June 23, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
Don’t condone immorality
1 Corinthians 5
Laina and I raised 5 kids, and they all turned out pretty darn good! We had a basic plan for dealing with bad behavior. Teach, warn, discipline. First we would teach—we want to make sure the child understands the behavior we want, and why the other behavior is unacceptable. Second, if the bad behavior continued, we would give a warning. “We taught you, now we’re warning you: do it again and you’ll get consequences.” Third, if they did it again, we disciplined. We reminded them of the teaching and the warning, and then dropped the hammer. Time out. Loss of privileges. No food or water for a week. And an occasional spanking—very rare in our house.
Why did we discipline? Because we loved them and wanted the best for them, and sometimes, that’s how we learn.
Today, we’re going to read about a shocking sin, and a drastic response—a man is kicked out of the church! Why? Believe it or not, it was the loving thing to do.
Welcome to a Glorious Mess! That title describes the condition of the church in the Greek city of Corinth in the first century. In some ways, it describes every church. Every church is glorious because it is the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the family of God. Every church is glorious because of Jesus. And every church is a mess because of us. The problem with the church is me—and you! We bring to the church all of our baggage and sin and dysfunction. I always tell people that if you’re looking for the perfect church and find it, don’t go there—you’ll ruin it!
Every church is a glorious mess, and so is every Christian. God is doing something wonderful in you, but you are a work in progress. We are like Spokane streets—in a constant state of repair! But what God is doing in you is beautiful. He is making you more like Jesus. So you are a glorious mess too!
This summer we are reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, this Glorious Mess—one chapter a week. And today we come to chapter 5, where Paul addresses a very messy situation. A man is sleeping with his step-mom and the church was proud! This is a Mess—capital M!
I’m going to read the chapter, pausing to explain a few things, and then we’re going to look at two issues: the sexual issue and the church issue. Let me tell you ahead of time: fasten your seat belts! This chapter will challenge some of your thinking in a big way—prepare for some mental turbulence!
The Big Idea: Christians live with clear sexual boundaries in a culture that has blurred them. And we love each other enough to tell the truth.
Here is 1 Corinthians 5.
1 Corinthians 5
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. 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? 3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
Paul states the problem: a man in the church is having an ongoing sexual relationship with his step-mom. Now Corinth was a city known for its fast and loose sexual morals—in fact, the Greeks coined a word, “to corinthianize”, meaning, “to live an immoral lifestyle.” Think of Las Vegas—it’s called “Sin City.” What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Corinth was the Sin City of its day. And yet even in Sin City, this was a shocking form of sexual immorality! Even the pagans—the non-Christians—rejected this kind of behavior.
And yet the church was proud. We don’t know if Paul is referring to their pride in general—it’s been an issue all through this letter. “This is happening, and you’re still proud of how spiritual you are?” Or he might be referring to their pride specifically about this: “See what an open-minded, grace-filled church we are! We accept anyone!”
Instead of being proud, they should have been filled with grief as though someone had died, and put the man out of their fellowship. So Paul commands them to meet together in the name of Jesus, and knowing that Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan. This means they should kick him out of the church. The world was considered the domain of Satan, and the church the domain of God. (See verses on the outline; here’s one.)
Colossians 1:13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,
To be kicked out of the church was to be returned to the “dominion of darkness”. But notice that the purpose was not punitive or vengeful; it was to save the man: “so that his sinful nature might be destroyed and his spirit saved.” There was another reason to boot him out.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
Paul uses the familiar image of yeast spreading through a batch of dough. In the New Testament, yeast (or leaven) is almost always a symbol for sin and its pervasive influence, as it is here. Condone sin in the church and before long it will spread everywhere. What is at stake is the purity and life of the whole church, and its witness in the world.
Sin spreads. It is like a cancer. What do you with a cancer? You cut it out. You kill it. You take radical steps to get rid of it, because if you don’t, it will spread and kill you.
ILL: Sin spreads. Let me give you a couple examples I’ve observed.
