Dealing with Sin in the Church, Part 2 (Matthew Sermon 86 of 151)
February 01, 2009 | Andrew Davis
Church Membership, Sexual Immorality, The Purity and Unity of the Church, Church Government (Polity), Judgment, Church Dysfunction
So I'd like to focus your attention on 1 Corinthians 5 this morning. I was meditating on a phrase, a word in Psalm 104 which says, “How many are your works, O Lord, in wisdom you made them all.” The wisdom of God is put on display in physical creation, in ways we can scarcely imagine. The weaving together of ecosystems, of cycles of life, of different species, higher and lower orders, that all of it is woven together in a marvelous fabric of wisdom is beyond comprehension. We can study it and we can be amazed at it, but all we can do with the psalmist, Psalm 104, is say, “in wisdom you made them all.” The manifold wisdom of God in physical creation.
But I find a far greater wisdom in the gospel and the way that God has chosen to deal with sin, because it's a more complex problem. Sin is a diabolical thing, very, very difficult to defeat. And God in his wisdom has established the Gospel of Jesus Christ and after 11 chapters of explaining it in Romans, Paul says, “Oh, the depth of the riches, the wisdom and the knowledge of God, how unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out. Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?” The wisdom of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so marvelous that God would send his only son, that Jesus would take on a human body, that he would live a sinless life and die an atoning death in our place under the wrath of God, and that he would be raised from the dead on the third day.
And now sitting at the right hand of God, he intercedes for his people until every last one of them are perfectly saved. The wisdom of God and salvation coming to us in stages, in justification at the very beginning of the Christian life that we are declared not guilty of all of our sins by simple faith in Christ, apart from any of our works. That we stand holy and blameless in the sight of almighty God, simply by a gift of grace. And nothing can change that. We're secure in that. And how beautiful is that?
And then, the wisdom of God in sanctification, that in our daily life performance, we are called to live up to the calling we have received. We are children of the living God, we are sons and daughters of a Holy God, and it is to the glory of God that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in us. So we see the wisdom of God there.
But in Ephesians 3:10, Paul says that God has done all of these things in order that the manifold wisdom of God should be made known, or revealed, in the church. The church is a display of the wisdom of God. Ephesians 3:10 and the wisdom of God is put on display in how the church ministers the gospel, both to the lost and those that have declared themselves Christians through faith in Christ. The wisdom of God in the church.
Our Context: Tolerance, Not Holiness
What is a Church?
I've been meditating on that and thinking about it and how deep it is. And it led me to ask the question as we're looking for the second week on dealing with sin in the church, what is a church, what does Paul mean in Ephesians 3:10 by the church. What is the church? Is it wherever two or three are gathered in Christ's name, is that a church? Is it where an evangelist stands up on a platform and preaches boldly and clearly the true gospel of Jesus Christ to a mixed group out in Central Park in New York City, is that a church? How about a college fellowship on a Friday night, meeting together in the name of the Great Commission, and hearing good Christian songs played by a skilled musician using a guitar and maybe some percussion and discussing practical life issues related to college life as Christians, is that a church, Friday evening? What is a church?
Well, during the 16th century when the reformation was going on and the Roman Catholic pope declared that anyone that followed Martin Luther and what came to be known as Protestantism was kicked out of the Roman Catholic Church, and even more significantly, when the word of God was translated into the common tongue of the people and everybody started studying it and trying to understand the Scriptures, really for the first time, this issue of what is the church started to emerge. What is the church universal, the body of Christ, what is that? But then also, very importantly, what is that local church, that gathered assembly of people that comes together?
Protestant theologians isolated three features of a true church. Number one, where the word of God is preached faithfully in the name of Jesus Christ. Secondly, where the ordinances of baptism and The Lord's Supper are rightly biblically administered, and thirdly, where church discipline is faithfully and biblically practiced. There you have a church.
Well, those people are smarter than me, so I'll just accept that. I don't know if I could come up with a better definition. But I'll accept that. The word of God preached in the name of Jesus Christ and you have baptism and the Lord's supper, and then you have church discipline. Now, in church discipline that we're looking at for the second week, implied in that is, membership, I think. So I might wanna put that in there, perhaps as a fourth. That the people covenant together they agree together to be a church in the name of Christ. And I think that's implied in the third one.
