In the church, we affirm a covenant with one another by God’s grace, for our good, and ultimately for God’s glory. We will humbly and gently confront one another and receive correction from one another in accordance with a New Testament understanding of church discipline and restoration. In this message on 1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11, Pastor David Platt helps us to trust that church discipline is for our good.
- Let’s obey with the love of Christ.
- Let’s trust in the authority of Christ.
- Let’s honor the cross of Christ.
- Let’s celebrate new life in Christ.
If you have Bible, and I hope you do, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 6. Let me invite you to pull out the notes from the Worship Guide you received when you came in.
We are journeying through the book of 1 Corinthians in the Bible, and last week and this week, we’ve come to this section of the book that specifically addresses discipline and disputes in the church. I talked with a variety of people last week who were visiting Brook Hills for the first time, and I couldn’t help but to think, “Man, you picked a great day to come—church discipline week!” For any of you who came back and for any of you are visiting Brook Hills for the first time this week, I joyfully announce to you that today is church discipline week two!
In all seriousness, we are looking at how God loves His people so much that He disciplines them when they wander into that which threatens to hurt, harm, and destroy them. He does this in the same way that every good parent in this room disciplines his or her children. Actually in a much better, much greater way, because when I discipline my children, I am trying to discipline them for their good, but I don’t always know what to do.
I think about one of our children right now who will remain nameless. Heather and I have had conversation after conversation recently about how to address this particular child with this particular issue (I’m trying to keep this general here!) over the past few months. We’ve tried one sort of discipline, and it hasn’t doesn’t done anything. Totally ineffective. Then we said, “Well, we just need to be consistent.” So, we stuck with it, and then weeks later, after it still hasn’t worked, we’ve looked at each other and said, “Well, we may be ineffective parents, but at least we’re consistent in our ineffectiveness.”
Then, we tried other things, and it seemed like that only made it worse. Until about a week ago. We tried something, and voila! All of a sudden, they’re like the perfect child, and we’ve looked at each other and said, “We are incredible parents.”
Now, I say all that to emphasize the reality that we are not incredible parents. The point is we have great hearts, great desires. We long to love our children well, but we don’t know how to do it. We lack wisdom. We don’t always know what is best for our children. But the beauty is God our Father is perfect. He is all wise, all knowing. He knows us perfectly, He loves us perfectly, and so He disciplines us. And as He disciplines us, He always, always, always knows what’s best for us.
Over these two weeks, it’s like we’re having a family conversation. We’re talking about how our Father, in His wisdom, instructs His church to carry out loving discipline among His children even to the point, in 1 Corinthians 5, of taking the extreme step of actually removing a member from the church because he or she continues in unrepentant sin. Last week, we talked about how this is one of the most loving things a church can do. In a sense, as disciples and followers of Jesus, we experience discipline on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis. We are constantly being transformed, renewed, convicted, and conformed into the image of Christ. Every day, every week, we want to become better husbands and better wives and better moms and dads and sons and daughters and better men–which we’ll dive into specifically next week on Father’s Day–and better women. “Better” here being defined by looking more and more like Jesus.
Yet, we know that we’re all prone to wander away from God and His Word. We’re all prone to wander into sin in ways that are not good for us and not good for our families and not good for the people around us and ultimately not glorifying to God. So, we love one another as individuals and in small groups and, in the most extreme cases, even as the entire church to call one another back to Christ—all by the grace of God.
Last week, we looked at the process that Jesus outlines in Matthew 18 for reaching out to a brother or sister who is caught in sin, a process that is playing out in 1 Corinthians 5. In the last verse of 1 Corinthians 5, Paul says to the church at Corinth, “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:13)
Now again, for those of you who may be visiting, and particularly if you’re not a follower of Jesus, don’t get worried thinking, “Man, are they going to kick somebody out today? I hope it’s not me.” To sum up what we talked about last week, this is specifically talking about someone who claims to be a Christian as a member of the church, yet is deliberately walking away from God and His Word despite repeated calls in the love of God to come back.
Paul says, “There comes a point—for that person’s good (to realize the seriousness of his sin), for the church’s good, and ultimately for God’s glory—to remove that person from among you.”
Today, I want us to see what Paul says next. I want us to read the first half of 1 Corinthians 6 and see how Paul moves almost seamlessly from talking about church discipline to talking about church disputes, and then he brings it back altogether in the last part of what we’re about to read. I want us to read from the first half of 1 Corinthians 6, think about church disputes, and then bring everything together to think about, “How do we apply this Word about church discipline and disputes in The Church at Brook Hills?” Let’s start by reading 1 Corinthians 6:1–11:
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:1–11)
What About Church Disputes?
