As most of you know, I do not like being called pastor. This extends to the point of, I don’t even like being introduced as pastor. And it’s not because I don’t simply like the title, but it’s more because of the way in which conversations go after people find out that’s what I am. See, when I have a conversation with someone who doesn’t know I’m a pastor, they are more free to speak as they normally would. But when they know from the start that I’m a pastor, people tend to go into one of two directions. They either begin to act and tell me how good they are, or they become defensive watching every word and action as they navigate trying not to allow the conversation to go deeper.
The people that become defensive in the conversation, tend to look for any word I say that they can counter with the handful of Scriptures they know. One of the Scriptures that I’ve heard a lot is the Matthew 7:1-5 passage that we talked about last week. But more specifically, just the first few words of that passage, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” is usually the way it’s said. For those that use it, it seems to give them a sense of moral superiority to be able to say this to a pastor.
Their reason for this, and for other phrases like, “Only God can judge me,” is to corner Christians into a place where they cannot speak into lives of others, because the other person is saying Christians have no right to judge.
And this is both true and false at the same time, as we’ll see as we return to 1st Corinthians, where we’ll pick up chapter 5 verse 1. And as we return to 1st Corinthians chapter 5 verse 1, let’s look back on the first several weeks of our study.
We saw in the opening of 1st Corinthians, that Paul’s desire for the Corinthian Church, was that they would stand united in their faith in Jesus. The reason for this was because of the of some of the issues that were causing problems within the Church. Paul then spends the first four chapters tackling one of these issues, which was the issue of leadership.
Paul takes time to help the Corinthian Church correct three of their misunderstandings in the area of leadership. First was, who has the utmost authority in the Church, this is of course Jesus. Second Paul helps clarify what the roles of leaders are in the lives of other believers, they are planters and waters. Then finally, what Paul’s specific role was, which was a spiritual father in the faith for the Corinthian Church.
And it’s because of Paul’s specific role as a spiritual father to the Corinthian Church, that he is going to now deal with some more of the issues that are causing the Church of Corinth to experience disunity. So now, let’s dive into 1st Corinthians chapter 5, starting in verse 1.
Now before we get into it, for the next two weeks we’re going to camp out in chapters chapters 5 and 6 because, there is an overarching theme that we’re going to discuss today, and more specific topics that I think we need to discuss in more detail, which we will do next week. Our goal in these summer studies is to see the overarching teachings of the books of the Bible, but sometimes we need to go into the details as well, because their are some misunderstandings that we can’t gloss over. So, let’s cover the overarching topic of 1st Corinthians 5 and 6 first. Let’s read.
1 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.
So what’s the situation that Paul is addressing here? A man is having sex with his father’s wife. Now this isn’t his biological mother, but is most likely his stepmother. Now in the ancient world, this would be considered incest, even though the two are not blood related. This act was condemned in both the Old Testament Law, Leviticus 18:8 and in Roman Law. So the fact that this man is committing this act, is an extreme affront to all societies involved here. Yet, as Paul points out, the Church sees this practice going on and not only does nothing about it, but in fact is somehow boasting about it.
This boast might have something to do with what Paul writes, when he quotes a common Corinthian saying later in chapter 6 verse 12. Paul writes, “I have the right to do anything,” or as some translations put it, “All things are lawful for me.” Remember, the city of Corinth was a rich place to be, and as can happen with wealth, a sense of superiority can overtake us. Even thinking we are above societies laws. This Corinthian saying about having the right to do anything, coupled with the freedom we find in Christ, could be giving the Corinthian Christians a justification to allow the man’s sexual sin to continue.
Paul is addressing the fact that the Corinthian Church is purposefully and emphatically downplaying the sin of this man, that, as Paul puts it in verse in verse 1, “…of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate…”
Paul emphasizes their acceptance of the act, when he begins to speak of unleavened bread and Christ. In the early Church, the sharing of Communion was a sign of acceptance of being a Christian. All those who had put their faith in Christ ate together, and by doing so sealed their lives to the cause of Christ. When you ate the bread and drank the wine, you were accepting the world of Christ: the of repentance of sin, the of washing away of that sin, and new life in Jesus. But by downplaying the sin this man was committing, the Corinthians were downplaying the faith in Christ and even, in a sense, cheapening the grace of God in their lives.
To this, Paul calls the Corinthian Church in verse 5 to, “…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.”
When Paul mentions the destruction of flesh here, he isn’t talking about the destruction of the physical body, but rather the destruction of the sin in this man’s life. This might seem extreme to disassociate with someone in rampant sin, and in our modern American way of approaching Church practice, we might even call into question Paul’s or the Church’s right to pass judgment on anyone. I mean, who are we to question someone else’s life? Wouldn’t that be a reason why people look at the Church today as a bunch of judgmental hypocrites?
