June 23, 2010 David Balzer

1 Corinthians 5-6: Operation Swift Justice

I’ve got a problem. I splinters. It doesn’t just hurt when they go in, but they bug me when they’re in. I keep squeezing them, and trying to get them out.

And when I DO try to get them out. I often poke around with a needle or a pair of tweezers. Ten or twenty minutes later, I MIGHT have got the splinter out. Or it might still be there. And it actually hurts more to get them OUT than it did when they went IN.

What’s called for is SWIFT AND DECISIVE ACTION.

And that was always my Dad’s policy. I’ve never known anyone else to do this, but Dad always had a supply of sterile surgical blades in the medicine chest.

Razor sharp, hygenically wrapped. Scary stuff.

And I used to wince at the sight of them.

But Dad always insisted that it hurt less to cut them out quickly with something sharp. Than to poke around for hours with a pair of tweezers.

One day I took him up on the offer. I was probably about ten. And it was a MONSTER splinter. Felt like it was halfway through the BONE. And there wasn’t anything left sticking above the skin. Nothing to get the tweezers onto.

So I bit the bullet. I gritted my teeth. And offered Dad my throbbing finger.

One quick slice. One grab with the tweezers. and it was gone. The courage of quick, decisive action. And it was all over.

And it’s the courage of quick, decisive action that Paul’s calling for here in Chapters 5 and 6. Two huge, sharp splinters are wounding the Corinthian church.

A case of blatant, habitual ual immorality. And Christians ripping each other off, and then going to court.

And they’re causing huge, festering sores. The filthy splinters are infecting the whole body. And Paul takes them to task. Because instead of quick, decisive action. They’re just sitting back, and gawking at the wound.

It’s funny. But sometimes when you hurt yourself, there’s a strange fascination to keep looking at it. There’s something attractive about squeezing the edges of the cut together. And watching the ooze out.

Or pushing that bruise again and again. It really hurts when you do it. But you just like to keep pushing it – just to see HOW MUCH it still hurts.

Or pinching an infected sore. And watching the pus squirt out of the middle.

Wound 1: ual immorality

And in a sense, this is what the Corinthian church were doing. Instead of quick surgery, they were glorying in the gore. And Paul can’t believe it. Look at verse 1 and 2 of Ch 5.

(1 Cor 5:1-2 NIV)  It is actually reported that there is ual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. {2} And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?

Notice that Paul’s amazed at two things. The first is the nature of the wound. ual immorality. A professing Christian is committing incest. He’s moved in with his step mum. And even in the free and easy Corinth, that was a big no-no.

The Mistreatment: Pride, rather than sorrow and discipline. (5:1-13)

But what’s even more astounding to Paul. Is the MISTREATMENT of that wound. What the church is doing about it. It’s just SITTING BACK AND WATCHING. Doing nothing. In fact he says they’re PROUD. PROUD! They’re not ashamed. Or filled with grief like they should be. They’re proud that someone’s practising incest!

What’s going on in their minds? What were they thinking?

It’s likely that they’ve MISUNDERSTOOD THE NATURE OF THE GOSPEL. Paul’s taught them that they’re saved by GRACE. And that their works have nothing to do with their SALVATION.

And they’ve TWISTED it, and STRETCHED it, until Paul’s message becomes “We’re saved by grace. Therefore it doesn’t matter WHAT we do – God will still forgive us”.

And once you start believing that, it’s only a short jump to saying, “Look how free we are. We’re Christians, but we can still do what we like. We’ve even got someone living with his step-mum! Isn’t it wonderful that God saves us by his grace, and he doesn’t care what we do!”

The Solution – Decisive discipline

But Paul is staggered at thinking like that! It’s a complete misrepresentation of the gospel. And the result is the complete OPPOSITE of what they should have done. They watched the sore. Poked and squeezed it. Rather than operating.

Paul’s solution. Decisive discipline. There should have been a just and efficient judgement. Verse 2.

