Keeping the Church Pure

Steve Viars March 20, 2010 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

 

- Most of us or our families have been touched by the scourge of cancer in some way…

- I know this is a very tender topic because we have several members of our church who are fighting this disease right now, and others have lost loved ones to cancer…so I don’t raise this topic lightly…

- but as a result, many of us are familiar with the process…

- it starts with a diagnosis…the word itself is one we fear, and one we hate…even though there are many different forms and many different outcomes – we’d all be happy to never hear it, or never say it…

- but then a determination has to be made about how far it has spread…

- issues like “how soon we caught it” become critical, and tests are done or the lymph nodes, or other kinds of exploratory surgery is performed… stage this or stage that...

- so it’s not just the presence of the disease, but also how it can spread and affect and destroy cells that were healthy…

- then there are decisions about the treatment…and we appreciate doctors and nurses and all the medical advancements we enjoy in our culture…but some of what happens next seems barbaric if we dwell on it…

- a doctor says – we’re going to have to do surgery…that’s a nice way of saying – I’m going to take a knife and cut you…In any other sphere of life- you go to jail for that...

- and I know some of our doctors would say – well, now we can often use lasers…if that news is supposed to be a comfort…I’m not there yet…

- then there’s the radiation…and the chemotherapy…and everything that goes along with that…

- and I won’t try to go into details about how those processes work – but it amazing what we’re willing to do in order to try to rid bodies of any cells that are cancerous…

 

- by God’s grace, in increasing percentages, those treatments actually work…

- we have a number of cancer survivors in our church…and any time that happens—we would all say that all of the surgery, and all of the chemotherapy, and the hair loss, and the sickness, and everything that goes along with attacking the disease is worth it to try to protect and preserve the health of the body…

 

- my question for you this morning is – if we would say that about the physical body---would we also say it about the spiritual body?...and I think carefully, and perhaps even reluctantly, our answer would be “yes.”

- with that in mind, please open your Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter 5…page 132 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you…

 

- our theme this year is Taking the Next Step...with Joy

- we’ve been studying through the book of 1 Corinthians which is a great place to identify possible steps of growth the Lord would want us to take…

- I realize you might say, PV, when does the “joy part” kick in?...

- that’s a fair question…and the answer generally is, after we begin taking the steps…

- the writer of Hebrews said it this way -- Hebrews 12:11 - All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

- the term “afterwards” is a key concept for the follower of Christ…just like it is for a person struggling with cancer…

- there are all sorts of things you do, not because they are pleasant or easy or desirable in the short term…but wise people look to “the afterwards”…

- Psalm 30:5 - …Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.

 

- that’s true of the physical body…but its truer of the spiritual body…see, what is a church supposed to do when someone in our membership is living in a way that is clearly contrary to Scripture?...do we ignore it?...do we gossip behind that person’s back?...do we leave it alone and believe it won’t have a detrimental effect?...

- see, if cancer in the physical body is serious enough to justify significant and unpleasant steps…is sin in the spiritual body also serious enough to justify significant and unpleasant steps?...

 

- now, before we read the text…let me say a word to those who may be visiting with us, or folks who are relatively new…

- at our church, the Word of God is our authority…not church tradition, not what some person or group of persons think…

- we believe in biblical authority…

- that’s why our services always center on studying the Bible…and why we often do it in a verse by verse series…

- Pastor Dutton spoke on the end of I Corinthians 4 last week…so it’s no surprise that I’m speaking on 1 Corinthians 5 this week…

- that helps us in a couple of different ways…

- you never have to wonder – is there something happening behind the scenes that the pastors are addressing publically because they’re not willing to address it privately?...the answer to that is – no, we’re talking about this because it’s the next issue in the text…

- it’s amazing how frequently the Holy Spirit uses something from His Word to meet a need in someone’s life at the very point they need it – but that’s His work, not mine…

- it also helps us avoid hobby horses…around here we major on what is majored on in the word…

- and some of what the Scripture talks about is pretty challenging…we’re going to be talking about spiritual surgery, and chemotherapy…but that will be fine if we focus on the health of the spiritual body that is so critical to our accomplishing the mission the Lord has for us here…

- we’re talking about Keeping the Church Pure

- read 1 Cor. 5:1-13

 

- this passage gives us 4 principles that must be followed to maintain a healthy church body.