When I was in the sixth grade, I was trying to impress my cousin, who was a beautiful girl and a senior in high school. So trying to sound grown up, I said a bad word. And she slapped me so hard that she almost knocked my head off! Then she said, “Don’t you ever talk like that to a lady.” And then she marched off. Today, profanity is everywhere. No one cares if you’re a lady—in fact, lots of ladies swear like sailors!
Clark Gable was fined for saying, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” in Gone with the Wind. It was 1939, and it was the first swear word ever in a movie. One little word opened the door—and now movies are filled with F-bombs!
When I was in high school, it was unheard of for couples to live together without being married. People did it—but it was shameful and wasn’t talked about. Today, it’s not only accepted, but expected—despite the fact that sociological studies have consistently shown that cohabitation reduces your chances of a successful marriage!
Sin spreads. As soon as we condone one small sinful behavior, it spreads and grows.
So Paul is concerned for the life of this church, and he says, “Don’t tolerate sin. Root it out.”
He uses the Passover as an illustration. The Jews would begin the Feast of Unleavened Bread by getting rid of any leaven in their houses. In the same way, this church needed to get rid of this sin. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has already been sacrificed, so get rid of the leaven!
9 I have written 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 you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
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 man from among you.”
Evidently Paul had written an earlier letter, which is lost to us. He cites some advice he gave them in that letter—don’t associate with sexually immoral people—which seems to have been misunderstood. Perhaps some people in Corinth had said, “Here’s another example of Paul’s foolishness. How can we not associate with immoral people? This is Corinth! Sin City! The only way we could do this is to leave the world.”
So Paul clarifies: “I didn’t mean the people in the world; I meant Christians. Don’t associate with Christians who are living immoral lives. With such a man do not even eat.” Sharing a meal then, as now, was a primary social interaction that indicated friendship and acceptance. “Let’s grab lunch.” “Let’s do dinner.” We’re friends. But Paul says that when a Christian continues to sin, it’s time to confront.
Paul concludes with these rhetorical questions. “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” None. “Are you not to judge those inside?” The answer, surprising to many of us, is “yes.” God will judge those outside, but we need to judge those inside—when they are guilty of this kind of sin that threatens and endangers everyone.
He finishes by quoting Deuteronomy 17:7 and 24:7. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
There’s the overview, and you can see that this chapter raises some tough issues that we’re still dealing with 20 centuries later. How do we live a moral life in an immoral world? How do our lives affect our witness in the world? How do our lives affect the rest of the church? How are we representing Jesus? Remember, last week we talked about Paul’s appeal, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” I said that it doesn’t mean we’re perfect—but it also means that we’re dealing with our stuff. We can’t let this kind of behavior—sin that everyone knows is wrong—go unchallenged.
1. The sexual issue: Christians live with high sexual standards.
I told you that Corinth was Sin City, especially sexually. Demosthenes wrote of Roman and Greek culture in general, “Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children.” Corinth was worse. In such a sexual free-for-all, Christian moral standards were not easily absorbed by new converts. The Corinthian Christians had all come out of this culture, and brought these values and this understanding of sexuality with them into the church.
The same thing is happening today. I would estimate that ¾ of the couples who come to us for premarital training are already living together and having sex. We show them what the Bible says and ask them to separate and be chaste until their wedding. Many of them agree and do it. Some of them think we’re crazy. “It’s the 21st Century!” they say. “It’s God’s word,” we say, “and it’s true whatever the century.”
How to live a moral life in an immoral world is always an issue for Christians, but especially in our Corinthianized culture. Sex is considered a recreational activity—not much different than bowling or going out to dinner. It is just another physical appetite to be satisfied: if you’re thirsty, drink; if you’re hungry, eat; if you’re horny, have sex. This results in relationships that are casual, temporary, selfish, and destructive. This casual attitude toward sex has infiltrated the entire culture—television, movies, magazines, the internet, video games—it’s everywhere. It is the atmosphere in which we live our lives, and we are more affected by it than we realize. Just like the Corinthians, we bring these values with us into the church when we become Christians.
We need God to transform us and our thinking and our values.
Romans 12:1–2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
We need to be transformed!
