This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 5:1 - 6:11
Sermon Prepared by Rev. Richard Bodini, Saskatoon, SK
Brothers and sisters of (name of church) in (town/city/village) loved by our Lord Jesus Christ and called to be saints.
Some of us might remember a day when “real discipline” took place. This is what happened. The consistory – the elders and the pastor – would confront the person who was sinning publicly in the community. They would repeatedly visit him/her. They would exhort and teach and correct. And when the person didn’t change, they applied silent censure. The individual was barred from the sacraments, from holding office, from voting, and from holding any position that the council determined could only be held by a communicant member. The consistory would pray for this person. The minister would publicly pray for a member who was unrepentant, without mentioning his/her name.
If change didn’t occur after sufficient time lapsed, the consistory would make a first announcement to the congregation with the request to pray for this unnamed person. If after continued pastoral work no change occurs, the consistory requested classis’ permission to move toward excommunication. If classis advised the council to move forward, then the second announcement was made, mentioning the person’s name. If no change took place, a final announcement was made, announcing the name of the individual and reading the form for excommunication.
Some of us might remember that being done. With the person present in church, the form for excommunication was read and the person left the fellowship. As much as we recall how painful and even ugly such discipline was, what many of us may not realize is that each step of discipline was taken with a heavy heart. The consistory and the body of believers were saddened and deeply concerned and humbled. But more importantly, each step was taken with a great deal of earnest prayer: prayer for the individual, prayer for the consistory, prayer for the congregation, and prayer for the forgiveness of sin. Discipline and excommunication may not be taken lightly. It is a “weighty” matter that requires a great deal of grace and love rooted in the truth of the gospel.
Paul had heard things through the grapevine. Unpleasant things were going on in the church of Corinth. Paul wanted to visit them and help clarify things but was unable to, for he was working in Ephesus at this time. He did the next best thing – he wrote a letter to address some of the problems before they got any worse. Paul wanted to help the people in their continued life of sanctification, the ongoing process of becoming holy.
The biggest issue in this congregation was division. In chapter 1, Paul launched into the issue that was splintering the church. He urged them to stop the flag waving and to begin to love one another and live with one another by focusing their attention and energy on preaching Christ crucified.
Finally in chapter 5 Paul gets to the main issue that plagues the Corinthian community. The divisiveness is tearing the people apart. It makes them look like a loose bunch of rebels who claim to be Christians. Paul begins with a specific problem that is not only causing division in the church, but is so troubling that pagans shake their heads in disgust! People outside of the church would have already acted! But the church just sits and watches!
What is this problem? “A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.” His step-mother! Unbelievable! The church community should be filled with grief and sadness! They should be blushing and disciplining the man. But they aren’t doing anything! Except they boast about how open and accepting they are.
Paul slaps their wrists! “Hand him over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” They should have confronted him about his sin, and compelled him to stop doing this terrible thing. They should have excommunicated him from the church community, so that once away from the fellowship he would come to realize what he had done and come to repentance so his sinful nature would be destroyed.
The pagan world had passed judgment on this sin that it knew to be utterly wrong! Incest was not accepted! Yet the Christian church in Corinth by their inaction accepted it as being “okay”! So the pagans looked at the church and labeled it as being full of “hypocrites!”
Paul describes the man’s actions with the specific Greek word porneia. We get the English word pornography from it. The word means fornication, indecent sexual activity, unlawful sexual intercourse, sexual immorality. However, this word makes us also think of other actions, such as adultery, couples living together without being married or even premarital intercourse. Paul also uses other words for such actions.
However, Paul here focuses on a specific problem, which involves a specific unnatural sexual act. And what’s even harder to believe is that this isn’t the first time Paul has dealt with this issue. Verse 9 mentions a former letter, which makes 1 Corinthians Paul’s second letter to the church. And what is appalling about this whole issue is that the Corinthians didn’t listen to his first letter. They didn’t do anything the first time. Paul had given them instructions. Either they didn’t do anything about this person. Or if they did, the person in question didn’t listen. He didn’t change his ways. Seems unbelievable!
Why don’t people change after being “lectured to” or “rebuked” or “fined”? Why doesn’t someone who has had a brush with disaster reconsider his ways for the future? How many of you have been pulled over by a police officer for speeding or something worse? You get a stern talking to or you get a ticket or they pull your license or impound your car. At what point do you learn not to do what you did wrong?
