If anyone ever tries to tell you that the Bible is a book mainly written for children, I’d submit today’s passage as exhibit “A” in counter-evidence. I’d also like to submit it against the notion that the modern Church is so much worse off than the 1st century one. I’m always in favor of bringing the Church closer to her Lord’s standards and closer by his side. But whenever anyone says “I sure wish today’s Church is more like the Church of the 1st century,” I feel like responding “Which church do you want us to be more like? The Corinthian one? The Church in Laodicea? How’s about the Galatians?” There are great churches today, and pretty good churches, and churches which are about to be “spit out” of Jesus’ mouth because they’re disgusting to him.
Speaking of disgusting, my initial response to this chapter: “Eewww!!!”
I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, especially when it comes to believers, so let’s be charitable and say that the “father’s wife” this man was sleeping with was his step-mother, not his blood mother. The verbiage could mean “living with” or “married to.” As Paul indicated though, this was something even the pagans would never practice. Let me clarify and repeat: The nonbelievers in Corinth, the “Sin City” of the 1st century, were disgusted by the practices of the church there. The believers—in this area, at least—were being put to shame by the pagans among them.
So what did Paul tell them to do?
This is where we come to the topic of church discipline, something that’s almost unheard of today. We’ve discussed this a bit before, but besides Matthew 18:15-20 this is the main passage about the topic. Before we get into what this is referring to, we need to be clear on what it’s not talking about.
· It’s not talking about the conduct of nonbelievers. If someone’s not a follower of Christ, their personal conduct—the specific sins they’re committing—is not all that much a concern. A lost person is a lost person who’s a lost person. We’re not their judge, and our response to them is a message of faith in Christ, grace, and repentance (no matter what specific sins they’re guilty of).
· It’s not talking about a believer who’s struggling with a certain sin. Someone might be struggling with sexual immorality or greed or idolatry or any other type of sin. All of us are “works in progress,” and none of us are sinless before him.
· This isn't talking about punishment. The person who experiences this sort of thing probably sees it as punishment, but that’s as far away from its purpose as it could be. There’s a reason it’s called “discipline.” The purpose of discipline is not punishment. It’s restoration. If you read 2 Corinthians, you read that the church did what Paul commanded. Actually—as typical for this church—they went too far in the opposite direction. They cast this guy out of the church, he repented, and. . . the church refused to take him back. Paul told them straight-out that now that he’s repented, they should forgive him and take him back.
But if someone is involved in a public flouting of God’s standards (Paul specifically lists some more public sins in vs. 11), and they refuse to repent (and that would entail stopping it), then the church leadership—for the sake of our Lord’s name, as well as for the sake of the church’s health—has to 1) Approach the person in private, 2) Lovingly call upon him to repent, 3) Bring it before the church, and 4) Then disassociate the church from that person. That means you don’t eat with him or associate with him in any way. Obviously, the instant that the offender repents (at any stage in this process), you immediately halt the procedure and bring the person back into fellowship.
Again, I can’t emphasize enough that the point here is restoration, not punishment. But when someone is acting this way, to ignore it like the proverbial elephant in the room is not the loving thing to do. It doesn’t show love towards our Lord, it doesn’t show love towards the church, and it doesn’t show love towards the person who’s doing this.
To put it on a more personal level, Solomon told us “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” So is there someone you need to “wound” today? Or do you need to be on the receiving end? And if someone does pull out the “knife,” then what’s your reaction?
Lord Jesus, I know for myself that I need constant correction from your Spirit. If I stop listening to your Spirit’s rebuke, then please send some real friends who’ll love me enough to wound me in love. That’s your grace at work.