The question is this: should a church ever remove someone from their fellowship?
The Corinthian church was a mess. The city of Corinth was very sinful, so much so that even the religious components of first-century Corinth fed the lusts of the flesh. Amazingly, in the midst of this city, God was rescuing people from their bondage to sin and saving them by his grace. Jesus was changing lives as people put their trust in him. Yet, some of the people who were part of the church in Corinth were determined to live the lifestyle they wanted to live, no matter what the Bible says.
First Corinthians chapter five describes this part of their story and gives instructions for us today. Here are two important truths to notice as you read the first few verses.
We should not be arrogant in regard to sin, but rather we should grieve over sin in the way that God does.
Because of Christ and through Christ, let us walk in sincerity and truth.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church family:
1 Corinthians 5:1-8
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and the kind of sexual immorality that is not even tolerated among the Gentiles — a man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Shouldn’t you be filled with grief and remove from your congregation the one who did this? 3 Even though I am absent in the body, I am present in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who has been doing such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 hand that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new unleavened batch, as indeed you are. For Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old leaven or with the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
We should not be arrogant in regard to sin, but rather we should grieve over sin in the way that God does (vv1-5). At least one individual in the church at Corinth thought that he could live any way that he wanted. He thought it was fine for him to have an ongoing intimate relationship with his stepmother. That kind of relationship was not even tolerated by the morally lax society of Corinth. And to the shock of Paul, the Corinthian church was allowing this arrogant sinfulness to continue.
The Lord was grieved over the sin. Paul was grieved. Paul was imploring the church to grieve. It should have broken their hearts that one of their own members was deciding to live his life in utter rebellion against God’s Word. And it should break our hearts when that happens today.
Because of Christ and through Christ, let us walk in sincerity and truth (vv6-8). In verses 6-8 (and throughout the Bible), leaven is used in a baking analogy to represent sin. The analogy goes like this: a little leaven will leaven the whole batch of dough, and in the same way, a little sin that is allowed to continue unchecked will grow, and grow, and grow, and will affect everyone.
Rather than pointing the finger at others, each of us should start by doing a self-examination to see if there is any sin being allowed to grow in our heart, mind, words and actions. If so, we should repent of it, allow God’s Spirit to cleanse us, and turn and walk toward Christ in sincerity and truth. After we have done this (according to Matthew 7, Galatians 6, and Matthew 18), then we are in the right frame of mind and spiritual condition to gently deal with those who are arrogantly and defiantly living a sinful lifestyle in opposition of God’s Word, those who see no need to repent even when the truth of Scripture calls them to do so.
Even though it is difficult, there are times when church discipline must be practiced to protect the witness of the church and to help each person walk in the way of Christ.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
9 I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. 11 But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? 13 God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you.
Even though it is difficult, there are times when church discipline must be practiced to protect the witness of the church and to help each person walk in the way of Christ (vv9-13). The goal of church discipline is always restoration and reconciliation. The process should be done in a way that displays both the holiness of Jesus and love of Jesus. The process may seem painful at times, like Satan has had free reign to break someone down. But God is sovereign over all, and he is always at work for our good and his glory, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Jesus said in Matthew 18 that when you are unfortunately forced to remove someone from leadership and/or membership in your church, you should treat them like a “sinner and tax collector.” Think about it: how did he treat sinners and tax collectors? He treated them with respect and love. They were given the chance to turn from their sin and place their faith in Jesus, and then to be welcomed into the fellowship.
We should never see church discipline as a way to be legalistic, prideful or arrogant. It is just the opposite, actually. We should be humble, prayerful and full of love.