What does the Bible say about church disputes, about civil disputes between church members? This was a huge issue in the city of Corinth, where the people who were reading this letter lived. The Greeks in Corinth loved going to court. Litigation was a part of everyday life, a form of challenge, even entertainment to some degree, but so much driven by desire for selfish gain, to get ahead, to take advantage of one another because they could.
Lest that sound foreign to us, look around us. Ken Sande, founder of Peacemakers, a ministry that helps navigate churches legally through how to carry out 1 Corinthians 6-type ministry, writes: “By all accounts, America has become the most litigious society on the face of the earth…with millions and millions of cases being filed in state courts every year.” We live in a litigious society, and professing Christians are right in the middle of it, filing millions of lawsuits every year, often against one another, costing billions of dollars. This is a word that we need to hear.
God says to the church at Corinth then and the church in America now: “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?” (1 Corinthians 6:1) As if that’s not strong enough, Paul gets down to verse 5 and says, “I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 6:5) In other words, “Wake up! This should not be!” And it shouldn’t be if the church is doing what the church is supposed to do.
I came across a quote from Warren Burger, former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and he said:
One reason our courts have become overburdened is that Americans are increasingly turning to the courts for relief from a range of personal distresses and anxieties. Remedies for personal wrongs that once were considered the responsibilities of institutions other than the courts are now boldly asserted as legal “entitlements.” The courts have been expected to fill the void created by the decline of church, family, and neighborhood unity.
I read that and thought, “That’s exactly right. That’s the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court saying thirty years ago what Paul said to the church 2000 years ago.”
The Overall Problem in 1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11...
Think about what the Bible is saying, what God is saying here in His Word. The overall problem is that Christians at Corinth were taking one another to court in the same way non Christians in Corinth were taking one another to court, which is amazing in light of the previous chapter. They were ignoring unrepentant incest in the church, but then they were suing one another over trivial issues.
Paul diagnoses the problem in three ways. Christians suing Christians is wrong for three reasons. One, here in Corinth, Christians were denying the wisdom they had in the church. From the very beginning of this chapter, Paul sets up a clear distinction between those who know Christ and those who don’t, those inside the church and those outside the church. Here in verse 1, it’s the “unrighteous” and the “saints.” There’s some debate over whether or not Paul, when he says “the unrighteous,” is just referring to judges in general because most, if not all, of the judges in Corinth at this time would not have been followers of Christ, or if he is referring specifically to the unjust nature of many judges in that day, because there is definite evidence that the court system in Corinth was pretty crooked. Regardless, though, the point that Paul is making is the same: You don’t need to go to court because you have the wisdom of Christ available to you as members of the church.
He points to the picture of heaven that we see in other places in Scripture, where we’re told that Christians will play some part in judging the world and even angels. We don’t know all that means, but he says, “Do you realize the wisdom you have available to you in the church to settle these kinds of disputes?” After all he talked about regarding Christian wisdom in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says, “Every member of the church, even the member who you would think has the least standing in the church, has the Spirit of Christ in them and is able, by the Spirit of Christ, with the wisdom of Christ, to help settle a dispute between believers better than the most highly trained judge who does not have the Word of Christ or the Spirit of Christ in them.”
This is not to say that Christians should never, ever be in court, and that we should not respect judges who don’t know Christ. We’re going to get to that in a minute. Don’t miss the point here: When Christians take other Christians to court, they are deliberately denying the wisdom that they have from Christ in the church.
Second, Christians in Corinth were destroying the witness they had in the world. The exclamation point in Paul’s argument comes in verse 6, when he says, “Brother goes to law against brother, and that…” Not only to be judged by unbelievers, but doing all of this “before unbelievers.” (1 Corinthians 6:6) They were showing the world that there is nothing distinct about the church at all.
In fact, in their divisiveness and their disputes, suing one another, they were deliberately contradicting the words of Christ in John 13:35: “By this will all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Based on the way everyone was being taken to court, you could not tell these were disciples of Jesus at all.
Then, on top of all this, these Christians in Corinth were disobeying the will of God in the gospel. Paul finishes his argument by saying, “You get to court with another believer, and it doesn’t matter who wins the lawsuit. At that point, you’ve both already lost. It’s already a defeat for you.” Why? “Because you’ve missed the whole point, the whole point of the gospel.”
Think about what was driving these lawsuits. A desire for gain. A desire to take advantage of someone else. A desire to assert rights, something that was huge in Corinth and something that is huge today. We think, “I have a right to this. I deserve this. I have a right to sue him for this or that.” As long as we think like this, we are thinking just like these Christians at Corinth, and we, along with them, are missing the whole point of the gospel.
Think about it. We have a Savior who deliberately gave up His rights for our good, right? That’s the whole point of the cross, and it’s exactly how He taught His church to live. In Matthew 5:39–40, Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” (Matthew 5:39–40) Those radical words had been completely forgotten or ignored in Corinth, and they have been in the lives of American Christians overly obsessed with our rights.
