Is it prideful for the church to call out unrepentant sin? In a culture where individualism and freedom of expression are celebrated, it is certainly unpopular to speak of sin. God’s Word explains that it is dangerous to neglect unrepentant sin in His church. In this sermon from 1 Corinthians 5, David Platt shows us that though the world may not understand, dealing with unrepentant sin in the church is not prideful, but humble. Dealing rightly with unrepentant sin shows humble submission to God.
- We are concerned for the person’s salvation.
- We are concerned for the church’s good.
- We are concerned for the glory of God.
Church & Culture – Counter-Cultural Care in the Church
If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—please turn to 1 Corinthians 5. This is God’s Word. Remember the context. Paul is writing to Christians in Corinth, many of whom he had led to faith in Christ. Yet the culture at Corinth was overtaking the church at Corinth, kind of like the culture in Washington, DC, can overtake the church in Washington, DC, if we’re not careful to guard against that. So Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
1 Corinthians 5 Highlights the Detriment of Sin in Our Lives
Wow! Is that strong language, or what? Are we hearing what God’s Word just said? Let’s go back to the beginning to make sure we have the context. You have a man in the church, a member of the church, who is basically committing sexual immorality with his stepmother. He’s deliberately sinning in a way that would be detestable to the world and continuing in that sin, with no desire to repent. Verse one says, “…a man has his father’s wife.” That’s a present, ongoing activity. This is key. This is not a man who is struggling with sin, wants to turn from it and is trying to turn from it.
The picture here is settled, unrepentant sin, with no desire to follow Jesus. What does the Bible say the church should do? Listen to the language in verse two: “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” Remove him. Then in verse five, “You are to deliver this man to Satan…” We’ll talk later about what that means. Verse seven, “Cleanse out the old leaven…” Then when we get to the very end, verse 13 says, “…Purge the evil person from among you.” Purge him? Remove a sinner from the church? I thought the church was supposed to welcome sinners. Deliver him to Satan? What does that mean? Is that right?
Even earlier, it says, “Do not associate with them.” Don’t even eat a meal with such a one. This is somebody who claims to be a Christian but continues in settled, unrepentant sin—whether it’s sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness or swindling. He gives all kinds of different examples, saying we’re supposed to remove them. In a sense, they’re to become isolated from the church.
See how this goes against the grain for us? I thought the church is the place where everyone is welcome. So now to isolate and remove them from the church seems to go against the grain of everything we think about the church, doesn’t it? It feels so unloving. but apparently our understanding of love is different than God’s understanding of love.
1 Corinthians 5 Reminds us to Care for one Another
This is why I entitled this text “Counter-Cultural Care in the Church.” This is exactly the way Jesus taught us to care for and love one another. This is why I have Matthew 18 included in your notes, because we need to realize this is not the only time the Bible talks like this. Practically, what’s happening in 1 Corinthians 5 is actually the end of a process that Jesus Himself outlined for us: to love one another, care for one another and keep one another from settled, unrepentant sin and its destructive influence in our lives.
This is not just a crass approach: “Someone sinned; kick them out of the church.” No, there’s a caring process that Jesus set up to keep us from living in sin like this. Look at Matthew 18:15—17. This is Jesus talking: “If your brother sins against you…”
A quick side note. If you’re looking at your Bible, you might see a little note that says, “Some early manuscripts do not have ‘against you.’” This is one of those rare places in the Bible where there’s a bit of discrepancy in some of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament we have. They’re called variants. I think it’s helpful to know this. Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “Well, we really don’t know how much of the Bible accurately represents the most original manuscripts, because there are discrepancies even between those manuscripts.” Whenever you hear somebody say that, take heart. Ninety-nine percent of those variants involve a missing letter here or there, or a slight change in word order, are virtually insignificant.
Then, even for the one 1%—like this one—none of them affect major tenets or understandings of Christianity. They are miniscule. This is one of those situations. Some of the earliest manuscripts have “against you” and some do not. Even here, though, it’s really not that significant. Regardless of whether Jesus said, “If a brother sins,” or “If a brother sins against you,” the reality is that Galatians 6:1 later says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…”
This Verse Calls us to Confront Sin Head-On
The Bible is clear. Whenever anyone is stuck in sin, Jesus says this is what we should do: “Go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” We’re going to cover some steps in this process and step one is what we would call “private correction.” It’s just between you and that person. You see a brother or sister struggling in sin, continuing in sin, you go to that person and say, “Out of love for you, I’m concerned about the sin I see in you.” The goal, Jesus says, is to win them over—to “gain your brother.” The goal is to go in such a way that when a brother or sister then sees their sin, hopefully they’ll say, “Yes, I need to turn from that” and by the grace of God they do. As a result, your communion together in Christ will be all the deeper and sweeter.
