How tolerant! How understanding! God loves all people so why should we be cruel? Why should we correct them? People work hard and get beaten up every day so why should we beat them up on Sunday (as one popular TV preacher often says)? It isn’t our place to tell them they’re sinners – they know they’re sinners! “It’s our place to loooove them!” Right?
No. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 5, that it’s our place to love them enough to warn them they’re headed for a washed out bridge.
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,a b so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
We read this passage and shake our heads. A man and his stepmother? How weird is that? We certainly wouldn’t tolerate that sort of thing in our church. But take a look around. Didn’t that unmarried couple that co-taught the Sunday School class move in together last summer? Are they still teaching that class? Didn’t the elders have to remove the elder who was acting Church Treasurer from that position because money was disappearing? Is he still an elder? And Mary May who teaches Sunday School every other Sunday, didn’t she divorce her husband because “God wanted her to be happy” with a different man?
Paul makes it clear that immoral behavior of any kind is not to be allowed to grow and take root within the church. He tells them clearly to boot this man out. “Out of your fellowship,” he says and means it. Isn’t that awfully harsh? Isn’t it our place to love these folks into the kingdom? No. “Hand this man over to Satan!” he thunders. Yes. He’s angry. But that isn’t why he’s calling for what we see as harsh judgment on the man. He explains that, if you hand the man over to Satan, his sinful nature will be destroyed but his spirit will be saved on the day of the Lord.
Then, he goes on to explain that allowing such things to take root within the fellowship poisons the whole fellowship. He compares these immoralities to yeast. Did you ever make bread? For two loaves you need two cups of warm water, just the right temperature, two teaspoons of salt, two tablespoons of sugar, four tablespoons of shortening, two cups of flour to start with and one little tablespoon of yeast. Mix it up together and cover it and let it sit in a warm bit of sunlight through your kitchen window. Listen close. You can hear it. It’s a faint crackling or hissing sound. That’s the yeast. It’s working. Those little animals are going at it, consuming that sugar and multiplying. Consuming that sugar and emitting carbon dioxide. Take a peek in about a half hour and there will be bubbles all over that flour and water mixture and the bubbles will be multiplying, growing and popping as the yeast continues to work. Another half hour and the amount of mixture in your bowl will have doubled! That’s the yeast working.
And sin is like yeast. It consumes everything sweet in its path, it creates empty pockets of meaninglessness, and it often doubles its environment in size. Why? Because it tastes sweet. Because it spreads through the whole mix. Because it’s attractive!
Does this mean that Paul doesn’t think non-believers should be allowed inside the church? Not at all. In verse 9, Paul clarifies what he is saying. He explains that, when he wrote to them about this he told them not to associate with those who lived immoral lives but he didn’t mean sinners. “In that case you would have to leave this world,” he comments. He was referring to people who claimed to be Christians but did these things.
In chapter 6 verse 12, Paul comes back to the topic of immorality. The New International Version puts quotation marks around his opening line while the New Living Translation uses the phrase, “You say…”
“Everything is permissible for me” indicating some argument has arisen concerning these things in the past. Then Paul answers that phrase with a simple, “but not everything is beneficial”. “Everything is permissible for me” he repeats the quote and completes it with: “but I will not be mastered by anything.”
This statement clearly suggests that there were those involved with prostitutes and other sins that we would consider to be addicts. “I will not be mastered by anything.”
Is there someone reading this who has ever been mastered by a habit? You know who you are. What kept you going back? Was it because you wanted to? Or was it because you seemed to have no will power to resist the siren call? When you woke up with that pounding headache and the nausea, unable to remember what you had done the night before; when you came to your senses enough to see that you had gambled away your future or snorted it up your nose, how did you feel? Were you master of your world at that point? Were you in control of anything? What did it take to get you free? Probably, since you are here, I would guess it took the power of Christ to the pulling down of strongholds to break those chains that bound you. Why would you want to go back to that? I believe that is what Paul is saying here.
“Don’t fall into the trap! Get free and stay free!” He continues, “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” Of course, he’s talking about the resurrection of the dead, and yet Scriptures also often have double and even triple meanings and I’m convinced that he is also holding out hope to those who have tried and failed over and over again to stop visiting the prostitutes, to stop lying, to stop stealing from the coffers, to stop gossiping about their neighbor, to stop rebelling against the authorities in their lives.
Why is this important? Why does Paul return to this issue of sexual immorality? Isn’t this what we, today, might call a “victimless crime?” This isn’t blasphemy or desecrating sacred property and it certainly doesn’t hurt anyone so why? But Paul explains, “Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!” Then he concludes his argument by urging purity among believers, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you. You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your body.”
Yes. Take a look around. You may be feeling so comfortable with yourself right now. You aren’t in the habit of visiting prostitutes. You aren’t involved in an illicit affair. You live a morally sound life and you live for Christ. Why shouldn’t you feel comfortable sitting here, listening to this sermon? The sermon that has nothing to do with you.
But have you reached out to that new young couple who has visited your church lately? Have you spoke with or prayed for the young pregnant woman who cries through every service? Have you found out who these people are? Are they believers? Or are they lost and alone with no hope in sight? Do they need to be loved into the Kingdom? Or do they need to be corrected, taught and led to new insight and greater holiness?
Or is there someone in your church who, in rebellion and arrogance, has gotten by with open sin and is still serving, still welcome, still active in your fellowship?
Fashion may have changed but God remains the same forever. “Hand that one over to Satan that his flesh may be destroyed and his spirit may be saved …” Tough words. That doesn’t mean we ignore them.