When Sexual Sin Comes to the Church - Part 2
1 Corinthians 5:6-13
In the first five verses we learn that:
Because all believers are still sinners, we should not be shocked when a member of a local church falls into sexual sin 1
However, we should be shocked when a local church tolerates sexual sin by its members by failing to take decisive action 2
When one of its members falls into sexual sin, Christ expects the church to confidently judge the matter 3-5
There are several controlling principles that a church must follow as it executes judgment against the offending member…
Be obedient 4
Be transparent 4
Be reliant 4
Be intentional 5
Be hopeful 5
Now in vs 6-13 we learn that…
When one of its members falls into sexual sin, the church must structure its course of action around certain foundational didactics 6-13
The leaven didactic 6-8
In simple terms it is a little leaven leavens a lot 6
Literally leaven (zumh) is yeast. (However, there is historical debate about whether yeast was readily available in NT times – cf Fee 216.) Figuratively it refers to influences; good such as the kingdom of heaven in Mt 13:33 but most often bad such as the corruption of the Pharisees in Mt 16:12.
The arrogance in the church had resulted in ignorance of or purposeful ignoring the clear Biblical teaching about leaven. Fee (215) quotes Barrett (127), “a church exposed to corruption would do well to sing in a lower key!”
So again, the didactic is: a little leaven leavens the whole lump. There are two main thoughts.
The leavening quality of leaven. I purposely state it that way because the text is “a little leaven leavens…” “Yeast are unicellular fungi… The most well-known and commercially significant yeasts…have long been utilized to ferment the sugars of rice, wheat, barley, and corn to produce alcoholic beverages and in the baking industry to expand, or raise, dough…The yeast's function in baking is to ferment sugars present in the flour or added to the dough. This fermentation gives off carbon dioxide and ethanol. The carbon dioxide is trapped within tiny bubbles and results in the dough expanding, or rising.” (www.yeastgenome.org accessed 7/1/10).
The “lump” is a mass of dough that has been mixed or kneaded so that it sticks together. Used of lump of clay in Rom 9:21 where the potter has the right over the clay to “make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use.” The lump is the church. An obvious lesson is that the church is a kneaded body – we are truly in it together. We are one.
But the emphasis is on the disproportionate tiny size of the leaven in contrast to the pervasive extent of the leavening. Illust: my aborted attempts at using the bread making machine – a teaspoon of yeast on top of the other ingredients and machine mixes it up and yeast causes the whole ball of dough to rise. Consider the warning about false teaching in NAU Galatians 5:9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. What affects one affects all.
Perhaps the Corinthians were dismissing this as the sin of one man only; relatively small in the broader scheme of things. Somewhat like today’s privacy mantra or “everyone is free to do his own thing”. Paul shouts “no”. This is not an isolated aberration – it corrupts the whole community of believers. Deal with it.
Because a little leaven leavens a lot, it must be removed 7-8
A thorough house cleaning is needed in order to remove the leaven 7a This answers the “how.”
The picture is of a deep cleaning – methodical and comprehensive. Illust: similar to what Judy did to their rooms when our kids left for college. So it is much more than dismissing the offending member. Remove everything that has been contaminated – other worldly tendencies or practices. Does the entire culture of the church need reshaping? In other words, look for sources. Illust: turning over an embedded stone and watching the bugs and creatures scatter. Perhaps this is taken from the Jewish custom of removing anything in the house that was leavened prior to Passover.
Removing the leaven makes sense and is the right thing to do 7b-8 This answers the “why.”
First (7b), the corporate body is able to start anew. When the old lump is cleaned we can become a “new” (neoj) lump; that is it is as if we only recently existed – young. Often, unchecked blatant sin means that things are so bad that it might be better to start from scratch. Yet, it is really not starting anew rather it is beginning to live in accord with who they really are – “just as you are in fact unleavened.” Self reformation can’t make you new spiritually. You have been made new, now live like it.
Second (7c), the corporate body is motivated to remove the old leaven because of the sacrificial work of Christ. This is a huge principle. The cross is always the grounds for ethical behavior.
Third (8), the corporate body can live continually in harmony with the work of Christ. This is called “keeping the feast”. (during Passover they got rid of the leaven in the house, then killed the lamb, and then observed the feast). This must be done by putting away old practices (malice and wickedness) and putting on new practices (purity and truth).