But let’s put this situation in it’s place. We know from verse 9, that Paul had written about this situation in some form in a prior letter to the Church, so this sin has been going on for some time. We also know that it had become almost accepted by the Church as a whole, who were in some way boasting about it. And that this, along with other situations, where the cause of the Church descending into disunity. So what does Paul call the Church to do? He calls them to deal with the situation. To stop sweeping sin under the rug and deal with it.
We must remember that Paul, in the previous chapter, had already pointed the Church back to Jesus’ teaching on judging. Judgement always starts with bringing ourselves before God. In fact the Apostle Peter would write in the fourth chapter of his first letter, that the judgment of God starts with the Church (1st Peter 4:17).
In addition, we must also remember what Paul’s role is with the Corinthian Church, he is a spiritual father, and one of the roles of a father is to deal out discipline. So now he is calling the Corinthian Church to bring themselves before God for judgment, and then to deal out discipline as needed.
But the logical question that comes to mind is, is it really our place to judge? And to this Paul gives us an answer.
First he gives us where the Church’s authority to judge lies. In verse 9 Paul writes, “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.’”
Paul specifically focus’ the authority of the Church to judge only those who claim to be a part of the Church. In other words, the Church’s authority to pass judgment stops at it’s own fellowship. Can the Church take a stand in moral arenas? Yes, but there is no judgment of people or condemning of people in that stand. But when the fellowship of believers meet, the Church does have authority to judge situations between believers.
And judgment by the Church is a necessary role of the Church because it is meant to bring people to repentance, as we saw was Paul’s intent in verse 5, and to bring unity as a whole.
This is why Paul then addresses another issue that is causing division in the Corinthian Church, which was that of lawsuits. See the Corinthian Christians were having business dealings with each other, but instead of bringing a dispute to fellow believers to have it judged, they were entering into the Roman Court system to have non-believers judge.
Paul writes this in chapter 6 verse 1, “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.”
Paul calls the Corinthian Christians to take their authority in judging matters and their calling to represent Christ seriously. They are to be judges in disputes both of sin and of everyday business disputes, for the purpose of bring the sinner to repentance and the Church to unity. Paul emphasizes his point on how important the judgment authority of the believer is when he says in verses 2 and 3, “Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!”
It is here that we see that Paul is limiting the authority of the Church to judge only matters pertaining to believers, and calling the Church to live upright and blameless lives in front of the world.
Recently, I saw a situation play out where two people who say they are Christians had a problem. One was carrying out their job responsibilities, and when they did, the other became upset with the work that was being done. But instead of speaking with the their fellow believer, the second instead took their complaints to the managerial staff, who is made up of unbelievers. What do you think the end result was? At the very least, I can say it wasn’t unity between the two believers.
Now we may think that Paul, with this idea of the Church having authority to judge between believers is coming out of nowhere, but we can actually see that Jesus gave us the road map for the Church’s authority to judge in such matters. This is found in Matthew 18, verses 15-20.
So, taking what we talked about last week, in how judgment must start with us first when we take ourselves in front of God, let’s spell out the step-by-step process God has given us as believers to exercise our authority in judging matters of the Church.
First, we must understand what is the purpose of judgment in the Church is? It is to bring people to repentance. We see this in 1st Corinthians 5:5. It is not to call out people for every mess up, or ever stumble, because it would be an unending judgment process that everyone would be in. And it is not to make people fell bad, or that we would become legalistic. It is, instead to help people see in areas that they may not know they are falling to sin. So if our purpose is not the repentance of sin, then we have no right to be a part of the judgment process.
Second, we must understand what our attitude must be like in this process? First, our attitude must be one that seeks to speak the truth in love as Paul writes in Ephesians 4:14. And as we speak to people in love about their sin, we also must prayerfully watching that we do not fall into temptation ourselves as Jesus says to the disciples in Matthew 26:41, and Paul will later write in 1 Corinthians 10:12. A loving and prayerful attitude must accompany those who are a part of the judgment process, or else it will end in disunity.
Now with the understanding of the purpose of judgment in the Church being repentance, and our attitude needing to be loving and prayerful being clear, then we take the first step in the judgment process.
This first step is what we talked about last week, we must personally take ourselves before God for judgment. We must spend a lot of time in prayer having God search us for sin, and dealing with the sin in our lives. We have seen the Corinthian letter so far, that the Corinthian Church had not done this, and so they were blind to their own sin in the matter, and were not in a position to judge another’s. So Paul calls them out in this, when he tells them that he writes this specific thing to shame the Corinthian Christians (6:5). This is because they haven’t dealt with their own sin, and now disunity is running a muck.
