1st Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 36
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1998
|There are three things we are going to try to explain in relation to church discipline: the authority this decision involves; the action this decision invokes; the attitude this decision invites.
1 Corinthians 5:5
The Painful Act of Church Discipline
We left off last time at verse 5. As you remember, that’s a very, very difficult verse. Let’s look at it. Verse 5 of 1 Corinthians 5 says, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” What in the world does he mean in that verse?
Well, there are three things we’re going to attempt to explain it with. Hopefully, it will help you, and hopefully I’ll continue to learn in it. It’s over my head. Thank God that the Holy Spirit is our teacher. First of all is the authority this decision involves. Now you’ve got to realize church discipline is not man’s idea. It’s God’s idea. I told you the decision Paul made back in verse 3. He says, “For I on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.” Paul is an apostle, remember, and the apostles are there to be a messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ, sent by Him and they’re taking a message from Him. They don’t alter it. They take what God has told them. The apostle Paul would have known the gospels. The gospels were very prevalent at that time. Paul would have known that God Himself came up with the idea of church discipline. This did not come from men. This did not come as a result of problems within the church and somebody got together and said, “This is the way we need to solve them.” No, sir. God came up with this idea.
Look in Matthew 18:15-17. Paul would have known this very clearly. There are four steps to church discipline that are brought out in Matthew, and these are the very words of Jesus Himself. We must understand this. Church discipline is good because God ordained it. It’s His idea. Paul was an apostle, one commissioned by Christ. Matthew 18:15 reads, “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private.”
I remember when we first got our elders how many people came to us with all kind of rumors and everything else. “Well, such and such is doing this, and such and such is doing that.” I guess people thought we were the spiritual Gestapo. I remember we’d get together and say, “We can’t deal with this because it’s not been dealt with biblically yet.” So we had to come back and preach the “one another” commands. It starts in the pew. If you’re sensitive to sin in your own life and you’re living obedient to Christ, attached to Him, living in His Word, you’re going to become sensitive if it’s in your brother’s life. And if you discern that, you go to him. Oh, the stories we could tell you of repentance that came because of a believer living attached to Christ went to another believer who was in sin and that believer repenting. It never got to the church. That’s what it’s all about. Go to him.
You say, “Well, I want the elders to do it.” No. We won’t. You go to him. That’s what the Scripture says. The second step is this: “If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.”
Now, this is not dealing only with the fact of his sins but the fact of how it’s dealt with. You have witnesses there watching this to see if it’s in the name of Christ; and if it’s in the power of Christ, there’s no vendetta, no vindictiveness, no ax to grind on anybody’s part. It’s truly seeking to help a person to come to repentance.
Well, verse 17 gives us step three: “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” This is when the church begins to become more and more aware and goes into prayer for this one. Church discipline is not to get rid of somebody; it’s to confront somebody and hold him accountable for what he does. The church enters into prayer, grieving and mourning over that individual.
It goes on to say, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.” That’s step four. Remove him as if he doesn’t even know the Lord. Treat him in that way. That’s God’s plan. The apostle Paul came on the scene a little later on and would have understood what this says. He would have understood it clearly.
I think it’s interesting that he doesn’t even mention steps one, two, and three. He jumps right to step four, which tells you something. It tells you something of the callousness of that church because nobody would go to him. It also tells you something about the seriousness of that sin. He goes right to the actual removing of that person from their midst. It’s God’s plan, it’s not man’s. Sin is a reproach to God. And His church is to walk holy before Him. We cannot tolerate sin in our own lives, in anyone’s life. If it’s something habitual, it’s killing the testimony of believers.
Two things happen when sin is not dealt with within the church. First of all, the testimony of believers is damaged outside the church. But secondly, the purity of the believers is affected inside the church. You see, you have young people growing up, you have people that aren’t mature in the faith, and when you allow sin to go on and you don’t deal with it, it’s sending a message it must be okay. So a younger person says, “Well, if it’s okay for him, it’s okay for me.” The purity of believers within the church begins to decay.
Paul, as an apostle under the authority of Christ Himself, says, “I’m making a decision and this decision is not based on my own opinion. It’s based on the fact of the authority of Christ. It’s God’s idea. It’s not man’s idea.
As a matter of fact, when he says in verse 5 “I have decided,” that’s not in the Textus Receptus. It leaves that phrase out. Now, read verses 4 and 5 without the phrase “I have decided.” Look what it says. It says in verse 4, “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Paul made the decision and it had to be made. It had to be done publicly to begin to raise, once again, the standard of holy living among the people. The whole congregation must be involved.