Paul said the same thing just a couple of chapters before this in 1 Corinthians 4:12–13. “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.” Later in 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” I’m not saying that this is all simple, black and white,
easy to think through, but the Bible is saying very clearly that when we assert our rights to gain from others, we are missing the point of the gospel. In the gospel, we sacrifice our rights to show the love of Christ. You say, “Are you serious?” I’m not making this up. Look at God’s Word. “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians
6:7) The wisdom of the world says that is unwise. The wisdom of the cross says that is wise. Which are we going to choose?
In the gospel, we choose to sacrifice our rights, and we strive for reconciliation with one another in Christ. I put Romans 12:1–21 in parentheses here because that chapter just sums up the heart behind what Paul is saying here. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Think differently as Christians. “Act differently in the church,” the Bible says. In what way?
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. … Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you … Live in harmony with one another … Repay no one evil for evil … If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God … To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink …’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:10, 13–14, 16–21)
This is how the church is to live.
The General Principles in 1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11 …
So, practically, here are the general principles that we take away here. I want to emphasize “general principles” because there are all kinds of caveats, and even potential exceptions, that we could talk about, but these general principles are clear.
First, we recognize in this text that Christians should settle disputes with other Christians in the church outside of court. According to God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 6, Christians should not sue other Christians but should settle their disputes in the church outside of court. Notice that Paul does not describe the subjects of these lawsuits. As far as he’s concerned, that’s immaterial. Christians should not drag fellow Christians into court. Instead, the church should be the forum for resolving conflicts and disputes between its members. The church has the wisdom of Christ, the Word of Christ, and as a community of brothers and sisters–you see how many times Paul calls them “brothers” in these last few verses–
Christians are distinctly able to sit down and work out disputes together.
Now, notice that this passage is not saying anything about non-Christians going to court, or Christians being forbidden to be in court with non-Christians. The picture here is two church members—and I think the application goes across churches here—so any two Christians who are members of Bible-believing churches should make every reasonable effort to settle their disputes together in the church. If that was the end of the story, we might open ourselves up to a variety of misunderstandings, so I wanted to include this next general principle as well, because this is not the only time the Bible speaks to this issue. We recognize in this text that Christians should settle disputes with other Christians in the church outside of court, yet we remember from other texts that Christians should subject themselves to governing authorities for our good.
Romans 13:1, right after the passage I just read from in Romans 12, says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” And the Bible goes on to say that God has appointed governing authorities to make judgments for our good. 1 Peter 2 says the same thing. 1 Peter 2:13, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil
and to praise those who do good.” (1 Peter 2:13–14) I put a couple of passages there in parentheses from Acts where Paul himself, who’s writing 1 Corinthians as well as Romans, appeals to the government and governmental law.
Paul is in no way saying here in 1 Corinthians 6 that Christians are somehow above the law, or above judgment by secular authorities, and he’s not saying all secular courts are inherently unrighteous. He’s actually saying the opposite. There is a place for them, the Bible teaches, but that place is not judging minor disputes between two members of the church.
There are obvious caveats and exceptions here. There are some things that we address in the church that require civil court action, and there are clearly crimes that require criminal court action. There are cases where we are required by law to notify law enforcement, whether it’s issues of abuse or neglect. There are times like these and others where it may be most appropriate to pursue legal remedies while pursuing remedies in the church in a parallel fashion. We are not above the law here. I want to be clear about that.
But the general principles are the same. We recognize in this text that Christians should settle disputes with other Christians in the church outside of court, and we remember from other texts that Christians should subject themselves to governing authorities for our good. In any given situation, we apply these principles as best as possible.
Just to encourage you, this is happening and has happened in this church. I immediately think of one scenario between members of our church regarding a business dealing, and they came to the church, and said, “How can we solve this?” We sat down with them, even with their legal counsel, and we prayed and sought the Lord, and the Lord brought about reconciliation in it. Now, that’s not easy, and it takes work, the kind of work that, to be honest, most churches in our culture today don’t emphasize doing. If we don’t, if we choose simply to take other Christians to court, then we are deliberately disobeying God, plain and simple.
Discipline, Disputes, and The Church at Brook Hills…
That leads us to discipline, disputes, and The Church at Brook Hills. What are we to do in twenty–first century America, in the city of Birmingham, as The Church at Brook Hills? What are we to do? How are we to apply 1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11? This is where I want to give us four general exhortations with a myriad of brief, simple, practical exhortations underneath them. I believe as your pastor, these are four ways in general that we, as a faith family called The Church at Brook Hills, must respond to this Word that God has spoken to us.
1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11 tells us to obey with the love of Christ.
