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
Recognizing And Resolving Ineffective Problem-Solving

Recognizing And Resolving Ineffective Problem-Solving

Neal Pollard

FIGHT…WOUND…WITHDRAW…REPENT…REPEAT.

That has never worked, but it’s the way many people approach problems in marriage. And, it’s not only newlyweds. Some people live out a lifetime of handling conflict this way. The sad and dangerous thing is that such a methods of dealing with disagreements can destroy a marriage.

The point of contention arises, whether financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical. The couple argues. One, then the other personalize the issue, attack one another, and exhibit sinful anger. This can escalate to the point that hurting words or actions occur. Finally, exhaustion, hurt or anger stops the fight. Each returns to his or her corner. Each treats his or her wounds or maybe even plots the next move. Soon or later, guilt or remorse overcomes each of them. For either peace or relief, they eventually hit the “kiss and make up” stage. Life then goes on.

Perhaps it is at this juncture that the greatest damage occurs. What did not happen? The cause of the conflict wasn’t resolved. So, what happens? The disagreement about whatever is still a problem. Eventually, it will resurface. Then, the cycle will continue. There will be more FIGHTING, WOUNDING, WITHDRAWING, and REPENTING.

If this system is so agonizingly painful and counterproductive, why is it so commonly practiced? Pride, unwillingness to compromise, selfishness, or inflexibility all may factor in. How can we break this vicious cycle? The answer is easy to come up with, but it requires great discipline and patience to achieve. Consider.

  • Do not let conflict “sneak up on you.” Fatigue, stress, and illness can effect demeanor, even when we’re not conscious of it. Resolve not to react without careful consideration of what you will say or do.
  • Practice the golden rule. Never say or do anything you wouldn’t be happy to hear or receive (Mat. 7:12).
  • Give your mate due courtesy. The Mills Brothers sang, “You always hurt the one you love.” That may be the tendency, but we need to do better than that. Should you speak more harshly and impatiently to your mate than to your boss, employees, neighbors, friends, or attractive stranger? Don’t let familiarity breed contempt.
  • Swallow your pride. Do you feel the need to always be right, to always win? That’s not healthy or conducive to a happy marriage. Pride has damaged innumerable relationships (Prov. 16:18).
  • Act like Jesus. While He wasn’t married, He did interact with many people. Not all of those were friendly. Many were prone to be antagonistic. Jesus preached, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mat. 5:9). He also urged conflict resolution as a high priority (Mat. 5:24). Jesus lived a perfect life (1 Pet. 2:22), a life of example for the rest of us (1 Pet. 2:21).

None of us will ever be sin-free and perfect! Disagreements will continually pop up between husbands and wives, simple because no two individuals see everything alike. But, the vicious cycle of fighting, wounding, withdrawing, repenting, and repeating is hurting more marriages than we want to admit. It’s time to get off the roller coaster. Let’s start today!

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