I think probably the greatest contribution of Baptists in church history to the understanding of scripture and the way of God with us as sinners has been in answering the question of what is the local church. Baptists, reading the New Testament carefully, determined the local church, as much as possible, be comprised of born again people. As over against the state church in Christendom there in Europe where infants would be born a certain region and they were automatically part of the regional or national church. Whoever was the king, if he was a Protestant, then he would be baptized into the Protestant faith, and if he was a Catholic, he would be baptized into the Catholic Church and that was their understanding.
Baptists said “No, no, it's a gathered church of people that are believers in Jesus Christ, and they come together to be a church together for one another.” And Baptists saw two great safeguards to this believers' church, this born again church. Two great safeguards, and it was first and foremost believer baptism. Baptism should be administered only to those who can give a credible profession of faith in Christ. And then second, the issue of church discipline, recognizing - and I can testify to this - it's easy to fool a pastor, friends. You just need to know what to say when we ask how do you know that you're born again? And there's a certain language, a certain dialect you can, if you can speak the language of Heaven, you can fool me. Won't do you any good on judgment day my friends, but you can fool me, and I'll accept you and I'll baptize you. Okay, but what if then some people begin to live like unsaved people? What if they start to sin and they will not repent? And so baptists saw, and I think we should see church discipline is a safeguard in the wisdom of God, to the health of the church.
Now, last week, we began by looking at the issue of God's holiness. God said, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy,” and we saw that holiness is very much at the center of the nature of God. God is holy, infinitely separated and above all that he physically created and spiritually created, infinitely high and lifted up. And God also in a very special way for us in our history with sin and wickedness, having eaten, our first father, eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God is separate from evil, he's holy and separate from evil.
And I established that we find our greatest health and happiness and fruitfulness in holiness. That's where it is friends. You wanna be happy, then be holy in Jesus. You wanna be fruitful, then be holy in Jesus. And we're heading to a world I said, of perfect happiness because it's a world of perfect holiness, absolutely perfectly conformed to God and to Christ. That's where we're heading. Oh how much I yearn to be there now, even now. Not because I'm afraid to preach a sermon on church discipline, I'm not. But just how sweet would it be to be there and to see the Holy God and not be incinerated by it, but to be equipped and empowered to see Almighty God with our own eyes.
Now, last week, we looked at one of the two great passages on the issue directly of church discipline. There are other passages as well but last week we looked at Matthew 18:15-20, and today to continue that teaching on dealing with sin in the church, I wanna look at the second great passage on church discipline, 1 Corinthians 5. Next week I want to add one more sermon on church discipline in which I answer case studies in particular, details of application that inevitably rise up in people's minds. What about this, what about that, what will it mean that kind of thing? There just wasn't time this morning to do all of that.
So what I'm going to do today is I'm going to walk carefully through, after some introduction, I'm gonna walk carefully through 1 Corinthians 5, which Daniel read for you. I'm just gonna go verse by verse and try to explain it. And then I'm gonna draw out from 1 Corinthians 5, five great motives for a local church to be involved in church discipline and that’s where the message will end. And next week we'll talk about practical applications of dealing with sin in the church.
America’s Prevailing Spirit: Relativism and Tolerance of Sin
Now, in order to do this, I think it's right for us to have a sense of our context as a people, where do we fit in, not only in church history, but just in human history, in American history, what is our prevailing spirit? And as I look around in our culture, the prevailing spirit of postmodern America is tolerance and relativism. We live in that postmodern era, where there is an absolute uncertainty about absolute truth. That's one thing we can be absolutely clear about is that there's no clarity about absolute truth. So that's one thing we can embrace. And so that leads us to relativism: there's truth for me, and truth for you, and truth for somebody else. And it all is on a sliding scale graded on a curve, that kind of thing, and there's no fixed marks in the metaphysical world and the issues of righteousness and holiness, and right relating to God and all those things we really can't know.