I. Understand the Seriousness of the Problem.

- it is important, when we think about this passage of Scripture, to see that Paul is actually addressing 2 problems…one of them is bad, the other is worse…far worse…

A. The problem “stage one.”

- did you notice the issue Paul raised in verse 1?...

1. immorality

- v. 1 – It is actually reported that there is immorality among you…

- the word immorality – porneia – from which we get the English word pornography…

- in the Bible, it is a very general term that can describe all sorts of sexual sin…

- in this passage, Paul leaves no doubt about what kind of immorality is involved…

- a man is living with his father’s wife…so we’re talking about some kind of incest…

2. incest

- now, what’s unusual about the phrase “his father’s wife”?...

- the normal way to say that would be “mother”…

- which I realize might cause you to say – “eeww”…that’s the point – this is cancer…

- in this case, many students of Scripture believe that what happened here is that the man’s biological mother died – his father remarried – and now this man, who is a member of the Corinthian church, has taken his father’s new wife, and is living with her, and having sexual relations with her…

- now, Paul gives us a number of reasons in verse 1 why this is especially bad…

3. reported commonly

- and of course in this day and age, everything is reported commonly…people would have been tweeting about this for sure…

- but in that culture, with their methods of communication…the fact that this was reported commonly shows that this man was living this way without any concern for how it was impacting the testimony of the church…

- and that’s not to say that it would have somehow been more acceptable if he had kept in quite or covered – but it tells you something about his heart – he is “sinning with a high hand” as the Old Testament says…

- another point Paul makes about this is…

4. even forbidden by unbelievers.

- v. 1 – of such a kind that does not exist even among the Gentiles…

- pagans don’t even condone behavior like this…the yuk factor is off the charts…

- and of course the OT forbade incest, but we even know from history that secular Roman law condemned this kind of behavior…

- and the point is – things are getting pretty bad when the world has higher morals than the church…

- now, perhaps the worst thing about all of this was…

5. among you.

v. 1 - "there is immorality among you.”

- we’re talking about someone who is part of the church body…

- it’s common knowledge that a person from the First Christian Church of Corinth is involved in sin that even unbelievers would say is wrong…

 

- see, it is a tragedy that this is happening in a church body…a church family…

- God wants purity in the church…we are not saved by works, but after we have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, our lives should be different…would that be a hard case to make biblically?

- Ephesians 2:10 - For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

 

- now let’s be sure we make this distinction – we are certainly not talking about being perfect…John says that if we say we have no sin, we are lying…so this is not about some kind of sinless perfection…

- but we are talking about believers who repent when they’re wrong and who are willing to submit to the Word of God when we are confronted by it or by someone who is trying to help us see what it says about the choices we’re making…

- that is one of the most fundamental distinctions between a person who is a Christian and a person who isn’t…watch how they respond when they are confronted…

- we all sin – but followers of Christ repent and work hard at changing after they are confronted with biblical truth…

- this man has been confronted – and he’s dug in his heels…and he is sinning with a high hand…that is happening, Paul says, “among you”…

 

- now, you might say – boy, I bet Paul is really upset about this…actually, that’s not the major issue…

B. The problem “stage two.”

1. You have not done anything about it.

- Verse 11 tells us that Paul had written a letter to them previously telling them what to do in these situations…

- by the way, that is not a letter that is included in the Scriptures, but the Corinthians had been instructed what to do when a person in the church was caught up in sin and refused to repent…

- the point is – what’s most scandalous about 1 Corinthians 5 is not the behavior of the incestuous man—it’s the failure of the church to do anything about it…

- we know that because the rest of the passage is addressed to the church and what they’re supposed to do, not to the man and what he’s supposed to do…

 

- and Paul goes on to explain what the heart of the problem is…

2. You have been filled with pride.

v. 2 – you have become arrogant

- how so?...by believing they know more about how things should be done in the Lord’s church than the Lord Himself…

- and by believing that they could allow a person like this to remain in their midst without it having a negative impact on the rest of the body spiritually…

3. You have not mourned.

- v. 2 – you have not mourned

- this situation should have driven you to your knees to pray for this person and pray for yourselves…

- and then it should have driven you to your feet to lovingly speak to this person about his sin…and if there was no repentance, to follow the other steps of church discipline so that 1 Corinthians 5:2 - …so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.

