The church in Corinth was in the middle of a crazy pagan culture. They actually had religious temples with prostitution that were a regular part of their worship, not in the Christian Church, but in the pagan world around them. If you look at our culture today, it is very similar to the culture in Corinth. It’s upside-down up when it comes to our morality and our views of sex and sexuality. What is the right way to handle a sinful situation in the church? When we courageously confront, we set an example that will draw people closer to Jesus.
By The Numbers
Statistics from the Kinsey Research Institute on human sexuality in America are revealing. Two-thirds of 18 to 34-year-olds in America, do not believe premarital sex is ever wrong. Two-thirds of 18 to 34-year-olds don’t see anything wrong with premarital sex ever for any reason. Almost 50%, half of those who would identify as evangelicals, who are 18 to 29 years of age are in favor of same-sex marriage. Half of those who would call themselves evangelicals say there is no problem with same-sex marriage. 71% of Americans see nothing morally wrong with having sex before marriage. In addition, there is a pervasiveness of pornography that is readily accessible on our phones.
42% of teenagers had been exposed to internet porn in the past year. And two thirds of those said they weren’t looking for it, or they didn’t want to see it. Sexual sin is just like any other sin, but the Bible says it has a more personal impact than other sins because it touches something deep inside at the core of who we are.
Sexuality is not everything like our culture wants to say it is, but it is an important part of our lives. Sexuality can be a great part of life. Don’t forget that sex is God’s idea. Hugh Hefner didn’t think up the idea of sex. God did. He created us with our sexuality and He designed it for good. God created sex to be a great experience in the context of a committed marriage relationship between one man and one woman for life.
The problem is not just something that we see in the culture around us, but it’s also an issue in today’s church. 1 Corinthians 5 directly addresses this problem of immorality in the church.
1 Corinthians 5
Paul was answering questions for the church in Corinth. He was trying to help them know how to deal with this difficult situation. In the process, he brings up a lot of questions for us to have to answer and deal with. It starts out with this guy who is sleeping with his father’s wife. She was probably his stepmother. His dad may have even passed away. We don’t really know. This was not just something that had happened, but it was an on-going situation that this guy was in with his stepmother. And, the church was actually proud of the way they dealt with this by sweeping it under the rug.
Paul asks, “Shouldn’t they have rather gone into mourning and removed him from their fellowship?” Shouldn’t they have had some grief over the sin that was taking place, but instead, they were proud of the way they handled (or mishandled) the scandal. They were proud because they had a culture of extreme grace that said, “Hey, we all have sin in our lives and so we’re just going to accept him. We’re just going to love him. And we’re just going to let him continue in his sin.” That’s called licentiousness. It’s a license to continue in sin. They just washed over it and looked the other way.
In fact, they were actually prideful. It’s pride that leads us into sin because we say, “I want to be in control of my own life. I want to call the shots for my own life.” And then once we sin, it’s our pride that leads us to raise up our sin and put it in other people’s faces and say, “Look at what I’ve done. Look at how much freedom I have and look at my sin.” And we put that in other people’s faces. Some people, as well as some churches today, are saying, “We’re so proud because we’re so open. We just accept anything and anything goes, and it doesn’t really matter what people do or what they think or how they act or how they believe. We’re just going to accept anything.” In the process, we become prideful of our sin.
Paul uses the Greek word porneia which means sexual immorality, but it includes every kind of sexual sin. It’s an umbrella term that includes every kind of immorality that’s related to sex, such as premarital sex, extramarital sex, and homosexual sex.
Recently, Pastor Andy Stanley gathered about 250 singles to answer questions on the topic of love, sex, and dating and relationships. People were supposed to write questions and turn them into a moderator ahead of time. One middle-aged guy asked this question, “I’m divorced. Why should I save sex for marriage?” Here’s what Andy Stanley said about that.
“Good question. Your direct question deserves a direct answer. If all there is to life is this life. If you’re merely a predator and women are prey, if sex is just physical and disconnected from the concept of permanency, exclusivity, and relationship, then I can’t think of any reason not to have sex with as many women as you can convince to hop into bed with you.”
That’s not exactly the answer that people were expecting from their pastor, and it was particularly disturbing to women. It’s disturbing to all of us, right? Then he said,
“If there’s more to life than what meets the eye, if there’s a God in whose image you’ve been made and whose image every woman you’ve met has been made, if sex is a creation that was created with a purpose. And if part of that purpose is to enhance the expression of intimacy between two people. And if that fragile, wonderful, delicate experience, we call intimacy can be damaged or broken through abuse, then your sexual conduct matters a lot. So, you have to decide, what do you believe? Not just about sex, but about everything. Once you decide the answer to your important question will be clear. It will be uncomfortably clear.”