Or maybe your basketball coach keeps barking at you to move your feet rather than use your hands to stop the opposition. Do you start moving your feet? Do you gather more energy and effort to do the right thing?
Interestingly this one Corinthian man didn’t change. So Paul “barks” at the church to instruct him again to teach him, to discipline him on this painful, divisive subject.
In verse 11 Paul provides direct and clear instructions. “Do not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, a swindler...” Do not associate. That is, do not talk to. Do not hang out with. Do not interact with. Do not be mixed up with. Pretty clear instructions! The Corinthians shouldn’t get it wrong this time around.
“Do not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother or sister in the Lord,” that is a fellow Christian. Do not hang out with anyone who calls himself a Christian and who continues to be … and then Paul lists six specific sins. Why this list? Are they perhaps part of the cultural or current situation for the Corinthians? Are there perhaps other sinful actions within the community that are creating more division? We aren’t told. More than likely Paul knows about some other current sins from his grapevine sources. So he is cutting things off before they turn ugly and get worse for the community. These sins are outwardly visible. Just like the sin of the one man in the community.
The first sin Paul lists is the one that is visibly plaguing the community. Do not associate with someone who calls himself a Christian but is sexually immoral, one who practices unnatural sexual relations. The second sin identified is greediness. It describes a person who is selfish, self-seeking, self-serving, and hungry for even more. Thirdly, the apostle speaks of idolatry, committed by one who is an idol worshiper. Idol worship was very common in Corinth. There were various temples and shrines dedicated to many different gods located in the city. The church folk of Corinth used to be actively involved in such worship before becoming Christians.
Furthermore, Paul mentions a slanderer, a verbal abuser and a liar. Such a person would tell lies about other people behind their backs in order to destroy their character. Another one mentioned here is a drunkard, one who drinks alcohol excessively or who drinks too often, all for the wrong reasons. Then he mentions a swindler, one who attacks the weak and forcibly takes what is not his own. Such a person is a cheat and a liar who makes up stories to gain riches at the expense of others--one who says one thing, but does another thing to his own advantage.
Do not associate with those who call themselves Christians, but who continue to live a sinful way of life. “Don’t even eat with them,” he says. Paul. This could mean either do not sit at the Lord’s Table with them or do not share any sort of private meal with them. This is important, especially when it comes to helping someone such as a friend, a child, or a parent who continues to live in sin. Is Paul telling us not to meet with them? Not to spend time with them whatsoever? In fact, to cut them off from the community?
Why this instruction? Especially since discipling and teaching needs to be done for this individual! How can instruction and correction and guidance take place if Paul tells them “do not associate with” him? Here is the key point. Do not eat or associate with the wicked person, that is, with those who continue to live in sin, even after being warned or instructed for a sufficient period of time. Paul gives this instruction because when a true Christian has an intimate association with someone who lives this way, the non-Christian person may assume that the church approves such immoral, ungodly living and thus the name of Christ would be dishonored. Questions would arise concerning the true character of the Christian’s own testimony.
Paul makes clear that we do not judge those “of the world.” Don’t concern yourself with them. Instead, worry about those who belong to your church community. Judge them! However, those of the world will always judge the church. They will always observe its members carefully. Questioning! Judging! If those of the world observe and conclude that people in the church are acting and living like they do, then their own lifestyle must be okay!
But that’s not what the church preaches! That’s not what Christians need to say! So Paul’s instructions are harsh! Blunt! “Do not associate with them!” And Paul’s final word – without explanation – is that when a member of the Christian community persists and continues to live a lifestyle that is contrary to the Christian way then you are to “Expel the wicked person from among you!” Kick him out!
How does this apply to us? Does it?
Every minister, consistory, and church council have spent a great deal of time reflecting on, talking about, praying about, and considering “discipline and discipling” in the church community. It’s never easy! It’s never straight-forward or simple! However, it’s an important calling within the Christian community, as it helps to mature individuals members within the Christian community.
So what do we do? Should we directly transfer Paul’s list to our situation in the church today? Do we add or remove sins from this list? Should we focus on one sin more than on others? Do we punish certain sins more harshly than others? Do we follow Paul’s instructions exactly? It isn’t easy!
So what do we do? Let’s start with the list of sins that Paul mentions to the Corinthians and then apply them to our particular situation. Let’s address individuals who continue to live in such sins. Speak to them words of correction. Teach them, exhort them, rebuke them, and work pastorally with them. We need to be diligent in our work with those who willingly persist in a sinful lifestyle.
