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TEXT: I Corinthians 5:1-13
SUBJECT: Church Discipline #4: The Church Matters
This afternoon, with God's blessing, we will move on in our study of Training in godliness. Our trainer is the Lord Jesus Christ, who does part of the work all by Himself and part of it by way of His church. When we train each other in godliness, therefore, we're doing the Lord's work, or to be more precise, the Lord is doing His work through us. The work He's doing is Salvation. By training each other in godliness, we are not being nosy or meddlesome or controlling, what we're doing is helping people get to heaven. This is not always an easy or pleasant thing, of course, but it is always a good thing.
Most of the training we do is positive; some of it isn't. Encouragement is the most important thing we do for each other, but it is not the only thing. Sometimes we need to correct. This is what I Corinthians 5 is all about: correcting a man who says he is a Christian but is sure not living like one.
Let's get to it. Twenty minutes or so of preaching and the rest of the time for discussion.
Paul is not in Corinth, but he has stayed in touch with the church through several people: Chloe's family, Stephanas, Fortunatas, and Achaiacus are named, and there may be others. The number is important. No bad report is to be believed on the say so of one person, and Paul is not doing that. Though he's not there, he knows what's going on.
What is it? Two things.
First, a man is living in incest, v.1. Note the word, 'living'. It's not that he fell into it one night after one drink too many (though that's icky enough!); he's sleeping with his stepmother. Incest is a serious sin against the Lord and is making the church a laughingstock in Corinth because-not even the Gentiles sleep with their stepmothers!
The second problem Paul sees is the church's response to the man's sin, v.2a-
And you are puffed up and have not rather mourned.
The church should be crying its eyes out for the poor man and the shame his life is bringing down on the church and Christ. They're not doing that; in fact, they're puffed up about it, or arrogant as the RSV says.
It's hard for me to believe the church approves of what the man is doing. Maybe they do, but I doubt it. Why are they so pleased with themselves then? I think they're celebrating the church's tolerance, openness, and 'love'. 'Other churches are too hard on people, too strict, but we're not as other churches are.' That's how I read it.
Is Paul against 'love'? Is he opposed to being patient with people, working with them, giving them time to think about what they're doing and turning away from it?
No. In other places, he commands all these things! But not here. This man, he says, has got to be put out of the church, vv.2.
He who has done this deed may be taken away from you...
Paul has already done it, v.3-
Being absent in body but present in spirit, I have already judged him who has done this deed.
Now, it's the church's turn; they have got to confirm Paul's decision and expel the man, vv.4,5-
When you are gathered together, deliver such a one to Satan.
This last line is controversial. What is Paul saying? Is he consigning the man to eternal damnation? He isn't, because, for one thing, final judgment belongs to God only, and for another, the Final Judgment has not come yet.
In another place, he calls Satan the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4). This makes me think, delivering the man to Satan means putting him out of the church and back into the world where Satan rules.
My interpretation is open to dispute, but it doesn't change the duty laid out for the church in vv.3,4,5,13.
Paul is not advising the church; he's not giving his 'take' on the matter: he's issuing a command in the Name of his Lord and ours, v.13-
Put away from yourselves that wicked person.
Why does Paul want the man out of the church? There are two reasons, the first of which is the man's salvation, v.5-
Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of Jesus Christ.
I don't believe the word, flesh, in this place means, 'body'. 'Let his body die so that his spirit will be saved', for dying impenitent means dying in body and spirit.
I think the word, flesh, means his sinful attitudes and actions-lusts of the flesh as John puts it.
How does this work? When a Christian is put out of the church, he starts missing the saints, the ministry of the Word, the Lord's Supper, and other things he can only get in the church. This may have no affect on him for some time, but eventually, he will see what he loses out of the church is a lot more than what he gains in the world. He wants to get back into the church so badly he repents of his sins. When he's done, he's let back in, or better yet, he is welcomed back with open arms and a party!
This is one reason to expel a man who will not repent of his sins-to save him. In light of this, you have to wonder how loving the Corinthians really were in permitting the man to have his cake and eat it too.
If helping the man is one reason to put him out of the church, it is not the only reason. The man is to the church what leaven or yeast is to dough, v.6-
A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
By weight, yeast is very little compared to the flour, water, and oil that go into a loaf of bread. But even though it's only a pinch, it affects the whole loaf. For most breads, the effect is a good one.
But Paul is not thinking of a sourdough baguette. He's thinking of the Passover where, no leaven was allowed in the ceremonial bread, and more than that, no leaven was allowed in the house for a whole week. That's why they call it the Feast of Unleavened Bread!
As a pinch of leaven ruins the whole Passover, so a stubborn sinner, whose ways are known and winked at, ruins the whole church. Secret sins, of course, don't have this effect, because they're secret, and the church is not called to put every member's life under the microscope, interrogate him till he fesses up to something, and so on.
Why does Paul want the church to put some people out of it? To save the people who are put out and to save the church. Both the sinner's salvation and the Church's purity matter.
Paul has been crystal clear to this point, but knowing what bad listeners and readers we often are, he clears up a matter near the end, vv.9-11.
When Paul says put stubborn sinners away from you, he doesn't mean stubborn sinners who are unsaved! He says, getting away from them means leaving the world-and you can't do that. And, besides, if our Lord was the friend of sinners, we ought to befriend them as well.
If a pagan sleeps with his mother-in-law, Paul says, invite him over for dinner, get to know him, and whatever you do, don't shun him. In these politically charged days, I recommend you get to know gays and lesbians, and show them by your life the Friend of Sinners.
The wicked person we put away from ourselves [v.13] is only [v.11] anyone named a brother who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard or an extortioner.
We don't judge unbelievers because the Lord has not called us to do that. He reserves that right for Himself and uses other agencies, such as the family and civil government, to catch them and mete out their punishment. Leave that work to God and the others who are called to do it.
When it comes to the church, however, we are called to make decisions. V.12 is a rhetorical question demanding a 'yes' answer-
What have I to do with judging those who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?
Of course we do. We judge them when they apply for the church. If a man comes to me and says, 'I love this little church and I'd like to be a member. One thing, though: I don't believe in God. That okay?' What would you want me to say? Welcome? Or 'Sorry, this is a Christian church, and Christians believe in God. Till you do, you can come all you want, but you can't be a member'.
We also judge the people who are admitted. If, after ten years of membership, a man comes to me and says, 'I love this little church, but I no longer believe in God', what would you have me do? I ought to spend a good deal of time talking to him, of course, and praying for him, but, if he persists in his unbelief, we've got no choice but to tell him he's not a member-even if he's a really neat guy.
If it's right to pass a charitable judgment on people whose beliefs are terribly wrong, why is it wrong to pass the same judgment of charity on people whose lives are equally wrong?
The judgment must not be uniformed, it must not be personal, it must not be harsh, it must not be for trifling things, or even for awful things if they're being confessed and worked. But when they're not confessed and when the person has no desire to change, we have to make a decision, and the decision has to be the Lord's.
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