 

- now, you might say – why would a church ever do this?...the answer is…because we think cancer is serious…

- both of these issues in the Corinthian church are ones we want to avoid like the plague…

- we believe that just like a doctor is being very loving when he carefully and skillfully takes out a knife and tries to remove a cancer…that a church family is being very loving when we try to help one another deal with overt sin in our lives…

- just “letting it go” would be as outrageous spiritually as it would be physically…

- but we also believe this is a matter of obedience to Christ…this is His church…He bought it with His blood…and we are to live for His glory…and therefore we follow His Word…

- and we would never want to be so proud as to believe that we knew better how to function as a church than the One who died for the church in the first place…or so arrogant as to believe that we could coexist with overt sin and rebellion and somehow that would not negatively affect us…

- so, understand the seriousness of the problem…secondly…

II. Be Able to Answer the Objections.

- you may be wrestling with all sorts of reasons in your heart right now why Christians should not do this…

- and let’s face it – most churches long ago stopped practicing church discipline…and just to be straight with you – if you have lived in our town long enough, you will run into someone who will give this church family a fairly healthy cussing, sometimes literally, precisely for this reason…but what are some of those objections?...

 

A. I have never seen it work.

- experience isn’t our guide…

- we do what the Scripture says regardless of whether we think it will work…

- by the way, the end of this particular story is that the Corinthian church eventually repented of their pride, and they spoke to the incestuous man…and praise the Lord, the incestuous man repented and asked the church family’s forgiveness…

- then the church wasn’t sure they should allow the man back into the body…and Paul had to tell them in 2 Corinthians, you need to now forgive him and restore him to fellowship…

- so they went from one ditch to the other as we so often do…but the fact that happened shows that often the process is very effective…

- we learn from Matthew 18 that the process actually has three steps…you go privately, and if the person repents and the sin is not more widely know, it’s over (you’ve won your brother)…if there’s no repentance at that first step, then you go back with another person or two so that all the facts can be established – now the issue isn’t the actual sin but the person’s refusal to repent…and if they turn it around at that step, it’s over…it’s only in a case when a person still refuses to repent that it ever reaches the stage we’re seeing here…

- but there is no question about the fact that there are many people here who can attest that someone loved them enough at some point in their Christian life to talk to them about something, and they dealt with it and are now at a much better place…

- that should be part of the way we relate to one another…

- Romans 15:14 - And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.

- we’ve had examples in this church where the process went all the way to the third step, the person was removed from our church body, and they later repented, asked forgiveness, and are now part of the body again…and we rejoice…humanly speaking, the process worked…

- but even if it never worked from our perspective, we would still do what God’s Word commands us to do…

 

B. It is not loving.

- the passage I have been referencing, Matthew chapter 18, verses 15-18, which lays out the specifics of this process was given by Jesus Himself…is there anyone here who would seriously want to argue that you are more loving than Christ…

- ignoring the problem would be like a doctor who ignored the cancer out of fear of upsetting the patient – when you think about it, it’s absurd…

 

C. It is too legalistic.

- if it was based on something other than the Word of God, it would be legalistic…

- or, it could certainly be done in a legalistic way, just like anything could be…

- but please keep in mind that there was one particular epistle in the NT that was written specifically to combat legalism in the church – what book was that?...

- Galatians…and after one of the most extended passages on spiritual living in the Bible, Galatians chapter 5, which talks about walking in the Spirit, and developing the fruit of the Spirit…what’s the very next topic on the table in that book?...

