One: 1 Corinthian 5.1-8

March 10, 2013 Series: One | First Letter to the Corinthians

Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 5:1–5:8

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The Corinthians moral problem

We have been engaged in a study of 1 Cor. for the past couple of months and come now to the fifth chapter where Paul turns his focus from what has largely been the “mental” problem of the Corinthians to their “moral” problem. In the previous chapters he has written about the wisdom and power of God, the ministry of the Apostles and about their disunity expressed by differing factions following different teachers and encouraged them to unify around the gospel. Now in the fifth chapter he addresses the big sin of immorality that one of their members is guilty of but all are complicit in because of their lack of disapproval of the sin, that a man has his father’s wife. Yes this means that one of their members was having an ongoing sexual relationship with either his mother or his step-mother. She is most likely not a member of the Christian community because Paul does not pronounce any judgment on her. We don’t know if his father is dead or alive. We know it’s ongoing because Paul uses the word has to describe the relationship versus had. It’s fair to say that Paul is a bit alarmed by this sin but even more by the congregation’s response to it. And why wouldn’t he be? After all, this type of sexual immorality was of the type that even the pagans of Corinth found it to be disgusting as Paul makes a special point in bringing to their attention in verse 1.

The moral decline of our own culture

I wonder sometimes if the immorality of our culture in America today is worse than Corinth of Paul’s day. One reason I wonder is because I don’t think that the pagans of our time would find this relationship so taboo. As long as they were consenting adults, who are we to judge? Another reason stems from a news story that Dori Monson was talking about a couple of weeks ago concerning a mother from Glen Falls, New York who had a birthday party for her son turning 16 years old and for his teenage friends. She rented a party room at a local bowling alley and hired a couple of strippers to come and entertain her son and his friends. Local police learned of this because some of his friends posted pictures of the party online. She was charged with child endangerment. In a segment of his show entitled, “you be the jury” Dori asked his listeners if the mother should receive jail time or be given a slap on the wrist. In the two or three of the callers I had the stomach to listen to the response was essentially the same: it wasn’t that big of a deal and that the mother should be let off easy.

But this passage of scripture has more to do with how we as a church are to deal with a sinning, non-repentant member of our church. I am glad to be preaching this sermon at a time when we as a church are not presently engaged in this type of situation or struggle.

Discipline – a mark of a true church

Discipline is one of the marks of a true church. After the protestant reformation in the sixteenth century when there were new churches and denominations bursting forth at a high rate of speed came the question from many; how do I differentiate a good church from a bad church?

The answer most commonly given was that in order for a church to be a church there must be present at least these three marks:

Faithfully preaches the word of God.Faithfully administers the sacraments of baptism and communion.Faithfully disciplines sinning non-repentant members according to the word of God.

Church discipline at Damascus Road

Now I realize that when a pastor speaks about church discipline there are some Christians who are very uncomfortable about the subject. Usually this is based on past experience in a church where discipline was administered incorrectly or harshly. I get that. I too have seen the rod of discipline come down on people for some of the craziest reasons. I remember a couple being put under discipline for refusing to get rid of their television. Another man was disciplined for supporting his son in joining the air force. But as silly as these are, we must recognize that there are times when sin must be dealt with very directly and yes sometimes this means putting someone out of the church. But this should be an uncommon experience in any church but one that the leadership in any church should be willing to carry forth if need be. I thank God that in the six years that we have been a church we have only had to do this once. Some of you were here then, many of you were not. It happened 2 or 3 years ago. It became known to some members of one of our worship teams that their leader was involved in sexual immorality. He was admonished by several on the band to recognize that he was sinning and to repent. He refused. After this the elders were made aware of the situation and he was contacted by us to meet and talk about the situation. He was given several opportunities to repent. His refusal and subsequent departure from the church left us no choice but to announce publicly to the church that he had chosen sin over his relationship with God and the church. In this case we didn’t hear from him for a couple years but last December he sent Pastor Sam an email expressing sorrow for his actions and apologized for his sinful behavior. With his permission here is what he had to say in his email:

Sam Ford,

I want to take a moment to apologize for my actions against you and against Damascus Road Church. I handled that situation about as well as a 2 year old handles a tantrum.

