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Monday, March 31, 2008

1 Corinthians 5: Church Discipline, Part 1

I normally preach around 40-50 minutes each Sunday. And I am one who types out much of my notes. Basically for each message I have 7-8 pages of notes. For my 1 Corinthians 5 message I had thirteen. So I obviously decided to have two messages. So wanting to stir the church up this past Sunday, I told them about how my notes are usually 7 pages and this morning's sermon was 13. You should have seen their heads almost fly off. I said every body take a deep breath. I made the one sermon into two shorter sermons.

So here is the first message from 1 Corinthians 5 on church discipline. The focus of the first message is primary aimed at the man in the sin and why it is important for the church to discipline such a man. Next week's sermon will focus on the importance of discipline from the church's perspective and I will give some practical suggestions for what LRBC should do to be a more faithful Church.

Church Discipline: What is it? And why is it needed?


Two weeks ago we left off 1 Corinthians with Paul asking the church at Corinth:

Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? (1 Cor. 4:18-21)

After spending four chapters addressing issues of leadership and division in the Corinthian Church, Paul basically gives them an ultimatum. The church could humble itself and make the necessary corrections and repent of their sins. Or they could remain arrogant and face his discipline when he was able to visit them again.

But what we find out beginning in chapter 5 is that not only did the Corinthians have issues regarding its leadership, but the problems only began there. And this should not surprise us. When there is a failure at the top among the leadership in a church, it surely filters down and infests the rest of the body.

Not only was there a failure to be humble among many in Corinth, but there was also a serious deficiency in knowledge of Christian holiness and sanctification. Ironically, while the Corinthians prided themselves in knowledge, they were terribly ignorant.

Notice all the questions Paul asks the Corinthians. And based on the Corinthians’ conduct, they did not know the correct answer.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God dwells in you?

1 Corinthians 5:6 Do you not know that a Little leaven leavens the whole lump?

1 Corinthians 5:12 Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

1 Corinthians 6:2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?

1 Corinthians 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteousness will not inherit the kingdom of God?

1 Corinthians 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?

The Corinthians demonstrated in their many immoralities that they had little knowledge of holiness and sanctification and it was tearing the church apart and ruining its reputation as God’s people.


The first among many issues Paul addresses is sexual immorality. And this sexual immorality Paul says in verse 1 is “of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” A man, who was a member of the church at Corinth, was involved in an incestuous relationship with his stepmother. The scandal of such an incident is noted by Paul when he says this kind of thing is not even practiced among the pagans who are guilty of practicing all kinds of sexual immoralities.

But notice that Paul’s rebuke is not aimed first at the man in the sin, his rebuke is aimed first at the church. The question is: Why is Paul so disheartened by the church over this man’s sin? The reason is that the Corinthian Church had done absolutely nothing about the situation. While this sin is particularly odious, Paul is more angered by the lack of a disciplinary response from the church.

As I have said a few times before, Christians often are surprised to hear that the Bible instructs churches to practice church discipline. The fact that it comes as a surprise to so many Christians reveals at least two things. First, it reveals our present lack of what the Scripture teaches. So we have a failure in discipleship, in the passing along to others the whole counsel of God from generation to generation. Second, it reveals just how long the words church and discipline have been separated in church life. Up until about the 1930’s, church discipline was routine in the life of most Baptist Churches, but today it is the talk of Baptist churches when we even hear of one Baptist church practicing corrective discipline.

There are two types of discipline: Formative and Corrective. Formative discipline takes place in preaching, teaching, and modeling of God’s word to others. Corrective discipline happens when a serious and unsually public sin has taken place and the member is unrepentant when confronted about the sin. And in 1 Corinthians 5, we have an example where corrective discipline is needed so Paul argues for the need of this kind of discipline concerning the man who is in an incestuous relationship.

So we ask the question: What should the church do when such a sin has taken place, a public sin which stains and damages the reputation of God’s church and God’s name?

Paul first responds in verse 2 by saying the Corinthians ought to be mourning such a sin from among their own. Too often this is lacking in our churches today. We do not mourn over our personal sins. We do not grieve when others are in sin. We tolerate sin. We look the other way.

We can only speculate why the Corinthians are not mourning over this particular sin. Three possible reasons given for their lack of an appropriate response are:

1. Perhaps many of them were holding to some kind of antinomian theology which reasoned since we are forgiven in Christ of all our sins, we could sin all the more.

2. Possibly the man in the sin held a high standing position of honor in the city of Corinth. Although God is impartial, many times his people are not. Preference is often given to those of wealth and honor.

3. Or perhaps, since the Corinthians knew that they too were sinners, they believed it inappropriate to judge someone else’s sin.

Regardless of the reason, their lack of a response was unacceptable.

Second, Paul says the second course of action for this member is: he must be removed from the church. He must be excommunicated from membership.

So in the absence of any positive leadership from Corinth on this issue, Paul gives them the proper instruction and reasoning on how to handle this matter in vv 3-5.

First, Paul encourages the Corinthians in verse 3 by telling them that he is with them in spirit as they discipline this individual. But notice this is something the Corinthians must do themselves. Discipline is not something that can be exercised by one person. It must be done as a church. Encouragement to do the right thing is always helpful when the action needed is difficult.