But once we have spent time in prayer, if God has shown us how we are in fact in the wrong, that we are caught up in sin, then we must repent, and leave the situation in God’s hands. But if we spend a lengthy amount of time in prayer, and God directs us to continue the process of judgment with the other person, then we must pray that the Holy Spirit would prepare our hearts and the person we will be talking to about their sin as we move into to step 2, which we find in Matthew 18 starting in verse 15.
Let’s read Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
Step 2 begins with us going to the person who is in sin with gentleness and in private. There is no reason to talk about it with someone else. There’s no reason to vent about it on social media, or anywhere else. This is a one-on-one conversation that is to not go beyond that. As soon as we bring it up to another, we have already messed up the process and it will probably end in disunity without repentance on our part.
But if we do it right, and the person repents, we’re done, we rejoice and move on with our lives not holding on to the sin. But if the person refuses to repent, we can’t get upset , but instead we need to pray that God would be working in the situation and we move onto step 3.
Let’s read Jesus’ words in verse 16, “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”
Step 3 looks to expand the sphere of those who know about the sin, but we must be cautious of who we tell. We must find someone, no more than two, that is a non-partisan person. That means that they are not on our side, nor are they on the side of the other person. This non-partisan is someone that will tell us we’re wrong, just as much as telling the other person they are wrong. Then when we bring this non-partisan person to discuss the sin with the person, if the non-partisan finds the sin is ours, we must be willing to repent, ask for forgiveness, and move on. But if the non-partisan person finds the fault is in fact with the other person, and they repent, we must forgive them and move on. But If the person does not repent, again we cannot get upset, and we must pray that God would be moving, and move onto to step 4. And now it has gotten very serious.
Let’s read Jesus’ words in verse 17, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
This is the step that we find the Corinthian Church in. In cases like this, the sin is so egregious, and effecting the unity of the Church that is must be brought to the Church as a whole. These are situations that effect the spiritual life of all believers who gather together for fellowship. And we should never think of getting to this point over being slighted by someone, or over a misunderstanding. For the Corinthian Church it was with a sin of incest being celebrated in their midsts and it was the sin greed and swindling that was happening between believers in business transactions. It wasn’t over carpet color, or donut choice.
Step 4 is taking the sin to the Church for judgment. This is one of the roles of leadership to oversee these proceedings being as neutral as possible. And if the Church finds that the sinner is the one who brought the complaint forward, that person must be willing to repent. If, at any point, the person who is bringing the complaint of the sin forward is unwilling to repent themselves, then the fault has always been theirs.
But, if the Church finds that the sin is the other person’s and they repent, we as a Church community must forgive and move on, not holding onto any negative emotions or thoughts towards that person. Because as Paul states in 1st Corinthians 6, verse 11, “And that is what some of you were…” Meaning only by the grace of God go I. We too have been in sin, and we too have needed to repent and be forgiven. So we must forgive others. In fact, in Paul’s second letter, the Corinthian Church has taken Paul’s judgment to disassociate with the man, and the man repented and Paul then tells the Church to accept him back in. Again showing that repentance is the goal.
But If the person does not repent, and this is where it is hard, and can cause disunity, but it is acceptable disunity over dealing with sin, the Church as a whole must treat the unrepentant person as one who is in a state of rebellion against God. Jesus uses the idea of a pagan or tax collector, those who do not believe the teachings of Christ. In this case we must still be loving, compassionate, and in prayer for them, but we must recognize in our dealings with this person, that they are in rebellion against God’s correction. And we must as a Church body stand together in this final course of action.
This whole process is hard because we tend to not want to cause problems by pointing out another’s sin. And in most cases, there is no reason for us to do such. If a person is seeking God, repenting of sin when God reveals it to them, and seeking to bring unity to the Church body, yet then a stumble in their faith there is nothing to cause the authority of the Church in judgment to be called upon.
Yet, in times when sin is becoming boasted about in the lives believers, where un-repentance runs rampant, and the disunity of the Church is occurring, then the process in which God has laid out for judgment must be followed. I pray that there will never come a time when our church has to conduct this final step in judgment. But for that to happen, each of us must daily take ourselves before God and seek his cleanings work in our lives. We must each learn to take the sin in our own lives seriously, and be willing at any time to be corrected by a brother or sister, knowing that they desire for our best in the faith as we desire the best in theirs.
So my challenge for us this week, is similar to last week. This week I challenge you to wrestle with Matthew 18 verses 15-20. Let us this week take ourselves before God asking him to cleanse us of all our sin, so that we might bring greater unity to our brothers and sisters and greater light to the world around us. Amen.