Unity Through Subtraction

Unity Through Subtraction

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

As Paul works his way through some of the challenges and issues the Corinth congregation was dealing with, he turns his attention to an awful situation. As he says, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). This was being openly practiced at the congregation, and Paul compares how they were reacting to how they should react. Even if the congregation unanimously embraced this situation, the end result would not be unity in truth. As Moses said in his day, “You shall not follow a multitude in doing evil” (Ex. 23:2).

Paul rallies them to unite in doing what pleased God. This began with amending their hearts, mourning rather than being arrogant (2). It should be followed by removing this man from their midst (2). Based on the report (presumably from Chloe’s household), Paul already knew what needed to be done (3). While the term “church discipline” is not used in the text, that is the action. Paul uses such words and phrases as “deliver to Satan” (5),  “clean out” (purge, 7), “do not associate” (9,12),  and “remove” (13). Why was such a drastic action necessary?

“THAT HIS SPIRIT MAY BE SAVED IN THE DAY OF THE LORD JESUS” (5)

By withdrawing fellowship from him, the goal was to induce his sorrow and cause his repentance. This relationship was unrighteous, and it would cost him his soul if he did not end it. How uncaring is it to validate an unscriptural relationship, knowing what Scripture says about it? Paul is about to write that fornicators and adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (6:9). 

“A LITTLE LEAVEN LEAVENS THE WHOLE LUMP OF DOUGH” (6-8)

Paul calls this the leaven of “malice and wickedness” (8). Allowing sin unchecked and unaddressed to continue in a congregation does not make the sin all right. It allows the influence of sin to spread throughout the congregation. Remembering that the church is the body of Christ (see chapter 12), how can the body act in rebellion to its head and still please God? For the purity of Christ’s body, this action must be taken.

THERE IS GUILT BY ASSOCIATION (9-11)

Paul expands this beyond just the situation of the man with his father’s wife. He says not to associate with the immoral, covetous, idolatrous, reviling, drunkard, or swindling brother in Christ (11). Even eating a fellowship meal with them sent them the message that they were okay living in rebellion against God. Remember, this is not about vengeance or angry resentment. This was about honoring God’s will in a matter that God’s word clearly addresses. 

IT IS AN EXERCISE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT (12-13)

This was not a matter for human courts, which in most civilizations do not legislate morality. This is an “internal matter,” a child of God “judged” by the people of God according to the will of God. God established the pattern. 

When I preached in Virginia and Colorado, the elders in both churches practiced church discipline. It was done in such a loving way, with the elders first going to the individuals in various sinful situations and pleading for them to repent. When they refused, the elders brought the matter before the congregation urging any and all with any influence and relationship to plead with them. When that did not work, they announced that it was necessary to withdraw fellowship from them. There was no angry or hateful rhetoric, no gleeful attitude that such an action would be taken. To the contrary, it was as sad and solemn a moment as I’ve experienced in the family of God. I am happy to say that I have witnessed on several occasions the ultimate repentance and return of some of these wayward Christians. That was the goal in every situation. It would seem to me that one of the most neglected, disobeyed commands among God’s people is the practice of church discipline. It is unpleasant, frightening, and unpopular, but it is what God commands. God knows what is best and what is the best way to handle every situation among us. We should always trust Him and submit to His pattern for handling every difficulty and dilemma among us. The end result is biblical unity. 

Bowl full of dough