1 Corinthians: Church Discipline - 1 Cor 5
We began our study of 1 Corinthians last week, looking at some of the main issues that the church in Corinth had. In chapters 1-4, Paul dealt with the division within the church at Corinth and he began to deal with the heart issues behind these divisions. Their love of worldly wisdom and knowledge led them to choose a certain preacher and teacher to follow the ways that the world would (based on who they believed had a greater amount of knowledge or authority or was more eloquent, and this led to arrogance and boasting, they looked down on those who chose other teachers whom they did not deem as worthy of following. We see in 3:3 that their boasting caused strife and jealousy between the different groups within the church.
In chapter 4, Paul uses himself and Apollos as examples to show that they were fellow servants and coworkers with God, the only one they all should have given their allegiance to. In 4:6, based on this example, Paul says, “6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes… so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.”
In our lesson today, Paul will continue to challenge their love for worldly wisdom and the boasting and arrogance that accompanies it by many times in chapters 5 and 6 using this phrase “Do you not know.” He uses this phrase to show that any knowledge and wisdom that they had was not helping them in their relationships with God and one another. True knowledge and wisdom change you for the better and makes you like Christ instead of making them more carnal and immature as they were.
So Paul uses this phrase “do you not know,” as he interacts with some of the reports of sin within the church. He uses it 7 times in this section. In this lesson, we will talk about at least the first use of it in regards to instructions Paul gives the church to administer church discipline.
5:1-13 Arrogance Regarding Their Tolerance of Sin.
In chapter 5, Paul deals with the report of immorality within the church, and it is a type of immorality that Paul seems to be shocked by hearing about. He says in verse 1, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind that does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.”
He just couldn’t believe that there was sin within the church like this… Sin that made God’s people look worse than those who were unbelievers in the world! Those who were under the reign and dominion of Satan don’t do such a thing! And what is the sin. Based on how Paul words it, it seems like a man is having a sexual relationship with his step-mother…
This is bad enough, but what makes it worse is that the church in Corinth was not doing anything about it. They were tolerating the sin and allowing it to happen. They were not making any judgments in this matter and were not caring for the souls of those involved. Paul says that they were being arrogant in how they were acting. They should have been showing love for their brother who was doing such a terrible thing and tried to bring him to repentance.
We see in this that, not only was this man who had his father’s wife who was sinning, but the church was wrong in allowing it to happen. No matter how they could justify it in their minds, they were wrong. They may have been justifying it in their minds… maybe they looked at tolerating this sin as the best way to love him. Maybe they looked at it as just wanting to play it safe so that they don’t anger the man in sin and drive him away… Whatever the justification may have been, it was wrong. This is a big deal! Paul says that they already should have removed this man from their midst. He should not have been allowed to even be in their number and to worship with God’s people while he was in this sin that he was not repenting of.
Paul says in verses 4&5, that when they assemble, that they need to deliver this man to Satan. If he was going to live like he was a servant of Satan, then they needed to make sure this was recognized by the church, and that this man understood where he stood with the Lord. If you are going to live like you are in the devil’s camp, then you cannot be among the Lord’s camp also.
And there are two reasons that Paul gives for this judgment. First, in verse 5, Paul says that it is for the sake of the man involved. He wants this man to come to repentance and to be saved. Concern for this man’s soul, love for this man, is not seen in tolerance, but in discipline. It is shown in showing this man that they could not be in the same relationship with him as long as he was living in sin. Withdrawing themselves from this man, and having no company with him, is meant to show him where he stands with the Lord. The Lord’s body showing that they cannot have the same kind of relationship with this man is meant to show this man that he does not have a relationship with Christ, the head of the body.
We often refer to this process as “withdrawing fellowship” from someone, but this is technically not correct. Because the man is in sin, the fellowship he had with God and His people is ALREADY broken. Through this process, God’s people are to show this visibly by withdrawing themselves from the person, by changing their relationship with the brother or sister in sin. The hope is that the person in sin will be brought to shame and godly sorrow over his brethren cutting off their social interaction with him.
The second reason why they needed to remove this man from their number is for the sake of the church. Allowing sin to continue is dangerous, not just for the man involved, but also for the rest of the church. In verse 6, Paul gives his first “do you not know” statement within this book. He says, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” They should know better. If they had such great knowledge, they should have known that other brethren could see in their actions that sin is not that big of a deal. It won’t affect their relationship with their brethren. There wont be accountability. This could embolden others to sin… Paul uses this picture of yeast. Sin, when left unchecked, will spread through the whole group and destroy them. Paul is trying to get them to see how serious of a situation this is. Sin is a big deal! It is like a cancer that spreads in the body until it takes its life… So they needed to deal with this sin…
Paul commands the church in Corinth to do something about this sin. He quotes Deuteronomy. In the context of this Deuteronomy passage, Moses is giving instruction on how to deal with sin in the Israelite camp. If someone was living rebelliously against God, He says, “REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.” This is what the Corinthians needed to do. He also reminds them of an earlier letter that he wrote them that, it seems, they were misunderstanding. Paul reminded them that he told them that the church should not associate with any so-called brother if they are being immoral… This teaching in the letter needs applied in this circumstance.