But then there are some situations when that person does not listen to that humble, gentle, biblical correction. They don’t receive that and don’t turn from their sin. If that’s the case, Jesus says, “Take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” He’s quoting here from the way things were handled in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15) where others are witnesses to the truth of something.
So the picture here is now to involve a couple other people in step two which we’ll call “small group clarification.” I word it that way, because you’re involving a very small group. The goal is to keep the circle as small as possible, involving just a few people who can help this brother or sister, and even you. Maybe you have gone to somebody, but maybe you’re not seeing things right. Maybe this brother or sister is not actually caught in sin. So these other people can help you see things you might not see and also help that person see things they might not see. This picture now includes a couple more people in the body of Christ going to that person.
Next, Jesus says, “If that person refuses to listen even to them,” then “…tell it to the church…” (Matthew 18:17). Let’s call step three “church admonition.” This seems like a big step—and it is. Tell the church. Tell a larger group of people that this person is caught in settled, unrepentant sin. Why would Jesus say to do that? I think the answer is obvious. Now the church, as a picture of the love and care of Christ, is saying to this person, “Come back to Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 5 Shows us how Destructive Sin can be
Get the picture here. God loves you and me so much that if we are caught in unrepentant sin and its destructive effects in our lives and in our families—even if we don’t see it or realize it, if we’re blind to it—Jesus loves us so much that He will send His entire body after us to demonstrate His love for us.
Then Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen even to the church…” what do you do? “[L]et him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This basically means we are to treat him like he is no longer your brother in Christ. Remove him from the church. We’ll call step four “church exclusion.” You now exclude someone from the church, which is what we were reading about in 1 Corinthian 5.
Remember here what it means to be in the church. To be a member of the church is for that church to say, “This person is a follower of Christ.” Not just anyone can be a member of a church. People who are members of a church are people about whom that church has said, “We affirm that this person is a follower of Jesus.” If you were to come to McLean Bible Church and say, “I don’t really want to follow Jesus, but I’d like to be a member of the church,” our response would be, “No.”
If we’re saying someone is a member of the church, we as the church are saying, “This is a follower of Jesus.” The picture here is if someone is not following Jesus—if someone is living in settled, unrepentant sin with no desire to follow Jesus—then the church can’t say, “That’s a follower of Jesus.” That misses the whole point of what it means to be the church. That’s common sense.
That leads then to the question, “Was that person actually a follower of Jesus in the first place?” That question is part of what this process is designed to answer. How someone responds to this process will show whether or not they actually have a desire to follow Jesus. That brings us back to 1 Corinthians 5. What’s happened here is things have gotten to the end of this process. The problem is the church isn’t doing what Jesus told them to do—to remove him from the church. The church isn’t loving and caring for this man like Jesus has told them to love and care for him.
That leads us back to our question, “How is this loving?” I want you to think with me about why God calls us to do this. I’d say in 1 Corinthians 5 there are three primary reasons.
We are concerned for the person’s salvation.
1 Corinthians 5 Calls us to Help Others Struggling with Sin
The first reason for church discipline is we are concerned for the person’s salvation. Remember what it says in 1 Corinthians 5:5: “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that…”—here’s the purpose—“his spirit may be saved.” If we’re writing out reasons to do this, at least one of those reasons—and the main reason—is for this person’s salvation “in the day of the Lord.” What matters for their life in eternity is them being right with God in Christ.
The picture here can be a little confusing and we don’t have time to dive into all the details regarding delivering this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, but overall the picture is to remove this person from the church into the world, so to speak, so they can see that they’re apart from Christ. The hope is that they’ll see this, realize the seriousness of this and turn back to Christ, then in the process, show that they actually are not followers of Christ.