(1 Cor 5:2-5 NIV)  Shouldn’t you RATHER have been filled with GRIEF and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? {3} Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have ALREADY PASSED JUDGMENT on the one who did this, just as if I were present. {4} When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, {5} HAND THIS MAN OVER TO SATAN, SO THAT THE SINFUL NATURE MAY BE DESTROYED AND HIS SPIRIT SAVED ON THE DAY OF THE LORD.

It seems like Paul’s left out some steps in the process here. But we assume he’s suggesting the process Jesus teaches about in Mt 18.

(Mat 18:15-17 NIV)  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. {16} But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ {17} If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

This is continuous, habitual, unrepentant sin we’re talking about. And if they refuse to listen to Christian brothers and sisters – first ONE, then A SMALL GROUP – then Jesus says treat them like they’re not Christian at all.

And it’s this last stage that Paul’s talking about. Paul’s surgical operation involves handing the man over to Satan. In other words, putting him out of the church. Excommunication.

Discipline for the sake of the sinner (5)

And notice what his purpose is? Firstly, it’s discipline for the sake of THE SINNER. Verse 5


Notice there’s TWO effects. There’s PUNISHMENT, but also CORRECTION. First, punishment, “so that the sinful nature might be destroyed. It’s literally “so that the BODY (OR FLESH) might be destroyed”.

Life outside the church is no picnic. It’s uncomfortable. There are consequences to actions. And bad choices often result in bad consequences. It might be loneliness, or emotional anguish, or depression, or even physical sickness.

But whatever it might be, it’s not POINTLESS PUNISHMENT. The purpose of the PHYSICAL DESTRUCTION or PUNISHMENT / is SPIRITUAL SALVATION.

And that’s the second part. The sinner BENEFITS from the discipline because it’s intended to lead to salvation. There’s a CORRECTIVE element as well as punishment. By refusing advice, he’s TURNING AWAY from Christianity. But the punishment is intended to DRIVE HIM BACK to Christ.

Any church discipline which doesn’t have the spiritual future of the sinner as a very high priority isn’t godly justice.

Discipline for the sake of the church (6-7)

But Paul has a second purpose in disciplining. The first is for the sake of the sinner. The second purpose is for the sake of the CHURCH.

It’s necessary to remove the unrepentant sinner because one rotten apple affects the whole bunch. Look at v6.

(1 Cor 5:6 NIV)  Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?

A little bit of yeast affects the whole loaf. And one unrepentant sinner brings his proud and mocking attitude with him. And he drags the rest down.

Because they see him getting away with it. And when the church does nothing, they wonder if perhaps it’s really alright for THEM to be doing it too.

Or perhaps if the sinner ISN’T punished, then a little while later, someone ELSE is dragged down. And because the FIRST case hasn’t been dealt with, it becomes ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to deal with the second.

But by swift, decisive action, everyone gets the message that this sort of behaviour isn’t what’s required of Christians. And that it won’t be tolerated.

Did you notice that the excommunication is to be a PUBLIC thing. It’s not to happen behind closed doors – which might be easier for everyone concerned.


It seems a bit tough to hang out everyone’s dirty laundry (so to speak), but the thing to remember is that this only happens as the LAST STEP. The sinner’s ALREADY DECIDED that he’s not going to listen. And so this last step really becomes his choice.

But why make it public?

The advantage of a public event is that the whole church is informed of the necessary facts. Not everything. Many of the details are none of their business. But ENOUGH so that they realise the SERIOUSNESS of the sin. And the JUSTICE of the discipline. This means that they can SUPPORT THE LEADERSHIP in the decision. Rather than criticising them behind their back because they don’t know all the facts.

Preventative health is better than surgery

So what does this mean for us? Let’s pray that this passage is never IMMEDIATELY applicable to our church.

But if there’s no serious, major sin that needs surgery, what do we do to take on the PRINCIPLES that Paul’s teaching?

Firstly, we need to be involved in PREVENTATIVE HEALTH. Mostly, big sins don’t come out of nowhere. There’s a PATTERN which develops over time. Little lapses which noone notices. Behaviours which aren’t corrected. Comments which might be cries for help, but noone takes any notice.

