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TEXT: I Corinthians 5:1-13
SUBJECT: Humility and Discipline
I Corinthians 5 is one of the easiest chapters in the Bible to understand-and one of the hardest to obey. The topic is Church Discipline, what to do with a brother who is not sorry for his sins and has no intention of giving them up.
What do we do with him? I thought of three options: We can (1) do nothing, treating the sinning brother as if he is not sinning; or (2) we can 'work with him' for as long as it takes even if there is no change and it takes forever; or (3) we can put him out of the church, as Paul says here and as our Lord commands in Matthew 18.
The first option is the easiest because it is always easier to do nothing than to do something, especially when the something is unpleasant. The second option is harder, but only for the person 'working with the impenitent sinner' while the rest of us leave him be. The third option is the hardest because it calls the whole church to act decisively, and to do things that are sure to be called 'proud, intolerant, unloving, and judgmental'.
I Corinthians 5 lays down a challenge, first to the church in Corinth, now to the church in Fremont, and to every church until the Second Coming of Christ when Church Discipline will be taken out of our hands. Are we willing to honor God by doing hard things, by being different from the world? Or will we take the coward's way out and be conformed to this world?
Thankfully, it doesn't all depend on us; God's Word and Spirit are at work here, but they do not absolve us from our duty. We are not called to edit the commands of Christ or implement only the ones that won't offend anybody. As stewards of the mysteries of God, what the Lord requires of us is fidelity. Doing His will His way to the best of our ability.
So, what do we do with brothers and sisters who won't confess their sins or try to resist them? Paul leaves no doubt.
THE FIRST PROBLEM
He starts with the problem-or, I should say-with the first problem, v.1-
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles-that a man has his father's wife.
The problem is incest, a sin so notorious that not even the Corinthians approved of it. This is really saying something because Corinth was renowned for its moral laxity. Its leading Temple belonged to Aphrodite, and the goddess of love employed 1,000 ordained prostitutes to minister comfort to her people. Every kind of vice was practiced and championed in Corinth, except for one: the one going on in the church and tolerated by the brothers and sisters who knew all about it.
This open, flagrant sin cut Paul to the heart, making him both sad and angry. And he wants to know.
THE SECOND PROBLEM
.Why the Corinthians don't feel the same way he does. This is the second problem in the church, and if anything, it's worse than the first problem. Why are the Corinthians 'okay' with the sinning brother? And more than, 'okay' with him, they're, v.2-
Puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.
The church should have been heartbroken over the man's sin and put him out of the church without hesitation. But they didn't feel this way, and he remained as much a part of things as ever.
Why did they feel and do nothing?
It is not because they were ignorant or unsure of the facts. Nobody was investigating the rumors or confirming the witnesses against him because they didn't need to. The man's affair was public knowledge. They knew what was going on.
It is also not because they were ignorant or unclear of the nature of his affair. Nobody was saying 'incest is right'. Nobody believed that, either in the church or out. Everyone knew the affair was wrong and shameful and disgusting.
So.if everyone knew what he was doing, and if everyone knew what he was doing was wrong, why did they sit by and do nothing about it?
We don't have to guess, v2a-
And you are puffed up.
They were too proud to call the man on his sin. What were they proud of? I think they were proud of their humility. I think they were saying things like, 'Who are we to judge? Or quoting Jesus, Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. To their eyes-and ours-this looks wonderfully humble and patient and loving. But Paul sees nothing but pride! As though they know better than God! As though they're more loving than Jesus! As though hurting a brother's feelings is arrogant and letting him go to hell is meek and lowly!
If the Corinthians are 'okay' with the man's sin, Paul isn't, and unlike them, he's doing something about it, v.3-
For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged as though I were present, concerning him who has done this deed.
Having apprised himself of the facts, Paul makes a clear-cut decision. Incest is not a 'gray area' where reasonable men can disagree reasonably, or where the Bible sends 'mixed signals'. It is a damnable sin that is poisoning the church and destroying its witness to the world. Of course Paul has thought and prayed over the matter, but he won't substitute 'thinking and praying' for doing his duty.
He tells the church what to do about the man, vv.4-5-
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
He doesn't tell them to 'make policy'. The policy has already been made. Jesus Christ has ruled that impenitent sinners are not welcome in His church. Struggling sinners? Yes. Sinners who confess their sins and resist the devil, and keep falling back into them? Yes, they're welcome. But not sinners who are proud of their sins and have no intention of quitting them.