The Bible has very high and very clear sexual standards. Sex is intended for marriage. Period. Any and all sexual relationships outside of marriage are wrong—they are sinful. So adultery—sex with someone else’s spouse—is wrong. Pre-marital sex is wrong. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is doing it—Christians don’t. Jesus calls us to a higher standard. Incest is wrong. Prostitution is wrong. Pornography is wrong. Any and all sex outside a monogamous marriage is wrong. On your outline, I’ve listed some of the verses in the New Testament that address this.
I do regular series on what the Bible says about sex; the last one was “Sex and the City” in 2011. You can find it online or get cd’s at the info center. If this is a new idea to you and you want to find out more about what the Bible says about sexual standards, listen to that series.
But the short answer is: sex is for marriage; any sex outside marriage is wrong.
Paul was shocked at this particular sin—incest—and many of us are too. But Paul was even more shocked at the church’s response. They were proud. And even though they knew what was going on, no one did anything about it. At best, they turned a blind eye. At worst, they approved! But no one did anything to stop it.
How could they be proud of this behavior? Perhaps they saw themselves as non-judgmental, accepting and full of grace—all wonderful qualities. One commenter suggested they might have said:
“We’re a broad-minded church. As long as he stays active in the church and does his part, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what he does in private. Besides, while he’s a lot younger than she is they seem to have a meaningful relationship. What they really need from us is affirmation and not judgment.” Sound familiar?
Paul said that rather than being proud, they should have grieved. The word is mourning for someone who has died. It is intense grief. Is that your response when you see a fellow Christian sin? Do you understand how holy God is, and how awful sin is? Sin—our rebellion against God—is what broke our relationship with God. Jesus died on a cross to pay the penalty for our sin and reconcile us to God. When you understand all this, your response to sin—your own or another Christian’s—should be grief.
“Lord, I’m sorry. This is awful. What should I do?”
Do you grieve when you see yourself or other Christians sinning—or do you just not care? “Oh well.”
Jeremiah spoke to the Jews about their indifference. Their leaders, like the Corinthians, just looked the other way.
Jeremiah 6:14–15 They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. 15 Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.
“Peace, peace—it’s all ok.” But it’s not. There is a cancer growing. Someone needs to care. Someone needs to take action. But we’ve lost our sense of shame. We don’t even know how to blush.
Friends, if you are serious about following Jesus, you need to take seriously what the Bible says about sex. You are marching to a different drummer. You are following Jesus and He calls us to sexual purity. If you are struggling with this, we have help available. We have groups that deal with sexual purity. Get to a group; get some help; and live like a Christian! Christians live with clear sexual boundaries in a culture that has blurred them.
That’s the sexual issue. Even bigger was the church issue.
2. The church issue: Christians hold each other to high standards.
If the Christian sexual standard didn’t rattle your cage, this probably will. Paul expects Christians to hold each other to these high standards. He expects us to love each other enough to tell each other the truth, to confront one another when we’re doing wrong. And he expects that love to be so strong that the threat of losing it would shake someone to their senses and cause them to repent!
Here’s our first problem. “Are you not to judge those inside the church?” How many of you read that and think, “No, we’re not.” Didn’t Jesus tell us not to judge?
Matthew 7:1–5 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 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.
So what’s going on? Do Paul and Jesus disagree? Jesus says, “don’t judge,” and Paul says we ought to judge those inside the church—other Christians.
This a great example of why we need to read Scripture in context—both it’s local context and the larger context of the whole Bible.
Jesus warns us against judging others when we have the same issues—only worse. If you’ve got a 2X4 sticking out of your eye, you shouldn’t be critical of the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye. Take care of your own stuff!
Paul is addressing a very different situation: a group of Christians who refuse to do anything about blatant sin happening in the church. They do need to judge. They need to call a spade a spade. They need to take care of their stuff too!
This “don’t judge” scripture gets misused all the time. Point out to someone that they are doing something wrong—a clear violation of Scripture—and they’ll say, “You’re judging me. Don’t judge.” I suppose that if I pointed out your sin with a holier-than-thou attitude, just to shame you or make myself look good, then you’d be right in saying that. But if I point out your sin to help you, to save you from trouble, that’s the kind of judgment you should welcome. “Thank you!”