Along with that, we have in America especially a fierce individualism, a celebrating of the individual, the individual rights, individual powers and capabilities, individualism. Every person an island and the idea of mutual accountability tends to be shunned, not embraced. We have rights. We think about that much, the rights of the individual. Supreme Court found in 1965 an inalienable right to privacy, which became the foundation to the Roe versus Wade decision eight years later. So we have this idea of personal rights and freedoms that kinda thing.
We have also that theme that's not unique to us, I think it's really been there since the fall, but of questioning authority: what right do you have to tell me what to do? It's old, that one is old. As they said to Moses, “Who gave you, who appointed you ruler and judge over us? What right do you have to judge me? Who are you?” So, that's old. It's been around a long time, authority in general is suspect and how much more then a spiritual authority that deals with shameful and personal issues like sin? If any authority would be shunned, it would be something like that.
And so we have this issue of tolerance in America. America is in an interesting culture with an interesting history, many different people from all over the world thrown together, and the only way to make it work and pluralism is a sense of tolerance that we need to get along with each other. And some have even gone so far as to call tolerance the greatest virtue, which I find a bit odd when you think about it. What do you tolerate but something that's offensive to you or something you think is wrong? And so to call that the greatest virtue, I think, is really impoverished. There's so many greater virtues like beauty or some other things like that, but that tolerance would be seen to be the greatest virtue, I think it just comes out of the fact that Europe spent so much time shedding blood over religious issues, and I think they didn't want to do that here. So Ayn Rand in her novel The Fountainhead actually made this statement: “We must have tolerance for the opinions of others, because tolerance is the greatest virtue.”
American educators have imbibed this at one level. They mix together for the students in public school, a potent cocktail of self-esteem and tolerance, those things going together. I'm not finding that most lost people need help in the area of self-esteem, which the Bible calls, in that way, pride. I think that kind of thing we do very well. I think we actually need to be humbled. So we come to the cross of Jesus Christ. I think that's the great work of the law and the Holy Spirit. So that we lose our self-esteem in an absolute sense and know that we need Jesus. But then there's this issue of tolerance and so that even we have curriculum that are put together a schedule of teachings that teach people to be tolerant even in some very controversial areas, like homosexuality. And so that's the water we swim in.
Now, what's our historical context? Well, we are Baptists and it's good for us to know that until the 20th century, Baptists completely embraced the pattern of church discipline that I'm preaching today. This church did. There's clear records of it in our historical records of groups of leaders in the church getting together and going and dealing with discipline cases in this church, First Baptist Church, it was done. A friend of mine, church historian, Greg Wills commented, “To a 19th century Baptist, a church without discipline would hardly have counted as a church. Churches held regular days of discipline when the congregation would gather to heal breaches of fellowship, admonish wayward members, rebuke the obstinate and if necessary excommunicate those who resisted discipline. In so doing, congregations understood themselves to be following a biblical pattern laid down by Christ and the apostles for the protection and correction of disciples.” He said that mid-19th century Baptists disciplined on average, Baptist churches, 2% of their membership annually as a regular pattern. Well, what happened?
Well, I think there were, there was some legalism that came in, some Baptist churches did discipline on questionable moral issues like card-playing and dancing. And Greg Will said that dancing was the rock that caused the ship of church discipline to founder and sink. It just became too difficult, there was a culture there and in the end, they threw out discipline, because there were so many dancing cases that came up. You may be wondering where I'm going with that. I'm not going anywhere with that at all, either for or against. I'm just moving on.
But more than anything though, I think it was the church's commendation to the growing changes around us socially and culturally that I've already listed. That started to infiltrate the church and as a result, church discipline started to go by the boards. J. L. Dagg said, “When discipline leaves a Church, Christ leaves with it.”
Sin’s Deadly Plague Unchecked
Picture the glory of the God of Israel rising up in Ezekiel's vision from the temple and moving out from Israel and going away. As J. L. Dagg said when discipline leaves, you can picture Christ that way too, he's gone. Failure to deal properly with sin has devastating consequences, both individually and corporately. Sin is a deadly plague, it's not a minor annoyance. When we allow sin to grow and spread, unchecked, we are pleading for a disaster. Churches grow cold, they become worldly, they lose their power, they lose the Gospel, they are not powerful in God's hands anymore to save lost people. Sinners are no longer converted professing Christians are in constant danger of backsliding and nothing checks it and in the end the churches are not much different than the world.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It's no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl, instead they put it up on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
The church of Jesus Christ then is supposed to be the salt of the earth, stopping the spread of corruption in this corrupt society that we live in. But if salt loses its saltiness, it becomes worthless, it cannot do that function. The church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be the light of the world. We're supposed to stand and shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of truth in a very dark time.
