2020-5-17 The Grace of Discipline

The Grace of Discipline
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
May 17, 2020

Prayer for Illumination:

Lord God, you are the sovereign king. You are the one who has created the world and you are the one who has redeemed it after we have rebelled against you. You hold the very words of life. Grant that your Spirit may enliven us so that we may hear your words and have life. This we ask in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 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. 11 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. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”[1]

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of God stands forever. Amen.

Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He played for the LA Lakers from 1996, when he was 18 years old, until his retirement in 2016. During those 20 years, Bryant won the NBA 5 times. He made that All-Star team 18 times. He was a member of the all NBA team 15 times. He was one of the greatest players of all time.

One of the things that made Kobe so great was his discipline. Not long after signing for the Lakers at age 18, Kobe would show up to practice two hours early. He would work on his shooting and his dribbling before anyone else arrived. Dwayne Wade was played with Kobe on the Olympic team in 2008. Wade said that by the time of the team had come down to breakfast at 8am, Kobe had already spent three hours in the gym practicing. Kobe was incredibly disciplined.

We often laud athletes like Kobe Bryant or Peyton Manning for their discipline in practicing and becoming great in their sport. We laud entrepreneurs for their discipline in working hard to start their business. But we are often repulsed by the idea of Church discipline. As a culture, we are rugged individualists. We like the idea of self-discipline but don’t like the idea of corporate discipline where someone else might tell us what to do or how to do it.

The Church in America has been reluctant to discipline. Part of the reason is that in bigger churches, the leadership might not know most of the congregants. Because they might not know most of the congregants, they cannot perform discipline. Others fear that if we practice discipline then people will leave. Carl Trueman, a pastor and historian, has said that the biggest detriment to discipline has been the automobile.

Paul and even Jesus envision that the Church will practice discipline. Pastor Stephen Um writes, “Discipline is the means by which we try to carefully, graciously, and with great conviction manager our own house, so to speak. If discipline is functioning properly in the church, there will be a self-correcting ecosystem, and the glaring examples of hypocrisy that we see would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated”.[2] The purpose of discipline is to correct and restore believers as well as for the purity of Christ’s Church.

As we examine this chapter, we’ll see the grounds for discipline, the goal of discipline, and the guide for disciple.

The Grounds for Discipline

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

Paul has been addressing issues in the Corinthian congregation. He has already addressed the issue of factionalism. Now he is addressing the ethical issues that plague the congregation he planted several years ago.

Paul has heard from Chloe’s people that one of the members of the congregation is having an affair with his father’s wife. He’s not having an affair with his mother. “Father’s wife” is a biblical way of saying stepmom. In that culture it wasn’t uncommon for women to marry young and for them to marry men who were 15-20 years older than them. So this woman is probably close to the age of this man.

Today if you were having an affair with your stepmom you might just end up on Jerry Springer or Maury, but you probably wouldn’t end up in jail. In the first century, having an affair with your stepmom would land you in jail. It wasn’t just considered immoral and wrong but harmful to society. Leviticus 18:8 forbade this type of behavior in Jewish culture while there were various laws forbidding this in the Greco-Roman culture.

While all of this is going on, the church in Corinth did absolutely nothing. Everyone knew that this man was having an affair with his stepmom. It was common knowledge. There’s a hint that it was even flaunted. Given the fact that it was culturally unacceptable and possibly punishable by jail it is shocking that they did nothing. Paul says that they’re arrogant about it.

Why? Why have they done nothing about it? Why are they boasting that this man is doing something so reprehensible? There are two reasons. First, it seems that this man had some sway in the congregation. Some of the older commentators said connected what Paul said in the previous section about humanly wisdom and this man here. They thought he might have been either a host opening his home to the church or even a teacher himself.[3]They were proud that they had such a leader.”[4] The Corinthians were afraid to offend him and lose a teacher or his support. Second, there were was a sort of antinomian belief in the congregation; the Corinthians had seemed to think that since Christ has borne their judgment, they can live how they want. That is not the case. Yes, Christ has borne the judgment for the sins of his church but that doesn’t mean believers can live however they so desire. Edward Fisher wrote a great book on the subject, The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Paul says that the Corinthians ought not to boast or be arrogant about this situation, rather they should mourn. They should be heartbroken that one of their own is committing such a grievous sin. Sexual immorality of any kind is a serious sin. Paul will get to the seriousness of sexual immorality in the next chapter. Because this sin is so serious and this man is unrepentant, Paul tells the Corinthians to remove the man from among them. He is telling them to excommunicate the man.

