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  • Chad Werkhoven

1 Corinthians 5 - Unpopular Prescription

Church discipline is increasingly unpopular, but it's increasingly necessary.

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Read 1 Corinthians 5

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Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 85

Q. How is the kingdom of heaven

closed and opened

by Christian discipline?

A. According to the command of Christ:

Those who, though called Christians,

profess unchristian teachings

or live unchristian lives,

and after repeated and loving counsel

refuse to abandon their errors

and wickedness,

and after being reported to the church,

that is, to its officers,

fail to respond also to their admonition—

such persons the officers exclude

from the Christian fellowship

by withholding the sacraments from them,

and God himself excludes them

from the kingdom of Christ.

Such persons,

when promising and demonstrating

genuine reform,

are received again

as members of Christ

and of his church.



Paul's first letter to the Corinthians is not a happy one, but rather a stern letter of correction. In a way we ought to be thankful for the brash incompetence of this early church, because were it not for Paul's rebukes which have been handed down in scripture, we'd likely fall into the same traps they did.

This particular incident that Paul is responding to is one that would make even the pagans blush: a man in the church is in an incestuous relationship with his mother (or possibly step mother). What's worse is the reaction of the Corinthian church; there are no calls to repentance, rather they're proud of the situation (v2)!

Paul doesn't recommend a bunch of books to help the rest of the congregation understand the man's peculiar attraction, or warn them of being overly judgmental, or set up a series of listening sessions to see how various members feel about this. Quite the opposite; he recognizes the imminent danger that tolerating such a gross, public sin creates in the church, comparing the situation to the way a tiny bit of yeast will work its way through an entire batch of dough.

Paul's prescription for this ugly situation seems brutally harsh: the wicked man must be immediately expelled from the body (v13).

Dig Deeper

Church discipline is always painful, especially when it escalates to the point to where an unrepentant sinner is excommunicated - put out from the fellowship of believers and the sacrament that signifies and seals God's grace. But sin must not be allowed to fester in the body of Christ, and tolerating the sins of one in order to spare the pain of discipline will only result in more of the congregation becoming infected.

Tomorrow we'll see that the goal of discipline is always that the person repent and be restored. That's why, in fact, Paul ordered the man's expulsion, so that Satan could destroy the man's Sarx (flesh / sinful nature) resulting in the salvation of the man's spirit (v5). In other words, sometimes the only thing that can wake a person up to repentance is hitting rock bottom after having lost everything else.

These last few decades, the strongest arguments against church discipline have been coming from within the church itself - even from within our Reformed denominations. Don't let this popular swell sway you. Know that church discipline is one of the keys to the Kingdom of God.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who gives us His commands in His Word and expects our obedience, but who offers grace to sinners who come to Him through Christ;

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God that your church cares about you enough to discipline you if you begin to wander from God's truth.



Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - 1 Corinthians 3


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