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Sun, Sep 08, 2002

28 - Church Discipline

1 Corinthians 5:1-8 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 26 secs

Church Discipline; 1 Corinthians 5:1-8


We begin a section that goes down through chapter six and will deal with a subject that is controversial for some, misunderstood by many, and misapplied by even more, and that is the issue of church discipline. Church discipline is that doctrine that refers to the execution of disciplinary action within a local body or assembly of believers in order to protect it from the influence of licentious carnality in its midst. A problem with church discipline on the one hand is that there are those on the one hand who are so legalistic that they want to apply it to just about any sort of overt sin that they see come along. The problem that that is part of is that most evangelical Christians just don't understand the sin nature and the predominance of the sin nature in the believer's life.  Just because you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and are regenerated doesn't mean that you don't have a sin nature and you don't sin. The problem is that in the sin nature there are opposing trends in the sin nature. Some folks have a trend toward legalism and self-righteousness, and these are the folks that are not really prone to the overt sins when it comes to committing some of the more infamous overt sins. That is just not a weakness for them, so when someone fails in that area they are just shocked. They can't understand how Christians can succumb to that kind of sin. Their problem is that their sins are the more insidious hidden sins of arrogance and self-righteousness and thinking that somehow their morality impresses God. They forget that Isaiah 64:6 tells us that all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and the sin nature produces good works as well as overt sin. Then there is the party crowd whose trend us just the opposite. It is toward licentiousness and they really like grace because God took care of all their sin and they don't have to worry about it any more, so let's just go out and party. Their problem is that they want to diminish and minimize the significance of sin in the life of the believer, and they can come up with many good rationalisations and justifications for that based on a distortion of the concept of grace. So they want to flaunt their sinfulness as not really being an issue because, after all, Christ paid the penalty for all my sins. All I need to do is confess it. They want to overlook the whole concept of church discipline because that might violate somebody's privacy or it might upset somebody and, after all, if you remove somebody from the local congregation where they can't come to church and they can't hear the teaching of the Word of God how in the world are they ever going to be reminded of what they need spiritually in order to recover from their carnality?

Both of these have distorted the whole concept of church discipline and one of the key passages for church discipline is 1 Corinthians chapter 5. In the first eight verses we come face to face with the particular problem. This is a case in point in terms of church discipline and it is one that is often misunderstood, especially by the legalistic crowd.

1 Corinthians 5:1 NASB "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife." For those who are a little sheltered, what we have at the end there, "has his father's wife," is a euphemism for somebody who has sexual relations with his step-mother. The first word in the Greek is HOLOS [O(lwj]. This word is the root from which we get our English word "whole." For that reason, in the KJV it was translated as "wholly" or "altogether." However the NKJV translates it "actually," as does the NASB, and that is closer to the concept but it doesn't carry the full thrust. It is hard to translate this and carry the full nuance of it in English without using four or five different words, which renders the translation a little bit awkward. But it indicates that this is a sin that is fully or completely or commonly known. This is not something that this individual has engaged in that is only known to a few people. It is something that is so well known that everybody in Corinth is aware of it and word is spreading throughout not only the Christian community but also among the pagan, secular community. It is a well-known fact, not something that is committed in private where the person is conducting his way in an area of immorality but it is something that is extremely well-known. That is something that is important to realize and when it comes to church discipline most people ignore that point. In the congregation not only does everybody know about it but they think, 'Look, isn't this great. We are so grace oriented we have people who are living with their step-mother and it is not a problem because we understand grace.' That is the attitude that is here. It is not simply that this person has committed a sin, or that he has committed a sexual sin.

The word for immorality is the Greek word PORNEIA [porneia], from which we get our English word pornography. PORNEIA in the Greek is the general word for sexual immorality, i.e. any kind of sexual conduct outside of marriage. Sometimes PORNEIA is translated fornication. Adultery in the ancient world was between a man, married or single, and a married woman. Sex between a man and a woman unmarried was usually just classified as fornication. It was often associated in the ancient world with cultic prostitution in the worship of the fertility gods. Greeks had developed an intricate set of values in order to handle and justify extra-marital sex. Secular prostitution or brothels were rarely known but in Athens they passed a law that made it impossible for a foreign-born woman to become a citizen, and if she wasn't a citizen she was limited in how she could make a living and this developed a formal form of prostitution where the kept mistresses were called by the euphemism "friends." In the late classical period, approximately 200 BC, the stoics attempted to reform sexual morality, and in Stoicism there was an attempt to restrict sex after marriage to the marriage relationship. Prior to marriage it was okay to engage in cultic prostitution or any other kind of pre-marital sex as long as it wasn't done to any degree of excess, whatever that might be. So the attitude of the Greek toward extra-marital sex was extremely lax.