Christ’s Clear Steps for Dealing with Sin: Matthew 18
And so Christ has given us clear steps for dealing with sin in Matthew 18 and then through his apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5. These are two key passages in church discipline, both are essential in understanding Christ’s will for dealing with sin and the body of Christ. But they have a different focus.
As I mentioned last week, Matthew 18 deals more interpersonally and privately. It's an issue, one to another, just the two of them can deal with it privately, and it can be dealt with that way. But if not, then it goes up to the highest level. And then 1 Corinthians 5 deals with a public scandalous sin that might bring the church into disrepute immediately. So there's a different focus, but the same structure of understanding of the church's role.
Steps Covered in Matthew 18:15-20
Last week, we went through the steps that Jesus covers. Your brother sins against you. You go and show him his fault just between the two of you, You work it out with him, you show him evidence, you bring in the scripture, you go in gentleness, you go in humility. But you go and you try to win your brother back and if he listens, then you've won your brother back but if he's not gonna listen to you, then you're supposed to take one or two others along and you're already starting to get that sense of a court trial that's getting arranged so that witnesses can be there for the encounter. They also can bring another perspective. And so, you go again and you try to win the brother over. But if he doesn't listen to them, then you have to tell it to the church and then if he doesn't listen to the church, you treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Those are the steps that we looked at last time.
Paul’s Commands About Church Discipline
Now, Paul gives similar commands but I think a bit different case in 1 Corinthians 5. And what I wanna do is just walk through this and just try to explain it verse by verse. It's a chapter that perhaps not many have studied carefully. I would think it wouldn't be necessarily one of your first chapters that you would memorize if you're going to memorize a chapter, but it's a very important chapter. And I think that tragically to some degree, it seems like many evangelical churches have effectively ripped it out of their Bible as though it didn't even exist. Well, it does exist, and the Lord is going to hold us accountable. And as we listen to this, we're going to get a sense of the apostle Paul's sense of his own authority in Jesus. He is not speaking as a man, he's speaking as an apostle of Jesus Christ, he's really speaking for Christ, and Christ is speaking therefore with great authority to us concerning this matter.
The Context: A Particularly Shocking Sin, and a Church’s Blasé Reaction
Now the context here is a particularly shocking sin and the Corinthian church's blasé reaction about it. That's the context. Look at verse 1, Paul himself is shocked. It seems something that might make pagan Corinths sit up and take notice. Verse 1, “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.” So Paul is clear elsewhere, that sexual immorality, is a very grave and serious sin. Here, though, he goes even further, he says, this particular sin is of a kind that the pagans don't even have. And he says, it's a sin that's being reported. It's actually reported, so there's a report of this. It's spreading around, it's known. This thing is going on, it's already gotten out. Some kind of illicit relationship. We can't imagine what it would be. Probably a man with his stepmother, I think is the best way to understand it, but it's clearly just a shocking sin.
And even worse, according to Paul, the Corinthian church is characterized by pride, and you are proud and that's how I would hear it. There's a sense of almost... How could it be that you could actually be proud? Now, what does he mean by this? I don't think he's necessarily proud of the sin. Hey, we've got a good sinner, we've got a sinner more than anyone else has in Corinth. Not that at all, rather, that I think in spite of this gross sin, still their pride is unshaken. They're still confident in who they are.
Pride suffuses, the issue of pride suffuses. This goes right through the letter that Paul gives here. Comes out in their party factions. “I follow Paul, I follow Cephas, I follow Apollos, I follow Christ.” There's that sense of a pride there, comes out in the spiritual gifts, the way that they're boasting about the sign gifts. Speaking in tongues and all that. There's such a boasting issue there. It comes out in their abuses of the Lord's Supper, the pride is there as well, comes out, I think, in their slowness to contribute to the needy among the poor in Jerusalem. Comes out there, comes out all over the place, but here I think they should have been filled with grief and shame.
