TEXT: 1 Corinthians 5 :1-13
TITLE: “CHURCH DISCIPLINE ”
DATE PREACHED : The Lord's Day 01/08/2010
Our general theme for the exposition of this Corinthian letter is “ Loving and serving the body of Christ for all its worth” . This letter helps us to understand the way in which we can love our church by being committed to maintain its purity in our relationships with one another to the glory of our great bridegroom , the Lord Jesus Christ .
We have seen that this church has become greatly fragmented , because the eyes of its members were more focused on men more than on Christ . We have seen that in this process the church had developed a real contempt for their founding father – Paul (Ch 4) . But that is not all . In Chapter 5 we see a further exposure of the problem of this church. We note that they continue to tolerate a sexually immoral man among them .
And because of this , Paul calls them ‘ arrogant ‘ (or puffed up) (5:2) . He tells them that their boasting is no good (5:6) . He uses strong language , telling them what to do with such a man : “Let him be removed (v2) …. Deliver this man to Satan… (v.5) cleanse out the old leaven…(v.7) do not associate with sexually immoral people (v.9) …. Do not associate with anyone who bears the name brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality, greed , or is an idolater, reviler , drunkard or swindler…” (v.11) …purge the evil person from among you…” (v.13)
Since nothing has substantially changed in these challenges that face our churches, what is it that we must learn from this passage ? How does a church deal with such an issue ?
Five lessons :
1. The church has biblical standards (rules ) and has a right to expect every member to obey its biblical standards (vv 1-2) The apostle Paul writes with a sense of astonishment to the church : 1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
What I want you to observe in the first place is this . When you are a member of the church ,you don’t have to believe that the church is a ‘ free for all to do as we please’. The church is a community that has rules which are based on biblical principles . You cannot simply choose to trespass God ‘s principles or rules as you like . The rule that was trespassed here was this : “There will be no sexual immorality in the church“. The type of sexual immorality described here was explicitly forbidden in the Torah .
We shall see that there are further rules mentioned in v. 11 which may not be trespassed in the church community such as : no greed (Gr. pleonexia lit. a desire to have more) ; no idolatry (Gr. eidolatrys lit. a worshiper of idols) ; no reviling (Gr loidoria – a word of uncertain origin , “to rail – to scoff /to mock / to use abusive language”); no drunkard (Gr. methuoo) ; no swindler (Gr harpax lit. ravening like a wolf ; hence extortioner or swindler) .
So when the church sees these things happing in her midst she must act. No sexual immorality (of whatever kind) in her midst may be ignored . No greedy person has a place here . No drunkenness shall be tolerated among us . There will be no swindlers welcome here .
We must expect our members to obey Christ by living a pure and godly life .
Unfortunately the Corinthians were tolerating moral sin , and in this case a sexual immorality of a sort of which the Gentiles would even say , “This is wrong!”
Even in our day when sexual values are severely stretched, the unbelieving society, would say that it is wrong for a man to have in a sexual relationship with his father's wife ( obviously his father’s second wife).
So we see that Paul considers their failure to be shocked at such behaviour as arrogance (5:2). How should they behave at such news ? They should be mourning! This is terrible . A brother does this! This is shocking.They should have removed this man from their fellowship with immediate effect !
It is sad to think how similar modern Christians think and act on such a matter . A number of modern Christians tend to think that such toleration is a virtue. They would sooner despise the holiness of God and the holiness of the church than to get rid of an evil man among them , and all this in the name of tolerance !
Unfortunately there appears to be a skewed view in this regard . Some tend to think that strictness equals ‘legalism‘ , or that it undermines the concept of ‘grace’ . Some think that the church must not have any rules , because if we come to Christ by grace, we ought to accept anyone regardless of what they are doing. But that's not what this text teaches us. This text teaches us that when we come into the church, we come into a society with rules – God’s rules !
2. The Church is a Society that is to Judge Its Members (vv 3-5) “ For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
The second point follows logically from the first : The church has every right to judge its members. Some think, on the basis of a text like Matt 7:1 , “Judge not that you be not judged" , that any sort of judgement is forbidden in the church.But our text explicitly shows us that
Paul pronounced judgement on the sexual sinner as if he were present (v.3) . He expected the Corinthian church to pass their judgement also ( v.12) .
