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First Corinthians

Judgment Intended

1 Corinthians 5

If there is any one sin which has become much more respectable in my lifetime, it is that of adultery. In the era in which I was born, it would have been easy to see why adultery would be viewed as a sin – and not just by Christians. It carried the risk of a wife becoming pregnant by a man other than her husband. The man could see that this woman would be subject not only to disgrace, but also to the likely breakup of her marriage (and thus her means of support, in those days). She would be burdened with raising a child by herself, in a time when women were not well paid, enduring the anger of her ex-husband and the stares of the world. The child would be stigmatized. But the man would suffer only lightly, and that only for a little while. Any man could see that the risk of such a sin was unfairly shared. So the common belief was that such a thing was disgraceful. A man who did such a thing to another man’s wife was viewed with very low opinion.

But now – with the advent of birth control and abortion – it no longer appears to be so bad. If she gets pregnant, we argue, it’s her fault “for not taking precautions.” If she carries the baby, we argue, it’s her fault for not getting a (safe, legal and rare, of course) abortion. As a society, we have lost the sense of sin almost entirely. Right and wrong are now situational.

We need to remember that God does not view it that way. In this passage, we see the sense of shock and shame that accompanied a particularly treacherous form of adultery – a man who has sex with his father’s wife. Sadly, I am not at all certain that we would react any differently today.

(1 Cor 5 NIV) It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. {2} And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? {3} Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. {4} When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, {5} hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. {6} Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? {7} Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. {8} Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. {9} I have written 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 you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. {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 man from among you."

The Sin in Question

It is sad to state, but one must begin by showing that this is indeed a sin.

· It is a sin against the man’s own body – for sex unites two bodies, and is intended only for husband and wife. Any other use is sin. The matter is treated consistently this way throughout the Scripture. If you consider yourself a Christian, this is the only view you can obtain from God.

· It is also a sin against this man’s father – which should be fairly obvious. But I suspect that the father was not a particularly well-liked man, and perhaps the son was.

Note that Paul does not explain any of this. He didn’t have to. We only think we live in superior times.

Their reaction: pride

How is it that the church reacted by being proud of this situation? I can see the tendency to avoid talking about it, but proud?

· “He married some babe young enough to be his daughter, the dirty old man – his kid just gave her what she really wanted.”

· “What a man that kid is – a great lover. That’s how you can tell a real man.” (How often we evaluate men by their “conquests!”)

· Maybe it’s just a case of faction. They liked the son; they didn’t like the father, and they went with their feelings.

It’s also possible – I could see this happening today – that they felt “liberated” by all this. “At last we’re free of all those useless rules and regulations.” Whatever the reason, their reaction was completely wrong.

What they should have done

There were two things they should have done:

· They should have reacted with grief. Upon the announcement of Bill Clinton’s adultery with Monica Lewinsky, Pat Robertson said, “No Christian should rejoice in this; this is a sad day for America.” He had it right: this was a shame to America. Similarly, this adultery was a shame on the Corinthian church. More than that, it was shame cast upon the name of Christ. So I would ask: do we care about the name of Christ?

· They should have ejected this man from their fellowship. Note that this is the last step of church discipline; Paul evidently knows that the first two steps have been taken and failed. It is not sufficient to think something should be done; it is necessary to do something.

Church Discipline

Church discipline is not a popular subject. But it is a necessary one. So let’s get it down to simple stuff:


Paul tells us clearly:

· It is to be done in the name of Christ. It is not to be done with human prejudice, or any care for our likes or dislikes. It is a sacred thing, for we are wielding the authority of Christ himself.

· It is to be done in the power of Christ. What we bind up on earth is bound up in heaven, and this should be made clear. It may seem somewhat ceremonial – and therefore, in accordance with modern thinking, empty – but it conveys with it the risk of hell itself. There is no salvation outside the church.


“The trouble with you gringos,” said one of my Hispanic associates, “is that you think manãna means tomorrow. It doesn’t. It means, ‘not today.’” That’s when most of us want to perform church discipline – “not today.” But Paul clearly shows a sense of urgency here. They are not to wait until he returns; he is with them in spirit, they should proceed.

They should proceed as an assembly – not just a few. It is a matter for the entire church. It is to be done when they are assembled. That way, all will know, publicly, what is being done. Let nothing be done by gossip and hearsay, but all be known publicly.


The man is to be “handed over to Satan.” What does that mean?