Paul's job then is to shock them. Verse 2, he says “You are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this.” So now we come at last to church discipline, there it is, you should have put this man out of your fellowship. That's what we call church discipline, that's what he's saying they should have done.
Paul’s Commands and Reasons Verse by Verse
So Paul in verse 1 and 2 describes the situation and he prescribes the remedy. He also describes, I think, the attitude of the disposition. It's not a happy thing, it's nothing to laugh about, it's nothing to celebrate, it's grievous. It should bring us grief, to go through this. I think one of the reasons that America loves YouTube and scandalous reports of politicians that fall into sin and all that, is it kind of stokes people's pride, and makes them feel okay about the way they live. And so these stories kind of marinate in the public consciousness for days because people like that kind of stuff. And why I think it connects with our pride and makes us feel good about ourselves.
We shouldn't have any of that in the church, we should be filled with grief because we see sin in light of eternity, in light of the throne of Jesus. We see sin in our own hearts. We don't feel prideful as over against this person. I would never do anything like that. We don't feel that at all, we're ashamed, we tremble. We wonder if we might be next. We yearn for the protection of the church, and the protection of the Holy Spirit, we take even more seriously, the fight against sin, that's the attitude. So he gives them not only the prescription but the attitude. You should be filled with grief as this is going through. You should be weeping. There should be a sense of, “Won't you come back?” You're pleading with somebody to repent, that's the attitude.
Verse 3, Paul gives his formal apostolic judgment in the matter: “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.” Notice that Paul uses judgment language, he's going to do it at the end. Look at verses 12 and 13. “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”
So he uses this judgment language here. Certainly therefore this is a limiting or bracketing passage to be compared with Jesus's statement: “Judge not, lest you be judged.” We need to hold them together. Scripture interprets scripture. We don't throw one out or the other. There's something to be learned from both and we don't say God has told us never to judge. Well, that is just not true, it just isn't true. There's clearly from the Sermon of the Mount, from Jesus' statement, a kind of judgment you must never do. And it's clearly in 1 Corinthians 5, there is a kind of judgment you absolutely must do, and we have to just understand what each of those is. And so you just do that in context, and try to understand, but to just reject out of hand that the church should never get involved in judging or judgmentalism, or any of that, is just not true, Paul uses that language here. “I've already passed judgment on them,” he says. And you ought to do it formally, even though I'm not there, you ought to do it.
Now, notice that Paul says, “Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit.” He was with that church, though, not physically present, he was with them as an apostle of Jesus Christ, in power through his letter. He is with us still friends, his power is still here, even though he's not physically present. And it's not the power of Paul, it's the power of Jesus speaking through him. Do you believe in that? Do you believe that God speaks through the prophets and the apostles? Isn't this God speaking to us, then? He's here and Paul clearly wanted this sin dealt with immediately and directly.
And so he gives the remedy commanded in verse 4 and 5. He first told them what they should have done, now he commands them to do it. He said, “You should have already done it” but now he commands them to do it. “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I'm with you in spirit and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved, in the day of the Lord.” Paul is giving, then like a judge making final assessment of the case. He says “You should do this,” this is what the church should do, he's commanding them. The discipline must be done in public assembly, He said, “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus,” assembled together, “when the Church is assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Secondly, Paul says he is with them in spirit as they've already said, the church is honoring his apostolic authority by reading his letter and following it. He's there, we're taking it seriously. And he says “The power of the Lord Jesus is present.” This goes back to Matthew 18, where he says, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven,” and it's really heavenly authority that the church has here. “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Very ominous.
And I think as you look at it, the early church understood the holiness of Jesus to deal with sin in his church. Think about Ananias and Sapphira, right? Ananias and Sapphira, Acts chapter 5, a couple in that church there, had sold a piece of property, kept back part of the money for themselves, brought the rest of it to the church, everything fine with that, until they lied about the amount. The apostle Peter said “Is this the amount?” And they said, actually one at a time, first Ananias “Yes, this is the amount.” And Peter said, “How could you lie to the Holy Spirit?” And he just drops down dead. Right? Nobody touched him. Nobody did anything. Paul just said, “How could you do that?” And God just struck him dead. An amazing moment.