I remember years ago we first started implementing this in our church. We missed a lot of people for a lot of years, and I’ve always grieved over that. But you can’t go back. Hindsight’s 20/20. I remember one individual in particular. It’s precious the story of what God did before it ever got before the church. It did not get to step three. Because of faithfully following Matthew 18, this man came in brokenness and repentance. I remember the sweet, sweet night we had together when he came forward. I remember him tugging on my coattail. He said, “Brother Wayne, can I share before the people?” I said, “What is it you want to share?” He said, “I just need to ask the people to forgive me. I need to ask my wife publicly to forgive me. I want to make this right before God and the people.” We let him have the pulpit that night. He shared from a broken heart the repentant heart of his attitude. Oh, it was so precious.
I remember how we got all the ladies around the precious wife and all the men around this precious man and we began to sing, “Oh, the blood of Jesus.” And do you know what? Tears began to stream down my face because there wasn’t a single person in this church condemning anybody that night. People were rejoicing that a sinner had repented and come back to live holy before God. That’s what church discipline is all about.
Folks, when we begin to tolerate sin in our lives, we’re going to begin to tolerate it in others lives. Then it begins to get in the church. It just decays our testimony in the world. The world looks at us and laughs and says, “You’re spiritual air bags. You know what to say but your life does not show us that you really love the Lord Jesus Christ.” Well, the authority this decision involves.
The second thing is harder, the action this decision invoked. This action that this decision calls to happen is tough to understand. Look at verse 5: “to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.” The word “Satan” there is an interesting name for the prince of devils. He’s called among many things, devil, Belial—which I think is a great name for him; it means worthless—the destroyer, the adversary, the prince of the power of the air. But when the word “Satan” is used each time it’s telling you something different, another aspect of who this creature is. It means adversary, the one who opposes all that God is and stands for. He’s the accuser of the brethren, an enemy to God and all that are God’s chosen.
Paul says when you remove this man, you’re turning him over, “to deliver such a one to Satan.” Now listen to me. If a believer refuses to allow the Holy Spirit to dominate his life, as they were doing in Corinth, if they would rather be attached to men than attached to Christ, and they choose the flesh rather than the Spirit to dominate their life, then they have effectually communicated a message to the world and everybody that they don’t want to serve God. They’d rather serve Satan. There are only two masters, and no man can serve two masters. He makes a choice. Am I going to serve my flesh, which in effect is serving Satan, or am I going to serve God through my spirit? He’s made his choice. “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to serve the devil.”
So the decision has been made by the church. This person has said, “I will not repent. I will not repent. I’ll not stop living like I’m living.” So the church says, “Okay, since you want this, since you have chosen to serve Satan, then we are removing you from our midst and we’re putting you back into the world God saved you out of.”
Friend, think about what I’m saying here. We’ve forgotten what it’s like being lost. We have been saved from that kind of lifestyle, rescued not just for Heaven. Hey, it saved me from Wayne, from myself. I’ve been saved from the power of sin in my life, saved from the penalty of sin in my life. If I choose to go back to it, then I’ve made my own choice. And the church, if it cannot get me to repent, has an obligation before God to remove me and turn me over to the one that I have said to everybody by my lifestyle that I would rather serve. Church discipline is turning an unrepentant sinner back over to what he says he wants. That’s the bottom line. He’s made his testimony before people. He will not repent, and so the church says, “We love you. We’ve done everything we know to do. But since you will not repent, you’re now removed because you don’t want to be here anyway. You don’t want to serve the God that we love. You go, then, and serve the one that you’ve been serving.” They turn him over to Satan.
The word “deliver” is the word paradidomi. It’s the word that means to deliver over or up to the power of someone. I’m not sure where the expression came from, but it could have come from the book of Job. However, we have a little different scenario there.
Look over in Job 1:12, just to make sure you understand that God has documented that He has turned people over to Satan, but with restricted power, with restricted authority on Satan’s part. Satan could only do what God allowed him to do. Job 1:12 says, “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.’ So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord.” He’s speaking of Job. I’ve laughed to myself sometimes and said, “Lord, if you’re talking to the devil today, would you forget my name.” He said, “Now listen, I’m turning Job over to you, but I’m putting restrictions on it.”