But we DO need to take notice. We MUST’NT assume that everything is always alright.

We need to recognise our mutual accountability. I am responsible to you for my behaviour, and you to me. We need to know where each other is at. To check up on how we’re doing.

Ask the deeper questions. “What are you struggling with?” “What are you winning at?” “How is your marriage?” “What can we pray about for you?”

We don’t like to do it, do we? The problem is we know our own hearts. We don’t want to be asking people questions that would make US squirm. We don’t want to be seen to be a hypocrite. “What are you doing asking ME about anger for! I’ve heard you shout at your kids! And I live three streets away!”

The trick is to be doing it from the right motives. From a GENUINE DESIRE for the other person’s godliness, rather than simply being a finger-pointing exercise.

And be prepared to share honestly when you get asked the same questions. Because preventative health is better than surgery. Better to have a check-up/ than wait until there are major problems.

Minor surgery is better than major surgery

The second point is that minor surgery is better than major surgery. Minor disputes, and small sins, need to be dealt with before they escalate.

If someone hurts you, don’t ignore it. Deal with it. If they repent, and ask your forgiveness, you’ve won your brother. And Satan loses.

Or if someone is involved in sin that they’re not aware of. Let them know – lovingly! Because minor surgery is better than major surgery.

Once again I think we avoid pointing out these things because it makes us feel uncomfortable. We recognise our own sin. “I’m just as egotistical, or gossipy, or c , or whatever, as they are. Who am I to point the finger!?”

And perhaps we also doubt our own judgement. “Perhaps I’m misinterpreting it. Perhaps it’s not really as bad as it seems to me!”

But we have a responsibility to do it. Because the health of the church depends on it. Preventative health is better than surgery. And minor surgery is better than major surgery.

Understand the nature of the gospel – holiness isn’t an optional extra.

The third thing we can learn from these verses/ is to make sure we understand the nature of the gospel. Yes, we’re saved by grace. Yes, our works have nothing to do with it. But NO, that doesn’t give us a blank cheque book to do whatever we want. God demands that his people are holy like he is.

It’s sometimes the temptation we evangelicals can fall into. We focus on “grace” so much that we forget THE HARD SLOG of imitating Jesus. And we put down “works” so much that we forget that we were CREATED for good works. They’re the RESPONSE OF GRATITUDE for God’s gift of eternal life.

Get rid of the old yeast (7-8)

And it’s THIS mistake that Paul addresses next. In v7 and 8 he shows the Corinthian church what a RIGHT understanding of the gospel looks like in practice. They’re to get rid of the old yeast.

They thought the gospel made NO demands on their behaviour.

But Paul says the gospel demands that they become IN REALITY what they are ALREADY in God’s sight. – “You’re washed clean, so ACT clean”

The picture’s a bit confusing, but let me read it first, then explain it. Verse 7 & 8.

(1 Cor 5:7-8 NIV)  Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. {8} Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

“Get rid of the old yeast”. The thing to remember is that Paul’s just used YEAST to refer to EVIL – the sinner who’s affecting the rest of the church.

And now he BROADENS the term. Get rid of the OLD yeast. That is, everything that’s evil about your OLD way of LIFE.

Why? So you can be a NEW BATCH. A new loaf. A new lump without yeast – without evil. The Christian life is about getting rid of the old ways. The old habits. It’s about your old man. Your old nature.

Paul says “Become a new lump without yeast AS YOU REALLY ARE.”

What’s he getting at?

Well, he goes on to explain himself. “Why are you already a new batch without yeast?” “Because Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed”.

In other words. You’re clean because he died. He died the WE should have died. To make us clean before the Father. In the eyes of God, we ARE clean. Justified. Righteous. Put right.

So become IN REALITY – become ACTUALLY – what you are POSITIONALLY, or LEGALLY.

And he goes on to describe what that looks like. He describes the Christian lifestyle USING THE IMAGE OF THE PASSOVER FEAST. Verse 8.

