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Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Church Discipline

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Teaching t05400


Paul now addresses specific problems among the Corinthian Christians (read vs 1).

Christians adopted (and sometimes exceeded) secular culture's sexual mores. It was common knowledge that there was no connection between being a Corinthian Christian and sexual purity (vs 1a). Some who even grossed out the pagan culture found a welcome home in the church (vs 1b: "has his father's wife").

But there is something worse (read vs 2). The church tolerated this among its people and viewed itself as "spiritual" in spite/because of this! They evidently saw no problem with this whatever, no reason to stop their boast that they were a super-spiritual church.

How similar this is to American culture in the 1990's!



How different Paul's reaction is! (read vs 2)

"You should be mourning over this—not boasting!" The church should have a sensitive moral conscience so that it reacts neither with tolerant complacency nor with self-righteous, impersonal condemnation. Like loving parents who are deeply grieved when their children get involved with drugs, Christians should be deeply grieved when one among us chooses a moral course that is so antithetical to God's way.

"You should remove this man—not welcome him!" The church should not sit idly by, but should act decisively with one another in situations like this, confronting the person, calling for change, and bringing measured biblical pressure to bear—even to the point of removing the person if necessary (see vs 11 for sins which warrant this).

This passage is about church discipline. This is controversial subject in a culture like ours. It is also a complex subject which cannot be fully explored in the time we have. But through Paul's instruction in this specific situation, we learn three crucial lessons pertaining to this subject . . .

Its Basis (vs 3-5)

Read vs 3-5. Paul says that even though the Corinthian Christians have "dropped the ball" by passively tolerating this scandal, he has not. Even though he isn't there, he has decided the proper course of action is to remove the man from the church (vs 5 is elaboration of vs 2).

What is his basis for giving this command? Who does he think he is! Where does he get off thinking he can tell someone they have to leave the church? These kinds of objections are commonly raised today—sometimes by the people being disciplined, sometimes by others—and many Christians are unclear on how to respond to them. They highlight a crucial issue: the authority basis for church discipline.

When Paul says in vs 4, "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," he isn't reciting some religious slogan. He is reminding the Corinthian Christians that church discipline is an act of obedience to Jesus. It is Jesus who has told us how to deal with situations like this. God doesn't give us the liberty to chart our own course on matters like this, any more than he gives us the liberty to decide what doctrines we will believe. The church is under the authority of Jesus, and this authority is explained for us in his Word.

Paul is referring to Jesus' instructions on how to respond to immorality in the church (Matt. 18:12-17). According to Jesus, church discipline is:

Motivated by sacrificial love—not by lack of concern. Just as the good shepherd is willing to take personally uncomfortable measures to help errant sheep, so Christians should be willing to take personally uncomfortable measures to help errant Christians: PRIVATE CONFRONTATION, 2 OR 3, CORPORATE CENSURE, DISFELLOWSHIP.

Rooted in God's moral absolutes—not in human moral relativity. It doesn't say, "if your brother does something that isn't right for you." Obviously, if morality is relative to the individual, there is no basis for church discipline. But it says, "if your brother sins." Sin is defined for us in the Bible, and 1 Cor. 5:11 specifies the kinds of sins that are so serious that they warrant potentially serious church discipline. These are not diseases over which Christians have no control; they are sins for which we are responsible and from which we can repent.

Is seeking restoration—not retribution. We don't do this to get even—because we want to pay back Christians for offending us. We do it to influence them to change their minds—to decide to end their rebellion against Christ's loving authority and begin to follow him again. This is why church discipline should end when people repent (including excommunication).

Because this man's sin was a public matter in the Corinthian church, and because he evidently knew the man was unwilling to change, he calls in them to turn him out in the hope that this will help him to come to his senses. Like the PRODIGAL SON in Luke 15, when this man repented Paul urged them to reaffirm their love for him (2 Cor. 2:6-8).

We practice it here, too—and we have seen many people helped by it (EXAMPLES)!

Its Benefits (vs 6-8)

Church discipline is not only potentially beneficial for the one being disciplined—it is also beneficial for the church which exercises it properly. He mentions two such benefits. Read vs 6-8.

It arrests the spread of moral laxness & promotes spiritual zeal (vs 6,8). Leaven (yeast) spreads. In the same way, moral laxness spreads in an environment which lacks discipline. When an athlete is chronically late to practice and no disciplinary action is taken, how do the other players react? When students disrupt the classroom the teacher doesn't discipline it, what do the rest of the students do? But if the coach or teacher makes an example of someone (if necessary), the morale of the entire team or class usually improves.

In the same way, churches which are unwilling to discipline can expect a growing complacency (SILENT CONSPIRACY OF LAXNESS & FAKERY). The Corinthians had this in spades! But Paul says if they will make an example of this man, they will see this spiritual lethargy halted, and people will begin to appreciate what they have in Christ and pursue him with seriousness and honesty. This changes the whole atmosphere.

It enables the church to demonstrate spiritual reality to a watching world (vs 7). Because of Jesus' sacrifice, the church is cleansed of all defilement in the sight of God. God's purpose for the church is that it be Christ's presence on earth. It is to be a community which exposes the lostness of the world's way and by positive contrast shows the way to real life. It is to be a community which demonstrates the way God designed life to be lived, and which inspires thirst in others for that life. This demonstration will be ineffective unless the church holds and practices a different way of life. People are drawn to Christ when they see his followers expressing a commitment to him that involves this kind of moral integrity and costly love.

Its Limits (vs 9-13)

Now, having explained the benefits of church discipline, Paul communicates a warning about its limits. Read vs 9-13.

Church discipline is for Christians, not for non-Christians! They stand in a different relationship to Christ, so we have a different role to play with them.

Don't withdraw from non-Christians; you have been sent to them! While we must be willing to withdraw from blatant hypocrite Christians, this is not our role with non-Christians. As lax as the Corinthians Christians were, and as immoral as their non-Christian neighbors were, you would think Paul wouldn't worry about this possible over-reaction—but he clearly did.

For good reason! Christians often get so obsessed with avoiding moral contamination that they remove themselves from loving friendships with non-Christians. They become like the Pharisees of Jesus' day who communicated by their withdrawal that God was repulsed by them. But Jesus associated so much with the moral outcasts of his society that he was branded by the Pharisees as a "wine-bibber and a glutton." He was called "the friend of sinners" because they knew he loved them in spite of their sins. He knew that, for many of them, their sinful habits were symptoms of trying to find life without God (WOMAN AT THE WELL).

Therefore, we should not make changing their ethical lives a pre-condition for relating to them and befriending them. Our primary role with non-Christians is not to judge them, but to communicate God's love and forgiveness and to invite them to receive new life from Christ by inviting them into their lives. He is the One who fills our hearts with new life, and empowers and motivates us to live a higher moral life.