Amazing Grace Baptist Church Bible Study Material on 1 Cor. 5:1-5
One of the most important yet sensitive topics in doing Church in contemporary times is Church discipline. Since the local Church is about people who are related to one another and diverse behaviours affect each other, dealing with public sins becomes essential if the church is to live up to its being as a body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul takes his time to discuss this thorny but important issue as he responds to the issue asked by the Corinthians. This material, therefore, focuses on studying the subject of Church discipline in the light of its meaning, reasons, and how to administer it in terms of methods and procedure. Although there may be several issues in the local church that could call for church discipline, this material focuses on the issue of immorality as addressed by Paul in 1 Cor. 5.
Immorality in the Church
In 1 Cor. 5, Paul deals with the second problem in the Corinthian Church that had been reported to him. This pertains to the issue of immorality in the church and the refusal of the leaders to deal with the offender. It seems sad though that such an awful sin that ruins the testimony of the church could be “commonly reported.”
The term sexual immorality describes the ancient Greek word “porneia.” It broadly includes all types of sexual activity outside of marriage. It is most likely that this included homosexuality. “Porneia” originally referred to going to prostitutes. Before the New Testament times, however, the Jewish community used the word to describe any kind of extramarital sex, including homosexuality. This meaning was common in the New Testament. The issue of “Porneia” appears often first in the New Testament “sin lists.” This is not because the first Christians had a lot of “hang-ups” about sex. The reason is that the area of sex was one of the most dramatic places where the ethics of Greek culture conflicted with the ethics of Jesus. To the common person in Greek culture, sexual immorality was an accepted fact of life. This was not so, however, among the followers of Jesus.
The Need for Church Discipline in Seeking the Good of the Offender (1 Cor. 5:1-5)
One of the significances of Church discipline in 1 Cor. 5:1-5 pertains to seeking the good of the offender. To Paul, the church had to exercise loving but firm discipline in order to help the offending member.
The idea of discipline in the church is not like a policeman arresting a lawbreaker. Rather, it is like a father chastening his son. The first motive is to help the sinner, to show Christ’s love in seeking to bring him to repentance. For us to allow church members to live in open sin hurts them as well as Jesus and the church. This particular member was living with his stepmother (see Leviticus 18:8) in an immoral relationship. The woman was not a part of the church family. Otherwise, Paul would have had the church deal with her as well. It is problematic for a believer to live in sin with an unsaved person while the church does nothing about it!
The church was “puffed up” and boasting about its “liberal attitude.” Paul told them that they should be mourning. The Greek word he used means “to mourn over the dead.” (Later on, he compares their sin to yeast, and yeast always “puffs up” whatever it infects.)
Paul judges the man and instructs the church to dismiss him from the fellowship. “But doesn’t Jesus tell us not to judge?” some may ask, referring to Matthew 7. Yes, He does. But this does not mean we should close our eyes to sin that is known by sinners and saints alike! We cannot judge another believer’s motives, (which is what Matthew 7 refers to), but we can and must judge the actions of God’s people.
The discipline was to be handled by the church collectively and not by the leaders alone (verse 4). The matter was known publicly, so it had to be dealt with publicly. If the man refused to repent, he was to be dismissed from fellowship. To “deliver a man to satan” (verse 5) does not mean to send him to hell, for no church can do that. Rather, it means to cut him off from church fellowship so that he must live in the world, which is controlled by satan (John 12:31 and Colossians 1:13). The purpose of such discipline is not to lose a member. It is rather to bring the sinner to the place of repentance that he might be saved from loss of reward on the day of judgment.
The Church, at times, must exercise discipline toward its members who have sinned. But church discipline must be handled carefully, honestly and lovingly. Before exercising church discipline the person should have been confronted scripturally. Sometimes rebuke is necessary, but it must be used with caution. The purpose of any rebuke, confrontation, or discipline is to help people, not hurt them.