In the church, are we supposed to judge anyone? If so, who are we supposed to judge? Beginning in chapter 5, Paul addresses a particular situation about the importance of removing impurity from Church. Apparently Paul had already written to them about this topic, and they had misunderstood. He now seeks to clear it up their misunderstanding…
The way we deal with other people often depends on the relationship they have with us. If we see children misbehaving in a public place – perhaps mistreating the merchandise in a store, we may deal differently with them depending on whether or not they are our children, or perhaps grandchildren. We may consider it appropriate to keep quiet at the misbehavior of children outside our family, but when we see our own children doing the same thing, we know it is time to act. Their relationship to my family tells me how I need to relate to them.
In our passage today, Paul addresses relationships in the family of God – the Church. He particularly addresses how the Church should relate to those who are ungodly in their behavior. We see that: In order to relate correctly to the ungodly, we must consider their relationship to the Church. We need to ask: are they inside the Church or outside? If they are outside the Church, we must exclude judgment upon outsiders. But, if they are inside the Church, we must exercise judgment upon insiders.
I. We must exclude judgment upon outsiders (vv. 9-10, 12-13)
In 1 Cor. 5:9, Paul refers to an earlier letter he had written them, where he had apparently instructed them not to “associate” with sexually immoral people. The word for “associate” means literally mix up together. Paul is referring here to a type of separation, a withdrawal of fellowship. But the Corinthians had apparently misunderstood which sexually immoral people Paul was referring to. He explains in 1 Cor. 5:10a…
Here he is referring to the world as the realm outside the Church. Paul did not mean that they were to separate themselves from the sexually immoral people outside the Church, or from those outside the Church who were guilty of various other kinds of ungodliness. As examples, he lists the greedy, who were controlled by their desire for more money and possessions. They are paired with swindlers, who act on their greedy desires by taking from others, especially the poor and needy. Idolaters were those who worshipped other gods either by participating in their temple ceremonies or by their everyday actions.
Paul’s point is that there are many other kinds of ungodly people in the world, and he was not suggesting that these believers avoid them all, or even the particular type of sexually immoral person in the world, because to do so, they would have to go out of the world. Paul acknowledges that the Church has been left in the world for a reason. When Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17, He prayed knowing that they would face many trials in the world, and that the world would hate them. But as He prayed, He said “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” So, the members of the Church are expected to have contact with the ungodly members of the world. That is how they bear witness to Christ in the world and act as salt and light, as Jesus taught.
But the believers in Corinth had apparently acted upon Paul’s advice by passing judgment upon the sexually immoral people in the world and separating themselves from them. Paul asks them in v.12a… The answer he is looking for is: “nothing. It is not my business to judge those who are outside the Church.” Whose business is it, then? Paul makes it clear in v.13a…
Even Jesus said (in John 3) He did not come to judge the world, but to save it. He will come again to judge, but until He does, His followers are to carry out His mission of salvation. When we pass judgment upon those who are outside the church and refuse to associate with them because of their ungodliness, we are acting as if we are God and have the right to judge, instead of carrying out the mission of salvation He has given us. For the sake of this mission, Paul says we must exclude judgment upon those who are outside the Church.
[Ill] Jesus clashed with the religious leaders of His day over this issue. On one occasion, He was invited to the house of one of the Pharisees to eat. While He was there, a woman of the city, who was apparently a notorious sinner, came to Him with a flask of fragrant oil. She stood behind Jesus weeping and washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Then she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. The Pharisee who had invited Him thought to himself: “This man couldn’t be a prophet, or he would know what kind of woman this is who is touching Him.” He was thinking “If He knew what kind of woman she was, He would have nothing to do with her.” But Jesus said on more than one occasion that it was not those who were well who needed a physician, but those who were sick. He had not come for the righteous, but for sinners. He had not come to judge them, but to save them.
[Ap] There may be good reasons to not associate with ungodly people unnecessarily because their behavior presents a temptation, or it may somehow compromise our Christian testimony. But Paul is not talking about that here. Here we see we must be careful not to shun an unbeliever as an act of judgment. We must expect unbelievers to act like unbelievers and seek opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with them. God has left us in the world and expects that we will have some associations with unbelievers and will act as salt and light to them because of our good deeds that please God.
On the other hand…
II. We must exercise judgment upon insiders (11-13)
In v.11, Paul makes it clear that they were not to keep company with anyone who bears the name of brother (that is, a Christian brother, or sister) who is sexually immoral. Paul is not singling out sexual sin as a special class of sin where special action needs to be taken. He mentions the same kinds of ungodly behavior as in v. 10, and adds “reviler” or “drunkard.” The sinful behaviors are the same (we’re not to understand that these are all of the examples. Paul could go on). The difference is that v.11 is not speaking of someone outside the Church, but someone inside the Church – someone who is named a brother.
