The Pursuit of God

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Applying 1 Corinthians 5: Remove the Rebel

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This is a continuation of Applying 1 Corinthians 4.

Don’t be doing it with your stepmom. She’s your father’s wife. Plus she’s holding a parental role in your life. Making out with her is wrong on so many levels. Paul is horrified to hear that not only is someone in the Corinthian church making out with his stepmom, but that the whole community is rallying around this guy like he’s some kind of wonderful. What is wrong with these people?!

I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do! I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship. (1 Cor. 5:1-2)

It’s more than a little discouraging for Paul to hear that a church he worked so hard to plant is collapsing like a wet taco. But then again, can we really go flying in and out of people’s lives on some quick evangelistic trip and then think that’s good enough? Spiritual maturity is a lifelong process. It is the result of the Holy Spirit changing us as we voluntarily choose to keep saying “yes” to Him on a soul level. The reality is that most of us stop saying yes somewhere along the way—often very early on in our journeys. Another reality is that human beings are chronic liars. Of all the people who Paul heard make public confessions of faith in Christ, how many actually meant what they said? The raging carnality in this church makes it clear that many of these so-called believers aren’t all that interested in honoring God. When we’re serious about God, we still mess up, but we care when we do. From what Paul has heard, it sounds like there is a large crop of Corinthians who don’t care at all. How has it become such public knowledge that some guy is sleeping with his stepmom? Obviously there is some flaunting going on.

Given that the city of Corinth was a cesspool of immorality, Paul is dealing the believers in Corinth a low blow when he says that they are outperforming the pagans with their sexual perversity. The Roman Empire was notorious for sexual perversion, but apparently even the Romans were maintaining some lines about who they would sleep with.

Even though I am not with you in person, I am with you in the Spirit. And as though I were there, I have already passed judgment on this man in the Name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 5:3-4)

This business about Paul being two places at once is utter rubbish. We humans are very limited beings who are bound by time and space. We can only be in one place at a time. We can’t cast our spirits about the earth or magically transport ourselves other places. So no, Paul isn’t present at Corinth in any way.

Now in our last chapter, we learned that Paul considers himself to be the ultimate ruling authority over the church in Corinth just because he founded it. In this self-appointed role, he now casts judgment on the man who is flaunting his sexual perversion in the Name of the Lord Jesus.

Notice how Paul casts judgment “in the Name of the Lord Jesus.” Today we love to throw God’s Name around as a way saying that everyone has to agree with us. But talk is cheap, and you need to check with God before you accept that any sermon, prophecy, or judgment is actually from Him. Jesus’ Name is so regularly abused in the Church today that we rarely hear it being attached to something that Jesus actually said.

You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 5:4)

Don’t let this language confuse you. Jesus’ power isn’t ever “not present” somewhere. As popular as it is today to insult our Creators by asking Them to blow through the room, fall down, or rise up, we need to remember that our Gods are not wind, rain, or rockets. They don’t blow, They don’t fall, and They don’t rise. Their attributes are not objects, either. So when Paul says “the power of Jesus will be present with you”, we have to ask where he thinks Jesus’ power will be before the Corinthians call their church meeting. Is Jesus’ power going to be on a walk somewhere? Or maybe taking a nap? It’s statements like these that result in all kinds of misconceptions about how things really work, and those misconceptions can result in some very dangerous delusions.

Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns. (1 Cor. 5:5)

Here’s more bad theology which is put out by a man who thinks Satan runs the world. Though he is supposed to be an expert in the Old Testament, Paul has somehow missed one of the most glaring themes in the Old Testament, which is the sovereignty of Yahweh. Yahweh doesn’t just reign over some things, He reigns over all things. It is Yahweh (along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit) who disciplines people, not Satan. The picture Paul is painting here is very deceptive: he’s suggesting humans have the ability to hand other humans over to demons. No, we certainly do not. And as much as we like to get on power trips with our excommunication games today, driving someone out of our church community does not mean God turns His back on that person. God does not take orders from us.

In one sentence, Paul has managed to put forth a whole mess of dangerous lies. First, he suggests that humans can hand other humans over to Satan. Then he says that the man’s sinful nature will be destroyed—by who? Satan? Our earthsuits crave evil and this will never change. We won’t be free of these earthsuits until we die, so no, our sinful nature will not be destroyed.

So once this man is handed over to Satan, how does he end up being saved when God returns? There is no mention of the man repenting. This is very sloppy teaching on Paul’s part. Under the New Covenant, salvation can only be obtained through sincere submission to Christ as God. Repentance is a willful choice of the soul, and it has nothing to do with our sinful nature being destroyed. Banning someone from a church community does not at all guarantee that the man will get saved or repent. He might decide to keep wallowing in rebellion his whole life.

So is it ever appropriate to throw someone out of a church community? Absolutely. Church is supposed to be a place where we go to encourage each other to pursue God with all that we are. Those who want to flaunt their rebellion should not be tolerated, because they will just encourage the weak to follow in their bad example. The Church is not supposed to be some extension of the world, it is supposed to be different from the world.

