Today, we are going to study the same passage we did last week. 1 Corinthians 5. Last week, we talked about spiritual blindness because the church at Corinth is one prime example of a church that was groping in the darkness. They were boasting about their brand of spirituality while one of their members was sleeping around with his mother or his stepmother and not repenting about it. It’s unthinkable that a church can become this blind, but it happens all the time, not just in the case of the Corinthians, but every single one of us is susceptible to spiritual blindness if we are not careful. That was the background, the context, now we are ready to dive into the specifics of this text.
This morning, we are going to talk about a topic that is hardly talked about, much less practiced in churches today. That is, church discipline. This is quite a provocative passage. Church discipline sounds so harsh and unloving. Hopefully, by the end, you will be convinced that churches need to practice church discipline for the sake of the member in sin as well as for the sake of the entire church.
Corinth had an inward focus. And there are many self-focused churches – what can be more selfish than gratifying your sexual desires and then discarding the person afterward. That’s the world’s ways, not God’s ways. Christian life is not a free for all. God is holy, and therefore, He sets limits, just like He did in Genesis. You are free to eat of ANY tree in the Garden, a garden filled with probably thousands of trees, but this one tree God said, you must not eat of it. But what happened? Instead of being thankful for the freedom to eat from 99.99% of all the trees in the Garden, Adam and Eve said I want THAT one. I want to be able to determine right from wrong, that’s my right, God can’t tell me what to do. And from that moment, all hell broke loose.
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.
This sin was extreme by their standards. It is pretty extreme even by our standards.
2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?
For a modern reader, what is your reaction? You must be kidding. Put this man out of your fellowship? It sounds like kicking him out. If this guy is having a problem, he needs therapy, he needs love, he doesn’t need rejection, putting him out of your fellowship would be the last thing he needs. Many people come to church nowadays for therapy. I feel guilty, I feel lonely, let me hear an encouraging message and hang out with some encouraging people. Therapy is what this guy at Corinth needs.
Who’s says it wrong anyway? They are in love. What they do in the privacy of their bedroom is their business. It’s none of our business. We would have that kind of reaction if our employer tried to tell us how to live in our private lives. Hey, I’m just here to do my job, I’m here to collect a check, keep my personal life out of this. My boss shouldn’t tell me how to live my life, then why the church?
What Paul is telling this church to do to in response to one of their own members in sin is met I think by an almost startled, outraged response by the modern reader. Did Paul really say that? It seems so harsh, so unloving.
The modern reader on the whole is humanistic, which is not really the same thing as the Biblical portrait of love. Modern readers say, he needs therapy. He needs love. Paul would answer, yes, that is exactly what I am prescribing here–this is therapy and love. The issue is that we just cannot agree with the definition of love. Love in the Bible is different from post-modern love. Love in the post-modern world is being nice to the person and giving him what they want. That’s not the biblical picture of love. Love in the Bible is a commitment to give of myself in every area for the sake of another. It’s self-sacrificial love that gives of oneself for the good of the other.
We understand that with kids. Kids want to eat candy all day and if it were up to them, they’d be munching on M&Ms and popping in jolly ranchers from morning to night. As parents, we have to tell them, no, you shouldn’t eat that. If Elijah, my two-year old, could decide his own menu, he would eat potato chips for breakfast, cheetos for lunch and doritos for dinner. If we love our children, we will discipline them, we are going to compel them to do certain things and not to do certain things. What if school was up to our kids? They’d all quit by the 4th grade and veg out at home.
This idea of discipline is tied to discipleship as commanded in the Great Commission.
Matt 28 – 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is the role of every Christian and every church. To make disciples. And how do we make disciples. TEACHING them to do what? Not to listen. Not to absorb insights here and there. But teaching them to OBEY. Teaching them to obey what? Teaching them to obey EVERYTHING, not some of the things, not just the easy, feel good stuff, not obey only what we prefer, but obey everything.
How do we teach others how to obey everything? Just like Jesus, it has to be one on one, small group, people who really know each other and who commit to one another. You can’t disciple people on a mass scale. Discipleship is not a program. It has to be life on life, walking together.
In the post-modern world, everyone knows what’s best for himself. I don’t need someone to teach me how to live out the Christian life. I can do it on my own. The assumption here in 1 Corinthians is that people mess up, people are blind and they need to change. Therefore, this implies that there is no infallible internal compass guiding them to do the right thing. They often do the wrong thing. We need to know the Word of God, but to an extent we need to be discipled and trained by others to learn how to read and understand it properly. That’s partially why we gather on Sundays. That’s why we gather for Bible studies. But those things are not always enough. Especially for younger Christians, we need help to apply the Word of God specifically. And for older Christians, we can get locked into a particular way of reading and interpreting the Bible and we become blind to huge chunks of Scripture so we need to help one another.
But again, the post-modern reader doesn’t like this area of discipline. Who are we to pass a moral judgment on another? Pressing our opinions over their opinions seems so presumptuous. What if the person passing judgment is blind? Then, it’s the blind leading the blind. We can’t assume that just because someone is older and has been Christian longer that his or her assessments are infallible. We can all be blind.
That’s why Matthew 18 gives us specific instructions. It’s a biblical check and balance system. It’s not just one person’s opinion. You go to that person. Then, you go with another person because you have an opportunity to check your stance. Is it biblical? Yes, it is, okay, let’s go talk to this guy together. So now 2 or 3 are going together to address a brother’s sin. If the person who is charged is unrepentant, then it goes to the entire church. So there are 3 steps to ensure that it’s not just one opinion over another because having a certain amount of self-doubt when pointing out a sin in another is good. It’s safer to pass judgment on another if not just one, not just two, but an entire church agrees with the assessment about that person. What if the entire church is blind as in the case of Corinth? Then, you need a voice of truth from outside the community and Paul is serving as that outside voice.
The key when addressing someone about their sin is to ask, is what I am saying clearly labeled in the Bible as a sin? Is it clear, is it a black and white case? Church discipline should never be used in an arbitrary sense. We shouldn’t invent and pass arbitrary laws at LBC. Like, you need to come on Saturday nights and help set up the equipment and chairs. I can make a rule and send it out to all the members. Thou shalt not miss Saturday church setup. What passage would I use? I could quote Mark 10:45 —
Mark 10:45 – For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
And I could stretch that verse to say, see, you must serve whenever there is an opportunity to serve. Because after all, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Be like Jesus. Therefore, you must come on Saturday nights to help. I could say that but I would have a difficult time justifying it biblically. You should want to serve if you are growing in Christ-likeness so it’s great when brothers volunteer to come and help set up. But not setting up is not a sin.
In cases of church discipline, I should be able to show the other person a passage and it should be clear. Here is the Bible, this is what God says, this is the way it is, this is right, this is wrong, and each party can read what it says. It sound obvious, but I am not the one who determines what is right and what is wrong behavior. It is the Word of God. God determines right from wrong. Ever since the Fall, we said, God, I want to determine right from wrong. No wonder ethics is so relativistic and we can no longer speak about truth and universal morality. The best we can do is to tolerate one another. Here is my interpretation, you have your interpretation and we have to tolerate one another. It happened after the Fall when each person decided, I am going to decide for myself what is right and wrong. We were never meant to determine right from wrong on our own. We need to turn to Scripture and see what it says.
What is different from a world that decides for themselves what’s right from wrong and a world where there is no right from wrong? There’s no difference at all. For there to be right and wrong, it has to be normative. It has to be universal. Incest is wrong. Sexual immorality is wrong. Times have changed. Culture has changed. But God is the same today as He ever was. God will not change to accommodate our culture.