(1 Cor 5:8 NIV)  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

The gospel demands that we become people who are like our Father. Be holy because I am holy. The gospel never gives us permission to do whatever we want.

If anyone says to you, “I want Jesus as my Saviour, but not as my Lord – I like the rescue bit, but I’m not so sure about the submission bit”. Tell them, “It’s a package deal. Jesus is the package deal king. If you don’t accept him as your Lord, then you haven’t really accepted him as Saviour.

Faith in the Saviour, which doesn’t show itself in the gratitude of a changed life, isn’t real faith.

So that’s the first wound. Refusing to deal with the ually immoral person/ refusing to judge, is REFUSING TO TAKE SERIOUSLY the role of the church. How God’s people are to live in the light of the gospel.

Wound 2: Fraud and Cheating (6:1-11)

And the second wound is being treated in the same way by the Corinthians. Another mistreatment. Not judging/ when their responsibility is to judge. (We’ll look at this one much more briefly)

The infection is that Christians are cheating and defrauding each other. Look at v 6 of ch 6.

(1 Cor 6:6-8 NIV)  But instead, ONE BROTHER GOES TO LAW AGAINST ANOTHER–and this in front of unbelievers! {7} The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? {8} INSTEAD, YOU YOURSELVES CHEAT AND DO WRONG, AND YOU DO THIS TO YOUR BROTHERS.

A , gangrenous wound. But the Corinthians don’t think it was too serious. Barely a scratch. And so instead of treating it. Instead of dealing with the dispute, the church is letting the secular law courts deal with it.

The Mistreatment: Not recognising the Christian’s true position (6:1-11)

And Paul takes them to task. They should have dealt with it. They’re MORE than capable.

The point Paul makes is that they’re not recognising the Christian’s true position. Perhaps they thought they weren’t qualified, or smart enough, to judge the case.

But Paul corrects their misunderstanding. The Christian is MORE than qualified to judge a simple case. Because one day he’s going to judge a much more difficult, and complicated, case. Look at Ch 6 v 1.

(1 Cor 6:1-3 NIV)  If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? {2} Do you not know that THE SAINTS WILL JUDGE THE WORLD? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? {3} Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

The Solution: Recognise the Christian’s true position – judges

So Paul’s solution is to point out the Christian’s true position.

“Don’t you know?” he questions. “Isn’t it obvious?”

One day you’ll judge the world on matters of life and . ETERNAL life and .

When it comes to matters of justice and righteousness. Of mercy and forgiveness. Who better to decide these SMALL MATTERS than someone who KNOWS THE GOD OF JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS?  – who’s been dealt with justly and fairly by the God of mercy and forgiveness?

Paul’s question is full of irony. Verse 5. Surely, you Corinthians, who think you’re so wise. Surely there must be SOMEONE among you wise enough to deal with a simple case like this.

You see, they simply don’t recognise the seriousness of the problem. In Corinth, law cases were just a piece of entertainment. People spent most of the day either arguing their case in courts, or listening to others do it!

Yet, Paul says that the very fact that they’re arguing lawsuits means they’ve lost already. There’s no winners. They don’t even have to wait for the judges verdict. Verse 7.

(1 Cor 6:7-8 NIV)  The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been COMPLETELY DEFEATED ALREADY. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? {8} Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

You’ve lost/ because you’re not the people you should be.

Paul holds up a mirror to them. So they can see the true picture. The full extent of the infection. Cheating and fraud aren’t just little splinters to poke at. They’re full-scale gaping sores. Golden staph infections of the worst kind. Verse 9.

(1 Cor 6:9-11 NIV)  Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the ually immoral nor idolaters nor erers nor male s nor offenders {10} nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. {11} And that is what some of you were. 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.

Paul returns to his argument from Ch 5. You were washed, sanctifed, justified. This is what you ARE.

Act like it. LOOK like it. Take seriously who you are as a church. Don’t be complacent. Be holy as God is holy.

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