- Galatians 6:1 - Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

 

- when it’s done properly, it can be one of the most spiritual things a person can do…

- (if time allows, could talk about Pastor Goode, preaching on Matthew 18 in both the morning and evening services on the first Sunday he was the pastor here, also one of your early experiences with he and you going to confront someone, the issue of problems being for solving, him “handing off” a church where there were no unsolved problems…)

 

D. I’ve done all I can.

- If you haven’t done all the Bible says, you haven’t begun to do all you can…

 

E. You shouldn’t kick a person when he’s down.

- that’s a nice statement, but it doesn’t apply here…we’re not talking about kicking someone, we’re talking about loving them…

 

F. It has been abused.

- That is true – which is why we’re teaching these principles as carefully as we can…

 

- but Paul is saying – you have a problem in the church because one of your members is caught up in sin, and you have a bigger problem because the church up to this point has not done anything about it…

 

- now, where does this leave us?...

III. Be Committed to Following the Solution.

A. Presupposes the “steps” of Matthew 18.

- remember we always compare Scripture with Scripture…

- I referenced this text before, but here’s how it reads in case this is new to you…

- Matthew 18:15-18 - If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

- here in 1 Corinthians 5…the assumption is that the first two steps have been followed, and there was no repentance…but they have not been willing to “tell it to the church…”

- now, before we go any further…let’s push the pause button for a moment and ask a couple of questions…If you have someone in your life who is living in clear disobedience to scripture, have you confronted them? Has anyone ever confronted you?

1. Have you ever thanked God for the process?...

- that He is so committed to your holiness that He has designed the Christian life in such a way that the church family would not just let you drive your spiritual car off the cliff…

 

2. How did you respond?

Proverbs 15:5 - A fool rejects his father’s discipline, But he who regards reproof is sensible.

Proverbs 13:1 - A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

Proverbs 12:1 - Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid.
 

3. Have you thanked the person who confronted you?

Proverbs 9:8 - …Reprove a wise man and he will love you.

 

- the vast majority of problem solving situations in our church are handled at one of these first 2 levels…

- the third step is somewhat like spanking your child---if people know you will do it, you don’t have to do it very often…

 

B. The action

- v. 2 – the person is to be “removed from you midst.”

- that is the third step in the process…

- Matthew 18:17 - and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

- and just to be clear – we all sin – but people who truly know the Lord repent when they are confronted

- and when a person will not do that…the church family has to love them enough to declare that they are not living like a believer…

- now some might say – well, can’t we just do that quietly?...

 

C. The time

- v. 4. – when you are assembled

- Matthew 18:18 – whatever you bind on earth…

- see, the church body is a powerful force when it functions and serves together…

- our Lord wants all the love and authority of the body to be brought together in these situations, giving the person the best possible opportunity to repent and change…

- when it is done, it honors the Lord, and when it’s ignored, chaos and confusion are the result…

 

- I know of a church not too far from here where one of the leaders decided to leave his wife with no biblical grounds…and within a few Sundays, he’s sitting in church with his new girlfriend…and nobody did a thing…

- even unbelievers know there is something terribly wrong with that…

 

IV. Rejoice in the Purpose of the Process

 

A. For the person in sin.

 

1. destruction of fleshly desires and habits.

1 Corinthians 5:5 - 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.

- the flesh refers to those desires and behaviors that do not please God…

 

2. may even involve physical suffering

- now, we certainly do not believe that every person who is ill is suffering some sort of consequences for their own choices…

- that would be a terrible thing for a church to ever suggest…

- (cf. the man born blind in John 9 – who sinned…)

- but we say that so frequently that we could ignore what the Scripture says about the relationship between sickness and sin..,.

- later in this book we’ll read in chapter 11 about abuses at the Lord’s table – and Paul says – for that reason, some are sick and some have fallen asleep (died)

- James says that when a person is ill – if there is any question about where they are spiritually, they should call for the elders of the church…

 

B. For the church body.

1. It protects their spiritual health

1 Corinthians 5:6 - Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?

2. It prepares their spiritual joy

2 Corinthians 2:3 - This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all.

3. It demonstrates their love for one another

2 Corinthians 2:4 - For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.

4. It proves their willingness to obey
2 Corinthians 2:9 -
For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.
 

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video