Discipline in Corinth

The early New Testament church had its share of problems just like the church of today. Many things have not changed. True, in Corinth they enjoyed a wonderful measure of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Tongue-speaking, prophesying and healing were common. Men and women had been transformed from lives of filthy immorality into beautiful saints. They were blessed with the best of preaching from the Apostle Paul and others. Wonderful progress had been made. Yet the Apostle had to write a sharp epistle to them pointing out glaring errors which were accepted amongst them. One of these was a particularly notorious case of immorality by one of their members, and the congregation had refused to exercise church discipline. (1Cor.5). There is much we can learn from this incident and Paul’s response to it.

The sin
One of the church members had taken his father’s wife, his step-mother, as his wife. Incest such as this had been strictly condemned by the law of God (Lev.18:8). Obviously the Levitical law with regard to marriage is perpetually binding, otherwise incestuous marriage would not be a sin. The Corinthians were “puffed up” (v.2), and proud of the healthy state of their church. They should rather have felt humbled and ashamed that one of their members had acted in this way. They laid stress on the liberty of Christians. All sins are forgiven. God’s people can do what they like. They were proud of their tolerance. They were not bound by tradition. They allowed their membership freedom and thought that they were showing great love. The Apostle is appalled. Even the world is scandalised at what has happened. It was something “not so much as named among the Gentiles” (v.1). What a terrible witness to the watching world who always delight to point out the sins of Christians and to despise them for what they perceive as hypocrisy.

The discipline
Paul, though absent from Corinth, has already passed judgment. He wrote: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (v.4-5). Action must be taken. The individual must be excommunicated. It is to be done in the name of Christ and by His authority as King and Head of the church. It must be done publicly, when the church is gathered together. Decisive action will benefit the sinner. The humiliation and pain of being delivered to Satan will lead by God’s grace to repentance and salvation.

Leaven spreads
A little yeast will soon affect the whole lump of dough. Sin is contagious. Immorality spreads. Standards drop more easily than they are raised. The Corinthians were proud of their ‘mature and liberal’ attitude towards the one guilty of incest. But Paul says, “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump” (v.7). Christ our Passover Lamb was sacrificed for us to save us from the destroying Angel. All leaven had to be removed from the house for the feast of Passover. The Christians must keep the feast of Christ, “not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (v.8). The rot must be cut out or it will destroy the whole church. Be unleavened. Be new and pure. Let our lives be a sacred festival unto the Lord.

Christian separation
The Corinthians must not keep company with fornicators. Christians are called to come out from among them and be separate. Yet we will always in this world be rubbing shoulders with fornicators, the covetous, extortioners and idolaters. The only way to escape completely is by leaving the world altogether. But Paul’s demand is that we should not keep company with a professing Christian who is “a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (v.11). We must have no fellowship with those who are living lives inconsistent with their Christian profession. We have a duty to judge those who are within the church. Those who are outside God will judge (v.12-13).

Paul has no doubt what should be done: “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (v.13). It is best for the individual’s own salvation, best for keeping the church pure and best for the name and reputation of God and His church. The carrying out of this sentence had a blessed effect (2Cor.7:9-12). It led the offender and the whole church to deep and sincere repentance. Paul in his second epistle asked that the individual be restored to church fellowship because he has responded well to the discipline (2Cor.2:6-8). Restoration should always follow repentance but there can be no restoration without repentance. “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent forgive him” (Lk.17:3). It is the duty of every church to forgive members who commit serious sins -- but only after due discipline and repentance.

Any comments or questions please E-Mail me or Rev William Macleod the editor.

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