First, let’s obey with the love of Christ. Let’s obey with love. If we don’t obey, we are dishonoring God. If we don’t carry out church discipline like 1 Corinthians 5 says, which we haven’t, and if we don’t address disputes like 1 Corinthians 6 says, which we haven’t always done, then we are not faithfully fulfilling our commission from Christ as His church.
So, let’s obey with love. Let’s do church discipline, not only because we love righteousness— which I hope we do, and which is a huge motivation here, but let’s do church discipline, not only because we love righteousness–but also because we long for a brother or sister’s restoration. Both of these things drive us. Yes, a love for righteousness and yes, a longing for restoration. James 5:19–20 says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” This is what we want.
And let’s settle church disputes, not only because we have a responsibility to do this, but also because we desire reconciliation through this. Because, in the language of Ephesians 4, we want to “bear with one another in love,” and we’re “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2–3) This is the heart behind 1 Corinthians 5–6.
I’ve listed practical ways that we can make sure to keep this heart, a heart of love at the forefront of discipline and disputes in The Church at Brook Hills. My prayer is that ten years down the road, we might look back over ten years of intentionally putting 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 into practice, and we would say, “This is the most loving thing I have ever seen in the church.”
How can we do that? By God’s grace, first, let’s be humble. Let’s remember at every moment in discipline and disputes that we are all sinners in need of grace. If we are not careful, these practices can degenerate into a self-righteous spirit across the church that is always suspicious of others and eager to point out their faults. We must guard against that temptation. We must guard against that temptation with a humble awareness of our constant need for grace in every one of our lives and, consequently, with a patient humility with each other.
This is where Proverbs 19:11 and Colossians 3:13 are so insightful. Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Did you hear that? Patience is willing, when it’s wise, to overlook an offense. There is wisdom in overlooking offenses. Colossians 3:13, “…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you.” There are times when we need to humbly and patiently bear with one another and forgive complaints among one another.
Now, you might say, “Well, how do you know when to overlook an offense and when not to?” That leads to a second exhortation here: Let’s be biblical. What guides us in all discipline and all disputes is God’s Word. Church discipline is definitively not for addressing pet peeves or things you just don’t like about someone else; church discipline is designed by God to address clear areas of disobedience. 1 Corinthians 5:11, “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.” These are specific sins that clearly violate God’s Word and need to be addressed in the church. So that’s the picture here; it’s sin.
When you’re thinking, “Is this serious enough not to overlook? Does this need to be addressed? Do I need to help restore a brother or sister?”, I would encourage you to ask these questions: Is there unrepentant sin that is dishonoring God? Obviously, that’s the point in 1 Corinthians 5. This immorality, as well as the other things that Paul lists, were dishonoring God. Second, is there unrepentant sin that is denying the gospel? In 1 Timothy 1:18–20 and 2 Timothy 2:17–18, Paul addresses church members who need to be confronted for teaching doctrine that is contrary to the gospel and God’s Word. Is there sin that is denying the gospel?
Third, is there unrepentant sin that is detrimental to a brother or sister? Ask, “Is there sin that is hurting that brother or sister and likely other brothers and sisters in the process?” I put Hebrews 10:24–31 there for two main reasons. One, because those verses talk about the detriment that awaits those who know the truth of Christ and refuse to turn from their sin. The other reason I include that passage here is because it begins with a warning not to neglect meeting together. This is huge because it’s not uncommon for someone to become a member of a church, and then, at some point in the future, to kind of drift off from the church. Six weeks, six months go by, and the church hasn’t seen them. This is not good. We are not caring for a brother or sister well at all in this position, and their neglect when it comes to meeting together needs to be confronted in grace—for their good, for their spiritual protection, and for the good of the church that God has gifted them to build up. So is there unrepentant sin that is detrimental to a brother or sister?
Next, is there unrepentant sin that is harming the unity of the church? This could be on a personal level or on a corporate level. When you look back at Matthew 18, you see that Jesus is specifically addressing what to do when a brother sins against you. If there is sin that your brother has committed against you or you have committed against a brother, then that needs to be addressed. If it’s not addressed, that sin snowballs and prevents the intimacy that God has designed for us as members of a body who literally belong to one another.
There’s also precedent in the New Testament for addressing sin that threatens the unity of the church as a whole. Romans 16:17–18, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” Titus 3:9–11 warns about others who are causing division. If there’s sin that is hurting the unity of the church, on a personal level or on a larger level, then it needs to be confronted.
The last question I would encourage you to ask is: Is there unrepentant sin that is hurting the witness of the church? This is certainly the context of 1 Corinthians 5. This sin was appalling, even to pagans. A man has his father’s wife! Paul is constantly addressing sin in the church that is hurting the witness of the church—1 Corinthians 10:32, Philippians 2:14–
15, 1 Thessalonians 4:12. This is not necessarily an exhaustive list, but based on the precedent of what we see being addressed in the church in the New Testament, my encouragement is for us to ask these questions in the context of this faith family. We cannot neglect this.