It’s very clear, according to God’s word, that Christians must not be sexually immoral, but at the same time, the church has a responsibility to help those that are caught in sexual sin.
Dare to Discipline
That involves another issue this passage is dealing with, that we don’t like to talk about much, called church discipline. Church discipline is not a formal thing. It’s about relationships, because the church is a family. We’re a family and we’re here to help each other, just like we would in any kind of family. As a church, we have to take a stand against compromise and against those influences that would try to corrupt the church from within. When we see sin in someone’s life and in our own lives, it should break our hearts. We should grieve about the sin in our lives and in the lives of those that we love.
It starts by guarding our own behavior. Is there someone in your life that you need to talk with?
Should Christians Judge?
Paul says, “Even though I’m not physically present, I’m with you in spirit.” Paul said that he’s already passed judgment on this guy who was sleeping with his father’s wife. That raises a question for us. How can Paul pass judgment? What gives him that right? I thought that as Christians, we weren’t supposed to judge others. It is true that we’re not supposed to have a judgmental attitude.
Whenever God’s Word talks about judging, there are different types of judgment that are being dealt with. What does it actually mean to judge?
One way we use the word judge is to determine someone’s worth or value, or we determine their ultimate destiny. You and I can’t do that. We can’t really know people’s hearts. We can’t know ultimate motives. God is the only one who can ultimately be the judge.
The second idea of judgment is that throughout the day, especially as leaders, we have to make judgment calls. We have to determine whether an action is right or wrong. We have to do that in our own lives. We’ve got to do that in other people’s lives.
We’ve got to determine, “Am I going to go along with what they’re choosing to do and the direction that they’re going?” “Are we going to partner with them in this?” We are always doing that. We’re not trying to play God, and we’re not trying to determine their motivation. We’re not trying to determine their ultimate destiny.
As a parent, if you try to determine, “Am I going to let my kids go and participate in this activity with this other family?” You’re not determining that family’s relationship with God, but what you’re determining is, “Am I going to allow my kids to be involved in that activity?” You’ve got to be smart, wise, and discerning. You have to make those judgment calls.
The third idea of judging is what courts do where they determine was something a right or wrong action. In the world outside of the church, we have a court system. In the church, we’ve got to do this as well. Paul says that we are responsible as a church to help people determine what is right and what is wrong. We always do this with one another out of love.
Paul’s judgment is to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. How can Paul hand someone over to Satan?
Paul is not saying, “we’re going to he’s going to have set up a meeting with Satan and let Satan destroy him or kill him.” The church is the kingdom of God. It is the reign and the rule of God on the earth. But outside of the church, Satan has rule and authority. So, Paul is saying he needs to be removed from the church. He needs to go out and experience what the devil has for him out in the world. The purpose of this is so that he will perhaps hit rock bottom. Maybe he will discover what it’s really like out there, and he will be convicted to change.
This is a very extreme case. The sin that he was involved was something that even the pagans didn’t get involved in.
Many times, when we try to help people grow and take next steps, we will have those hard discussions with people. However, when you hold somebody accountable in love, sometimes they will run away from accountability. In our culture today, we have commitment issues and we don’t like to commit to a marriage. We don’t like to commit to a place, a job, or even a church family. And because we’re not committed when our feet are held to the fire, or when somebody challenges us, we simply run away.
A natural question to ask is, “Doesn’t that person need to be in church?” Yes, of course they need to be in church. But, they have to have a willing heart and an open heart to make the changes to be growing. They don’t have to be perfect.
The Four “E’s”
That’s how it is with your kids. When your kids turn 18 or 19, you have to exercise the “E’s” Now that you’ve graduated, you either have education, enlistment, employment, or eviction. You’re either going to go to school, you’re going to join the military. You’re going to get a job, or you’re not going to be able to live here. You can’t just sit in your room and play video games until you’re 35 years old and have us support you. That is not real love. As parents, our job is to help our kids grow and mature and be able to stand on their own. So, that’s tough love.
The church is not a country club. We have a great purpose and a great calling that God has given us. We are the house of God.
Paul says, the reason I’m going to hand him over to Satan is so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. His purpose is to destroy this man’s flesh. The church can’t destroy someone’s flesh. The fleshly nature is our sinful nature. Jesus is the only one who is able to destroy our sinful nature. He did that on the cross. He can destroy our selfish pride and our prideful ego.
