Flagrant Immorality

If saints are not in the process of putting to death the deeds of the body, all kinds of destruction is on its way. Wherever Satan has opportunity to work through the saintís fleshly desires, he will do so. And because the prince of darkness hates mankind, and saints in particular, he always works to destroy anything good in their lives. Hence, wherever sin goes, there follows a swath of ruination and all kinds of collateral damage. The apostle Paul, then, is compelled to address the sin situation in the congregation in Corinth. "You are still fleshly," he had earlier stated. "For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly?" Along with that fleshliness comes the sin and destruction which was at work in Corinth.

The very existence of the church in Corinth, in regard to their remaining in Christ, was threatened by this working of the devil and complicity among the saints. They were in danger of falling into the same condition as would later describe the church in Sardis, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Revelation 3:1). The apostle Paul had started this congregation. He gave up a year and a half of his life in laying the foundation for this local church, and he loved those people. It pained him to see the direction the congregation was taking, and hurt him to see so many souls torn apart by their continuing in sin. It concerned him to see the factions developing within the congregation, and the type of men who were catapulting themselves into leadership positions within those factions. He therefore is serious when he says, "Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?"

He, as an apostle and one experienced with the development and growth of congregations, could see where this was headed. "Your boasting is not good," said he. "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?" (I Corinthians 5:6). A spot of mold will begin to spread through the whole cloth, and requires immediate action to staunch the spread. Paul therefore was poised for action, and was going to give the congregation some specific instructions for the removal of this "leaven." Congregations today would do well to pay attention to the action in Corinth.

Power of our Lord Jesus

When everything is running smoothly, there are no big crisis decisions to be made, and authority is generally not questioned. But when situations become a bit more "dicey," then the proper authority clearly has to be in place and recognized. And one of the more challenging situations for a congregation is when disciplinary action has to be taken over someoneís breakdown in moral issues. The congregation in Corinth, as noted in Paulís letter, had arrived to the point where such action needed to be taken. What leadership there was in Corinth (and there is no indication that this local church was yet governed by elders), was either unable or unwilling to act in dealing with a man who was apparently living in sin with his fatherís wife. The apostle decided, with the backing of King Jesus, to issue some strongly worded instructions.

The arrogant among the congregation in Corinth refused to do anything about this flagrantly immoral situation. The internal politics of the factions of the congregation may have been such that to act would have cost some of the schismatics their leadership position, or whether they themselves were covering "lesser" but similar sins is not exactly known. "Your boasting is not good," was Paulís way of exposing these pseudo-leaders. Their failure to act was dangerous. "Do you not know," was his reminder, "that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?" (I Corinthians 5:6). Hence his instructions were to act "when you are assembled." The action: "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves" (I Corinthians 5:13).

Celebrate with New Leaven

"Out with the old, and in with the new!" Whether it is a new year or a new creation, the old saw applies. When Jesus spoke of the onrushing new covenant, He used the illustration of wineskins. "Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins," He stated, "otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved" (Matthew 9:17). The covenants cannot co-mingle; out with the old, and in with the new!

"But the goal of our instruction," Paul reminded Timothy, "is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (I Timothy 1:5). This is where the principles and power of the new covenant intersect with the pure and holy lifestyle of the new creature in Christ. "Out with the old; in with the new!"

Intelligent Associations

"Do not be deceived," the apostle Paul would later say in this epistle to the Corinthian brethren, "bad company corrupts good morals." Bad company is not limited to drunkards and philanderers; bad company can be intelligent thieves, scheming schismatics, slavering slanderers, or people with bad attitudes and bad outlooks. There comes a point when the person who is serious about moving forward has to distance himself from those who insist on going down to the dark side. Not only is that true on an individual basis, it is also true for congregations; at some point the congregation has to distance itself from those who will not follow the upward call of God. "A little leaven leavens the whole lump."

"But those who are on the outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves" (I Corinthians 5:13). The congregation is to set the covetous, the swindlers, the idolaters, and the immoral outside of the church; that is their responsibility in judgment. Once they are outside the church, they fall under the judgment of God. If they have any spiritual sensibilities left, they will repent, for it would not be good to fall into the hands of Him who is a consuming fire!