ILL: Have you ever seen someone driving the wrong way down a one-way street? What do you? You wave at them and tell them, “Stop! You’re going the wrong way!” You’re trying to save them from an accident or a ticket. And what do they say? “Thank you!” I’ve never had one say, “You’re judging me. Don’t judge.”
Now was I judging them? Yes. To say “you are going the wrong way,” is a judgment. Any time you say, “this is wrong; that is right,” that’s a judgment. But in this case, it’s a true judgment, a helpful judgment, a judgment that any sensible person would welcome and be grateful for. That’s what Paul is telling us to do. Warn your brother or sister in Christ, “You’re going the wrong way!”
But if you’re driving the wrong way too—well, you better get turned around yourself before you try to help someone else. That’s what Jesus was talking about—before you judge, take out that plank! Get turned around yourself!
We all have to make judgments: what is right and what is wrong. The question is your motive. Are you doing it to help another person, or just to put them down and exalt yourself? We should learn to welcome the loving judgment of our fellow Christians.
ILL: Several years ago, I got angry during a staff meeting. I didn’t blow up or yell, but everyone could tell I was mad, and the discussion came to a screeching halt.
Afterward, my associate pastor and life-long friend, Rick, pulled me aside and said, “You can’t do that. You can’t get angry like that. You ruined that meeting and sent everyone away with their heads down. You have to keep that under control for the sake of the whole staff.”
I said, “You’re judging me. Jesus said ‘don’t judge.’”
No. I said, “Thank you. You know that I’ve struggled with my temper for years. Would you help me with this and pray for me?”
I’m happy to say that with the Lord’s help and Rick’s help, I’ve done better.
The next time someone judges you—points out something wrong—rather than reacting, thank her. Then pray about it and ask God to help you make the changes you need to make.
Notice that we’re to judge each other—in the church—and not those outside. Why? We are following Jesus and living by a different standard; we are to hold each other to that standard, but can’t expect those who aren’t Christians to live by it. Christians are held to a higher standard—we’re following Jesus. When you sign up to follow Jesus, you are signing up for this higher standard, and asking your fellow-Christians to help you live it!
One more troublesome thing: Paul tells them to kick this guy out of the church! That’s hard for many of us. Where’s the love? But notice Paul’s reasons.
First, do it so the man would be saved. The excommunication was an act of love, designed to get his attention and bring him to repentance. It wasn’t punishment or rejection; it was love and salvation.
Second, do it so the church would be preserved. This particular sin was so egregious that it threatened the whole church. The whole church’s witness in the world was threatened by it. And because sin spreads, to let this slide meant that other sexual sin would be accepted and before long the church would be ruined.
It was a big deal, and it called for radical action for the good of everyone.
I think it has to be assumed, that before this guy was kicked out of the church, they practiced what Jesus taught in Matthew 18.
Matthew 18:15–17 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
First, someone goes one on one to talk with him. If that doesn’t work, then a small group goes to talk with him. If that doesn’t work, then the whole church appeals to him. And if that doesn’t work, step four is to boot him out and treat him as an unbeliever—still with the hope of restoring him.
Here’s my experience in this: most people will never get to step 3. They either repent in step one or two, or they leave the church. Which leads me to another observation.
This passage also says something really interesting about the life of the early church. Evidently, being kicked out of the church was such a loss, such a terrible thing that it would lead a person to quickly repent. “Oh no. I can’t lose this. I want to follow Jesus. I want to be part of this family.” The community of faith was so tight that no one wanted to be booted.
Today, if a person is asked to leave a church, one of two things is likely to happen.
First, they might just go down the street or across town to another church where they’ll be welcomed. No big deal…and no repentance.
Second, they may just quit church altogether. No big deal…no loss…I didn’t really like going to church anyway.
Both of these are sad commentaries on the state of the church today.
I’d love to be part of a church that was so loving, so connected, so life-giving, that to be kicked out would be a disaster! You’d never want to be kicked out!
Let’s be that kind of church. Let’s be Christians that are all in for following Jesus. Let’s be Christians who welcome loving correction from others. And let’s be Christians who are willing to give it. Let’s be Christians who love each other and help each other follow Jesus and be all He wants us to be.