Without going into details, this week–and this is a situation outside our church–I saw pain and hurt and walked through this with brothers and sisters in a circumstance because no one was loving enough to point out sin that needed to be pointed out. It was destroying relationships and people’s relationships with God.
So, we must ask these questions. Is there sin that is dishonoring God, is there sin that is denying the gospel, that is detrimental to a brother or sister, that’s hurting the unity of the church, and is there sin that is hurting the witness of the church? When there is, then love one another enough to address that with one another.
Let’s be humble, let’s be biblical, and third, let’s be pure. That’s the point of Matthew 7:1–5. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) We all know there is a tendency to see in others what we struggle with ourselves, so examine your life. When you see a brother or sister caught in sin,
examine your own life and look for any evidence of that sin in your life. This in and of itself is a humbling process.
And examine your motives. There are all kinds of wrong motives that bring about abuses in church discipline. Anger, revenge, self-promotion, abuse of authority, desire for control. All of these things are warned against in Scripture. Really ask yourself, “Am I going to this brother or sister out of love, for their good, to serve them and not myself?” Let’s be pure.
Let’s be prayerful. This is huge. It seems so basic, but it is so overlooked. We need to realize that if a brother or sister is caught in sin, only Christ can bring them out of that sin. You can’t. No matter what you say or how hard you try, only Christ by His Spirit can do this, so pray. I love 2 Timothy 2 here. We gently instruct a brother in sin in the hope that “God
may perhaps grant them repentance leading [them] to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25) God grants repentance. This is the work of God. Now this process is God’s design for how He works, and He uses us in the process. We don’t just sit back and do nothing, but we do what we do with a constant dependence on Him. Let’s be prayerful.
Let’s be quiet before others. Go to your brother or sister, not to others, to talk about your brother or sister. Be quiet. Do not gossip. Zealously guard the character of Christ in your brothers and sisters. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) So let’s be quiet before others, and instead go to each other.
Let’s be quiet before others, and let’s be quick to act. Now, I don’t mean here that we should rush this process, but Scripture clearly teaches not to let sin grow. Matthew 5, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24)
The reality is that the longer sin continues, the longer a brother or sister is caught in sin, the more challenging restoration will become. So don’t wait. Yes, let’s be patient with one another, overlooking offenses when it’s wise, but when sin is dishonoring God, denying the gospel, is detrimental to a brother or sister or hurting the unity or witness of the church, then let’s be quick to address it.
Next, let’s be gentle to others. Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” We all know that when having a difficult conversation, our attitude speaks far more loudly than our actual words. It’s not that we minimize the seriousness of sin, but there is a gentle firmness that is here. This is the fruit of the Spirit in us. When you go to your brother or sister, encourage them, affirm them in different ways, talk from beside them, not from above them. This goes back to the humility. Talk to your brother or sister, not in a sense of inferiority or superiority, but as two people who both have a desperate, ongoing need for a Savior. Admit your own weaknesses, talk about your own heart. Remember, sin is a heart issue. The things we say and even the actions we take only reveal what is at the core of our hearts, so when you are talking with a brother or sister about sin, remember that this is a heart issue at the core.
So let’s be gentle to others, and let’s be careful ourselves. Right after this in Galatians 6:1, Paul says, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Talking about sin, confronting sin is dealing in spiritual warfare. Temptations abound for you to sin in this process, so be careful, be on your guard against sin.
Let me just pause here and remind us: This is yet another reason why church discipline is good. Because as we’re loving enough to address sin in each other’s lives, we will become so much more sensitive to sin in our own lives, and that is a really good thing. God has designed this whole process, not just for that person’s sanctification, but for all of our sanctification.
So let’s be humble, biblical, pure, prayerful, quick, quiet, gentle, careful, and let’s be intentional. This is where I want us to remember the process we saw last week in Matthew 18, and I want to share a few important things that our elders have been praying through regarding what this looks like at Brook Hills.
Church discipline and restoration starts with private correction. You and I don’t involve anyone else until this step is carried out. Let me pause here real quickly and note that there are rare instances where that clearly would not apply. In a situation like child abuse, we would not expect the child to go to the abusing parent; this is the responsibility we must take up as the church. But in most instances, except for extreme or rare situations, begin with private correction.
Then, the second step according to Jesus is small group clarification. Again, we keep the circle as small as possible as long as possible, so we involve another brother or sister (or two) who can approach the situation with all of the qualities mentioned above. Then, if after that, a brother or sister continues unrepentant in sin, even after now two or three have confronted him or her about it, then that leads to step three: Church admonishment. “Tell it to the church,” Jesus says.
We talked last week about how our elders have been praying and working through this, and we’ve come to the conclusion that when Jesus says, “Tell it to the church,” Jesus means, “Tell it to the church.” We’re a pretty sharp group of guys. We also talked last week about how this is evidence of God’s love. God loves His people so much that He will send the entire body of Christ after them to bring them back from sin that destroys them.
