We can have a positive or negative reaction when we here the word “discipline”. Sometimes we describe “discipline” as the habits we have to keep ourselves happy. We think of athletes or musicians who have trained for many years to accomplish their goals. We think, “Wow, the discipline it took to get there,” and we have some level of admiration for those type of people. This is what I would call “internal discipline”. We like this in our culture today because it has no direct bearing on our lives.
But when it comes to “external discipline” we begin to have those negative reactions. External discipline comes from someone in a position of authority who tells us how to live. In world full of people who are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we all desire to be autonomous. Deep down inside our hearts we want to do things our own way.
Theme: God wants us to discipline each other so we will live in the truth.
A sexually immoral problem—I Cor 5.1-2.
We learned from I Corinthians 1.11 that there were several issues coming up regularly in the Corinthian church that they needed Paul to address. The first of those was “Christian Leadership” which Paul addressed in I Cor 1-4. The second problem Paul addresses is a sexually immoral problem—I Cor 5.1-2. As you can see there seems to be a man sleeping with his “father’s wife”. It would seem that since it says “father’s wife” that this is not the man’s mother, but a stepmother. But Paul has two concerns: (1) the unbelieving world around them, think this act is immoral, and (2) some of the Corinthian believers are proud of it. For the unbelieving world to think this is immoral act was saying something because Corinth was known as a sexually immoral port city. So for them to this was immoral is saying something.
Before we are to tempted to dismiss ourselves from being sexual immoral let’s explore the motivation behind “sexually immorality” according to Paul. Look with me in I Cor 5.9-11. Paul uses a heart probing progression. The sexually immoral is the behavior that is easy to see, but it is rooted in “greed” (which is a way of saying self-interest), and that is rooted in idolatry. The person is choosing to worship themselves and does not care about the effect their behavior will have on anyone else. The man is not concerned how his father, the church, the unbelievers in his city, and most importantly he is not concerned for God and His reputation. I mean what does it say about Jesus when His followers are doing something worse than an unbeliever would do.
As you examine your heart today, consider what are you being “greedy” about? What are you putting before the interest of others? What are you putting before Jesus? How might those things be affecting others around you? Think through how much it is making a mockery of God’s reputation to our city and communities.
1. The purpose of discipline—I Cor 5.3-5.
So Paul begins by making a recommendation. Paul recommends they excommunicate this man from being a member of the church. In Matthew 18 Jesus instructs us on how we are deal with sin or conflicts within the church. Clear “sinful” acts are what we would call formal discipline, but “conflicts” would be what we call informal discipline. Both are a part of a regular part of the life of a church.
In the case Paul is dealing with in this text he is recommending the final step in formal discipline, which is “excommunication”. This is when we begin to treat a professed believer like an unbeliever. This does not mean a complete rejection, but brings clarity to the relationship. That is the first thing excommunication does. For instance, according to the Bible we are to submit to our leaders, but how can we know that with knowing who those leaders are? Membership allows the elders to know who they are responsible for, and allows Christians who are not elders to know who they are submit to. Membership helps us understand who is in the relationship. Excommunication does the same thing.
According to our text today excommunication is a community decision because it has effects on the entire community or body. The church community is a body and we need to know if we are going to loose an arm. This is why Paul says things like—I Cor 5.3-5. According to Matthew 16 & 18 we see language that helps us understand that Jesus has given certain authorities to the Church. This is why Paul will say things like “I am present in spirit”, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus,” “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh”.
Finally notice this last phrase, “for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Whether it is informal or formal discipline we should always want to see people restored into a right relationship with us, and God. When we do discipline, even excommunication, it is because we are exercising faith that God will reveal the truth to them. That is the primary purpose for the discipline in the church.
2. The symbol of discipline—I Cor 5.6-8.
Once we under the purpose of discipline hopefully it helps us see the need for regular “discipline” in our lives. We need people and rhythms in our lives that will help to discipline us so we will remain in a right relationship with God.
I Corinthians is one of the few books in the Bible that directly talks about a theology of Communion outside of the Gospels. Paul most clearly talks about Communion in I Cor 11, but he begins to address it right here in these verses. You see one reason Communion was implemented by our LORD was to regularly discipline us. In I Cor 11.28 Paul instructs to the Christian to examine themselves before they eat and drink. We are to make sure we are not taking part in Communion the same way an unbeliever would. To the unbeliever the broken body and spilled blood of Christ means next to nothing to them.
In I Corinthians 5.6-8 and 11 Paul uses a cooking metaphor to drive home how discipline and Communion relate to one another. Any little bit of “old leaven” can ruin the whole lump. In the Bible “leaven” many times symbolizes the presence of sin among God’s people. The more you dig into the metaphor throughout Scripture it is more specifically the sins of disobedience and hypocrisy.
The Corinthians are regularly displaying and partaking in hypocrisy by continuing to celebrate Communion in a unworthy manner. They are boasting about this man’s actions. They are allowing one man’s actions corrupt the entire church and their witness to the unbelievers in their city.
They are missing the point of Communion. Communion is unifying meal. This man’s actions are attempting to bring disunity into the church. It is during Communion we come together to regular experience the unifying of Christ death of the Cross. This is why Paul says, “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed”. Paul uses these metaphors from the OT to remind us that it was unleavened bread that Israelites ate during Passover in Egypt. God used the Passover as the way of setting them free from slavery. We have been set free from sin by the body and blood of Christ. That body and blood unifies us.
But in Corinth they are in tension with each other. They are picking the leaders they want to follow, they are suing each other in court, they are arguing over their dietary habits, the wealthy member are getting drunk during Communion, the poor members cannot partake in Communion because they can’t afford it, and we have this man sleeping with his stepmother. These things sound like a church still living as slaves to sin. Who are those people you are in tension with today in the body of Christ? Are you regularly taking in our unifying meal like a hypocrite? The symbol warns against this. We should be taking the meal in “sincerity and truth”. If you are know you are not in unity with someone then we need to heed the warning, examine ourselves, and repent.
3. The extreme in discipline—I Cor 5.9-13.
In this final section today Paul explains the final step or the extreme case of discipline. In I Cor 5.11 Paul tells us that anyone who is in these regularly unrepentant habits of sin are to be denied communion. They are to be excommunicated. They are to be denied the rights of a believer, because they do not want them. They are denying the grace of God and making a mockery of Christ.
Not associating means not partaking in the Communion meal with them. They are already denying the body and blood of Christ means nothing or next to nothing to them. Allowing them to continue to partake in the meal is like lying to them. In Ezekiel 33 the prophets gives an illustration of a look out who sees danger coming but doesn’t say or do anything, and God tells the look out their blood is on your hands.