Jesus gave us a process for dealing with people who are caught in sin in Matthew 18:15-19. Paul is falling along with that same process. We have to have the courage to have the hard conversations. Sometimes, because we want to be loving and we want to be the nice guy, we’re afraid to have those hard conversations, That’s not real love. Real love is shown when we’re willing to get into the mess. When we applaud and approve of someone in their sin, it keeps them trapped in their sinful situation. That leads to more grief and more destruction in their life. We cannot do that.
This is also important for us because, when we start applauding sin, it leads us into sin our own lives, whether it’s the sin of boasting about someone else’s sin, or we begin to take on some of that sin into our own life.
Paul then writes about leaven. He says that a little bit of leaven in the bread will leaven the whole loaf.
Paul then refers back to the Passover celebration. He talks about the Passover lamb who is Jesus. If you look back at what happened when God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, he said, “sacrifice the firstborn unblemished lamb, put the blood over the doorpost. When the angel of death passes over that house, your firstborn will be saved. That was a picture of what Jesus ultimately would do as He gave his life on the cross. Through His sacrifice, Jesus saves everyone who puts their faith and trust in Him.
Believers are called to be in the world, but not of the world. We are not supposed to isolate ourselves in a holy huddle, but get out where it’s dirty and messy. Unbelievers shouldn’t be expected to act like believers until they actually become believers. We should always accept people where they’re at before they come into the family of God. God loves you just as you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way. Our responsibility is to challenge people to grow.
We’re here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We want to keep challenging people to grow in their relationship with the Lord.
The reason this is so important is because we are not as strong as we think we are. We think someone else’s sin is not going to affect me. Maybe they’re being flirting at work with sin, but that’s not going to affect me. That’s a sign of pride. Pride always comes before a fall. Maybe right now, you’re in a situation where you’re being tempted. Let me encourage you to picture the results. Envision the loss of your marriage. Picture the loss of your relationship with your kids. You can lose it all just by going down that road.
It is so tempting to fall into sexual immorality. Really, you don’t fall into it. You start taking steps toward it, and you have to get honest about it. You should pray about it, but don’t just pray about it. Make the change. Run away from it. Get out of that situation. Tell someone about what you’re going through. Do whatever it takes.
The Billy Graham Rule
The great evangelist Billy Graham is famous for the Billy Graham rule. He writes, “We all know, I knew of evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separating from their families by travel. We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would even have the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on I did not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife.”
And we’ve seen vice president Mike Pence follows the Billy Graham rule. We’ve seen our media and our culture ridicule and mock him for following that rule. It’s so hypocritical of the media because the moment someone does compromise, or does have an affair, they’re the first ones to go on the attack.
When you tell people that you have boundaries and guardrails in place, people aren’t going to understand. They’re going to call you a prude. But it is that important. Don’t just walk up as close as you can to the edge of sin, because you are liable to fall right off the ledge. You want to stay as far away from sin as possible.
Not only did Billy Graham have rules about meeting with the opposite sex, but he also had rules about money. Paul talks about those who are greedy. Perhaps greed is one of the biggest sins in the church today. We want what we can’t have. We want more. He says, “Don’t associate with those who are idolaters or slanderers or drunkards or swindlers.”
There’s a difference between what should happen in the church and what should take place in the world. We are to go out into our broken world. We’re to love people who are hard to love.
In some ways, we always will struggle with sin. We will never reach sinless perfection. The question is not, are you perfect, but are you on the path? Are you growing? How are you seeking God more sincerely? Are you associating and hanging out with people who are also on that same path seeking after God.
Our world is increasingly looking more and more like this Corinthian culture. It should grieve our heart as we see that. But the church has a great opportunity to shine and to stand as holy people who are attractive to the world because of the stark difference they see.
At first, people will say, “You people are backwards. You’re so prudish. You just don’t look like the rest of us.” But make no mistake about it, people are watching. And so, we have the opportunity to be truly counter-cultural to live as a community of faith, full of people who are seeking to live holy lives. Yes, we’re not perfect. There’s no perfect church. But we are seeking to honor him with our sexuality, and with every part of our lives. That means be courageous enough to have those difficult conversations. If you are in a situation where somebody can confront you and says, “This doesn’t seem right.” Instead of pushing back, choose to have a heart and an attitude of receiving their feedback out of love. None of us are perfect, but we’re all on the path to follow hard after Jesus.