The main reason to throw someone out of a church community is to protect those in the community from a corruptive influence. Just as a father shouldn’t tolerate his son cussing him out under his own roof, we Christians shouldn’t stand around doing nothing while God is being publicly dishonored in a place where we come for the purpose of worshiping Him. Now in real life, we often swing to legalistic extremes when it comes to driving people away. We also go overboard by not only banning people from our services, but also treating them as subhuman when we run into them in public. Then we go a step further by making up lies about how God revokes salvation from those who we excommunicate. God does not condone such carnal behavior.

The only time it is appropriate to ban someone from our assemblies is when the Holy Spirit tells us to do so. The only time He will give such direction is when the offender is flaunting an attitude of willful defiance towards God and encouraging others to do the same. This is what was happening in Corinth. The offender in this situation was not some shrinking violet who was trying to keep his sin a secret. He was advertising it and somehow convincing others to support his behavior. The situation has gotten so out of hand that Paul describes the Corinthians as actually boasting about the perversity in their midst.

Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

One haughty rebel can do a lot of damage to a community of believers. People are sheep and they follow confident voices regardless of what those voices are saying. Paul says that getting rid of the offender in Corinth will be like giving the whole community a fresh start. Well, not quite. Later on in this letter we’ll discover that the church in Corinth has a lot more problems than one haughty adulterer.

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. (1 Cor. 5:9-11)

It’s when we start misapplying labels that serious damage starts being done. When we start calling the Bible “inerrant” even though it contains errors of many kinds, then we start heading down the path of idolatry by treating a mere book as a higher authority than God Himself. When we label lies as “truth”, by saying every word that Paul wrote came directly from the Holy Spirit, we end up with serious delusions. When we claim to be “devoted Christians” while we publicly mock God, we end up confusing and disillusioning the spiritually young. In this passage, Paul is saying, “Of course unbelievers will wallow in sin—that’s a given. When I said don’t associate with sinners, I wasn’t talking about unbelievers, because that’s most of the world. What I mean is that you shouldn’t associate with hardened rebels—guys who claim to be believers while they flaunt their immorality in your face. Those are the people who will be a dangerous influence in your life, so stay away from them.”

One Christian talks about his struggle with homosexuality at the midweek bible study yet he keeps his behavior chaste in public. Another Christian shows up at church every Sunday holding hands with his boyfriend and getting all touchy feely during the sermon. There is a big difference between these two men. The first one is trying to honor God, the second one is flaunting his rebellious attitude. The fact that we are struggling with sin is never the problem. It’s our attitude that we are judged by.

One Christian alcoholic really wants to honor God, but total sobriety is just too far out of reach. Now and then he loses it and gets completely plastered. Should we ban such a man from the community? Certainly not, because his heart is in the right place. But another Christian is in a state of rebellion. He’s constantly defending his right to get drunk and he keeps trying to talk the first man into coming to bars with him. This second fellow needs to be given a stern talking to, and if he refuses to shape up, he needs to get out. We should not be accommodating willful rebellion in our church gatherings.

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. Yahweh will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:12-13)

When He was laying down His Old Covenant Laws, Yahweh spelled out several situations in which an offender was to be banned from the Israelite community. Other times He ordered immediate execution. The goal was always the same: stop it before it spreads.

The Church today is in serious need of a spine transplant. She has completely caved in to Satan and thrown godly discipline out the window. Instead of telling hardened rebels to take a hike, we buy rainbow colored banners that say we are an “affirming church”. And what exactly are we affirming? We’re affirming that we applaud those who want to spit in the face of our Gods.

Today the Church is doing things completely backwards. She’s affirming rebellion and banning obedience. If a preacher obeys the Holy Spirit by delivering a politically incorrect message, the church board demands that he publicly apologize for his obnoxious behavior. If someone complains about two gay elders holding hands during the Sunday service, they are invited to take their unloving attitude elsewhere. Satan understands the power of labels. He knows that if he can relabel willful defiance as affirming, everyone will be afraid to speak against it. If he can relabel irreverence as Christlike, suddenly no one dares to speak against it. Today if you call Paul’s idiotic teaching by its rightful name, you’re labeled as a demonic rebel. But if you call his idiotic teaching Divinely inspired, then you’re asked to lead Sunday School. This is where we are at because the Bride of Christ has climbed into bed with Satan. But you don’t have to follow her rotten example. You can’t change the whole Church, but you certainly don’t have to affirm the rot that she affirms, and you don’t have to insult your Lords by saying all the lies we find written about Them in the New Testament were God-breathed. You can choose to be a discerning Christian who sifts through letters like 1 Corinthians and realizes that it is a mixed bag. Paul is a pompous man who puts out a lot of guff, but now and then he says something that’s worth keeping. When Paul says the church leaders in Corinth ought to be ashamed about how slack they’re being with the discipline, he’s right.

UP NEXT: Applying 1 Corinthians 6: Stop with the Suing & the Sex

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