Although, I got just what a I wanted; a life that quickly fell apart pushing away from the sanctity of the Lord. I found myself lifeless and in constant turmoil. By the grace of God, He lifted me from my own muck and mire that I could have avoided if I just would have had the ears to hear.

Not only do I want to apologize but I would also like to say, thank you. Thank you for preaching the gospel and following through with the convictions that God has given you. Through Damascus Road God has shown me a biblical faith that, as sad as it is to say, I had not found anywhere else.

Thank you,

The steps of biblical church discipline

Discipline is both an individual calling as well as a corporate calling. Individually, when we sin, our conscience compels us to repent and confess our sin. As we compare ourselves to the word of God we adjust ourselves, our lives, our habits to better conform to our Savior. But sometimes when we sin we either don’t recognize it or we purposely ignore it because we love it so much, and that is when someone who knows me and cares about me will come and help me to see that I have fallen. This is the first step in the process that Jesus taught in Matt. 18: 15-17. “If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” This is where we hope the relationship is restored and peace returns. But in the event that it doesn’t, Jesus tells us what the next step is; 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. Hopefully, this will take care of it, the sinner sees his sin, repents, and everything goes back to normal. But if it doesn’t go quite that well Jesus tells us, 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

We must as a church care enough about each other that we are willing to pick each other up when we fall down. Paul says in Gal. 6: 1-2 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

The importance of gospel community

This is one reason why it is so important to be a member of a church and involved in gospel community. In addition to a godly spouse it is the primary avenue that God uses to reveal the sin in our lives that we can’t see ourselves. Through the faithful preaching of the bible we get to see ourselves and our lives more clearly in light of God’s word. If we are in sin and ignore it and don’t heed the admonition of our friends or the pastors to repent, God will discipline you, because he loves you and because he desires your love and obedience in return. “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12: 5, 6).

Fornication / porneia

Let’s deal first with this man involved in this sinful sexual relationship. Paul uses the words sexual immorality to describe this sin which the king James calls fornication, which the Greek calls porneia. The meaning of this word means any kind of sexual impurity or extramarital sex including homosexuality. The word appears over 30 times in the New Testament and is always at or near the top of any of the “sin lists” that appear in scripture. This is not because the first Christians had a lot of “hang ups” about sex. Instead, it is because the area of sex was one of the most dramatic places where the ethics of Greek culture clashed with the ethics of Jesus. Sexual immorality was an accepted fact of life for the common person in Greek culture, but it was not to be so among the followers of Jesus.

We know very little about this man. There exists some speculation that he was either wealthy or the woman he was having this illicit relationship was wealthy and he stood to gain wealth through a marriage to her, or he was otherwise an influential member of the community with strong political or business connections. Either way, the Corinthians were proud of this person and were completely willing to overlook his sin. In fact, Paul accuses them of arrogance in this situation when they should have been mourning instead. There was in Corinth as there is among some in today’s Christianity the mistaken belief that the more we sin, the more grace abounds and therefore Christ is glorified even more. Paul dealt with this issue in his letter to the Romans when he asked the rhetorical question, “shall we sin that grace may abound? Absolutely not!”

No room for pride

It’s easy to get prideful about being a Christian when we see how the morals of this world continue to slide. Unfortunately, there is a real tendency among Christians today to adopt some of the world’s standards with regard to sexuality. According to a recent study in the American Sociological Review, Muslims and Hindus are more likely than Christians or Jews to refrain from pre-marital sex. In their study, which included data from 31 developing nations collected between 2000 and 2008, 79% of Christians reported having premarital sex compared to 43% of Muslims and 19% of Hindus. That is outrageous!

Judgment

In verse 3 Paul says, 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. Paul pronounces judgment on the offending party even though he is not physically present. It is never pleasant to be under judgment. Sometimes judgment comes very quickly in the bible. If you recall in our study of the book of Judges we learned about Achan and how he came under immediate judgment for taking for himself gold, silver, and a beautiful cloak from the enemy which was something he knew was forbidden. He and his family were stoned and then burned for his transgression. Consider also Ananias and Saphira. This couple in the early church also came under immediate judgment for lying about the amount of money they received for land they sold. They both were struck dead the moment their lie was exposed.