However, when the church tolerates all kinds of sin, when it accepts immoral living, the church loses its voice in the world. It loses its credibility to speak with authority. Thus the church needs standards, rules, and guidelines by which to live and act. It’s not that Christians are morally superior or should act in a snobbish manner. After all, Christians are sinners too. It’s just we acknowledge our sin and shortcomings because we know and love Jesus who is our Savior and example. It becomes increasingly obvious that we all fall way short of the mark. And so we must continuously try with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives and moves within us to take small steps towards following God’s instructions, guidelines and rules. These are His standards we are holding up as a goal. We should not at any time “remove” any of these guidelines. Nor should we water down sin so that it becomes less serious and easier for us to live with especially when our children our involved.
We could probably add many more sins besides the ones Paul mentions here. However, Paul’s list covers some of the “public” sins that if Christians were caught doing them unbelievers would accuse Christians of being “hypocrites.”
So what are we, elders and fellow Christians to do? We need to continue to work with individuals endlessly, sharing with them the truth of the gospel, loving them, and showing them grace. At the same time, when those who call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ continually ignore God’s Word, continually persist in their sin, and when they ignore our pleas, our instruction, our requests to repent, then we need to seriously consider not associating with them. Not to eat or drink or walk with them. This isn’t easy, especially when they are “friends” and call themselves a brother or sister in Christ.
In fact, their ongoing sinful actions demonstrate that they want no part of the Christian community. They have removed themselves from the family of faith. So the community also needs to distance itself for its own sake, which is never easy! We turn them out or let them go and (we should shudder to think of it) but we hand them over to Satan. We “expel the wicked person.” We hope and praying that they will wake up from their slumber.
This is never easy... especially when it involves our children, our own flesh and blood. No one wants to do this. In fact, we try to keep it as quiet as long as we can. It’s the last thing anyone wants to do at a consistory meeting. But discipline has to be done! It’s vital for the health of the individual and for the community. The act of “expelling” is not a vendetta against parents or a family or an individual. It is doing what God wants us to do. It’s about the individual and the church. It is always a sad and difficult day when this is done. And it is always performed with a heavy heart.
Is there any hope for the person? Of course, when there is repentance, there is hope. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul speaks of forgiveness. When a person shows that he has repented from his wayward actions, from his sins, and wishes to return to the Lord, we must demonstrate in word and deed that he is forgiven. We fling the doors wide open and embrace him and welcome him back home, as the father did to the prodigal son in Luke 15.
The Truth is that sin needs to be punished in a loving way and sometimes that involves difficult actions, like expelling the straying and wicked person. Love is what God demonstrates to us in forgiveness. And it’s what He does in punishment for sin. Grace is what the blood of Jesus Christ does for the sinner. The truth is our sins have been wiped away by a loving God through the gracious action of our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN.
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
- Welcome and Announcements
- Call to Worship: Psalm 96:1-3
- Opening Song “God You Call Us to this Place” (Sing a New Creation 14)
OR PsH241 This the Day
- God’s Greeting: “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen.”
- Songs of Praise: PsH548 When We Walk with the Lord
PsH183 With Grateful Heart My Thanks I Bring
GOD REMINDS US OF HIS GRACE
- Leader: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
People: If we claim to have fellowship with him
Yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
Leader: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
We have fellowship with one another,
And the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
- Men: Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Women: Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
All: Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us your peace.
- Hymn of Response: PsH498 I Sought the Lord, and Afterward I Knew
- God’s Guide for Holy Living Psalter Hymnal page 1014 (or read Exodus 20, the 10 Commandments)
GOD SHAPES US THROUGH HIS WORD
- Prayer for Illumination – adapted from Psalm 19:14 “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.”
- Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 5:1-6:11
- Sermon: “Expelling the Wicked Person... Grace, Love, and The Truth!”
WE RESPOND TO GOD’S SHAPING
- Prayer of Application: “Gracious and loving Father. Thank you for your Word. As difficult as it is to understand it and then to live it, may your Spirit guide us in carrying it out. Help us to love others. To show you grace to them as we teach them. Help us to speak your Truth. Always realizing that we stand under the guidance of your Word. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.”
- Song of Response: PsH528 Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak
- Morning Prayer
GOD SENDS US OUT INTO HIS WORLD
- God’s Parting Blessing: “May the Lord bless us and keep us. May He make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. May He turn His face towards us and grant us His peace. Amen.”
- Our Parting Praise: PsH638 Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow