean themselves up or to get their act together. No, we tell them that Christ died for sinners like us and through faith in Him and the power of the Spirit we can have victory over our sin. We associate with sinners to get them the gospel.

So what did Paul mean when he told them to not associate with the sexually immoral? Look at verse 11. Paul is telling us that we are not to associate with those who claim to follow Christ but refuse to repent of their sinful lifestyle. The man who is sleeping with his step-mother was a member of the Church in Corinth. He was their ‘brother’ in Christ. But his sin was revealing that he was not truly following Jesus. In this situation, Paul tells them to not associate with him, to break fellowship with him by not even sharing a meal (or at least not fellowship meals). He is to experience the cost of his sin by his exclusion from the Church. Paul brings the issue to a close in verses 12-13. Look at those with me.

A couple of things to note here. First, we see the necessity of knowing who is on the inside and who is on the outside of the local Church. We call this membership. Some think it is not important or even unbiblical, but this verse necessitates it. Second, Paul tells us that God will judge the world, but we should judge the Church. We are commanded to fight for the purity of the Body by judging our membership. When continual, unrepentant sin is found, then we must purge that person from fellowship. We discipline to maintain the separation between the Church and the world.

So then, what can we conclude about sin and love? Well, it is obvious from both Jesus and Paul that ignoring or tolerating sin among believers is unloving. The world is simply upside down on this one. Toleration of sin paves the road to Hell for the individual, leads to the corruption of others, and removes the difference between the believer and the unbeliever. To be soft on sin is to weaken the power of the gospel. If belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection does not change us, then what’s the point? Why should sinners come to Christ if He is only going to leave them in their sin? We cannot afford to make the mistake of tolerating sin.

Rather, we must learn the right connection between sin and love. We must learn as brothers and sisters in Christ the importance of thinking rightly about sin. What does that look like?

First, we must love each other so much that we would never condone sin. I have often said that the hardest part of church discipline is the first step, which is going to our brother alone to lovingly confront their sin. But we have to do it. I am asking you to love me enough to confront my sin. Please do not think that you are doing me any favors by not confronting it. If we love each other, we will do the hard work of fighting for sanctification. May we always confront and never condone each other’s sin.

Second, we must love each other so much that we would never walk away for sin. One of the unstated implications of this passage is that fellowship with the local Church matters to believers. Both Jesus and Paul taught that the final, drastic step of Church discipline was to put somebody out of the fellowship. To them, such action was costly and weighty. But is it today? My prayer is that the fellowship among us at Trinity Baptist would be so sweet and so loving and so trusting that no one would be able to walk away from it easily. My hope is that if we ever had to discipline someone, then the break from fellowship, the break from the family, would weigh on them so heavily that God would use it to bring them back to the fold.

I am thankful for a Church that will not condone my sin, even if it means removing me from the fellowship. And I am thankful for a Church that such a break of fellowship would hopefully drive me to repentance and faith. I’m thankful that sin matters to this community and that this community matters to this sinner. Amen.

 ~ William Marshall ~ 

Last Updated ( Monday, 19 October 2015 )

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