So often Christians are viewed as hypocrites on this issue. The culture often says that Christians are so concerned with the sexual sins of the world – whether that be adultery, homosexuality, casual sex, or transgender issues – but ignore the sexual sins inside the church. I think they’re not too far off. Last year, the Houston Chronicle reported that various congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention had covered up nearly 700 cases of sexual abuse and misconduct over 20 years. And during those 20 years, the SBC was engaged in condemning the sins of the world while ignoring the sins in their own midst. Or two years ago when Willow Creek was found out to have covered up allegations against Bill Hybels. The world sees that and thinks we’re hypocrites for calling out the sexual sins of the world while ignoring and covering up our own.

That’s not how it should be. Paul says in verses 9 and 10 and the first half of verse 13, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 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… God judges those outside”. What Paul is saying is that our focus shouldn’t be on condemning the sins of the world. God will judge the sins of the world. We need to be worried about the sins inside the Church. We need to be concerned with disciplining those inside the Church.

It’s not just sexual sins where Paul says the Church ought to exercise discipline. In verse 11 he says, “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.” Paul is saying that if someone is engaged in sexual immorality, idolatry, drunkenness, contempt, or theft that they ought to be disciplined. There are three areas for discipline here. Idolatry is heresy; sexual immorality, greed, drunkenness, and swindling are forms of immorality; and reviling is contemnpt. He says there are three areas for discipline, immorality, contempt, and heresy.

As a denomination, we have a Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline lays out three areas for church discipline, immorality, contempt, and heresy.[5] If a member of the church were to engage in sexual activity outside of a one man – one woman marriage, the elders could and should exercise discipline. If a member of the church were to regularly be under the influence of alcohol or certain medications, the elders could and should exercise discipline. If a member of the church were to regularly be stirring up discord, the elders could and should exercise discipline. If a member of the church were to regularly be teaching heresy, the elders could and should exercise discipline. Those are the grounds for discipline. Immorality, contempt, and heresy are the grounds of church discipline.

The Goal of Discipline

I know some of you are struggling with this. You hear this and your first thought is “this is cruel, this is judgmental”. Proverbs 3:11, 12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights”. We discipline those whom we love. God loves his Church. So he has his undershepherds, the elders of his Church, discipline. The goal of discipline is to correct and restore believers who have fallen into sin and for the purity of the Church.

In verse 3 Paul says, “For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

Paul is saying that this man ought to be excommunicated from the church. While that sounds harsh, the end goal of the excommunication is for the man to repent and be restored to the Church “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord”. The end goal is to see this man repent of his heinous and grievous sin so he will be saved when Christ returned.

The Day of the Lord is a reference to the day when Christ returns. When Christ returns, every human who has ever lived will be before him. And on that day, he will separate the sheep from the goats; he will separate believers from nonbelievers. Once Christ has separated the two groups, those in Christ will be given their glorified bodies and enter into the new heavens and the new earth while those not found in Christ will enter damnation and bear judgment for their sin.

What Paul is saying is that by disciplining this man, he is hoping that that he will repent and be saved when Christ returns. He is hoping that by allowing his man to suffer all of the consequences of his actions, the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences he will be convicted of his sin and repent.[6] The goal of discipline is to correct this man’s sin and see him restored to the Church.

When we discipline believers, we are not taking out our anger on them or abusing them. That is not discipline. The goal of discipline is to correct sinful behavior and see those persons restored.

Many of you are parents and grandparents. Undoubtedly you have had to discipline your children and your grandchildren. Do you discipline them because you hate them and want to take your anger out on them? No. You discipline them because you love them and you want to correct inappropriate behavior and see them grow up into mature men and women.

The same is true of church discipline. We discipline members because we love them so that we can correct them; whether they need correcting in the moral realm, theological realm, or in the relational realm, we discipline out of love so that they can be corrected.

We also discipline for the purity of the Church. Paul says in verses 6 and 7, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”

Paul uses a metaphor to describe how sin contaminates and spreads. He compares it leaven or yeast. If you’re making bread and you put a little bit of yeast on the corner of the dough, the yeast will spread to the entire batch of dough. It will permeate the entirety of the dough. If the church in Corinth were to not discipline this man, then his sin would spread to others. Others would see that this type of behavior is acceptable and would continue doing it.