Notice as well that the woman is not disciplined in this case. The only reason this must be is because she is not a member of the church. Paul will address this in vv 12 and 13.

Second, the discipline must be processed when the church assembles. In verse 4, Paul says, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, you are to deliver this man to Satan.” One of the pictures presented here is the unity of the church. The church needs to be unified in discipline. Corrective discipline is never an easy thing and can be abused and done incorrectly. So the church needs to be unified and assemble together to complete the task.

Third, in verse 5, Paul says this man is to be handed over to Satan. This seems very harsh at first glance. What does Paul mean when he says to hand him over to Satan? Well the Bible teaches us that when we repent and believe in Jesus Christ we are transferred in the Kingdom of Christ. Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For he rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

So when Paul says that the church should deliver him over to Satan, he is saying that the church is making the judgment that this one really is not a member of the Kingdom of the Son, but of the God of this world, the Devil.

Now many of us might be asking, how can someone make a judgment of someone else’s heart to know whether they are indeed saved or not? Is not God the only one who can do this? The answer is: God is the only one who can accurately and omnisciently peer into a man’s soul. But Scripture teaches us in verse 12 that we are to judge those inside the church. God wants us to make evaluations of those who would enter into the fellowship of the church.

These evaluations occur primary on three occasions. The first one comes when someone presents themselves for baptism. The leadership should evaluate through questions whether the candidate truly understands the gospel before he or she is baptized. The second is similar to the first, the only difference is this candidate is for membership and has already been baptized. We ask the same questions. The third evaluation does not happen with every member, but should an event like the one in 1 Corinthians 5 arise in our church then an additional evaluation needs to be made of the individual’s soul.

And one of the clear evidences that one guilty of such a sin is truly of Christ is his willingness to repent of sin, bear remorse for his actions, and clean his life up from that point. It appears that the man in Corinth had not repented of his sin. And an unwillingness to repent of sins when they are confronted is a sign that one is not truly converted.

But we should not conclude because discipline takes place that we do not love the one who is disciplined. Instead the exact opposite is true. A church disciplines precisely because it loves the individual. Parents, why do discipline your children? Answer: Because you love your children. This is indedd what Scripture teaches.

Prov 13:24 (NASU) He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

The Lord disciplines those whom he loves too.

Hebr 12:6 (NASU) For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives."

The church also loves those whom it disciplines.

When discipline is absent, people get hurt. One of my daughters shoved her sister yesterday and she fell and hit her head. If as parents we fail to discipline, then my children will continue to behave badly and will surely get hurt again.

Furthermore, when discipline is lacking there is no respect for authority. If children are not disciplined they will begin to disrespect their own parents. They will disrespect their teachers, their employers, and ultimately they will not see God as a legitimate authority in their life.

Why does Scripture command us to hand over the one being disciplined to Satan? Verse 5 says, “so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord.”

There a couple of viable interpretations of this verse but I only have time this morning to give you the interpretation I hold. When a local church dismisses one from their membership you are sending the strongest possible statement to the individual that this church does not believe you are saved, and the hope of the church is twofold. Either the one disciplined is finally awakened to his sin through this drastic action and repents, or because we no longer reckon him to be converted we start sharing the gospel with him and in our evangelism he finally is genuinely saved at some later date. He is no longer to be admonished as a believer but evangelized as an unbeliever.

If the church permits him to stay on the membership rolls, then we are in even greater sin because we allow such a one to have continued confidence that he is saved when his life screams the very opposite.

We could make an analogy here to the human body. We all know that we should exercise certain measures of self-control when it comes to taking care of our bodies in order to be healthy. This is formative discipline But on occasion, an emergency might arise and surgery is needed to save our lives. What shall we do? Emergency surgery will certainly be painful. But on the other hand, if we do not have it then we shall die. The prudent one will choose surgery and live even though it will be painful and will often take much time to recuperate. So it is with church discipline. We must do the surgery when necessary to save souls, otherwise we let souls drift ever closer to condemnation and hell.



Anonymous said...

I found this article very helpful. I had googled Church discipline as I am dismayed by my own Church & its lack of action against blatant sin & worldliness in our midst.

It is true the modern Church has become frightened of discipline. The premise being (I am told by leaders) that we have all sinned & God has forgiven us, therefore we should offer the same grace to all others.

I have also heard that being reinforced by Luther's observation that it is a mysterious paradox that men can be both sinner & saved.

However, when a Church members life "screams" that he is not saved, it is no longer a paradox, but a straightforward contradiction that they are living. Like yeast it can affect the whole Body.

Oh that the Church would waken from it's wooly "love & grace to all mentality" that is so ridiculed by the world, and which is steadily making it seem irrelevant and out of hypocritical.

It is not loving someone to allow them continue in delusion having been given every opportunity to repent.

Good article. Thank you.

Jason Morrison said...

I am glad you found this sermon helpful. Church Discipline is a hairy subject, even in the church I pastor. We do not practice discipline as we ought.

This church has a long history of practicing discipline but it fell out of use in the 20th century. I am leading the church to recover the practice, however I have run into some challenges. We are currently taking small steps in the right direction.

I hope your church may take steps one day to become more faithful to the Biblical witness concerning church discipline.