The danger, though—and what’s happening here in Corinth—is when the church is saying to someone, “Yes, you’re a Christian; you’re a member of the church” when in reality that person is not following Jesus. As a result, that person is living in deception. They’re thinking they’re followers of Jesus. They’re thinking their salvation is secure, but the reality is it’s not and the church is contributing to that deception. This man in 1 Corinthians 5 was not showing evidence of following Jesus, so for his good the church needed to love him enough to show him this, even taking the drastic step of removing him from the church so that his eyes would be opened to the seriousness of his sin, hopefully in a way that would draw him back to Christ.
The picture, both in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, is clear. After a process like this, do not treat people like believers in Jesus and members of the church if they’re living in settled, unrepentant sin. No, treat such people like they are unbelievers, outside the church.
By the way, how do we treat unbelievers outside the church. We love them with the desire to call them to follow Jesus. But we do not deceive them by calling them followers of Jesus when they’re not. We do this for their salvation and stop deceiving them.
We are concerned for the church’s good.
1 Corinthians 5 Signifies that Our Effort has Dual Benefits
Going back to the beginning of the passage, God says to do this for the church’s good. It’s for the good of the individual person, but it’s also good for the church as a whole. Did you notice how, from the very beginning, Paul never personally addresses this man who is committing this sexual immorality? Instead, he calls out the church from the start and throughout, because they were standing by and doing nothing while this man was caught in sin. God is holding the church accountable for this.
Did you hear that? Don’t miss this. What God is saying right now to us through His Word is that He holds us accountable—all of us, as the church, you and me—when we do not address unrepentant sin in the church. This is our responsibility before God and is so different from the way we think. We think about sin individually. “That’s that person’s issue. That’s that person’s business.” God is saying right now to us, “That’s not true.” Other people’s sin is your issue and my issue. Other people’s health in Christ is our issue. God holds all of us responsible for how we address sin in one another’s lives. This is what it means to be the church and to care for one another in Christ.
Let me make this personal. If I am wandering off into sin, into that which pulls me away from God and His good purposes for my life and family, then it is not loving for you to say to me, “That’s your business; go walk off that cliff.” That is hateful toward me. That’s the last thing I need from you. God is saying that is not what He has called you to say. The most loving thing you can do for me, and what God is calling you to do for me in that situation, is to run after me with gentleness and humility, saying, “David, don’t continue down that road.”
I need people to do this in my life. Without question, I would not be standing before you right now as pastor in this church if I did not have people who have done this in my life and people who will do this in my life today. I am eternally thankful for them. I need them—and so do you. Every follower of Jesus in this room needs a church like this. You need a church that doesn’t sit back and say, using pious cultural phrases, “Well, who am I to judge? You do whatever you want to do.” No, we need people who love us enough to care for us and to humbly yet strongly keep us from unrepentant sin. And that’s what was missing here in Corinth.
Paul writes in verse two, “You are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?..” Shouldn’t you care about other people so much that you’re mourning over their sins as if they’re your own? Stop just focusing on yourself. Don’t miss the root of all this in verse two: you are arrogant, prideful. Paul says in verse six, “Your boasting is not good…”
This is really interesting, isn’t it? Again, this is so different from the way we think. Why do we not confront sin in others’ lives? I think sometimes it’s because we think it would be prideful of us. “Who are you to talk to someone else about sin in their life? Don’t you have sin in yours? That’s prideful to talk about somebody else’s sin with them.” But God is saying the exact opposite. He is saying, “It is arrogance for you to sit back and leave someone else alone in their sin.” It is the height of pride before God to treat sin like it’s no big deal. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s hatred toward that person to watch them walk off that ledge. And it’s hatred for the church as a whole.
Listen to verses six and seven: “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened…” The imagery here is something that seems small is infiltrating and affecting something that is large. A little bit of leaven in bread makes the entire loaf of bread leavened. If I can use an illustration from where we live right now, one person infected with a virus can spread to an entire group of people really quickly. That’s the imagery here. God is saying, “When you are casual with unrepentant sin in the church, it spreads in a way that’s not just dangerous for that person; it’s dangerous for the entire church.” This is because now the entire church starts to think unrepentant sin is no big deal. Before long, you’ve missed the whole point of what it means to be the church.
Sadly, I give you a picture of so much of the church in our culture. We think unrepentant sin is no big deal and have missed the whole point of what it means to be the church.
Verses seven and eight continue with, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” There’s so much to meditate on when we get to this part of our Bible reading this week. Don’t miss the overall point. Jesus died to save us from our sin, so let’s live in that. This is who we are. This is what it means to be the church: to celebrate salvation from sin by the blood of Christ, Who gave His life so we could be free from sin’s power.
