This morning there is sin in the house of God and the Church has turned a blind eye. Those who have been redeemed, reconciled, cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, and set apart for God’s glory and purpose have forgotten Whose we are, the price He paid to rescue us, and His purpose for sending us back out into the world. Instead of living out His purpose for our lives we have turned back to living just like those in the world. If we belong to Jesus then we must know that our lives are not our own, we have been bought with a price, and we are called to be ambassadors for Christ and not an embarrassment to our Savior. There is sin in the House of God today and because of this God’s name is being mocked in our society because of us, those of us who turn a blind eye to sin, wink at sin, and treat our own sin and the sins of others as if they are really not that big of a deal because, after all, God’s grace is sufficient.
For those who believe that God’s Word is outdated and irrelevant for our modern times, let me share a nearly 2000 year old story with you that will make you think it came out in the morning news this very day. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 5 and let’s read together.
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch– as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-13 NIV)
For those who are still saying that we need to go back to doing things like the Early Church, this one chapter alone should put that argument to rest. What a mess! What a tragedy! When Paul writes, in verse 1, that there was sexual immorality taking place in the church “that even pagans do not tolerate,” that statement alone should rock us back in our chair if we understand how sexually lax the standards of the pagans in Corinth were during Paul’s day.
Corinth had a reputation as a notoriously profane and sexually immoral city. Out on the edge of the city, located 1,800 feet above the city and the harbor of Corinth, was the Acrocorinth. On top of Acrocorinth was a beautiful building called the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sex. The Greek philosopher and historian, Strabo, wrote that at one time there were over 1,000 temple prostitutes, “women dedicated to the goddess for sex and entertainment.” So the people of Corinth were more like Hugh Hefner than the early Puritans, but Paul said they didn’t even allow what was going on in the church in their city. Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner give us insight into how those living under the Roman Empire viewed the kind of relationship Paul pointed out. They write,
In Roman society, though some forms of extra-marital sex were not universally frowned upon, such as fornication, adultery, and prostitution, a relationship between a man and his stepmother was considered incestuous, treated with a sense of outrage and disgust, and punishishable by deportation to an island. (Ciampa, Roy and Rosner, Brian. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. pg. 202)
“A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.” Did you hear that? “A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.” Now, this isn’t his biological mother or Paul wouldn’t have phrased it as he did, but God’s Word is very clear that God considered the relationship as sinful. Let me give you two examples from the Hebrew Bible in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
8 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father. (Leviticus 18:8 NIV)
30 A man is not to marry his father’s wife; he must not dishonor his father’s bed. (Deuteronomy 22:30 NIV)
Anyone who committed this sin was to be “cut off from his people.” Yet, the Corinthians were not disturbed in the least at what was going on. What’s really interesting about this entire chapter is that Paul is as shocked by the behavior of the church as he is with the man who has committed this horrific sin. Take a look at verse 2 with me. Paul writes,
2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? (1 Corinthians 5:2 NIV)
Paul had already highlighted the pride and arrogance of the members of the congregation in 1 Corinthians 3:21; 4:6-7, 18-19. Their pride had led to divisions in the church and now Paul points out how their arrogance had blinded them to the seriousness of what was taking place right before their eyes. How could they have turned a blind eye to this man’s sin? Why would they not do something about it? Those are great questions and one of the most prevalent theories is that the man was a prominent member of the church. The church was proud of this high profile member of society who also called their church “home.” Ciampi and Rosner write,
He may have been a benefactor or patron of the church or a group within it. To lose such a person’s favor would have been costly in a Greco-Roman society, where the generosity of such people was of great importance. Paul’s firm stance on the matter indicates that in the church those who are wise, powerful, and of noble birth receive no privileges (cf. James 2:24) and are not exempt from discipline if they are immoral. (Ciamp and Rosner. pg. 203)
Does this still take place in our own day? Do we dismiss the gross sin of those who can benefit us in some way or of popular preachers who are adored by the masses? Within the last month we’ve heard about the fall of two celebrity pastors who have been exposed for their sin. Before I share what I need to share, I want you to know that I am not sharing rumors, but rather I’m sharing facts that have come out since their sin was first exposed.
For more than a year I had heard rumors about Ravi Zacharias. Ravi was someone I greatly admired for many years, but the allegations were more than serious. I had also heard that those closest to him had been unwilling to challenge Ravi about any of the allegations. They turned a blind eye. Ravi was a highly respected internationally known Christian leader. Just about one year ago, at Ravi Zacharias’ funeral, Vice President Mike Pence said,
In Ravi Zacharias, God gave us the greatest Christian Apologist of this century. He was the C.S. Lewis of our day. Crisscrossed the globe to every Mars Hill he could find, to answer skeptics, move obstacles of unbelief, armed with intellect, girded with truth and love. (Mike Pence)
There’s no doubt that Ravi was a brilliant apologist of the Christian faith. I have read almost every book he’s ever written, but there was another side to Ravi that was abusive, destructive, and diabolical. Because of pressure, the Board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries finally conducted an investigation and the findings will make you sick to your stomach. The exact number of women Ravi sexually abused, even raped, will never be known because he was living out his sexual perversion all over the world. Let me give you just one example of how twisted even a brilliant mind can become.