These people are to be handed over to the devil. What does this mean? It means put out of the church, put into the world, a world under Satan's rule.
If this sound hard, it is hard. But it's hard love. Because the goal of giving a stubborn brother to Satan is to let him have his way with the poor man so that the man will finally see the gravity of his sins and return to God and His Church.
Except for the last half of v.13, Paul is done with the immoral man, and spends the rest of his time chiding and exhorting the church. In v.6, he again rebukes them for their pride-boasting in their humility and brotherly love.
He supports his plea with a story from the Old Testament, vv.6b-8.
It's the story of Passover, Israel's most beloved holiday. On the Fifteenth Day of the First month, Israel was to remember the Mighty Acts of God in the past and look forward to the day when He will conquer all of our enemies. Not just Pharaoh, but sin and guilt, the ravages of age and sickness, and death itself will be no more!
The People of God celebrated Passover by ridding their homes of all leaven-every last speck of it must swept out the door. Because leaven in the Ancient World often symbolized sin and how it gets into every nook and cranny of the soul. Passover is about freedom, and freedom depends on holiness, without which it becomes license. What did God say to the wicked king?
Let my people go that they may serve Me.
The Lord did not save them from the gods of Egypt so they could serve the gods of Canaan, but so that they could serve Him, whose service the prayer says-
Is perfect freedom.
If Israel is to remember God's saving acts in Egypt by removing every grain of leaven from their homes, let the church remember His saving acts on the Cross by sweeping every sin from their hearts and every impenitent sinner from the church!
If we don't do this, the leaven of one man's sin will leaven the whole lump. In other words, it will affect other people, it will loosen their morals, and make any church discipline impossible. If the man who sleeps with his stepmother has a place in the church, how can we exclude the man who kills his stepmother? Or worships his stepmother's god? But if the church is going to be full of perverts, murderers, and idolaters, how is it any different than the world? How is it still-
The Church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called to be saints?
When we repent of our own sins and put impenitent sinners out of the church, then we can-
Keep the feast, not with old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
In other words, we can worship God in Spirit and in truth. And the Lord's Supper and Love Feasts will become the meaningful and unifying meals Jesus wants them to be.
In vv.9-12, Paul clears up a possible misunderstanding. He has told the Corinthians to put this stubborn sinful man out of the church, and to have nothing to do with him.
From this, they might infer that the Lord wants them to shun all sinners, at least all notorious sinners. Paul says that's not at all what he means!
If that's what he meant, he'd be telling them to leave the world-to find a desert island, fence it off, and the day a sinner is born there, to move to the next island! Of course he doesn't mean this! The world is full of gross sinners, and we're free to befriend them-even encouraged to, as Jesus did.
The only kind of sinner we're to stay away from is a impenitent sinner who calls himself a brother; in other words, a man who wants it both ways: he wants to be forgiven of us sins without ever repenting of them. Paul says, No to that kind of fellowship!
Because it comforts the sinning brother who should be ashamed and it eats away at the integrity of the church.
The church is not responsible to straighten out the world-God will do that-we're called to straighten ourselves out. Part of that is repenting of our own known sins, even the secrets ones only we know about. And, when others in the church show no interest in holiness, to-
Put away from ourselves that wicked person.
A few years ago, a couple pastors I know had lunch together to talk about the Lord and their churches. One said to the other, 'What are you preaching on Sunday?' 'Church discipline' the other one answered. The first man turned up his nose a bit and said, 'Oh, I like to preach the Gospel'. As though Church Discipline and the Gospel are unrelated things.
Are they? No they're not. What does Church Discipline do? It demonstrates the power of the Gospel. The Gospel not only promises to make us new creatures in Christ, it keeps the promise! When sinners are made new men, they are welcomed into the church with open arms. When their lives disprove their profession of faith, Church Discipline puts them out of the church. So that all will know what the Gospel really is-not a quaint story, not a set of pretty ideas, not a program for self-improvement, but-
The power of God and the wisdom of God.
Let us, therefore, take the church seriously! Let us recall the great privileges we have as members of the Body of Christ. And let's not forget our responsibilities, to repent of our own sins, and if and when a member won't repent of his, to keep the church pure by putting him out.
God give us the wisdom, the love, and the courage to do so. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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