The Pauline remedy for the Corinthian moral problem

Then Paul tells them, 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Here Paul comes out with what needs to be done with this man. The remedy is to turn him over to Satan. Notice that Paul includes the Corinthian church, himself, along with the power of the Lord Jesus in doing this. This is not something that is done absent the gathering of the church in the name of the Lord Jesus and it is certainly not done without his power. This strongly indicates that delivering someone to Satan is more than just banishing him from the fellowship of the church, or excommunicating him. There is a supernatural spiritual component taking place when one is being disciplined in this way. Believers are safe in the hands of God, and according to John 10: 28-29, no one (not even Satan) can snatch them out of his hand. Being delivered to Satan, however, one is removed from the protection of the caring Christian community where Christ resides and is put out into the world which is ultimately ruled by Satan.

For the destruction of the flesh

At this point, some of you are asking why? That seems extreme. The answer is that it is a sin for a church to tolerate sin that is being actively lived out by one of its members. It is also the most loving thing to do both for the sinner and for the church. The fact is you wouldn’t want to be in a church that tolerates sin. Consider the Roman Catholic Church and the problems it has had with pedophile priests. If each priest guilty of such evil were disciplined according to God’s word instead of just being relocated to another parish, they would not suffered near the condemnation of the world that they have. It’s for the purpose of the destruction of the flesh so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. There is only one other passage in the new testament where someone is handed over to Satan.

It is in 1 Tim. 1: 18-20 : 18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. That is all we know about these two. Their blasphemies had earned them the same reward as the unnamed antihero in our passage.

Now when Paul says “for the destruction of the flesh”, he could mean the physical flesh suffering as Job suffered when God handed him to Satan. He was immediately covered with boils from head to toe. Or it could mean the flesh as in the sinful rebellious nature. By handing him over to Satan, the man will be given over to the sinful consequences of his flesh, and the hope is that by wallowing in the results of his sin, the sinful impulse of the flesh in this particular area will be “destroyed.” And then, as a result of his suffering he will no longer love his sin more than Christ and be moved toward repentance.

Satan used by God to sanctify

Regardless, the purpose of church discipline is so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. The hope is that the sinner would see the folly of his rebellion and sin and repent as Job eventually did. The fact is that sometimes God uses Satan to sanctify us. Consider the thorn that Paul himself had in his flesh. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited (2 Cor. 12: 7). Paul describes the thorn as being a messenger from Satan to harass him and to keep him humble. Now that wasn’t Satan’s purpose, it was God’s purpose.

Leaven and thePassover

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Paul uses imagery from the Jewish festival of Passover to illustrate the importance of the church dealing with sin in their midst. In this case Paul is using leaven or yeast to symbolize the evil in their midst. In Egypt, many years before, the removal of yeast occurred in haste and symbolized their freedom from slavery. Purging the old yeast from the Corinthian church likewise must be done quickly. It symbolizes freedom from slavery to sin, specifically the sin of the incestuous party. What Paul is rightly concerned about is how the effects of sin will eventually permeate the entire congregation. A little bit of yeast works its way throughout an entire lump of dough. Just like a rotten apple in a box of apples will eventually pollute the whole box. Get rid of the old yeast, the incestuous man, he tells them, so that they might be what they really are, a new batch of dough. Get rid of the sin in your church so that you can be the new creations in Christ as you really are. Who they were in position they were not living out practically in their daily lives. He reminds them that Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. That means that as Christians we no longer celebrate the old festival of Jewish Passover because Christ has come and become the Passover lamb for us. Likewise we no longer live our lives as we did when we were pagans with malice and evil, but rather as new creations in Christ, with sincerity and truth.

Conclusion

In conclusion, be reminded that as Christians we live in a glass house. The whole world sees our conduct. In word and deed the church must exhibit an intense hatred for sin and a genuine zeal for holiness. Such holiness demands ardent love for Jesus and total obedience to his commands. Obviously this does not mean that we can or will be perfect. We do sin, all of us, but we live by grace believing in the gospel of our Lord Jesus that he paid for our sins on the cross. So do not despair if you find yourself falling short. If you are in Christ you are safe in his everlasting arms. The process of church discipline happens rarely and should always be carried out in faith (Heb. 11: 6). Faith is displayed through prayerful dependence upon the Lord to provide the wisdom and strength we need to love with endurance and patience, flowing from a heart of joy and thanksgiving for our God who redeemed us by his love.

 

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