So also in the Corinthian church, Paul lets them know, maybe they didn't know this, but he said, “I want you to know that a number of you are sick and some have fallen asleep, some have died because of the way you're treating the Lord's Supper.” That's how serious the Lord's Supper is, and the Lord will deal with sin. And so, there's a threat that Jesus could actually cause some people to drop dead if they don't deal with sin. Does God do that kind of thing? Do you believe in a God who does that kind of thing? A God who actually strikes people dead because of sin? Well, the answer is, absolutely. All the way through the Bible, he does this.
So the issue is deadly serious. Paul says then, “Hand this man over to Satan.” Now, this is a difficult phrase for some, but I think it just means “put him out of the fellowship,” that's what he's telling them to do. And I think the idea is you've got this inside, outside, inside language later in verses 12 and 13. So the idea of inside the church, there is safety like Noah's ark. That's where salvation is, that's where the safety is, inside the church. Outside is Satan's world. Outside Satan is god of that world, he's the roaring lion out there. In here, there's safety, friends. This is the church of Jesus Christ. “Hand this man over to Satan” means “put him out of the church.” I think that's what it means.
But it's deeper than that. I think it's the idea that he is one of Satan's children. “You are of your children, the devil,” Jesus says. And so it's the judgment of the church that you should go to the one whose child you are. And I had a discussion with somebody recently and we're talking about this, and they have different interpretations. I acknowledge the church isn't omniscient in this matter, that the church doesn't always know, but in this case here in 1 Corinthians 5, he's dealing with a scandalous sin, there's unrepentance, not dealing with any of that sin at the deepest level. There's a serious question, clearly a serious question about whether this individual's born again or not. And it's the church's judgment that they're not. So that's what “Hand this man over to Satan” means.
And what reason is given? Verse 5, “Hand this man over to Satan so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and the spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” The ultimate desire is that the individual might repent, come to their senses, escape the trap of the Devil who has taken them captive to do his will. That they might be brought back into the safety of Noah's ark, back in the safety of the church where they can survive the judgment of God. Before the Judgment Day comes, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord, that’s speaking of Judgment Day. It's a desire that the individual sinner might come to their senses and repent and be saved. More on that in a moment.
He then gives the analogy of the yeast, he says “Your boasting,” verse 6-8, “Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 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. Therefore 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.”
So this is an analogy of yeast or leaven, yeast is a one-cell fungus that splits readily, multiplies quickly. You put it into flour and when the conditions are right, with the flour and the water and the temperature, the yeast permeates through the whole, the whole loaf, and as it does, just through it, the enzymes and all the process, carbon dioxide gas is formed and bubbles come, and then when it's baked, then the alcohol goes away, and you're left with the bubbles, and that's what makes cakes and breads fluffy.
But in the context of the Bible frequently, then yeast is a symbol of something that permeates and spreads rapidly through a hidden means. Jesus used it to speak of the kingdom of God spreading through the world. I think there, it's positive. But in most other cases it's negative. It usually refers to evil permeating and spreading. And so therefore, he's going back to his Jewish roots here, with the Passover and at the Passover time, they were to rid all of the yeast out of their house. Get rid of all of it. Because what would happen is, a woman would take a little piece of leavened bread and break it off and hold it there and have it for next time.
They didn't have Kroger or Food Lion or Winn-Dixie, and go down and get the yeast, in a little package. Dry yeast. And just mix it in. So they would take off a little portion. Well, if that goes on long enough, don't there start to be some questions about... I mean there are, in my mind, I mean, I'm not sure I would eat that after five, six, seven months of doing that. So, there comes a point where God just wants it all purged. Get rid of it, start over, start fresh. And so therefore there was this Passover command. Paul's reaching for that image. And so, the danger then, if I can speak directly apart from the analogy, the danger is if they don't expel this wicked man, soon, the whole church is going to be, in some sense, infected with his sin. It's going to spread, it's a disease, a plague, and if you don't get rid of it, the church stands in danger of being generally infected with it.