Ravi arranged for his ministry to provide one woman with financial support and then afterwards he demanded sex from her. The Gospel Coalition website, which detailed the findings of the investigation, shared how Ravi manipulated her.
Zacharias used religious expressions to gain compliance, as she was raised to be a person of faith. She reported that he made her pray with him to thank God for the “opportunity” they both received. She said he called her his “reward” for living a life of service to God, and he referenced the “godly men” in the Bible with more than one wife. She said he warned her not ever to speak out against him or she would be responsible for the “millions of souls” whose salvation would be lost if his reputation was damaged. (Ravi Zacharias Engaged In Sexual Abuse. The Gospel Coalition website)
How could Ravi have gotten away with this kind of conduct for years? Did no one close to Ravi see what was going on? Did no one ask Ravi tough questions about what they were hearing? Did no one hold him accountable? Those who tried were shut down. How dare you question Ravi Zacharias!
More recently, another celebrity pastor, Carl Lentz, the pastor of Hillsong NYC was exposed for having an extramarital affair. The pastor was known for his celebrity status, for his friendship with A-List stars like Justin Beiber, Kevin Durant, Selena Gomez, and many other high profile celebrities. On November 4 of last year, he was fired for the affair. He hired a PR firm to work with him on restoring his reputation, but on December 3 news of additional affairs surfaced and the PR firm backed out of the agreement. Now, months later, news has surfaced that there were those who saw what was taking place and reported it to those who had influence and authority, but nothing happened. How could that be? Why would no one care enough to confront Carl about his behavior? Well, he was larger than life. He was a celebrity pastor who had influence and charisma and of course, “Just look how God is using him!”
Folks, I could go on and on listing the stories of those like Ravi Zacharias and Carl Lentz who took advantage of others, marred the witness of Christ, and ruined their lives and the lives of others. I want to talk just for a moment about those who turned a blind eye because surely in their minds a greater good was taking place that offset the sin taking place. Instead of focusing on the high profile individual or the great good that the person is doing publicly, Paul says the Church should mourn. Take a look at verse two with me once again.
2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? (1 Corinthians 5:2 NIV)
The sin that was taking place should have brought sadness to the whole church. The verb “to mourn,” that Paul uses here, is used in other verses of the New Testament for mourning over the death of a loved one (Matthew 9:15; Mark 16:10). The church should have been mourning over the loss of a brother in Christ who was choosing to ruin his life. They should have been mourning over the shame that his actions would bring on the name of Jesus. They should have been mourning over the tainted testimony of the church because of the man’s sin.
Not too long ago we studied Ezra and Nehemiah. If you will remember, when Ezra learned about the sin of the exiles who God had freed from captivity to return to Jerusalem, Ezra was grieved to the core of his being. We read in Ezra 10:6,
6 Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles. (Ezra 10:6 NIV)
In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he tells the people that he is afraid about his upcoming visit because of their continued sin. Turn to 2 Corinthians 12:21 with me and let’s read it together.
21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. (2 Corinthians 12:21 NIV)
Ezra mourned over the unfaithfulness of God’s people. Paul was grieved over the lack of repentance of God’s people. In our Scripture for today, Paul says that while they were mourning they should have also taken action: “…put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this.”