Lets get the matter straight : The kind of judgement which we ought to avoid , and which the Lord Jesus refers to in Matt 7:1 refers to a harsh , hypocritical judgment , by which someone who is guilty of the same ( or greater) sin judges someone else . It is clear that we must avoid such hypocritical judgement .
But it is most emphatically not wrong to judge the members of the church when they sin . In fact, it is absolutely necessary that we must judge sin , as we shall see in a moment . [ In 1 Cor 6 we shall see an example of this]
But what about this adulterous man here in Corinth ? How is he to be judged ? Paul says (paraphrase) : " I have already judged him on the basis of the clear evidence presented . But now, when you get together as a church to make a judgment against him , and the power of the Lord Jesus is present ( according to Matt 18:18- note this is a text on church discipline ) , and when you think of me as being present with you in spirit , I tell you : Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
Paul is absolutely sure where Jesus stands on this issue also.
Delivering someone to Satan is simply another way of saying “excommunicate the man- put him out of the fellowship of the church ”. This tells us something about the blessing of being a church member , and the safety and security that this fellowship affords . Excommunication from the church means that a person is now “out in the cold” , exposed to the cruel ‘taskmaster’ , Satan . Out there , without the protection of the church , Satan will hammer his body, … but hopefully he will be converted before he dies or before the Day of the Lord comes . Such a man like the prodigal son ( Lk 15:11ff) may perhaps only come to his senses ‘out there’ ! As he remembers what the church was like, thinking of all those who loved him, perhaps he will yet truly turn to the Lord , who is gracious to forgive repentant sinners . The second observation from this text is : The church must judge its sinning members.
3. The Church must remember that sin spreads if it is not dealt with. (vv 6-8)
“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Let me remind you of the OT practice here . During the time of Passover, the Jews would take time to remove every evidence of yeast from their homes . Though yeast in itself is not sinful , it symbolically represented something that reminded them of evil .
The application to the church is this : The cleanness of the OT home now devoid of evil by removing all traces of yeast is compared to the church which is a body of cleansed sinners (through Christ our Lamb that was slain for our sin) from whom every trace of sin has been removed .
But now they have allowed this man to ‘ dirty’ the clean status of the church . What must they now do ? Remove him – because if they don’t, he will continue to ‘dirty’ the house . He will bring yeast – sin into the church , and that sin will spread like yeast in the congregation .
Somehow we have adopted the idea that we should tolerate sin in our churches , and that doing so, we help such people .
But the opposite is actually happening . This is damaging the church! We are not talking here about members who sin and immediately repent and do the right thing . We are talking about members who willfully continue to sin without repenting : They continue in sexual sin ; they habitually get drunk ; a greed driven business man who earns money dishonestly ; a person that is continually slandering others. The third point is that we must stop such people . It would be arrogant to let this continue.
4. When a unrepentant member sins we remove our most precious gift - our fellowship (9-11) “ I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”
If you have known the beauty of relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ and have tasted the sweetness of that kind of relationship, it should almost destroy you to think that you are being removed from it.
Paul tells the Corinthians to take strong action against a person who is morally impure. He says that the church is not even to eat with such a one. We have seen that several strong statements are made in this regard .
When we discipline a person who is not repenting, we must come to that place where we will excommunicate him / her. That means that he / she must be removed from the membership roll of the church, and be told to leave . The language is awfully strong here : "purge the evil person from among you ." "Do not even associate with them." "Do not even eat with them." They are not welcome to worship with us in that frame of mind . We remove our most precious gift from them - in the hope, of course that they do repent !
5. Failure to apply discipline to sinning members is disobedience towards God (vv 12-13) “ For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
We have considered v. 12 under point #2 . I want to close by reminding you of the importance of purging evil from our midst . It is not just about the person that keeps on sinning willfully that must be removed . It is also for the good of the church . God intends for His church to be pure (holy) as he is pure (holy) . If we ignore that we will compromise the holiness of the church. And so we are commanded to " purge the evil person from among us “ . In this Paul quotes a biblical precedent, often repeated , from the book of Deuteronomy. And the purpose for this purging was , so that the covenant community might stay holy and obedient to God . May God help us not to compromise the holiness of His church by failing to discipline sinning members .