In Job 2:6, basically he says the same thing. He says, “So the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.’” So there has been an instance where God, Himself, has turned a righteous man over to the devil.
Now, be careful though. First Corinthians is not that kind of situation. It is the situation of God’s turning him over. But in 1 Corinthians you have a sinful man. In Job, the trial of suffering just purified him. In this situation it’s going to bring this man, hopefully, to repentance.
Paul says that this one is to be given over to Satan so that Satan can torment him, physically, not like Job, but because of this man’s sin in 1 Corinthians. You know, you think about it for a second. You may say, “If I was that person living in sin, calling myself a believer, and the church kicked me out, I’d just say, ‘So what!’ I would love what you’ve done because now I’m free to be a part of that sin once again.” But you know what? When you say that, it ought to scare you, because you have just forgotten the dead end street that sin leads everybody to.
What is salvation, folks? We’ve been saved from that drudgery and dregs of sin. We’ve been saved from it. When you turn a person back over to his sin, you remove him from your midst, and now he’s out in that satanically powered world to live under what the flesh can offer him. Then it’s going to be a very painful experience. It will immediately rob the believer of the joy and the meaningfulness of his life. Its consequences are grave. But that believer can’t see that. That sinner cannot see it. He’s so convinced and deceived that he thinks his sin is right. He doesn’t realize what’s ahead of him. The church has just done him a favor by obeying God. By removing him, they’ve put him right into that world that he said by his behavior he really wants to live in.
We must remember that there’s a point where sin can have a deadly effect. If you’ll turn to 1 John 5, I want to show you this. To say that I fully grasp it and understand it would be ridiculous. I don’t fully grasp it. I’ve studied it and studied it and studied it. I’ve read the best people I know to read and still haven’t quite settled in my mind what’s going on here. Just let the text speak for what it says. Remember, when you study Scripture, the main things are the plain things. It’s not going to answer every question you have. But let it say what it says in light of the context that you find it.
In 1 John 5:16, this is some pretty powerful words, folks. First John 5:16 reads, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin.” Now, sees his brother, okay. Well, what if I don’t have a brother? I only have a sister. He’s not talking about natural brothers. He’s talking about spiritual brothers in the family of God. “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this.” Verse 17 continues, “All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.”
You say, “Well, what in the world does that mean?” Do you know what it says to me, folks? I’m just going to put it as plain and simply as I can. It means sin is serious. Don’t mess with it. That’s what it says to me. I might not fully grasp everything he’s saying here. But I can grasp enough of it that there is a warning, a red flag that comes up in my mind and says, “Don’t do it. Sin is serious, son. Don’t deceive yourself. It could be deadly in the long run.”
Paul says that in an open assembly this church is to remove this man from the midst so that his flesh might go through destruction. If he wants disobedience, sensual pleasure and all that Satan offers, let him have it. He’ll look back at you, spit in your face and say, “Hah! I’ve got my sin and I got what I wanted.” He doesn’t understand there’s a bondage to sin, a blindness to sin, and a deception to sin. He’s already in all those three things. It’s not going to be long until the joy’s gone. The physical, emotional and mental torment will begin. There is a madness when a believer chooses to walk after sin. It will literally wreck him because he’s not pleasing an Almighty God. The believer doesn’t see that when he’s in sin. He wants his sin. He thinks the church has done him a favor.
Do you know what the sad part of this story is? The sad part is we’re living in a time when all that person has to do is go looking and he’ll find another church that could care less about sin and make him feel comfortable. That being what it is, the Word says what it says. And it says it’s going to be a dead end street. You don’t ever sweep sin under the rug. You put it under the precious blood of Jesus.
It’s a tough passage, folks. I don’t like it. You shouldn’t like it. It’s a painful thing to go through church discipline. But I want to tell you something. It’s good because God ordained it. And the will of God, Romans tells us, is good. It’s acceptable. And it’s what? It’s perfect. Hang on to that. You don’t like it. We don’t like it. Nobody likes it. And especially the sinner doesn’t like it. But, friend, it’s got a good redemptive purpose behind it.
So, we have the authority and the action, but then, thirdly, the attitude this decision invites. There’s an invitation in this decision.
Now, the person we’re dealing with here wouldn’t see it. I mean, he couldn’t see the forest for the trees. But there is an invitation, a lovely, redemptive invitation, when a church decides to remove somebody because they will not repent of sin. That ought to send a signal to him. The words on that invitation ought to be big, “God loves you. The people love you, and they’re willing to do the hard things so that you’ll come back to be blessed by God once again.” Disciplining an unrepentant person in the body of Christ with a redemptive purpose is like sending them an invitation.
