August 31: 1 Cor 5
August 31, 2010
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."
I once heard John MacArthur say, "We live in a day when the church is becoming more and more worldly and world is becoming more and more churchy." It's plain for anyone to see the manifold ways in which the church has become more worldly in its toleration, albeit, even embrace, of sin, but it's a bit more difficult to understand why the world has become more churchy.
The churchiness of the world is a result of the worldliness of the church. When the church's mission and message become intertwined with the message and mission of the world and its affairs, the church loses its voice to speak into the world in a prophetic way. Consequently, when the church relinquishes its God-given mandate to speak into the world, moderating its mission and message to appease the world, it is only natural for the world to tolerate, albeit even embrace, some of the affairs and even some of the tolerable anecdotes of the church. As the world sees it, the two are one and the same.
As I observe the church and the world, I often find myself astounded by two things: The attempts of Christians to impress the world and Christians decrying the world's sins as a matter of primary import in the church. Christ does indeed call us to let our good works shine before men that they might see them and glorify our Father in heaven. We are called to leave a lasting impression on the world as a result of the mission and message of the Gospel we herald. However, we are not called to try to impress the world with our mission and message but to convert the world by remaining faithful to the mission and message of Jesus Christ, trusting him to accomplish what he has promised as we, his people, go forth in word and deed into the darkness and shine. What's more, we are called to be holy and to remain set apart from the world's sin, neither taking part in their sin nor tolerating such impenitent sin within the church. However, while we need always to identify the world for what it is and to identify its sin as sin, we are not called to burden ourselves with the hourly undertaking of decrying the world's sin for the sake of the church. Rather, we are called foremost to burden ourselves with the mission of decrying our own sins for the sake of our greater mission of peace, purity, and unity in the church--to the end that the church would be less worldly in tolerating the world in the church, and the world, thus, less churchy.
Paul found it necessary to deal with both matters at Corinth, and it appears he addressed these problems on three occasions: in a previous letter that we do not possess, here in 1 Corinthians, and in 2 Corinthians chapter 6. From what we can observe, in every instance, Paul's primary concern was the church's toleration of sin within the church, not the church's lack of concern for the world's sin. Here in chapter 5, it is the church that Paul is addressing, not the sinner--the primary sin Paul is dealing with is the sin of the church for tolerating the sin of the impenitent, so-called brother. It was obvious to Paul and the Corinthians that the incestuous man was in sin, just as it is obvious (or at least it ought to be) when the world around us lives sinfully and continues to march impenitently down a wide primrose path to its own destruction. The problem is when the church joins them in walking that same path while pretending to walk a narrow path as it continues to attempt to impress the world.
When a church fails to discipline, it fails to be a true church. Officers in our church have taken a vow to "strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church." And as an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, I have taken a similar vow: "I promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?" These vows concerning purity, peace, and unity address our fundamental ministry of maintaining Gospel truths in the church. They are interrelated. To maintain Gospel truths is to maintain peace, purity, and unity in the church. For if the Gospel is not maintained, neither peace, purity, nor unity will be preserved.
A lack of discipline in the church is not only a result of the church's failure to strive for peace, purity and unity (which everyone claims to want), but is often a direct result of the church not wanting to seem intolerable to the world. The lost mark of the church is not lost on account of the fact that churches can't find it, but on account of the fact that they're intentionally not looking for it; and they're not looking for it precisely because they know that if they find it they might not be as tolerable and, thus, as impressive to the world. But when a church is consistent in its practice of discipline, it will, by God's grace, help to bring sinners to repentance that their souls might be saved on the last day.
The humorous thing about trying to impress the world is how many Christians actually think the world cares. In their pursuit to charm the careless world, many have put aside their desire to please our holy God. And in striving to convince the world to think the church's mission and message is tolerable, many have sought to convince their churches that church discipline is just another old-school, intolerant practice that makes the mission and message of the church intolerable to sinners.
Indeed, in our natural, sinful, dead state before God, we find the Gospel of peace, purity, and unity completely intolerable. We only want peace if it doesn't disturb us in any way. We only want purity if we can continue to do whatever we want with whomever we want whenever we want. We only want unity if it doesn't demand we conform our words and deeds to a standard above us. Such a mindset is that of the natural man, a man to whom spiritual things are entirely intolerable. But Christians are those whose hearts have been invaded by the Holy Spirit and who take delight in their Father's loving hand of discipline in their lives and in the church.
For what have we to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom we are to judge? God judges those outside. Therefore, we must purge the evil person from among us, even when we are the evil ones, repenting of our sins and trusting Christ and thus purging the bride of Christ of her sin. So, instead of wasting our time casting stones at the world, we need to be the very first ones to cast stones against ourselves. And while we may never achieve the great dream of some in impressing world, we will certainly prove ourselves to be different from the world while we shine as a light unto it, exposing its sin and our own.