We have to recognize that the Bible condemns all categories of pre-marital sex or sex outside of marriage as sin. It is all classified as PORNEIA, and just as it was a problem for the ancient world it is a problem today. It is interesting that in the conflict between Jews and Gentiles when  it became apparent in Acts that Gentiles were going to be included in the church—up until Acts 10 the church was exclusively Jewish—and that something new was happening in history, the apostles got together after some conflict arose as to what was the relationship to the law and Jews to Gentiles and had a conference in Jerusalem called the Jerusalem Conference. The consequence of this was that they made a decision as to just exactly what was going to be required of Gentiles. What is interesting is what that entails. In Acts 15:20 the conclusion was "but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication [PORNEIA] and from what is strangled and from blood." These three things were apparently an issue and they all seem to be related to the idol worship and the fertility religions and practices in the ancient world. Basically what they were saying was, we have to make a demarcation here. If you are going to believe in Christ you have to recognize that this is a break with your pagan past, you can't think and act like a pagan anymore. The same thing is repeated in Acts 21:25 NASB "But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication." PORNEIA is often listed in various sin lists in the New Testament, e.g. Galatians 5:19 where it is the first one listed; Ephesians 5:3—notice it is not isolated as a super sin, it is included among various other categories of sin and Paul is basically saying these things should not be recognized among you. In other words, don't get a reputation that this is what is condoned within the community of the church; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3. So it is clear that sexual immorality is specifically isolated and brought out in the Scriptures as a sin that should be avoided because of the consequences that it has on the soul of the believer, but it is certainly not among the worst sins that affect the soul, cf. Matthew 16:19. Overt sins are not always the worst sins; Proverbs 6:16-19. Remember, the worst sins are the subtle sins that are cloaked in goodness. It is arrogance that produces those sins.

The problem in Corinth isn't simply a matter of sexual sin; it is not simply a matter of immorality. It is a particularly heinous sin that is considered to be illegal in their culture. We see this in v. 1, "and immorality of such a kind." This is the Greek TOIAUTE [toiauth] from the word TOIOUTOS [toioutoj], an important word in this context and it means of such a category. PORNEIA is the overall category and there are many different sub-categories of immorality. Then it says, "does not exist even among the Gentiles." The verbal idea isn't stated, it is as if this isn't even tolerated or condoned. Paul makes it clear simply by the construction of the sentence just what the concept is, that this is something that shocked the pagan world. We know from studies of the ancient world that they thought that the concept of a man having any kind of sexual relations with his step-mother was considered to be particularly horrendous. It was also abhorrent in Jewish culture and the church at Corinth was combined of both Jews and Gentiles. In Leviticus 18:18 NASB "You shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness." 20:11 NASB "If {there is} a man who lies with his father's wife, he has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them." Deuteronomy 27:20 NASB "Cursed is he who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father's skirt."

From the context and the information that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 5, when he states that this man has his father's wife there are a number of details that are left out. We don't know if they are simply living together, we don't know if his father is still alive or not, we don't know if his father is still married to this woman, we don't know if the father has divorced this woman; but all of that would just be secondary circ8umstancial detail. The issue is that this man is having sexual relations with his step-mother and that was considered to be a horrible crime and a terrible form of immorality by the unbeliever. Before we build a doctrine of church discipline off of this we have to realize that the instance involved here involves something that was known to everybody; it was widely known. It was not something that was done in any sense of privacy whatsoever. Secondly, he was violating the norms and standards and the laws of the pagan culture around him. He is not committing a sin that shocked the Christians in Corinth, though they should have been, he is committing a sin that shocks the unbelievers. That is important because most of the time when church discipline is affected in most evangelical churches a) nobody out there in the pagan world even knows what the individual has done, and b) they don't care. 

1 Corinthians 5:2 NASB "You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst." This tells us something about their attitude. "You have become arrogant" is a compound word, it is the present active indicative of the verb EIMI [e)imi], to be, and the perfect passive participle of PHUSIAO [fusiaw] which means to be arrogant. The perfect tense and the participle indicates that this is something that happens in the past but is a present reality. So they have become arrogant in the past and they are still arrogant, they still think this is something great—this guy is committing such a horrible sin but God's grace is great enough to cover it, so no problem. "…have not mourned instead" is the aorist active of PENTHEO [penqew] which means to grieve. This is where Paul emphasizes the fact that there is a proper place in the spiritual life for us to mourn of grieve over sin. Otherwise we are taking sin too lightly, and that is something we lose sight of. If we treat sin lightly in our own spiritual lives then it is going to retard our own spiritual growth. "…that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst." The point that he is making is that they should have recognized the serious nature of this sin and removed the one in their midst. The word for removal is the aorist passive indicative of the Greek word AIRO [a)irw] which means to lift up or to remove, and it is the idea that this individual needs to be excluded from meeting with the local church. That is applicable. But notice is says, "the one who had done this deed." That is an inadequate translation. Actually that is the aorist active participle of PRASSO [prassw] which means "the one who has been practicing this deed." This is not a one-shot thing. Even though it is in the aorist tense it is a constative aorist which means it is viewing from the standpoint that it is ongoing. He is still involved in this sin, he is still practicing it.

