The church in Corinth faced many problems. Remember the list?
- Sexual sin in the church
- Lawsuits among the members
- Questions about being married to an unsaved spouse.
- The role of the sexes in the church.
- Questions about giving.
- Questions about how far is too far into sin.
- The proper use of spiritual gifts in the services.
- Questions about the return of the Lord.
The apostle Paul founded the church at Corinth. A delegation came from Corinth to ask Paul’s direction on the issues listed. It is interesting to me that the issues of division, sexual sin and lawsuits among the believers were not in the letter sent by the church. These Paul learned about through eyewitness accounts.
Let’s look at an issue that Paul heard about from members of the church.
Before we begin, it is important to make one point. The leaders of the church and the members of the church are not detectives who scour people’s lives looking for wrongs to expose. Our relationship with one another is built on love and confidence in the Spirit – not doubt and suspicion. We allow the Spirit of the Lord to work as the agent of change in His house. God will bring to light things that need to be addressed without us following one another in the shadows to expose what is really going on behind closed doors. We have Facebook for that!
The sin that was exposed in the church was that of a sexual nature. A man, possibly a leader was having sexual relations with his father’s wife. Most scholars believe that the woman involved was the man’s stepmother. This type of relationship broke at least one of God’s commands.
Leviticus 18:8 – “The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness.”
This type of sexual sin was even forbidden under Roman law! Paul’s response brings out several points that are useful to us today.
- Unrepentant sin poisons the body
Paul uses the Passover celebration to bring home his point about the presence of sin among them. Before the Passover is celebrated, the house is purged of all leaven. All throughout Scripture leaven is used as a symbol of sin. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are a new creation cleansed of sin by Christ’s sacrifice. He tells them that they should feast on the bread of sincerity and truth. The Greek word for sincerity literally means “judged by sunlight” It alludes to pottery being sold in dimly lit bazaars so to hide the flaws. Intelligent buyers would hold the pottery up to the sunlight to judge its quality.
Paul also warns that unrepentant sin has an effect on the entire church. A little leaven works throughout the entire church. We think our sin affects just us but it doesn’t. It is entirely possible that some of the lack we experience in the church is due to unrepentant sin on the part of its members. Spirituality is a farce when we presume upon God’s grace and get a “word” that blatantly violates God’s direction. Paul said it this way, “Your glorying is not good”.
- The church is to administer discipline.
When sin is recognized – when the individuals are aware of what they are doing wrong and insist on continuing in sin the leaders are to administer discipline in front of the entire church.
Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
Remember: the “ecclesia” or church is a legislative body. It has the responsibility to declare and enforce God’s kingdom. Paul stated that when the church is gathered “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” that the church has the authority to act on His behalf.
- Sin is confronted at the level it is exposed.
All unrepentant sin affects the church, but confrontation is best handled at the level that the sin is known. For instance, if the unrepentant sin of a member is known only by a small group, it is before that group that it is handled. If the sin is known by the entire church, then it is before the entire church that it is handled. We are not in the business of hurting but correcting. You would not go before the entire school to handle your son’s discipline that wasn’t known by them. But, if his sin was known by the school you would.
- Discipline is meant to bring healing.
All discipline is meant to bring repentance and healing.
Hebrews 12:5-6 – “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”
Discipline is administered to do three things:
- Bring correction
- Protect the testimony of the church
- Protect the purity of the church.
Paul stated an interesting point – he said to “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”. What does this mean?
First, it meant to forbid the offender from church attendance and fellowship with the members of the church. Remember there weren’t 100 churches in town during this time. This isolated the person from the blessings of the body. I also believe that it “loosed” the offender to the consequences of their sin.
Matthew 18:15 – 18: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Forgiveness is immediate but restoration takes time. Don’t confuse a lack of restoration with a lack of forgiveness. For restoration to take place, an understanding of sin and its effects upon the church must be exhibited.
It is difficult in today’s society to make a stance for purity. But, the church should be the one place where its leaders and its people are growing into a lifestyle that mirrors the one of its Savior.
If the church were perfect, the Bible would not speak of correction and discipline. So, remember what happens does not catch God “off guard”. He is working within us to create for Himself a glorious church!
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men. It instructs us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,and to live sensible, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we await the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.…Titus 2:11-13