1 Corinthians 5 - Unpopular Prescription
Church discipline is increasingly unpopular, but it's increasingly necessary.
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Read 1 Corinthians 5
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
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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 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.
when promising and demonstrating
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).
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.
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED:
Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - 1 Corinthians 3