Forgiveness and the Church
(1 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 2)
Introduction: Many years ago, a pastor asked me to go along with him on a visit to begin the disciplinary process of a church member who was involved in a very serious sin. This was not a visit I wanted to make. My assumption was that this church member knew we were coming and why. It turned out the member thought this was a social call and had no idea I was coming. Imagine my discomfort when the pastor began discussing the sin problem and the member said "What's Bruce doing here?" Shortly after that, the church member asked, "What business is this of you guys? (i.e., what are either of you doing here?" Good question! I was asking myself why I was there! What is the "business" of the church when it comes to sin among members? Let's dive in and discover what the Bible says!
- Passing Judgment?
- Read 1 Corinthians 5:1. The Greek text does not initially describe the sin here. It mentions some type of sexual sin. Later, in verse 1, we read "a man has his father's wife?" Is this an indirect way of saying this church member was having a relationship with his mother? (No. This is telling us that he is having a sexual relationship with his step mother.)
- How serious is this sin? Paul mentions that pagans did not do this. Should we determine the nature of sin by looking around at what pagans are doing? ( Leviticus 18:8 directly addresses this sin. Not only had God prohibited this practice, but the pagans naturally avoided this practice.)
- When sexual sins are mentioned, I commonly hear the ladies say, "Why don't they go after the man? Why just the woman?" Ladies, I want you to note who is being judged by Paul here! Men, why didn't Paul go after the woman in this story? (I think this gives us a very interesting insight. The woman must be a pagan. My bet is that the father is too. This man probably was "converted" from a wild, pagan family.)
- Read 1 Corinthians 5:2. Consider the reaction of the church members. Why would they be proud about this?
- Give me some likely set of circumstances that would cause the church to be proud of this member? (Sometimes we are particularly critical of the wealthy, and sometimes money makes up for a host of sins. My bet is that this man came from a prominent, wealthy, wild family. The church was proud to have a prominent society member as a member of the church. He was probably a high profile "conversion.")
- Notice the two reactions that Paul says the church members should have had: grief and judgment. Are those the two reactions you most often see coupled together when church discipline is applied?
- I remember the sad case of an attractive young couple divorcing because of adultery. Both of these young people were my friends. Because of the nature of the sin, my position in the church, and our friendship, the wife wanted the maximum punishment imposed on her husband. How often do you see anger and judgment involved in church discipline, rather than grief and judgment?
- Read 1 Corinthians 5:3. What do you think about someone who is not present, who does not know the people involved, passing judgment from a distance? (As a lawyer, I'm always concerned about having all the facts before I make a judgment. However, it is also true that someone a little removed from a situation can sometimes more clearly judge the merits of an situation.)
- In the introduction I asked you about church discipline. What have we learned about church discipline? Is the church required, in certain circumstances, to impose discipline?
- Reason for Judgment?
- Let's read on in our story. Read 1 Corinthians 5:4-5. Wow! Hand the sinner over to Satan! Is this our mission? Search out those sinners, and hand them over to Satan? Doesn't this seem to be "fishing" for the Devil and not the Lord?
- What is Paul's reason for handing a notorious sinner over to Satan? (His sinful nature may be destroyed.)
- Please explain the logic of this. Why would handing someone over to Satan destroy his sinful nature? Would it not strengthen his sinful nature?
- If you hand someone over to the Lord, isn't the idea to strengthen his Godly nature?
- If this sinner remains a member of the church in good standing, what message does that convey to him about his sin? (This is Paul's point. If you leave him in the church, and are proud of having him as a member, he will not take his sin seriously because the church does not take it seriously. If you point out the seriousness of the sin, by saying "You are now a fellow with Satan," well, that gets the man's attention. As we discussed last week, the first step in coming to Jesus is to come face to face with your sins, which leads you to repentance.)
- You remember the story in our introduction? Recall the question asked of me: what business of church leaders is the sin of church members? What answer would you give based on what we have studied?
- Since the woman was not named by Paul as someone to discipline, how should church leaders treat sin among the pagans as opposed to sin among members?
- Read 1 Corinthians 5:6-7. Paul started out speaking about the effect of "unjudged" sin on the sinning member. Now he is talking about cooking. What does cooking have to do with anything? ("Yeast" is a symbolic term for sin.)
- What other church problem does "unjudged" sin create? (Paul is teaching us that church discipline has two positive results. First, it helps the sinner to confront his sin - the first step in repentance. Second, it helps to keep the church pure. Tolerating open sin in the church has a negative influence on other church members.)
- How do you decide what constitutes a "little yeast?" At what point should sin be disciplined? For example, if I had an open sexual affair that was known to church members, then I should clearly be disciplined by my local church because I am a "high profile" member. What about the fringe people in the church? What position should the church take on people who occasionally show up at church, and who have a child outside of marriage, have a sexual affair, steal, etc.? (This is difficult for me. I have always taken the position that "struggling" members, marginal members, should not be disciplined. In the rare cases where I was involved in discipline, it was for relatively "high profile" members. Paul uses the term "little yeast" meaning tolerating a small amount of sin in the church can be a problem. However, he did not say "any" yeast, thus leaving me to believe not all sin needs church discipline. However, there is the idea that discipline helps the sinner.)
- Read 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. What is the line, the boundary, for church discipline? (We are not to be judging those outside the church. Here Paul couples the person's claim to be a church member with obvious sin. The idea is that the person is bringing reproach upon the church. He is hurting the church. On the other hand, sinners outside the church are our mission field.)
- Love and Judgment
- Read 2 Corinthians 2:6-8. Barnes Notes commentary connects the discipline that Paul commanded in 1 Corinthians 5 (what we just studied) with this follow-up letter from Paul. What does v. 6 imply has happened between these two letters? (That the sinning member that was disciplined has repented. Paul says the discipline was sufficient.)
- What does this say about Paul's theory that discipline helps to bring a church member to his senses? (It worked here.)
- After a member has been disciplined and has repented, what is the next obligation of the church to that person? (Forgive, comfort and love.)
- Why? (One of the two major goals of church discipline is to help the member turn back to God. Since discipline seems harsh at first, comfort and love are to be immediately applied to those who turn away from the sin.)
- Friend, we see a comforting picture of God even in the context of discipline. God wants His church to be pure. He also wants those who have sinned to turn away from their sin. God asks the rest of the members to show love and comfort and forgiveness to those who have turned from their sin. The goal is to restore the member to a continued walk with God.
- Next week: For the Love of God.