Presumably, they have been named a brother by professing faith in Christ and being received into the membership of the Church. When a person joined the Church, they confessed their sins and renounced them, declaring their faith in Christ and their desire to live for Him. Paul is not talking here about someone who happens to stumble into sexual sin and then repents of it, but someone who has continued and is still sexually immoral on a regular basis. He is not talking about someone who loses his temper once a year or has too much to drink on one occasion, but someone who is a reviler or a drunkard. He is talking about people who are characterized by these sins, unrepentant. The members of the church are not to associate with other members whose lives are characterized by such ungodliness with no repentance.
Paul even goes as far as to say that they should not even eat with such a person. The question arises: Is Paul suggesting that they should have absolutely no contact with such a person – that they should completely shun him and give him the silent treatment, as if he did not exist? We get some help from Paul’s 2 Thess. 3:14,15. It is towards the end of his letter, when Paul is urging them to heed his words. He says: “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Here we see the purpose of the separation. It is so the guilty person will be brought to a sense of shame over his sin when he sees that the entire church is united in its testimony against it. The purpose is to bring the person to repentance. It is not something to be done out of hate, as if the person were an enemy, but out of love. It is to warn him as a brother. It seems that to do that, we will have to communicate with him to some extent.
Paul has already judged in vv. 2, 5, and 7 that the particular member involved in sexual immorality should be removed from among them, put out of the Church, and delivered to the world, the realm where Satan holds sway over its people. This is the sentence of ex-communication. Jesus tells His disciples to take this step of action when a person guilty of a private sin cannot be brought to repentance. Mt 18:17 – “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In other words, “treat him as if he is outside the Church.” If he is a member of the church, remove him from your membership. Do not fellowship with him as if he is one of you. Treat him as if he is someone who needs to repent and receive the gospel. The important thing is not so much talking or eating with the person, but what your conversation or eating with them might communicate to them, and to those around. We are not to fellowship with ungodly members of the Church as if there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. Any contact with them should be for the purpose of bringing them to repentance.
Paul says in v.13 that the Church has a responsibility and authority to exercise judgment upon those inside. His conclusion in v.13b… That is a quotation which is repeated several times in Deuteronomy, in each case with reference to the death penalty. One example is Dt 24:7 – “If a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and mistreats him or sells him, then that kidnapper shall die; and you shall put away the evil from among you.” The same phrase is repeated when the death penalty is prescribed for false prophets, idolaters, the rebellious, adulterers, and false witnesses where life is at stake. In each case the reason given is “you shall put away the evil from in your midst…”
The people of Israel understood themselves to be a community in covenant with God. To be outside of the covenant community in any way, was to be separated from God’s covenant, and separated from God. By quoting this verse, Paul links the church with the covenant community of Israel. Excommunication is linked with the death penalty in OT civil law. Paul says those who are put out of the Church through excommunication are to see themselves as being put outside of God’s covenant, and outside of fellowship with God Himself. They are to see themselves as being in danger not of physical death, but eternal death. This is to drive them to repentance and uphold the purity of the Church of Christ.
[Ap] We can get this reversed just like the Corinthians. We may cut off relations with people of the world unnecessarily, and look the other way at sin in the Church. It seems easier to just avoid any kind of conflict. But let us remember that God has given the Church the responsibility to exercise judgment upon those inside for the purpose of bringing brothers and sisters to repentance, and maintaining the purity of Christ’s Church, for His glory.
Someone may object: but didn’t Jesus say that we were not to judge, lest we be judged? It is true that Jesus warned us against playing the judge and jury as individuals. But discipline in the church is not to be carried out by an individual, but by the church as a whole, through its represented leaders, who have been given authority by God to exercise such judgment. Let us judge only what God has asked us to judge. Let us be prepared to carry out our responsibility to one another, and to our Lord, if the need should arise.
[Concl] Jesus’ harshest words were spoken to the Jewish religious leaders of His day. He called them hypocrites and whitewashed tombs. But His purpose was not to attack them or beat them down. He confronted them very plainly with their sin, so that they might be moved to repentance. We do not find Him seeking them out, or spending a lot of time with them. We find Him among the common people in the land – people with serious problems – physical problems, moral problems, spiritual problems. We find Him with the people who were despised and avoided by the religious Jews – lepers, tax-gatherers, and known sinners. Jesus excluded judgment from the common people, but spoke harsh rebukes at times to the religious leaders. He had not come to judge, but to save.
Let us continue the mission He has given us by offering salvation, not judgment, to the lost, and by exercising judgment upon ourselves, that we might be the people God has called us to be.
[Pr] Thank You that You did not come to judge, for we all are guilty, deserving of death. Help us to grasp Your grace, and put away a spirit of self-righteousness, judgment. Give us compassion for the ungodly. Help us bear witness to You. Give us courage and wisdom to deal with sin in our lives, church, body of Christ. That we might be for Your glory.
- 1 Corinthians 5:9 - 13