We are concerned for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 5 Calls us to Live in Freedom from Sin
So live in that freedom, encouraging and calling one another to live in that freedom. Do it for this person’s salvation and the church’s good. Ultimately—and this is evident from the beginning of the passage—do this for God’s glory. Remember how Paul starts this whole passage by saying, “Not even the world, not even pagans—people who hate God—would condone what you are condoning in the church.” I know it is challenging passage for Christians to think about removing someone from the church. Not only that, I was thinking as I was studying this passage this week that non-Christians who are here this Sunday are really going to think we’re nuts. We had a whole host of people in our earlier worship gathering today from all kinds of different countries, many of whom are not followers of Christ. So we just so happen to be in 1 Corinthians 5 and I’m wondering, “What are they thinking?” But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “Actually, I think most non-Christians get this and actually expect the church to do this.” Let me just mention a contemporary example or two, situations that might be a little more applicable in our day.
Imagine a man who is abusing his wife—something I trust that even those who don’t believe the Bible would find totally intolerable. So what would you think about the church—or more importantly, what would you think about God—if those who say they believe His Word looked at a man abusing his wife and said, “That’s a Christian. That’s what it means to be a member of the church.” You would say, “That’s why I want nothing to do with the church, or for that matter, with God.” As a non-Christian, you expect sin to be treated seriously in the church of all places, don’t you?
Let me take another example. A woman in your company who is overtly dishonest in her business dealings is advancing in the company because of it. She has no regard for integrity. She is ruthless and cutthroat, getting rich off devaluing and outright destroying people around her. So what do you think when you come to a church and you see that woman raising her hands in worship to God and everyone around her is saying, “This is a follower of Jesus”? You would think, “I don’t get it.” You’re certainly not drawn to that church—and far more importantly, you are not drawn to Christ. Non-Christians actually expect the church to be different. Non-Christians actually expect the church to treat sin seriously.
Now that leads to how we define sin, but that’s really not up to us. We have the Bible to define sin. In some ways, it makes sense to our culture, and in other ways it makes no sense to our culture. We’ll talk about that more next week from 1 Corinthians 6. Suffice it to say at this point, God calls the church to treat sin seriously, not just for people’s salvation, as if that wasn’t enough, and not just for the church’s good, as if that wasn’t enough. I would say ultimately God calls us to do this for His glory, so that His character will be clear in the people who claim to belong to Him.
This Verse can Help Restore Marriages
Let me put all this together. Mike and Helen Montanez were actively involved in MBC and were struggling in their marriage. People asked Mike if there was anything inappropriate physically or emotionally with another woman. Mike said no. But then, when Helen was eight months pregnant with their first child, Mike left her for another woman. He told Helen he wanted a divorce. Helen moved in with her mom and had their son. Meanwhile, Mike was running from God, from his wife and from everyone in the church. But the church did what the church was supposed to do. They loved Mike basically like he was an unbeliever, caring for him enough to continually call him to turn to Christ. One brother in particular, Earl Hamm, was persistent with Mike. In Mike’s words, he felt that Earl was constantly breathing down his neck. Earl challenged whether or not Mike was a believer in Christ, but he did so with love and as an example of a godly husband that Mike had never seen up close before. Mike said, “Earl inserted himself into my life, my marriage and my relationship with God.” In other words, Earl did what God calls the church to do—to love people back to Christ. Today, Mike and Helen…well, I’ll let you hear it straight from them.
Mike: My name is Mike and this is my wife Helen. We’ve been attending McLean since about 2007. We’ve been able to see how God worked in our lives through very difficult times. Helen and I were married in 2008 and very early in our marriage we experienced devastation. I was unfaithful to her. It was definitely a time that we really needed to rely on God, but it was a time when I was away from Him. Then there was a certain time when I felt that was not where God wanted me and not what it meant for Him to die on that cross for me.
I turned toward Him and said, “I need You to forgive me, God, for sins I’ve committed.” During that time, I also sought Helen’s forgiveness and asked if it was possible that we could work it out. It’s because of God that I feel that opportunity was given to me.
Helen: I was at the point that I realized what forgiveness meant. God allowed the circumstances to speak into my life of what forgiveness truly means—the gift of forgiveness that we all receive. He gives it first to us, then for us to give it to others. I was reminded that He died on that cross for me and I was no different than you or anyone else. At that point, I was able to, with God’s help, forgive Mike and everyone else in my life that had hurt me.
