Tonight’s Bible study looked at the difficult topic of church discipline (1 Cor 5:1-13). The immediate cause for concern in this chapter is sexual immorality (a man was sleeping with his stepmother and seemed to think this was perfectly acceptable, as did others in the church, presumably because in their ‘enlightened’ state, the Corinthians felt they were so spiritual, what they actually did physically had no spiritual consequences.) Sexual purity has always been an issue in the church. In 1 Cor 6:18-20, Paul shows us why: all other sins are committed ‘outside the body’, but whoever sins sexually sins against their own body, which as Christians is a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Biblical view of sex (later expounded in 1 Cor 7) is that of sexual purity outside of marriage and sexual faithfulness within marriage; marriage between a man and a woman is the only Biblical endorsement of sex. This issue is as relevant today as it was when Paul wrote this letter, for our society does not recognise this Biblical view of sex and many inside the church do not live according to God’s laws.
It’s often said that ‘a sin is a sin is a sin’, meaning that all sin should be judged in the same way. Whilst it is true that we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) and that in that sense, any sin means we cannot reach God’s mark, it is clear that not all sins have the same consequences (see Ex 32:30, Ex 22:1-14, Num 35:6-34, Ezek 23, John 19:11, Luke 19:5-9, Luke 12:47-48); our law makes provision for this in regard to murder and manslaughter, showing that intent, motives and attitude have to be considered as well as actual behaviour. Paul is concerned because the Corinthians are treating sin lightly; it is for this reason that he challenges the church to deal with this behaviour by actually expelling (or excommunicating) the immoral brother.
This course of action should never be taken lightly. The Bible urges us to speak with people privately and seek to resolve matters (see Matt 18:15-20). Even Paul is clear that the drastic measures to be taken (whereby a person is ‘handed over to Satan‘) is to be done with the express purpose of their restoration (see 1 Cor 5:5, 2 Cor 2:5-11). He is also clear to differentiate between believers and non-believers (1 Cor 5:9-11). Nonetheless, there must be a clear difference in lifestyles between those who profess the name of Christ and those who do not. This does not apply only to sexual sins (as the rest of the chapter makes clear) and help must be given to all those struggling with sin (see Gal 6:1). Nonetheless, we cannot dilute God’s Word and must acknowledge the high standards it proclaims and endeavour to live by its guidelines, in discipline as in all matters.