Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the basics of church discipline. [In case you missed them, you can find them here and here.] This week, let’s look at a couple more considerations of this difficult, but necessary, aspect of church life.
IV. The absence of church discipline can lead to the church being infected with sin (1 Corinthians 5:6)
This verse contains a statement of fact accompanied by a warning. The statement of fact: “Your boasting is not good.” This forms an inclusion with verse 2. Your arrogance and tolerance of ongoing sin is something you should be ashamed of, not proud of. Your spiritual value system has been turned upside down. Be careful! Your carnal boasting may soon lead to spiritual blindness with the whole body being infected.
The warning was given through a popular and well-known saying among the Hebrews. It is analogous to our modern proverb, “One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.” Rooted in the event of Passover and the common understanding of leaven as evil, Paul warns the church that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”. There is a contaminating element to sin. Like cancer, it can spread widely and quickly infecting the whole body. Indeed, one corrupt member could corrupt an entire church.
Church discipline recognised a simple truth: sin is bad for the church. Left unchecked, it will spread like kudzu through a fellowship. It will grow wide and deep. The purity of the church will be compromised and the wonder of the gospel quickly lost. Passion for the unreached and under-served will wane. Love for the Word will dissipate. Respect for the ministers of the Word will be crippled. Satan would rather have a little leaven inside the church than a whole batch of dough outside it.
Indeed, one corrupt member could corrupt an entire church. Satan would rather have a little leaven inside the church than a whole batch of dough outside it
Attitudes and actions are contagious. Personally, I do not want to stand before a holy God and explain why my attitudes and actions, my cowardice and compromise, led someone to believe living in their sin was okay.
In his 1856 sermon Three Changes in Theological Institutions, James Boyce warned, “It is with a single man that error usually commences; and when such a man has influence or position, it is impossible to estimate that evil that will attend it…”
V. Church discipline should be in the redemptive work of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)
Paul does what he often does when dealing with a critical issue. He grounds his argument in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Specifically in these verses, he draws from the imagery of the Passover (see Exodus 12). Sin must be cleansed out like old leaven was before the Passover was observed. The sinning brother who remains unrepentant has to go. After all, by their repentance of sin and faith in Christ, believers are a new lump without leaven. They are new creations in Christ. The old has passed (2 Corinthians 5:17). In essence, Paul challenges them to be who they already are in Christ, because Christ, the true Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. His blood covers our sin and separates us from sin. We are new in Him, never to live again in the old ways of slavery to sin.
MacArthur is spot on in what Paul is saying: “As pictured in the Passover in Egypt, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Passover Lamb, and the placing of His blood over us, completely separates us from the dominion of sin and the penalty of judgment. We, too, are to remove everything from the old life that would taint and permeate the new. As Israel was set free from Egypt as a result of the Passover and was to make a clean break with that oppressor, so the believer is to be totally separated from his old life, with its sinful attitudes, standards, and habits. Christ died to separate us from bondage to sin and give us a new bondage to righteousness (Romans 6:19), which is the only true freedom.”
Verse 8 pictures our life in Christ as a party, a joyful festival that celebrates the “out with the old and in with the new!” Out go things like malice and evil and in come qualities like sincerity and truth. Having grasped anew the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf as He stayed the hand of the angel of death by His blood, we gladly pursue those things that honour and glorify Him. Obedience is not a burden — it is a blessing! I delight in who I am and who I am becoming in Him.
It’s a truth that really comes through in this diary entry by David Brainerd, who died at 29 and spent his short adult life as a missionary to the American Indians: “I found that when my people were gripped by this great evangelical doctrine of Christ and Him crucified, I had no need to give them instructions about morality. I found that one followed as the sure and inevitable fruit of the other… I find my Indians begin to put on the garments of holiness and their common life begins to be sanctified even in small matters when they are possessed by the doctrine of Christ and Him crucified.”
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