There are two elements to the discipline here. One relates to the execution of Paul's apostolic authority. That is unique, it was restricted to the kind of thing that happened in the ancient world under the apostles during the establishment of the local church. It that instance there were some rather harsh things that took place in disciplining believers for their carnality. E.g. Ananias and Sapphira, Acts chapter 5. That is not normal, other wise many of us would not have survived the first three or four years of our own Christian life because we would have committed some equally heinous sin and not survived. In the early church the Holy Spirit and the apostles took some extreme measures in order to establish the precedence of the seriousness of sin.

[3] "For I, on my part [since I am an apostle], though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present." The words present in spirit" should be "present by means of the Spirit," capital S. What he is emphasizing is that even though he is absent physically we are all one in the body of Christ. We are all unified in the body of Christ and just because you happen to live a long distance away, when you are involved in a heinous sin that brings dishonour on the body of Christ and it shocks the pagans and everybody knows about it, it is going to have an implications for us. So even though Paul is not there physically he knows that this sin has consequences for the body of Christ and we are all one in the body of Christ. "I have already judged him." In other words, he has exercised his privilege and prerogative as an apostle to judge this particular individual.

[4] "In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, [5] {I have decided} to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." This is a grammatically difficult passage. The first phrase is "In the name of our Lord Jesus," and the question is, to what does that refer? Does it refer to assembling in the name of our Lord Jesus? Does it refer to Paul's authority in the name of our Lord Jesus? Or is it something that simply applies to both of them? Probably the best grammatical solution is that he is recognizing that both the assembly and his authority are representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. So by stating this this way he is emphasizing that it is the character and person and he is reminding the believers that it is the assembly of believers that is the physical representation of Jesus Christ on the earth today. What replaced our Lord's physical resurrected body on the earth is the universal church, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. So it is important for us to realize that we represent to the world the person and character of our Lord Jesus Christ, and when we are treating overt, well-known heinous sin lightly it casts aspersions on the character of Jesus Christ. So that is what lies behind that statement.

"…to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh." That similar statement is made of Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20, "…suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith." That means they are believers but they had shipwrecked their faith. They, too, were "handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme." So what does Paul mean when he says, "deliver such a one to Satan"? First of all, there is the idea that when the individual is removed from the local congregation, and from the teaching of the Word that you are basically giving him up to the consequences of his sin nature. He wants to be a sinner; he wants to live a licentious restraints. Great! Go and live that way all you want to and reap the consequences, and in that process God will discipline you. The destruction of the flesh, therefore, is not to be taken as the destruction of his physical body—physical suffering—but the sin nature. It is the same idea as exemplified by tough love.

[6] "Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump {of dough?}" The problem was they were arrogant about this and had missed the principle. Most of the lexicons and books try to equate leaven with yeast, and leaven was not used, it was different, and leaven was something that was freshly introduced into the process of making bread. If you have ever made sour dough, this is what leaven is like. You would take a little bit of dough from the previous loaf and then introduce it to the fresh dough, and then that little bit of leaven would then permeate the new loaf. The problem they had in the ancient world was that if there was bacteria or anything harmful in the earlier loaf then this would be transmitted to the next loaf so that it was contaminated by this little bit of leaven. That is why one of the reasons in the ancient world the Jews cleaned out all the leaven at the feast of unleavened bread. Paul is reminding them of this analogy to the Old Testament in verse 7.

[7] "Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are {in fact} unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed." That is the principle as applied from the Old Testament. "You are unleavened"—you were cleansed positionally in Christ. Now you have to apply that experientially. So we are clean, the old leaven has been removed because of Christ our Passover, but the reality is in terms of our experience is that we have to deal with the sin in our life. It is not just a matter of confessing it but it is a matter also of, through the power of the Holy Spirit over time and the application of the Word, its removal and we won't be committing that particular sin as frequently.

[8] "Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Sincerity there doesn't have to do with the sincerity as we think of it, it has to do with genuine objectivity in the application of God's Word.