· It means that he is to be left to the consequences of his own sins – which Satan will cheerfully and certainly provide.

· It means that his sins will likely get worse before they get better. The balloon must be fully inflated before it bursts.

· Ominously, it means that he is now released from the support of the church – and the protection of God. God’s mercy in preventing consequence from coming to him is at an end.

We don’t do this because we no longer believe in God’s providence. If there is no providence of God, why would we fear to lose it?


Why is this required – for the sinner’s sake?

· First, so that the consequences of his sin might lead him to repentance. In this instance (we know from II Corinthians) it did.

· Second, so that – based upon that repentance – he might have eternal life.

Church discipline is still a matter of love for the sinner. It is the original “tough love.”

Why is this required for the church?

· Because of their boasting – which is not good. If the church does not do this, the sinner may conclude that there is no problem here. After all, the church doesn’t seem to disapprove! We are our brother’s keeper.

· Paul brings up here the principle of the leaven – the yeast, in this translation. It is usually a symbol of corruption. His point is that if we tolerate and bless it in one sinner, we shall soon see it spread.

We have curiously reversed that point in our time. We believe that – somehow – by not passing judgment on people in the church that we will persuade them to repent by the sheer brilliance of our example. In the meanwhile, we’ll be so open and loving that the rest of the world will flood in. The truth is the opposite. There should be a difference between the church and the world. Leaven spreads; purity doesn’t.

Perils of judging outside the church

Paul is careful to point out one of our other problems: judging those outside the church. In our time we see much of this. We condemn the society in which we live – and think the condemnation most useful. But hear another opinion on the subject.

It’s none of our business

Paul lived in a time when men could see the difference between right and wrong. It was easy for him to see this; a bit harder for us.

· First, it’s a waste of our time! If God tells us it’s not our business – read it for yourself – then He will not bless our efforts in it.

· There is also an aspect of “casting pearls before swine.” If they’re not listening, perhaps we should do this God’s way.

It’s God’s business

Worse yet, we are interfering in what God has reserved to himself. What is the function of the Holy Spirit in the world? To convict the world of sin and judgment. One way in which this conviction is brought about is by the comparison of Christian and non-Christian lives. But if we – the light of the world to shine before men – become “leavened”, and no longer a clear example, how is this to work?

Perhaps it’s our sense of fairness at work here. Misguided, perhaps, but well intended, we assume that no one should be able to escape judgment for their sins. God assures us that this is his matter – and that no one will. Judgment deferred is not judgment denied; it is a time of grace to allow repentance to blossom.

But do we judge those in the church?

Paul gives us a convenient checklist here. Ask yourself these questions:

· Have you ever seen church discipline applied to the sexually immoral? The Roman Catholic church still forbids communion to those who are divorced and then remarried – on just this ground.

· Have you ever seen church discipline applied to the greedy? Or do we just call it entrepreneurial spirit, and praise the man who has it, in hopes of bigger contributions?

· Have you ever seen church discipline applied to the idolater? That may sound like something that can’t happen anymore. But think about it: how often have you seen someone wearing “New Age” symbols as jewelry in the church? How about those who take astrology seriously? Or listen to any prophet’s voice?

· Have you ever seen church discipline applied to those who are slanderers? Those who are willing to believe the worst of a person – and spread that worst – still seem to be with us. To the pure, all things are pure – but it doesn’t make as good a story.

· Have you ever seen church discipline applied to a drunkard? This is one in which – thanks to the legacy of the temperance movement – we might seriously answer “yes.”

· Have you ever seen church discipline applied to a swindler? Not just to those who violate the law on this, but those whose business practice depends upon being dishonest enough to make money, and honest enough to stay in business.

If the answers to these questions are not satisfactory, consider that they are all cases in which we do not condemn what Chrysostom called “piety by halves.” As long as the man can produce pious prayer in class, we accept his swindling ways. As long as the greedy man is generous in his offerings, it seems sufficient. As we do this, are we really showing that we care for the eternal soul of our brother?

Interestingly, while we no longer exercise discipline on the church from the inside, we have grown more interested in judgment on our society as a whole. We are often surprised when those outside the church reject our call to return to the righteousness of yesteryear. But look at it from their point of view for a moment: are we not placing on them the burden of righteousness without the blessing of salvation?

(Mat 5:14-16 NIV) "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. {15} Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. {16} In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Perhaps we need to clean the lamp.

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