Paul links the sacrifice of Christ as the final fulfillment of the Passover symbolism, so Christ has been sacrificed so that we can be pure and holy, and free from sin. So therefore we need to keep the festival. We need to get rid of our spiritual yeast of malice and wickedness and be pure. And he says, “As you really are.” That's a very important statement. That's a clear statement, I think, on the believer's church. The church is, the real church, is a pure thing. The real church is free from wickedness and sin. In God's eyes, and ultimately will be after salvation is done. That's what you really are now. Act like it. Get rid of the wicked man, that's what he's saying, 'cause he's not part of you. That's what he's getting to.
In Verse 9-11, the prohibition he gives us from associating with immoral so-called brothers. “I've written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people, not at all meaning the people of this world, or immoral or greedy and swindlers or idolaters. In that case, you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer or a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” Now Paul gets very specific here about the end result of this expulsion. The sinner who claimed to be a Christian, but who lives in this repulsive immorality is a great danger to the church and that kind of man you have to avoid, he says, at all costs.
Now, Paul is clear that he's making a big distinction between someone like this who claims to be a Christian, but is living the sinful wicked way, and somebody who's just a lost person in the world. And he's saying, “Look I'm not calling on you to leave the world, you can't leave the world.” Jesus says in John 17, “Father, I'm going to you, and they're still in the world.” He meant to leave us here. Jesus himself ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. Paul is gonna say we shouldn't be unequally yoked with them, in close covenant and committed relationships with them. But we can be with them, we can eat with them. Jesus did. We can interact with them, but this man is a different case now.
This man claims to be a Christian, but he's never repented; he is basically trampling the Son of God underfoot, to use Hebrews language. He is defiling the blood of Jesus Christ, and he's dangerous. And he says, “with such a man do not even eat.” Now I'm gonna talk next time about the practicalities of what that means. The Amish call it The Ban or Shunning. In my opinion, I think some of those groups go too far.
Jonathan Edwards in his sermon on this helpfully explains it doesn't mean that we don't give basic human kindness to a person like this. Not allowed to hold the door for you, so you let the door bang in his face. Nothing like that. He drops something, you help him pick it up. It doesn't mean either that our biological relationships or our marital relationships have come to an end because of the church's actions. Doesn't mean that either. Husbands and wives are still to carry on, but I think that in a specific way, it does mean something has changed now. A very serious thing that's happened, even in those biological relationships. Brother to brother, sister to sister, that kind of thing, that we recognize. This thing has occurred and you are rejecting Jesus. You're rejecting Christ. That's a very serious thing. “With such a man,” he says, “do not even eat.
And then he uses this inside-outside language in verse 12 and 13. “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” In my opinion, 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 are the clearest strongest verses in the Bible on the propriety of a clearly defined church membership, so that we know who is the church, who are we dealing with. That implies a list of people that we know who's in and who's not. These are the clearest verses in the Bible for that. And he says “you deal with the people that are on your list, they are in your church, deal with them, God will deal with the rest.” And then he gives the command one final time “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
The Purposes of Church Discipline
Above All Things: The Glory of God
Now, quickly, I'd like to give you from this five purposes of church discipline: Above all, purpose number one, the glory of God in all things. We are to be the light of the world, we are to shine God's attributes, his radiant nature, out to the world. We do church discipline that we may put God on display as the light of the world. To shine his glory for that reason, for the glory of God, we do this, and because he has commanded that we do it, we glorify him by obeying him and trusting him.
The Salvation of the Individual
Secondly, we are to be concerned about the salvation of the individual sinner. There is a hope that that person having been through this process might come to their senses, realize what has happened and come back. In my opinion. That's exactly what happens with this individual. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul says, “Welcome him back, he has repented. I've forgiven him, bring him back.”
And so, even in this terrible case, there's a chance of repentance and restoration. Therefore, practically speaking, disciplined people in Baptist churches are frequently still seen there. The next week they couldn't take the Lord's Supper, they were excommunicated, but at the same time, they would be there, they would be listening to the preaching and many times they would come back, they would repent.