The term “destruction of the flesh” in verse 5 is a tough phrase. I know you’re asking the question, “Does it mean physical flesh? Does it mean the mind or the flesh since the word sarx is used?” Well, hang on. I’m going to get to both of them. We’re going to start with the first thing it means. It means the physical flesh. It means the torment, the infliction of physical pain, the end of which could be death if there’s no repentance.
The word “destruction” gives us the clue. It doesn’t mean to destroy and annihilate. It has the idea of inflicting pain which is going to grow more and more and more progressively worse. That’s the word. Let me show you how it’s used.
Look over in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. You see, this word is not like the Ananias and Sapphira passage that we will read later on. It’s not like somebody dropping dead and just being destroyed in that sense of the word. It’s a different word. I want you to see the difference. I’m not getting into the context here, I’m just going to show you how the word is used. I’m not even bothering the context. First Thessalonians 5:3 reads, “While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
Now, I’ve never given birth to a baby. I don’t really understand these birth pangs. My wife understands them very well. In fact, she’s chastened me at times for not understanding them. She wanted me to feel what she felt. I’m thinking of the day when my daughter was born. We were having a wonderful day. Diana felt great, not a pain in sight. Everything was wonderful, almost as if the event’s never even going to happen. And suddenly, pain starts. Boom! I was out doing a survey in an area. I called home and said, “Diana, are you okay?” She said, “No.” I remember driving home in the church bus. I forgot that I had left my car at the church, so I had to end up taking my wife to the hospital in the church bus. That first pain came suddenly and announced what? Another pain was on its way. Diana said that each one got harder and harder and harder and harder.
So instead of using the word “destruction” there it uses the word that we’re looking at here, olethros. It’s the word that means progressively, tormentingly harder.
Look over in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. It’s used in the sense of eternal destruction, something that continues to go on. It says, “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.” In other words, eternal torment, pain that begins and gets worse and worse. Think of all eternity, being separated from God and having to endure the kind of pain away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.
First Timothy 6:9 says basically the same thing. “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.” You don’t ruin something overnight. It begins to ruin overnight and it gets worse and worse and worse and worse.
Like an old shotgun I had that got a little rust on it. I should have cleaned it. I know I should have cleaned it. My father told me to clean it. I didn’t. In fact, I left it in the damp place where it had gotten rusted to begin with. It ruined the whole barrel because it just slowly progressively got worse and worse. That’s the way this term destruction is used.
It’s associated with God’s divine judgment. But it’s associated with something that’s progressive in nature. If you think you’re getting away with sin, let me just share with you from the love of my heart. No, you’re not. You think you are. You haven’t even seen the symptoms yet. You haven’t seen the ruin that has set in. You haven’t seen the way that you’re already paying and don’t even know it. That’s what he’s trying to say.
When you’re in the world of Satan, oh, he’s a liar, folks. He’ll deceive you, making you think that what you’re getting is worth it all. But, friend, he never tells you the price tag on the end of it. You must remember that Satan has no power over the spirits of believers, absolutely none. We know this from the trials of Job. He could hurt him physically. But he couldn’t bring him to death. He couldn’t touch his eternal soul. Couldn’t touch it. No, sir. The inner man of a believer belongs absolutely to Christ, just like all of us does. But He only allows Satan to work in the physical, mental and emotional areas of our life. He cannot touch our spirit. He cannot touch our soul.
Even in the verse that we’re looking at here, 1 Corinthians 5:5, we have the absolute assurance that this man will be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus. But in the meantime the unrepentant believer may be turned over to suffer gravely at the hands of Satan.
I want to make sure you understand something. Just because you’re suffering today, you may have something terrible going on in your life, does not mean this is the suffering that’s been caused by your personal sin. This is a misnomer that people have. All suffering comes from original sin, but not necessarily personal sin.
There’s Job for instance. Job wasn’t suffering because of personal sin. He was seeking to be a righteous man before God. That’s not what he’s saying.
Think about the blind man in John 9:2-3. Listen to what Jesus said to him. “And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”
The first question we ought to always ask when we suffer is, “God, is there sin in my life and you’re trying to get my attention?” That ought to be the first question. I like what Tozer said, “To him whom God trusts He allows to suffer greater.” Suffering can be a blessing. It can be a marvelous thing that God’s doing in your life.