So, what does this look like in The Church at Brook Hills? Once these first two steps have been carried out, and a brother or sister is still unrepentant in his or her sin, then our encouragement is for you to involve your small group leader, if they’re not already involved, and then, if necessary, the elder who is the shepherd over your small group. So you go to your small group leader, and then go to an elder. After that small group leader and that elder have become involved, if indeed all the steps have been taken that could be taken, and that person is still unrepentant, then the elder will bring that situation to the rest of the elders. This kind of thing has happened, and is actually happening right now, with members of this body. The thing is we’ve not come to a point where we’ve said to the entire church, “This member ‘John’ in our midst is walking in unrepentant sin, and we need to pray for John and seek after John.” We’ve not done that to this point, but our elders are convinced that we need to do this.
Yet, we don’t believe we can do that at this moment in time because you as members of this church have not agreed to that. Many of you have become members of this church without the slightest inclination or idea that this would ever be possible—your name being told to the church because you’re living in unrepentant sin. Consequently, we don’t believe it would be appropriate to carry this out without you understanding this is what it means biblically to be a part of a church—this church—that you open yourself up to this process, if it’s ever necessary, which hopefully it never will be.
Our plan is, over the coming months, to revise our membership process so that every member agrees to willingly, gladly submit to a process of church discipline and restoration, if that is ever necessary. This will be something that every single member would need to be willing to submit to if you’re going to be a member of The Church at Brook Hills. Then, based on that, if it’s ever necessary–which obviously, hopefully it won’t be, but if it’s necessary–we’ll “tell it to the church.” We’ll tell the church—not all the details of a situation, but generally—“This brother or that sister is living in unrepentant sin.” We’ll do this in a forum not like this on Sunday morning or a Sunday evening when all kinds of non-members are present, but at a time–and we’re trying to figure out the best time to do something like this–when only members of the church are present to pray for and then to lovingly pursue that brother or sister.
After that, Jesus says, “If that brother or sister refuses to listen even to the church, the gathering, then the final step is church excommunication.” Now, again, this is happening now. Our elders have approached and are actually in the process of approaching various members to remove them from membership. So, I’m not saying, “Well, if there’s a situation that warrants potential excommunication, just wait until we figure out some things.” No, this is happening.
So, involve your small group leader and then an elder when necessary, knowing that we don’t believe we’re yet in a position to involve the church in a way that Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 is telling us to, and we’re taking steps to make that a reality. In the meantime, we are carrying out this command in Scripture with brothers and sisters among us who claim to be Christians but refuse to turn from their sin.
The big question that people ask at this point is, “Well, once we remove someone from the church, how do we treat that person? What do we do, what do we say when we see them out at the grocery store? Is it really wrong to eat with them? What if they’re a co-worker? What if they’re a family member? Does this mean that that person isn’t even welcome in worship here?” All of these are good questions, and there is so much we could discuss here, but here’s the main point: When church excommunication happens, all over the New Testament, this signals a clear change in relationship.
We see that here in 1 Corinthians 5. “…not to associate with [them]…” (1 Corinthians 5:9) “…not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11) 2 Thessalonians 3:6, “Keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness…” Verse 14, “…have nothing to do with him…” (2 Thessalonians 3:14) “…warn him as a brother.”, verse 15. “Have nothing more to do with him”, Titus 3:10. “Do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting”, 2 John 10. There is a clear change in relationship here.
Now, we think, “Well, we’re supposed to treat this person as though they don’t know Christ, as though they are lost without Christ, and we love lost people. We eat with lost people. We spend time with lost people.” Yes, we do, but clearly based on Scripture, there’s a difference here. This is someone who has claimed, and maybe is still claiming, to be a brother or sister.
Now, your relationship to that person is marked by isolation as a whole. Remember the point is that this person might be given over to themselves, hopefully to see the effects and consequences of their sin.
Then, when there is any interaction, there is a continual call (and continual prayer) for repentance. So we pray. We don’t stop praying, longing for them to come back to Christ. I think about a member–and I’ll speak very generally here–of our faith family whom I know and love. This process has played out in his life. Many have sought after him, and he has refused to repent. We have come to the point where I and others who love him have had to separate from him in this way, not associating with him, trusting God’s Word. But we have made clear, I have made personally clear at the moment, at the instant when he is willing to turn back to Christ, at the minute when he says, “I need help,” know that not just I, but so many, an entire body of believers for that matter, are ready to love and serve him in any and every way we can. This is not easy—letting a person go like this, but it’s biblical.
