Be a Pure Church !
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
 
By Paul Robison

Most of us are all citizens of the U.S. and we enjoy the rights and privileges that citizenship brings as well as its duties and responsibilities.  But what would happen to that citizenship if you decided to become a traitor?  You could easily lose it.  In fact, you could be exported and ordered by the U.S. State Department never to enter the country again.  What's the point of this illustration?  In a similar manner, Christians have a special citizenship.  Note what the apostle Paul states in Philippians 3:20: “For our citizenship is in heaven, for which we also eagerly await for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, ....”  “Because of this citizenship, each Christian has special privileges and rights of protection within the sphere of divine grace.  Each also has certain duties and responsibilities as well.  There is also the possibility of forfeiting one's citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.  Treasonous behavior can cause one to lose his or her heavenly citizenship and to be excluded from the kingdom of God.  Dealing with traitors is never an easy or a pleasurable task.  Our main idea in this sermon is “Be A Pure Church”.  Being a pure church is not easy either.  One commentator made this good comment about the situation in Corinth: “... it was difficult to unlearn the practices which generations of loose-living had made part of their lives; and yet if the church was to be kept pure, they must say a final good-bye to the old heathen ways” (Barclay).  1 Corinthians 5:1-13, our text for today, shows us how Christians need to work together in several ways in order to keep the local congregation a pure church.
 
First of all, we should mourn sinful behavior.  Let's read verses 1-2 and 6:   “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father's wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.”  In verse 1, Paul refers to the sin of incest – “a man has his father's wife.”  Incest was condemned in the Law of Moses (Lev. 18:8), and it was condemned also by Roman law.  Most commentators think that this was the man's stepmother, and that she was not a Christian since Paul gives no instructions regarding her.  We see that this sin is not just a one time sin, but it has become an immoral lifestyle.  Paul was undoubtedly shocked by this news, but he was even more shocked at how the members in Corinth were tolerating this behavior of another Christian.  Notice in verse 2 that they were arrogant about it, and verse 6 adds that they had been boasting about this situation as well!  Paul tells them that they should be mourning and taking action against this brother to try to save his soul.  Notice what two commentators have written: “The Corinthian Christians had complacently accepted the situation and done nothing about it when they should have been grief-stricken.  The word Paul uses for [such] grief ... is the word used for mourning the dead” (Barclay).  Another adds, “... when such a sinful contradiction of truth and righteousness ... exists in a congregation ..., it should be an occasion of the most intense sorrow” (Coffman).  Are we just as guilty as the members at Corinth of tolerating, and not mourning sinful behavior, both in others and in ourselves?  Have we become like the indifferent publishers and literary agents?  A free lance writer named Ross retyped a novel by Kosinski that had been published 6 years earlier and won a national award.  He sent the script to 14 publishers and used 13 literary agents.  All of them rejected the script, including the publisher that had originally published it!  Is that how indifferent we have become to sin our congregation as well?  Do we see those who don't attend and then make no effort to find out why?  Do we see couples go through the pains of divorce without ever making any intervention whatsoever?  Someone made this interesting remark: “A salty pagan is 100 times dearer to God ... than a scribe who knows his Bible ... [but] none of these results in repentance, action, and above all, death to self.  A curse hangs over the 'knower' who does nothing” (Thielicke).  Back in the days when there were open fires and gas heaters in our homes, people were taught that a person whose clothes caught on fire should be rolled in blankets to smother the flames.  One had to act quickly to keep others from becoming severely burned.  Do you see the parable (Usrey)?  We have members who are playing by firesides, but are we concerned enough that we'll get involved and smother them with loving blankets of warnings and tears?  Has our goodness created a smugness?  Listen to what one brother has observed: “... the place to begin is with the very best saints, whose degree of goodness has made them smug and undisturbed by their lack of respect for Christ's authority and true love ...” (Usrey).  When Jesus once entered into Jerusalem, He wept over the city's apathy towards Him and her oppressive future that lay ahead.  Will we follow in His steps and strive to keep our lives growing toward maturity in Christ so that we can mourn both our sins and others' sins as well?  Mourn sinful behavior.  Be a pure church!
 