We know this. We see this play out in the world. If a company tolerates certain behaviors from one individual, then others will join in. The leaven of their behavior will spread to the other workers. If we do not discipline for immorality, contempt, or heresy, those behaviors and beliefs will spread. The leaven of those sins will spread to other believers and they will continue in those behaviors and beliefs.

Paul says cleanse out the old leaven because we are new loaf. In Christ we have been made new. The old has gone and the new has come. He has removed our sin from us. As far as the east is from the west that is how far God has removed sin from us in Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection he has purified his Church. His blood has washed believers white as snow.

Sometimes we think that the Church is a museum for saints. People think that you have to be already cleaned up and polished before you can come in. They think that the Church a place to show off your glory. No. The church is a hospital for sinners. Doctors and hospitals treat sickness and disease with various medicines. The Church treats the sickness of sin with medicine of gospel sometimes applied through discipline.

Ought we not strive to see believers corrected from sinful habits and beliefs in order that they might be saved on the Day of the Lord? Ought we not strive to maintain the purity of the Church? Ought we not care for the patients in our pews who sometimes need the medicine of discipline?

The Guide for Discipline

So how do we discipline? Is there a guide to discipline? Paul gives us a glimpse in these verses. In verse 8 he says, “Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Paul says “celebrate the festival” what he means by that is the Lord’s Supper. In the first two or three decades after Christ’s resurrection, the Church celebrated the Lord’s Supper weekly and with more than just a little piece of bread and little sip of grape juice. They had a full meal commemorating the meal Jesus shared with Disciples on the night he was betrayed.

What Paul is saying in this verse is those who are in unrepentant sin, the old leaven, ought not partake in the Lord’s Supper. That’s why before every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper I say “if you are a baptized, professing believer in good standing with your home church you are welcome to partake; if you are not baptized, have not made a profession of faith, or are not in good standing we ask you refrain from partaking the Lord’s Supper”. This is an opportunity for believers to self-discipline. The Lord’s Supper should be a time where we reflect and examine ourselves to see whether or not we are in unrepentant sin. And if you are in unrepentant sin, self-discipline and do not partake until you have repented of your sin and strive by the grace of God to live free from sin.

If sin comes to the attention of the Session, then our first act is to speak to that person privately about the sin, to lovingly admonish them, and to restrain them from the table. The goal in this is to lovingly correct them and see them repent of their sin. Our hope is that by allowing this person to experience the emotional and spiritual consequence of their sin they will repent. We will continually admonish and counsel that person to repent. Until they do, we will restrain them from the table.

If that doesn’t work, then the Session should bring it to the attention of the Church as Jesus says in Matthew 18. The purpose in bringing it to the body is not to air dirty laundry in public or shame the person. The purpose in bringing it to the body is so that the whole congregation can pray for correction and restoration.

If that doesn’t work, then the final step in discipline is excommunication. Paul says “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” And again, “Purge the evil person from among you”. Excommunication is the last step in discipline and it is reserved for those who are completely and utterly unrepentant of their sin. We excommunicate in hopes that by removing that person from the Church they experience the consequence of their and are ultimately led to repentance so that they might be saved on the Day of the Lord.

Maybe this chapter and sermon has caused you to examine yourself. That’s a good thing. None of us are perfect and we will never be perfect in this life. If you recognize that you are a sinner and are repentant of your sin, then you are welcome to the Lord’s Table. The Lord’s Supper is for you. It is a visual reminder of the good news that Christ has died in the place of all who believe bearing their sin and gives us the cup of fellowship with God.

But if you are unrepentant of your sin and do not asking God for grace to overcome your sin, then the Supper is not right for you. You ought to take that time to remind yourself of the gospel, that sin deserves condemnation and death, and unless you repent and trust in Christ then you will experience what he experienced on the cross.

The goal of discipline is to correct and restore believers and for the purity of Christ’s Church. As difficult as it is to accept, it is ultimately for our good.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 5:1–13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross (Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 92.

[3] “It is easy to overlook the peccadilloes of those who contribute generously to the church funds, or open their homes for church meetings” (Goulder, 1999, p. 348; quoted in Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians [Illinois; Crossway, 2015], p. 318).

[4] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2252). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[5] EPC Book of Discipline ch. 1

[6] Kim Riddlebarger, 1 Corinthians: Lectio Continua Expository Commentary Series (Georgia: Tolle Lege, 2013), 125.