I’m certain that when some of you heard me read those words you thought to yourself: “That’s the most unchristian thing I’ve ever heard! How could Paul be so insensitive, so uncaring?!” I’ve got two things I want you to think about. First of all, you need to know this was not a one night stand for the man and his stepmom. It had been going on and was continuing to happen. The man was unfazed and unconcerned about what anyone thought about what he was doing. We know this because of the language Paul uses. Paul says to put the man “out of your fellowship” and “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” That is strong language and there is a reason Paul uses it. There is only one other place in Paul’s letters where he uses language like this and it is in 1 Timothy where Paul tells Timothy,
18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20 NIV)
In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, he takes a different approach because he is giving general advice to the churches about how to deal with people in their congregations who have “fallen into sin.” Paul writes, in Galatians 6:1-2,
1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2 NIV)
As brothers and sisters in Christ we must be fully aware that each and every one of us still has to deal with our old sin nature. If I were to fall into sin you should not look down your nose at me, feel a sense of pride that I had fallen into sin, or begin to tell others about what I had done. And I should treat you in the same way. You are my brother in Christ, my sister in Christ. Instead, Paul says we are to “restore that person gently.” Phillip Long, a professor at Grace Christian University, writes,
This means that the church is not arrogant or inconsiderate when dealing with a public sin, they seek to restore the person to fellowship without humiliating the person who was caught by a sin. The goal of any correction in this verse is a restoration of the brother who has sinned. Paul is not creating some sort of inquisition here. (Phillip Long)
The goal of getting involved in the life of a brother or sister who has become entangled in sin and the sin becomes known is to restore that brother or sister, not to dismiss them. Where did Paul come up with this idea of restoration and gentleness? That’s a great question and I have the answer for you. Turn with me to Matthew 18:15-18. Jesus said,
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-18 NIV)
Jesus came to reconcile and redeem that which was lost, sinful, and on the path to destruction. We are called to do the same. In the case of the person who is defiant and unwilling to confess their sin and be restored, then Jesus said to treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector. What is the purpose of distancing ourselves from those who are determined to continue in their sinful lifestyle? Isn’t that uncaring? Not at all if you understand that sometimes people have to taste the bitterness of their choices for them to come to their senses. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season, but the seasons change my friend.
In my estimation no organization understands this more than Alcoholics Anonymous. I was talking to a friend of mine this past week who has been involved in AA for many years. I was sharing what Paul said about putting the man out of their fellowship and I asked my friend, “Why do the members of AA not chase down a member who has twisted off? Why do they let them go and continue to drink?” My friend said, “You have to reach bottom.” There have been alcoholics and drug addicts who have literally been loved to death by family members who enabled them and kept them from reaching their bottom.
I can’t tell you how many times I have met with people through the years who were in the middle of a bad decision. Things were as bad as they were going to get and so I tried to warn them, share God’s Word with them, and plead with them to reconsider. I told them, “I love you so I’ve got to let you know that this is not going to turn out well for you.” Some I never heard from again, but there have been a few I heard from later, after things fell apart for them. God used the loss, loneliness, and destruction to open their eyes. Each of the stories reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son. Do you know the story? Let me give you the CliffNotes version.
There was a young man who grew weary of living on the farm in his dad’s house. He wanted to go to the big city, experience the life he had always dreamed of, and so he went to dad and said, “Give me my inheritance. I’m out of here.” The boy’s father gave him his inheritance and Luke tells us that the boy set out from home with a bag of money. Jesus told the story and He said,
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. (Luke 15:13-14 NIV)
The boy had a great time hitting the clubs, buying all of the ladies drinks, and doing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and nobody could tell him anything. Jesus said he squandered his wealth and “he began to be in need.” That young Jewish guy ended up getting hired to feed hogs. I don’t know how much you know about the Jewish people, but feeding pigs is nowhere on the radar of most desired jobs to have in life. The boy got so hungry that he longed to fill his stomach with the food of the pigs.
Then, something miraculous happened while that Jewish boy was sitting in the pigsty. Jesus said, “…he came to his senses.” How did he come to his senses? Did his father chase him down and each day beg the boy to come home? There’s no hint of that happening. Did he find a good counselor that helped the light come on for him? Nope. I can tell you how he came to his senses. Remember, there is pleasure in sin for a season. The season of fun and wild living ended and the consequences of his choices helped the boy to realize that he had made the worst decision of his life.
He began to think clearly. He remembered how good he had it in his father’s house and so he decided to go home and ask his father to allow him to come back as a hired hand. Jesus tells us,
20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24 NIV)
The father welcomed him home, not as a hired hand, but as his son who was once lost but had been found. What a beautiful picture! Folks, we are God’s people and as the Father welcomes us when we repent, we are to welcome one another when one of us falls into sin and repents. What a beautiful picture!
How about you? Are you of the mind that it’s nobody’s business what you do on your own time? Or, are you smart enough to recognize that you desperately need brothers and sisters in Christ to help you stay on track, walking with the Lord? Do you recognize that there’s more than a good chance that you’re going to get off track at some point, at some time in your life, and you hope God will raise up brothers and sisters in Christ who love you enough to confront you in love and seek to gently restore you? Count me in. I need you and want you to keep a watch over me. I don’t want the name of my Savior to be shamed because of my defiance and sin. I don’t want my family to be shamed because of my defiance and sin.
Here’s one more thing: You might fool some folks some of the time, but you will never fool God. He already knows. I want to invite you to confess your sin to Him this morning. If you’ve been living your life refusing to surrender your heart to Jesus, then won’t you do that this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK 73114
February 28, 2021
1 Corinthians 5:1-13