However, the scriptures are also clear that some suffering is the direct result of sin. Paul has to deal with it. Look over in 1 Corinthians 11:30. It’s in the very epistle that we’re studying. The Corinthian church was making a mockery of the Lord’s Supper. They were getting drunk and having a feast at the Lord’s Supper. Look what happens here in 1 Corinthians 11:30. He says, “For this reason many among you are weak [look at the progression here] and sick, and a number [do what?] sleep.”
“Oh, that’s not bad. They’re just asleep. They missed the Lord’s supper that night.” No. He means dead. In John 11, when Lazarus had died, Jesus was trying to tell His disciples that he was dead. He said, “Lazarus is asleep.” They said, “Oh, good. We don’t have to go. He woke up.” I was preaching this one day, trying to make myself sound intelligent, and I said, “Jesus looked at him and said in plain English…” He didn’t speak English. But if He had spoken English, He would have said it in plain English. He said, “He’s dead, D E A D, dead.” But they didn’t even understand.
So when you see the word “sleep,” he means dead. Some of you are weak. Some of you are sick. Some of you are dead. Physical weakness, sickness, and even death can result from persistent sinning.
Ananias and Sapphira, and you know the passage well, lied to the Holy Spirit and dropped dead in their tracks. Let me read that to you in Acts 5:1-10. It doesn’t take but just a few verses. “But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge.” They got a bigger price than they thought they were going to get and they said, “Whoa! Let’s don’t give it all. Let’s keep some for ourselves.” The verse continues, “And bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it. And the young men arose and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out as well.’ And she fell immediately at his feet, and breathed her last; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.”
Here’s why it took place. It doesn’t happen much, but when it does, here’s the reason. Acts 5:11 says, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Church discipline is for the expressed purpose of repentance of the one removed and to bring a sense of holiness and awesome reverential fear of God back into the congregation that we must deal with sin in our life.
You say, “I thought you were going to talk about that other part of the flesh, the attitude of the flesh.” While the physical part of man is being tormented, emotionally, mentally, and physically, that brings his flesh side of him to be exposed. Finally, he can come to his senses.
It was the prodigal son who had to be in the mire of the swine before he could come to his senses and realize what he had lost and walked away from. How bad does it have to get? I don’t know. It could be that God says, “Hey, listen. This guy’s not going anywhere. I’m going to bring him home before he completely loses everything that he had as a reward. I’m taking him home.” And He does it out of an act of mercy, not out of an act of unkindness.
My prayer’s always been, “God, if I ever get to where I become an embarrassment to your family and will not repent, take me home. Please take me home. I don’t want to live on this earth and embarrass the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Well, in the case of this man in 1 Corinthians 5, we believe he repented. As a matter of fact, look over in 2 Corinthians 2. Most scholars think this is the same man. I’m not a scholar but I still agree with them. It’s good company. Somebody asked me once, “Brother Wayne, are you a doctor?” No, I’m not even a nurse. Look at 2 Corinthians 2:5. “But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.”
It appears in 1 Corinthians they won’t remove him and they won’t take him back. Will these people ever learn? Paul says, “When he’s repented, don’t you hold it over him because that’s putting too much sorrow on him. It will overwhelm him. You bring him right back just like a brother equal to you. If he has repented before God, you bring him back that way and don’t put any more undue sorrow on him. He’s sorrowed enough.”
The bottom line is this. Church discipline is not a joyous thing. We’ve had many elder prospects turn us down because they don’t want to fool with it. I’ll tell you what, folks. None of us do. It’s not a joyous thing. It’s painful. However, it could and most of the time does reap a joyous result.
I have a friend of mine right now who says he’s in the ministry. He’s not in the ministry anymore. You can have a title on the church staff and call that ministry if you want to. But until you’re attached to Christ, living in total purity before Him, there is no ministry. It’s received, not achieved. I wish to this day that some church had stopped him when it became known that he was committing adultery years ago. I’d give anything. I grew up with this person. I know him very well. I’d just give anything if somebody would have done that. But they didn’t. He was in churches that were more embarrassed than they were concerned. So the best thing to do was get rid of him. But it wasn’t done in the name of Jesus and it wasn’t done in His power. It had no reconciliation to it at all. He was just bringing them a bad name.
You see, indifference and not grieving over sin is a picture of a person who’s become arrogant. They’ve talked it but they didn’t walk it. That’s arrogant people.