To be a pure church, we must also discipline sinful members.  This involves several actions.  Verses 4-5 underscore a sacred assembly in which the sinner is turned back into Satan kingdom (that Christian loses his citizenship in God's kingdom): “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”  Note what these commentators say: “... Paul sees this toleration of incest as a defiance to the previous letters he had written to them (5:9) ... with the double reference to Jesus' name and power, Paul anchors this assembly and its purpose and authority in the bedrock of Christ” (Oster).  Another note:  “[Behind discipline], there is the conviction that they must seek not to break but to make the man who has sinned. ... Discipline must always be curative” (Barclay).  Verse 7a states: “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.”  This is like surgery; in fact, one commentator compared it to the removal of cancer (Holladay).  It must be removed to keep it from spreading.  Now look at verses 11-12 where Paul gave some more practical advice involved in church discipline: “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.  For what have I to do with judging those who are outside?  Do you not judge those who are inside?”  All the sins that Paul mentions here could easily be found in Corinth, so this is not meant to be an exhaustive list.  But we do see that when these sins become one's lifestyle, the church has the right to judge the insider and take action to strip the sinful member of their heavenly citizenship.  Having done this, he now goes back into the world as an outsider, and God will judge him.  This whole process is to help the sinful member to see the error of his or her ways so that they will repent or give up their wicked lifestyle and seek restoration.  One brother writes: “The apostle was not asking the church to lash out cruelly against one of its own.  He was asking for the entire body to stand together in opposition to the man's evil for the sake of jarring him to his senses and saving him” (Shelly).  Another said: “The contrast between the present experience of the things of Satan and the nostalgic recollection of the things of God might cause a revulsion of feeling and conduct” (Morris).  We shouldn't be indifferent to disciplining sinful members.  A key to this begins with disciplining ourselves.  One brother makes this good observation: “Members must [practice] love and unity more than they ever have.  Too long have we blandly talked about [them]. ... They who love as Christ loved and they who fear Christ as Lord—these will not fear to discipline thoroughly.  Having begun by disciplining themselves, they are qualified to discipline [sinful members].  Otherwise, they’ll remain as blind as were the Pharisees” (Usrey).  Discipline starts with disciplining ourselves.  So often we have seen the negative effects of improper discipline, that we give up and think: “It just won't work!”  But there are at least two cases I know of where it did work.  One was a church in the States, and the members had made repeated attempts to win back a sinful brother.  When they finally went together to his house to express that they could no longer call him a brother in Christ, it took about one month of their consistent actions in shunning him, that he got the message and came to his senses.  Another example was a small church in Italy.  When another man clearly saw that members would no longer accept him as before, he repented in about three months.  In both cases, the men felt a sense of loss—they had lost the precious love and warm support of other brethren.  And that enormous sense of loss made them realize that their sinful lifestyles weren't worth giving up that help.  Hebrews 12:11 states: “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Sometimes, we must discipline sinful members in order to be a pure church.  Be a pure church!
 
Demonstrating proper motives can also help us to be a pure church.  Notice what Paul writes in vv. 7-8: “For indeed, Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  Notice what three commentators have to say about the verses.  The first says: “Paul is using this imagery to remind his readers that the death of Christ had delivered them from slavery to evil and made them the people of God” (Morris).  A second notes: “The imagery [has] a wider application: as 'God's people in Christ,' the 'true Israel' is being urged to recognize its character as literally 'unleavened,' free from moral stains, and to conduct its life accordingly”(Holladay).  A third states:  “By contrast, the believer's perpetual festival is kept with sincerity, which refers to pure motives, and with truth, which points to purity of action” (Morris).  Are we demonstrating proper motives?  You know, God doesn't care much about our outward appearance, but He cares deeply about the condition of our hearts.  Someone has noted: “Constructive conflict occurs as God's people, with pure motives, address issues of biblical truth, doctrinal purity, and church discipline.  Thus, not all conflict is undesirable” (The Nobles).  The soil is love, the motives are the seeds, and our actions are the fruit.  Is our soil love?  Note what one brother has observed: “About loving lost prodigals, the church is very indifferent.  Many feel that absentees deserve little effort.  Instead of giving him love that will make him feel a loss of fellowship, he is treated as a stranger” (Usrey).  Someone has also rightly noted: "Church discipline is not a group of 'pious policemen' out to catch a criminal.  Rather, it is a group of brokenhearted brothers and sisters seeking to restore an erring member of the family" (Wiersbe).  As a pure body, our bread is to be sincerity and truth, pure motives and pure actions.  Are we seeking to win the erring family member back or to win the conflict?  Impure motives lie at the failure of so many congregational disciplinary efforts.  Christ has given us a new identity.  We are not to act with malice and wickedness; such motives usually only make the conflict worse.  Let's demonstrate proper motives!  Let's be a pure church!
 