The salvation of the individual, verse 5, “so that his Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” The ultimate threat here, friends, is not church discipline, you know that. The ultimate threat is hell. Judgment by Christ ultimately, because you've not truly repented and trusted in him. And so back in Matthew 18, we already saw “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away, it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” That's the real threat.
And so James 5:19-20, says “My brothers. If one of you should wander from the truth, and someone should bring him back, remember this, whoever turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save him from death, and cover over a multitude of sins.” What a good work it is, then, what a good work to reach out to a sinning brother or sister and bring them back into the church.
The Purity of the Church
Third motive is the purity of the church. A little yeast leavens the whole lump. It permeates the whole thing. We have got to protect the church from the spreading influence of sin. Sin not checked, not dealt with, causes the rest of us to be a little bit weaker in our fight against sin. Our marriage is a little weaker, our parenting a little weaker, our personal holiness a little weaker, because the church isn't dealing with it.
The Restoration of Unity in the Church
Fourthly, the restoration of unity in the church. Sin produces a rupture in the beautiful unity of the church, a rupture in the relationships and the fabric. If the church deals properly with sin, then restoration in the church's fabric of unity can occur, and the church can be one as a display of unity, as the Father and the Son are one.
In a couple of weeks in two weeks, not next week but the week after, we'll look at the parable of the 10,000 talents and true forgiveness. And how sweet it is when there can be that kind of genuine heartfelt forgiveness that goes on in restoration.
The Reputation of the Church… and the Lord
And fifthly, the reputation of the church and of the Lord in that local community. This is a scandalous sin. It is reported, people know about it, it's disgusting. If the church doesn't act, then what happens to the reputation of that church? It goes down. They will not have power to preach the gospel. But on the other hand, a church that takes holiness seriously is empowered and prepared to preach the Gospel seriously, and call sinners to repent.
Now, some have said “Nobody'll wanna join the church. If you have this kind of a standard you might actually get disciplined for unrepentance, sin and all that, why should you join a church?” And that's a deep question, but the implication is that the church is gonna suffer even numerically from that. Friends, it is not the case. Not at all. In Acts chapter 5, after God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead, it says in Acts 5:12-13, it says, “no one else dared to join them.” Well, that makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, they lied about some money and then they dropped dead. And so there's this general fear of the church. But keep reading. “No one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” That's their reputation. The church was highly regarded by the people. “Nevertheless,” verse 13, “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” Isn't that amazing? The church has power to preach the Gospel, people getting saved, because they fear Judgment Day and sin, and they take matters seriously.
Those are the five reasons why we should be involved in church discipline. Now, next week, I'm gonna talk about practicalities. Your mind may be filled with them right now. “But pastor, what about this? Or what should we do about that? Or what'll happen? Or what if we get sued?” Or any of those kind of thoughts may be running through your minds. I will hopefully deal with some of those plus a third passage that I think will be helpful next week from the book of Hebrews.
As I conclude, today, it may be that some of you are in need of a word of comfort. Struggling hard with sin, and it's a hard struggle isn't it? Fighting it hard, and it's difficult. Please remember, if you're a true child of God, your righteousness is Jesus Christ. Not how well you struggle. It is justification by faith in Christ alone, and his imputed righteousness, in that we stand. That's the solid ground under our feet. God is not against us, he's with us. He's helping us in the fight. Don't misunderstand. Grace is enough. An infinite ocean of grace is available like the Pacific Ocean. And your sin as I said before, like a fire, and every fire can be extinguished by the ocean of God's grace through Jesus Christ.
Could be, however, that you've never come to faith in Christ. You don't know what I'm talking about, but you've heard the seriousness of hell and judgement day and you know you're not ready. Well, even today, just now, you can be ready, you just look to Jesus who shed blood is sufficient for your sins and trust in him, and believe that God raised him from the dead and you will most certainly be saved.
We're gonna close right now with a wonderful hymn, “Grace Greater Than All Our Sin.” Think about this passage in James 4, God gives us more grace. That is why scripture says, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Then submit yourselves to God, come to that ocean of grace, wash in it, be cleansed in it, confess your sins, and be restored. Grace greater than all of our sin. Close with me if you would in prayer.