The partnership didactic 9-11
In simple terms it is, do not associate with immoral people 9
In a previous letter Paul had apparently mentioned this. The Corinthians may have responded and now Paul is responding. Cant be sure about the details of this previous letter.
The term (συναναμίγνυμι) is clear; it means don’t mix up together or mingle (Thayer 5050). Illust: my ritual of making pancake batter on Sat night. Thus it implies a close relationship or intimacy. Certainly a church family would qualify. NAU 2 Thessalonians 3:14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.
This partnership prohibition is here limited to the internal setting of the church 10-11
Perhaps the Corinthians had misunderstood Paul to mean no associations with immoral people in an absolute sense. They realized that this was not possible and so ignored him.
So now Paul clarifies – he is not suggesting that they become isolationists. But relationships with immoral people in the church are another matter. It is also noteworthy that Paul expands the list. Thus he has in mind the broader principle of disassociation from flagrant sinners of all kinds in the church.
In case there is any doubt he specifically identifies who he has in mind – “any so called brother.”(11). Literally it is “anyone who is named a brother.” The point isn’t whether or not he is really a Christian. It is that everyone thinks him to be a Christian – he is part of the church.
The shocking directive to church members is that they are to cease common social interaction with this fellow professing believer. This clearly assumes that this person must be expelled from the church fellowship. In fact, the prohibition “not even to eat with such a one” means they can have more interface with the unsaved world than with him. We can associate with pagan neighbors and not partake of their sin nor give approval. But to treat a professing brother who is in open sin the same way would be to encourage him in his sin, make us partakers in sin, and tacitly approve of his sin. (Note: some argue that the “not to eat” phrase refers only to functions of the church per se – the Lords Table and fellowship meals.)
The judging didactic 12-13
In simple terms it is, the church judges the church and God judges the world. 12-13a
The church is designated by those “within” while the world is designated by those “without”. This distinction is always maintained and must not be blurred. A person is either in or out.
The church faces an impossible task. This is an overwhelming statement. The church must speak prophetically to the world, yet it cannot judge the world in the same way it judges the incestuous man. The church must be in the world but not of it. Further, the church must judge its own even though it cannot see a person’s heart. Therefore the church’s judgment is based on conduct and life habit. The church is not perfect; it cannot therefore make perfect judgments. It will make mistakes. The church is not without sin itself; yet it must pass judgment.
So in spite of everything, here is what the imperfect church must do: Verse 13 - Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. The text comes full circle – a repeat of v 2.
Now, we may not like this. It may not be popular. It may not be politically correct. It may be difficult to do. But, God demands it. So argue with God, not me. I’d prefer not to do it. But I’d also prefer to do things God’s way. Any church that refuses to do this stands in direct rebellion against the Lord of the church.
In summary, here is what we have learned in chapter 5 about church discipline…
God is more concerned about the response of the church to blatant sin in the church than about the sinner himself. Barefaced sin will come to the church! The pressing question is, what do we do about it?
To ignore or tolerate the sin is a mark of spiritual immaturity and arrogance.
God expects the church put the sinning brother out of the fellowship. This must be done carefully and compassionately yet decisively and authoritatively.
The goal of every case of excommunication is repentance and restoration.
The sinning brother’s ongoing presence in the church has a corrupting influence that will spread throughout the whole church.
Common social interaction with the excommunicated brother is inappropriate.
God demands that the church judge its own.
Certainly I have not laid out all that needs to be said regarding discipline in the church. Additional implications and practical guidelines are readily apparent from this text and from Matthew 18: 15-17 as well as from practical wisdom. However, these are the main teachings from this chapter. I am convinced that if a church will commit to living out these principles in its corporate life, it will be able to work out the details – perhaps not perfectly, but satisfactorily. Furthermore, such a church will be much further down the road toward humble obedience than most.
A closing word: This sobering situation in Corinth should cause each of us to take stock of our personal lives. Are we genuinely in the faith? Is our daily walk marked by purity and fidelity? Do we need to make course adjustments?
Paul’s admonitions to the Corinthian church should also cause a church to examine her corporate practices. Are we cultivating a culture that values a real love for the Lord? Do we promote godliness by how we confront sin in our midst?
Indeed, there is something here for all of us!
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2017. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.