Note now what verse 13 states: “But those who are outside God judges. Therefore 'put away from yourselves the evil person.'”  Notice that Paul is using a repeated Old Testament refrain.  One commentator notes: “This concluding remark is a direct Old Testament quotation, repeated in contexts where discipline of the members of the covenant is discussed (cf. Deuteronomy 17:2ff; 19:15ff; 22:13ff, 23ff, 24:7ff)” (Holladay).  Let's look at one of those passages, Deuteronomy 22:23ff: “If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the city's gate, and you shall stone them to death ...; so you shall put away the evil from among you.”  Do you see how “put away” in these contexts actually means to kill, to provide capital punishment for a crime?  Another commentator gave this good insight: “Paul has abundant scriptural authority to order the church of Corinth to expel the incestuous man from its midst” (Oster).  We can see that discipline in the New Testament may seem somewhat harsh, but it is certainly more merciful than what the Jews had to enforce under the old covenant!  Will we obey the Scriptures to be a pure church?  One brother has noted that some church leaders are fearful of enforcing this very text that we are considering today: “Some elders act as if 1 Corinthians 5 were 'too controversial' to apply today.  They fear that to take Paul literally would be too divisive” (Usrey).  This action has been even more complicated after a female member sued an Oklahoma congregation for disciplinary action against her.  She did not get all the funds that she had hope for.  The Courts' rulings may sound intimidating, but churches really do not have much to fear if they use caution.  The idea is this: “Had the church been able to prove that it had an established policy of not giving effect to a request for withdrawal until disciplinary proceedings had been completed, and that the plaintiff knew of and consented to that policy (i.e., there was “informed consent”), it probably would have prevailed in court, or even avoided a lawsuit altogether” (Sande, peacemaker.net).  Let's keep God's laws over our land's laws!  Are the Scriptures our anvil? 
“'How many anvils have you had,' said I,'To wear and batter all these hammers so?'
The blacksmith replied: 'The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.' And so I thought, the anvil of God's Word for ages skeptics' blows have beat upon. Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard, the anvil is unharmed; the hammers are gone” (Clifford). Let's obey the Scriptures!  Let's be a pure church!  
 
“On October 11, 2006, a federal grand jury issued the first indictment for treason against the United States since 1952, charging Adam Yahiye Gadahn for videos in which he appeared as a spokesman for al-Qaeda and threatened attacks on American soil” (Wikipedia).  So treason is still alive and well in America.  And spiritual treason is still alive and well in the Lord's church.  Traitors need to know that their lifestyles are in error, and they need to repent or else they can forfeit their spiritual citizenship in God's kingdom.  May God help us to mourn sinful behaviors, discipline sinful members, demonstrate proper motives, and obey the Scriptures.  Let's be a pure church!
 
Let's pray.  “Lord, it's hard for us to do discipline in a proper way.  Please, we ask your help.  Give us courage to be a pure church.  In Jesus' name, Amen.”
 
“And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).  We don't need to compare ourselves to anyone else for even the best of saints will always fall short.  Our standard is Jesus Himself.  Are we trying to live as purely as He lived?  Do we weep over sin as He did?  Do we live by His teachings on loving and disciplining others?  Do we have proper motives like He had?  Do we obey the Scriptures as He did?  Do we desire to have a pure church as He desires to have pure church?  Being and keeping a pure church is not an easy task, but remember, it starts first by discipling ourselves.  If you haven't been living a pure and holy life, ask God to forgive and to help you.  If you aren't a Christian, you need: to take sin seriously, to repent, and to start striving to be like Christ by being buried with Him the watery grave of baptism!  You'll then have a clean slate, a fresh start, and be able to walk with a new lifestyle.  The standard is His purity!