This is particularly challenging when it comes to family members, which is why I put “remember also Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 7” and other passages in the New Testament that talk about our biblical responsibilities to our wives and our husbands and our children and our parents. Clearly, if your husband or your wife is walking in unrepentant sin and is excommunicated from the church, you are commanded in Scripture to love your husband and your wife and to fulfill your marital duties to them, assuming there is not an issue of abuse or something along those lines. So, you have to hold “don’t eat with him” in 1 Corinthians 5 in tension with “fulfill your marital duties with him” in 1 Corinthians 7. This is not easy, but I want to say to us today: Let’s be intentional about obeying with the love of Christ. Let’s be intentional about obeying God’s Word on discipline disputes with the love of Christ.
1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11 tells us to trust in the authority of Christ.
Second, let’s trust in the authority of Christ. Notice that in 1 Corinthians 5:4, Paul says, “Do this ‘when you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus…with the power of our Lord Jesus.’” (1 Corinthians 5:4) Clearly, the most obvious objection to all that we’ve talked about when it comes to church discipline or church disputes is, “Who do you think you are to do something like this in the church?” This is where we remember that we don’t carry out these sorts of things based upon any authority in us but based solely on the authority that Christ has invested in His church. In Matthew 18:18, Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) That’s the authority Christ has given to His church to declare people forgiven of their sin or not based upon their repentance and belief in Him. So let’s trust in His authority.
Let’s pray according to His promise. Jesus said in Matthew 18:19, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” Now that is one abused verse. It is not a blank check for finding somebody else who agrees with you on just anything, and poof, God responds and gives you whatever you want. No, remember the context. Jesus has just finished talking about when two or three confront a brother in sin, and Jesus is saying, “Know this: When you gather together in unison to confront sin in the church, you have the full support of the Father in heaven in what you’re doing.” Jesus knows this church discipline thing is not easy. He knows we will be tempted to shy away from it and not carry it out, so He encourages us here. When two or three people see unrepentant sin in a brother or sister and are caring enough to address it, then know that the Father in heaven is ready to provide you with everything you need to address it.
Let’s pray according to His promise, and let’s be confident in His presence. He says in the very next verse, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20) This may be the most abused verse in all of Scripture. How many times is it said, “Well, where two or three are gathered, Jesus is there. So, since we’ve got two or three, we can know Jesus is here.” Don’t say that. What about when you were praying alone earlier today? Does that mean Jesus was waiting for someone else to show up before He came into the picture? You didn’t have a quorum? No. How many does it take for Jesus to show up at a prayer meeting? How about one!
Instead, Jesus is saying here, “When you are doing the difficult work of church discipline, when two or three of you are gathered with a brother or sister who is living in unrepentant sin, and you are doing the tough work of gentle, loving confrontation, be assured of this: My presence, which is always with you, will be especially real, especially strong, especially needed, and especially felt in the middle of that situation.” Jesus says, “When you are carrying this out, church, be assured: You will experience my presence in a unique and powerful way.” Wow, what confidence! So let’s trust in the authority of Christ amidst discipline and disputes, pray according to His promise, and have confidence in His presence among us.
1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11 tells us to honor the cross of Christ.
Let’s obey with the love of Christ, let’s trust in the authority of Christ, and let’s honor the cross of Christ. Do you remember when Paul talked about the yeast and the dough in 1 Corinthians 5? Yeast, or leaven, is a symbol throughout Scripture of sin, and Paul is saying here to get rid of the leaven, or the yeast, the sin in your midst.
Look back at verses 6 and 7 in 1 Corinthians 5 again with me. “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.” (1 Corinthians 5:6–7) The picture here takes us back to the Passover feast. No leaven, or yeast, was allowed to be in the bread that was eaten in the Passover Feast. It was unleavened bread. Why? Because leaven was a symbol of Egypt, the old life of slavery from which they had been delivered. The Passover was a feast celebrating their deliverance, so they purged the bread of all the yeast
Paul is saying here, “In a much greater way, Christ has been sacrificed as the Passover Lamb. So don’t live with yeast, sin, in your midst. Get rid of it. He has paid the price for your deliverance, yet you’re living like you’re not delivered.” Jesus has died to save us from our sins, and Jesus has died to cleanse us from our sins.
This is where we must face the question, church. It’s what Paul was confronting the Corinthian church with, and it’s what Scripture confronts us with today. We want a Christ who pardons, but do we want a Christ who purifies? Have we become content in the contemporary church to bask in the forgiveness of Christ while we live apart from the holiness of Christ? In our complete neglect of church discipline in contemporary churches across the board today, we are saying that we want a Christ who pardons, but we don’t want a Christ who purifies, and we need to repent.
We need to repent because we realize that when we tolerate unrepentant sin in the church, we trample on the sacrifice of Christ. The contemporary church—including, I fear, The Church at Brook Hills—is trampling on the sacrifice of Christ through outrageous, supposedly open-minded tolerance of unrepentant sin in the church. Let’s honor the cross of Christ.