Paul even gives an example of how the church’s relationship needs to change with a brother who is being immoral… he says to not even eat with them… This would include things like the Lord’s Supper… The ultimate meal that shows that we are in communion with one another – that we have the closest relationship that we can possibly have through the blood of Jesus Christ. Do not eat with them. This is just one example of the social interaction that Paul is commanding them to stop.
Paul told them to “not associate” with a brother who is living immorally… don’t keep company with them… Show them their relationship with the Lord is non-existent by changing your relationship with them. Don’t eat with them, don’t keep company with them… Don’t interact with them like nothing is going on… And once again, this was meant to bring the person to repentance. Just as one in the process of coming to Christ sees that their sin separates them from a relationship with God, this process was meant to show the brother living in sin, in a visible way, that they have been cut off from Christ from their sin. This is shown by the church separating themselves from the brother.
There is a question regarding how this passage should be treated alongside where Jesus teaches how to deal with a brother who sins against you. Just to remind you of the teaching of that passage (We looked at this passage last month in our first “ripped out of context” lesson). In this passage, Jesus says that if a brother sins against you, you are to go to him privately and tell him wat he has done against you. This is the first step to take, but if the brother does not listen, then, Jesus says you are to take one or two more with you to confront the brother to try to bring him to repentance. And then, if he still does not listen, it should be taken to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, then he is to be removed from the group. The way Jesus puts it… “let him be to you as a gentile or a tax collector.” I believe that is Jesus’ way of telling them that they are to keep no company with them… to treat them as though they are not in fellowship with God. This is what those who Jesus was speaking to believed about Gentiles and tax collectors.
So how does Paul’s teaching fit within what Jesus says… Obviously, we are not told in whether or not the brother who sinned was confronted by an individual and then two or three…. We are not told if the first two steps were practiced… We are not even told whether or not the man’s father or step-mother were Christians… All that is implied in the passage is that the church is aware of the sin and they are not mourning over the sin or doing anything about it. It may be the case that the man was confronted by his father, and then one or two more before the matter was brought to the church… Or it may be the case that unbelievers made the church aware of the man’s adultery… Either way, the church, having the information about what this man was doing, were not applying either Jesus’ teaching or Paul’s teaching in the former letter he had sent them… They were not withdrawing themselves from the man…
It is sad that this is how so many churches, even today, deal with sin in their number. They don’t… They tolerate it… let it go on, because they are afraid to offend anyone. They don’t want it to lead to people leaving or getting mad with the leadership… So they decide to wait it out… see if the person will change… or just ignore it altogether. No matter the justification, it doesn’t make it ok. When sin is made public, and it is not dealt with quickly, it can destroy a church, as well as those who are committing the sin… Brethren like to view their church as a faithful and sound church because they believe they have the correct views about how the building should be used and what things we can spend the church’s money on… but when sin is not dealt with in the church, it doesn’t matter whether you have the right view on these things or not, God is not pleased. This is a great example of doing what Jesus says, “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.” Believing you have the right views on certain subjects doesn’t make you sound if you are not showing justice, mercy, faithfulness, love… the weightier provisions in the law… I would much rather be part of a congregation that uses their money or their building in a way that I disagree with than a congregation that won’t show concern for my soul when I sin BY doing what Jesus and his apostles say to do.
Allowing sin to continue, especially sin that the whole church knows about, is dangerous for the person in sin who will continue to be hardened by their sin AND for the whole church that is seeing that sin really is not a big enough deal to show urgency… They see that you can continue to come and worship with God’s people and partake of the Lord’s Supper and interact with a person in sin as though they are a faithful brother or sister still… This can embolden God’s people to sin and believe sin is not as big of a deal as it is… If someone is living in sin and still coming to worship with God’s people, everyone involved needs to see how big a deal the sin is… it needs dealt with for the sake of all. Allowing them to assemble with God’s people sends the wrong message to everyone.
We tend to think if a brother or sister is living in sin that the worship assembly is the best place for them to be. Paul sure seems to teach the opposite here. If someone is not willing to repent, they are to be disciplined… to be withdrawn from, and they are not to be allowed back into the assemblies until they come to repentance.
As long as the person is unwilling to repent, they need to be shown that sin will not be tolerated… and they need to see that it does change our relationship with them. They are not right with the Lord… They are dishonoring Christ and profaning His sacrifice and insulting God’s Spirit… and they need to see in the church’s response that they are not among the number of the saved, but are in Satan’s camp.
Sin is a big deal! Whether it is our own sin or someone else’s sin, it needs dealt with. It will cost people their souls. If we understand this, and if we care for the souls of the brothers and sisters who we claim to love, then we will go through the necessary steps to bring one another to repentance, trusting that, if we have been building the relationships that we should be, if we have to go through this process and end up needing to withdraw ourselves from a brother, that someone can be brought back to repentance. Don’t try to do things our own way. Don’t wait until a brother or sister withdraws themselves to do something. Do it God’s way. “Do you not know” that God’s way is always the best way to deal with sin.