It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5
It is uncomfortable to talk about in 2018 America, but since churches must be holy and Christians must be holy, churches can’t keep as members professed Christians who are walking in unrepentant sin.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul makes plain that he is not pleased that an especially ugly sexual sin is talked about and heard about among these people, this church, and that nothing has been done. “How have I been gone for just a little while and this happens? And you all know about it and haven’t dealt with it! Are you kidding me! Do you not understand what a church is or what Christians are?”
In this rebuke, he reminds us: We are not our own.
Specifically, with Paul rebuking sexual immorality (“porneia”) we see that our bodies are not our own. We are not autonomous kings. But it’as also a part of the broader point Paul makes. In general, Christians are not just free to roam the world and do as we please. We are not people unto ourselves. We are not each our own self-sustaining little Christian ecosystem. The New Testament does not describe individual, lone Christians who are merely accountable to God but to no other humans. By God’s design, I am accountable to my wife, my children, the other elders of my church, the members of that church, and the government of my land (and there are others).
The Bible does not know of an isolated Christian who answers only to God. Like Mark Dever once said, “If you only submit to God, you’re not submitting to God.”
And because Christians are not their own, because Christians are called to be pure and holy, Paul calls on this church to be a church. It must do what churches are to do in the face of flagrant sin from one of their members.
Notice how strongly Paul felt about putting the man out. He passed judgment even without being there in body, and he wanted this done in the name and power of Jesus Christ. This is not just a helpful suggestion a church is just free to take or leave. Being a part of a church who takes seriously confronting our sin and helping us repent of it is a part of obedient, healthy Christianity. Churches must hold the believers in their midst accountable for unrepentant sin.
It’s also important to know that is not just someone who sins. If that were the case, we would all be put out (1 John 1:8-10). No, this man was walking in sin with no repentance, no turning, no sorrow over his evil actions. He didn’t act like what what he was doing was sin, and he showed no desire to change. So in response to that, Paul is commanding these people who are the church to put him out.
To put him of the people.
There is no concept in the New Testament of a church being a place. It is always a people. Paul does not write to Corinth Church; he writes to the church at Corinth. The church is the people; the address is simply where they meet. Churches are people. Not buildings, not geographical areas. If the people disappear, there is no longer a church. If the building grows the church building has merely grown.
And God has commanded churches to do certain things, including to proclaim the Gospel, the Word of God, and to teach Christians how to live in obedience to Jesus. Part of what they are commanded to do is to hold their members accountable for their sins. Hesitancy to be plugged in to a local church is a sign of profound spiritual immaturity. Refusing to be accountable and open up your life to fellow Christians is to be content with spiritual adolescence. If you have no one who can confront you on your sin, you are not living mature, healthy Christianity.
It’s also important to see that Paul does not command the Corinthian Christians who make up this church to go out into the city of Corinth and find sinners and tell them they can’t come to the services. Nor does he say to put out admitted unbelievers. In 5:9-13 he actually says not to do that. Instead it’s this man who is in their midst bearing the name of Christian who he says cannot stay in their midst. In v. 12 he says that there’s an inside and an outside, and that it’s the inside they are to judge.
Since Paul says there is an “out,” it follows that there is an “in.” Our church recognizes the “inside,” the “midst” who Paul wants this sort of a man put out of, by having membership. This is where we prayerfully covenant with someone we have good reason to believe is a true Christian who wants to be a functioning part of the body that is Velocity Church. Like wedding vows and wedding rings, we believe it’s an appropriate application of a Biblical concept. In this case the concept is that the church is a group of Christian people, and that a person must be removed from that group if they refuse to repent. Paul wants this man puts out of the midst of this church, and since churches are people, not buildings, I don’t think he’s primarily interested in the address. It may involve that, but I believe his main focus is to get this man out of the midst of the people, the people who are this church. He wants this man removed from the midst of this people.
You can see Jesus referencing someone who is apparently a professing believer in the midst of a church being treated as one who is not any longer in the body in Matthew 18:15-20. And in 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 18 (and the pastoral epistles and elsewhere) we see these depictions of God’s will for the church to publicly say, “This one who was our brother will not repent despite our best efforts, and so he can no longer be treated like a brother.”