1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11 tells us to celebrate new life in Christ.
Finally, let’s celebrate the new life we have in Christ; let’s celebrate new life in Christ. Six times in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul asks, “Do you not know?” It’s like he’s desperate for them to know what they should already know, that their eyes would be opened to certain things that are right before them.
See what Paul is saying here (and I’m thinking particularly here about 1 Corinthians 6:9–11). Realize who you once were. He says in 1 Corinthians 6:9, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived…” Then he lists examples of sinful deception in the church, and he says in verse 11, “And such were some of you.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) He says to these Christians at Corinth, “You used to be these things.” Your life used to be characterized by these things but not anymore.
Why not? Because of what He once did. God sent His Son to take on your unrighteousness in your place as your Savior. He died on the cross and rose from the grave, and God opened your eyes to His beauty, washed your sins away by His grace, justified you before him.
So realize, do you know who you now are. Notice the key word midway through verse 11: “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) You have the Spirit of God in you now. He’ll say later in the chapter that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit! You were these things, but now you’re washed and you’re justified.
This is why Paul said in the previous chapter, “…you really are unleavened.” (1 Corinthians 5:7) Don’t let unrepentant sin remain in you and in the church when you have new life in Christ—and not just new life now, but new life forever.
Realize what you will be. Saints who will judge the world and the angels. Do you realize these things? Do you see it? This is why we must do these things in the church, because we want to celebrate the new life we have in Christ. Church discipline is not just about restoration; it’s about celebration. It’s about celebrating the new life we have because of the sacrifice of Christ on a cross for our sins.
Realize this and rejoice because the death of Christ on the cross transforms our lives and relationships in the church.
What About Church Disputes?
The Overall Problem…
Christians were denying the wisdom they had in the church. (6:1–5)
Christians were destroying the witness they had in the world. (6:6)
Christians were disobeying the will of God in the gospel. (6:7–8)
We sacrifice our rights to show the love of Christ.
(1 Cor. 4:12–13; Mat. 5:39–40; 1 Thess. 5:15)
We strive for reconciliation with one another in Christ. (Rom. 12:1–21)
The General Principles…
We recognize in this text that Christians should settle disputes with other Christians in the church outside of court.
We remember from other texts that Christians should subject themselves to governing authorities for our good. (Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–14; Acts 24:2–4; 25:10–11).
Discipline, Disputes, and The Church at Brook Hills…
Let’s obey with the love of Christ. (5:1–2; 6:1–8)
Let’s do church discipline not only because we love righteousness, but also because we long for a brother or sister’s restoration. (Jas. 5:19–20)
Let’s settle church disputes not only because we have a responsibility to do this, but also because we desire reconciliation through this. (Eph. 4:1–3)
Let’s be humble. (Col. 3:13; Prov. 19:11)
Let’s be biblical.
Is there unrepentant sin that is dishonoring God? (5:11; 6:9–10)
Is there unrepentant sin that is denying the gospel? (1 Tim. 1:18–20; 2 Tim. 2:17–18)
Is there unrepentant sin that is detrimental to a brother or sister? (Heb. 10:24–31) Is there unrepentant sin that is harming the unity of the church? (Rom. 16:17–18; Titus 3:9–11)
Is there unrepentant sin that is hurting the witness of the church? (1 Cor. 10:32; Phil. 2:14–15; 1 Thess. 4:12)
Let’s be pure.(Mat. 7:1–5).
Examine your life.
Examine your motives.
Let’s be prayerful. (2 Tim. 2:24–26)
Let’s be quiet before others. (Eph. 4:29–32)
Let’s be quick to act. (Mat. 5:23–26)
Let’s be gentle to others. (Gal. 6:1a)
Let’s be careful ourselves. (Gal. 6:1b)
Let’s be intentional (Mat. 18:15–17)…
Private Correction Small Group Clarification
A clear change in relationship. (5:9, 11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14–15; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:10; 2 John 10; remember also Eph. 5:22–33; 1 Cor. 7:10–16; Eph. 6:1–3; 1 Tim. 5:8; 1 Pet. 3:1–2).
A continual call (and continual prayer) for repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 2:19)
Let’s trust in the authority of Christ. (5:3–5; 6:2; Mat. 18:18)
Let’s pray according to His promise. (Mat. 18:19)
Let’s be confident in His presence. (Mat. 18:20)
Let’s honor the cross of Christ. (5:6–8)
We want a Christ who pardons, but do we want a Christ who purifies? When we tolerate unrepentant sin in the church, we trample on
the sacrifice of Christ.
Let’s celebrate new life in Christ. (5:9–13; 6:9–11)
Who you once were.
What He once did.
Who you now are.
What you will be.
The death of Christ on the cross transforms our lives and relationships in the church.