1 Corinthians 5:9 – 13  “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.’ “

     What does this passage of scripture mean?  How do we apply it?  Have we been applying it in our churches?  There are so many questions that arise out of Paul’s instructions on how to deal with blatant immorality in the church. The immorality that he was addressing was indeed blatant; “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (v. 1,2)

   The Forerunner Commentary describes the problem; “Did the fornicator think that his singular actions were affecting the whole congregation? Not only did he not think so, but neither did the whole congregation! None of them, it seems, understood how his sin was having a damaging effect upon them! We, however, must begin to think in this way. We are one body, and what each part does and how he does it affects the efficiency, effectiveness, and purity of the whole. In Corinth it played a major role in puffing up, confusing, and dividing the congregation—jeopardizing the spiritual health of all!”

   Matthew Henry describes how the rot of pride eats away at the integrity of a fellowship; “Spiritual pride and false doctrines tend to bring in, and to spread such scandals. How dreadful the effects of sin! The devil reigns where Christ does not. And a man is in his kingdom, and under his power, when not in Christ. The bad example of a man of influence is very mischievous; it spreads far and wide. Corrupt principles and examples, if not corrected, would hurt the whole church. Believers must have new hearts, and lead new lives.”  Spiritual pride is the deadlier aspect of this problem.

    

And here’s the real problem.  If a fellowship isn’t mature and committed to the Gospel of God’s Word then it will not have the capacity to deal with sin in its midst.  One of two things are likely to happen.  Spiritual pride will manifest itself as permissiveness as it did among the Corinthians; “. . . a flagrant abuse, winked at by the Corinthians. Party spirit, and a false notion of Christian liberty, seem to have saved the offender from censure.” (Matthew Henry)  Or spiritual pride will manifest itself in the form of a self-righteous mob as it did with the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus (John 8:1-11).

     Thankfully we can examine the Scriptures and see how Jesus dealt with this woman caught in a blatant sin.   The Pharisees as self-styled guardians of the virtue of their community wanted her stoned and wanted to trap Jesus as well.   What did Jesus do?  He had to balance the need to preserve the integrity of the Law and the community who claimed to be living by it. And He had to live out His Gospel message to the world in keeping with His mission from God.  His reply to the Pharisees covered the community’s integrity (and lack of it); “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7)

     His reply to the woman expressed the Gospel to this woman who God sent Jesus to save and had  no accommodation or compromise for sin; “‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’” (John 8:10,11)  The Gospel calls us to mercy.  Jesus calls us to confront with love not hate and condemnation.  His Word will do what man made justice and retribution can never do.  We must not idolize our own works and rules and ignore His compassion.   His example precludes such actions.

     If our only response to sin among us is to condemn those struggling with it and purging them with no mercy we are nothing more than a Pharisaical mob professing an ‘anti-Gospel’.  Nor can we ‘wink at sin’ and be permissive because that also injures those whom Jesus has sent to His church for healing.  In a very real way Paul was right in telling the Corinthians to expel the fornicator from their midst because neither they nor the transgressor was getting any good from their association.  Although Paul had the community’s spiritual health in mind, he still holds out hope for the man’s spirit; “. . . deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthian 5:5)  A spiritually sick man can’t get better among those who are just as spiritually sick as he is – the infection just spreads and grows worse.

     Each of us is a temple to the Lord;  “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) .  As the Holy Spirit inhabits us that which is sick and diseased in us is expelled slowly and surely.  Jesus tells us that it is in our own temple that we should start Paul’s process of cleaning out;  “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)  As I cast out the gross fat of my sin and self-righteousness I will be able to contend with my brothers.  But until I lose the dead weight of my own pride in self I am not up to the task.

     For every one of us we must face what John the Baptist accepted; “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)  Until the Holy Spirit works in me putting away the evil person within me I am not fit to pronounce any judgement upon another.  Until this process of decreasing proceeds to its completion in me I will share His Word with any sinner as a brother in the fellowship of the hope that Gospel gives us all without condemnation and without compromise!

     Praise the Lord!

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