Mike: God has given us the power through that, not only through His death to be forgiven of our sins, but through His resurrection to redeem our marriage. He’s given us power to forgive each other and to love each other.
David: I’ll show you a picture of Mike and Helen with Earl and Marge. This is what we do as the church. We have the greatest news in all the world which is that forgiveness is possible. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ, who turn to Christ. So we invite people today, all across this gathering, no matter how you have sinned or are sinning against God. Today you can have forgiveness through what Jesus has done for you. God loves you. He has made a way for you to be forgiven of all your sins through trusting in Jesus.
In just a moment I want to invite some of you to put your faith in Jesus. Then when you do—and for all who are in the church as followers of Jesus—what we are hearing from God today is that He loves us and cares for us, our marriages and our families so much that He has designed a way to keep us from wandering off into that which we have been saved from. But in order for that to play out, we must practice 1 Corinthians 5 as a church. So I want to call us today as a church to humbly go against the grain of how our culture thinks and humbly go against the grain of how we think, for the sake of other people’s salvation and for our good and ultimately for the glory of our God.
I want to do something a little different. I want to ask you to bow your heads with me, but I want to ask you a different question than I normally ask at this point. I want to phrase this very intentionally. So as you bow your heads, I want to ask one question of every single person here: “Are you right with God right now?”
1 Corinthians 5 Calls us to have Faith in Jesus Christ
For some of you, the answer to that question is no, because you do not have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. If that is true of you, then I want to give you an opportunity right now to change that, to trust in Jesus, to ask God to forgive you of your sins, to surrender your life to Him as Lord over you and to receive His love for you. I want to invite you to pray in your heart, saying, “Dear God, I am a sinner. I’ve sinned against You. I’ve turned from Your ways to my ways. But today I believe that Jesus died on a cross to pay the price for my sins and He rose from the dead in victory over sin. Today I ask You to forgive me through faith in Him. I ask You to give me eternal life with You as my Lord.”
With our heads bowed, if you just prayed that to God, if you’re putting your faith today in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins—just between you and God—would you just raise your hand as a picture of you saying, “Yes, today I am trusting in Jesus.” Amen. Amen. Amen.
For all who are putting your faith in Jesus today in this way, I want to encourage you that God forgives you by faith when you trust in Him. This is pure John 3:16—He loves you so much that He has given His one and only Son, that when you believe in Him you will never perish but have everlasting life.
As you put your hands down, I want to give one more invitation. I know there are many others here who, when I ask, “Are you right with God right now?” you know you’ve put your trust in Jesus. But you also know that there is unrepentant sin in your life. I have prayed that today, even in this moment, God might use His Word in 1 Corinthians 5 to draw you back to Himself.
So if you would say, “Yeah, that’s me. There is unrepentant sin in my life, but today I want to repent. I want to turn from that sin and I want to turn back to Christ,” then I want to ask you to do the same thing. I’m going to ask you just to lift your hand. With our heads bowed and eyes closed, the picture of you physically saying to God, “Yes, I want to turn from this sin that I’ve grown comfortable with in my life and I want to return to Christ.” If you would say that, would you just quietly raise your hand before God? Just say, “Yes, I’m going turn from sin. I repent of sin in my heart.”
Let Us Pray
O God, I pray for all these who have raised their hands in either one of these situations. We praise you for 1 John 1:9. We praise you that if we confess our sins, You are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God, I pray Your forgiveness over them. I pray Romans 8 over them, that they would know there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. The law of the Spirit of life has set them free from the law of sin and death. I pray they would know they are right before You by faith in Jesus, that they would know they are forgiven and free, that You have given them by Your Spirit power to turn from sin.
So God, I pray You would help us as a church to help one another turn from sin continually. Make us the kind of church that cares for one another like this, that loves one another enough to gently and humbly confront one another in sin and call one another back to Christ.
Help us carry out 1 Corinthians 5, even when it’s hard; even when it makes no sense. Help us carry this out, we pray, for people’s salvation and for the good of the church. May we not grow casual with unrepentant sin in any one of our lives. Then God, we pray that You would help us do this for Your glory. We want Your character to be clear through us as Your church in this city, in this culture around us. So help us. Help us, we pray, to do 1 Corinthians 5 as McLean Bible Church. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.