And when done right, this putting out is an act of love. And to not do it is unloving.
One reason that you know that this discipline is loving in that Paul tells the church they ought to have mourned. This is not self-righteous. Church discipline should never be self-righteous or gossipy or snarky. Always remember, discipline is discipleship. It is teaching. It is applying some pain or pressure in order to save someone from greater pain or greater pressure. Paul wants this man’s flesh destroyed that his spirit might be saved. It is unloving to not deal with sin in an area in which you have authority. So it is unloving for the members of Velocity to not deal with sin in Velocity. It is unloving for parents to not deal with sin in their homes. It is unloving for husbands not to deal with sin in their wives. And it is unloving for you not to deal with sin your own heart.
Another reason you know that this church discipline is supposed to be loving is Paul is hoping that this leads to the man being restored. Paul wants this man removed from the fellowship of these people as a part of the discipline of God that will hopefully restore him to fellowship with them. Paul has committed or handed this man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit might be saved.
And it is loving for the rest of the church. Paul does not want sin spreading throughout a church. He says that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Unchecked, unsorrowful sin among a church’s people is church suicide. His encouragement in v. 7-8 is that we, as a church, really are unleavened. People who are Christ’s really have been made, in at least one sense righteous. They have been clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.
And so they are to live like it.
Clean out the old leaven, so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:7-8
Christ has fundamentally changed the people who make up a church. If this crazy church at Corinth, with all her folly and sin, really was unleavened, then believe me when I say all of Jesus’ churches are! Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Jesus died as a bloody sacrifice for sin. But He did not spill His blood to cleanse addresses. He is not coming back for a Bride made up of church buildings (or church logos or church web sites or cool church names). Jesus shed His innocent blood for people, and those people make up a family called His Church. He has planted little instances, little seedlings of that family throughout the world, and He has cleansed them, and so commands them to live like it.
So how do we worship with sincerity and truth? What does worshiping in sincerity and truth, as opposed to hypocrisy and immorality, look like? I think Paul’s answer to this Corinthian church would be that it is an honest commitment to the Word of Word of God, that it is true heartfelt obedience to Jesus Christ and what He says is good. He would want them to hate sin and what it does (like he clearly does), and to love God and what He’s done (like he does).
Paul is not here advocating for churches to retreat from sexually immoral (or otherwise wicked) unbelievers. Paul makes a clear line of demarcation, a huge distinction, between people of the world and people who bear the name of Christian. If someone claims to be a part of the brotherhood, then these principles begin to apply, because Christians need to be holy and churches need to be holy. That impulse to purge the world or totally hide from the world misunderstands what the church is. She is not a people meant to stay holy by running from the world, but a people made holy so she can run to the world. She is not a helpless baby meant to be quarantined from the world’s sick; she is a nurse with the only cure that can save them. True, she can’t become sick herself or she’ll be of no use to the dying, but she is meant to go out and offer the cure, not to run from them and hide herself.
But it is those who claim the Name of Christ who cannot be left to unrepentant sin as though everything is fine. We shouldn’t have confidence in our salvation if we are in sin and don’t desire to change. Paul makes clear that there is such a thing as a so-called Christian. V. 11 says, “But actually I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler, not even to eat with such a one.” And why? Love for the man, love for the church. So that he can be restored to God via being broken (v. 5), and because a little leaven leavens the whole lump (v. 6).
God loves this man, He loves this church, and for those reasons this man must be put out of their midst.
True love seeks the well-being of the beloved. It wants the one it loves to be whole and healthy and happy. There is no way that you can really love someone, or some group of people, and turn a blind eye to sin. Sin kills. It destroys. It separates from God and it violates others (and even self). If we love our brothers and sisters, we must graciously confront them in their sin. If we love the church, we must remove those who claim Christ but won’t repent.
Churches: If we love Jesus, if we love the church, if we love each other, we will not tolerate unrepentant sin.