1 Corinthians 5 - The Pursuit of Holiness

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Opening Illustration: Woods of Sin

The great Puritan John Owen once famously wrote, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” These words are at the heart of our text today. When a person becomes a Christian they enter into a new life. John Owen describes the condition of our soul before knowing Jesus as woods. Now you might think of woods as beautiful, but in this image their overgrown and out of control. When you become a Christian the Lord clears away a patch in the woods. He takes away some trees and some shrubs and the brush of sin. A little victory over sin here, new patches removed over there. But there is still great woods to be cleared away. The Christian life is eager to keep clearing away more brush, more woods. If ever we cease the work of clearing the brush and the woods away they grow back ferociously, and threaten our entire soul.


What woods and brush of sin are you clearing away right now? Are you busy with the work of rooting out sin in your life, or is the brush and the woods slowly gaining ground? What sin in your life are you actively killing in this season?


Today we approach a turning point in the book of 1 Corinthians. In the opening two verses of this chapter Paul calls out two very specific problems/siutations taking place in this Church in Corinth. First, in verse 1, we see that there is a man who is having an affair with his stepmother. This is an egregious sexual sin that ought not be tolerated among the people of God. But the second problem we see in verse 2, is that the Corinthian Church is arrogant about it. It seems to be the case that this Church is touting this man’s sin as a mark of their freedom in Christ. It seems that they saw this man’s sin as an evangelism strategy to the world, “Look, Jesus has forgiven all of our sins, so you can do whatever you want.” In our text today Paul addresses both of these problems and how the Church ought to handle them. He essentially gives three main pieces of advice, and I want to walk through all three of them together with you.
Big Idea: Be killing sin or it will be killing you.

Advice 1: Do Not Tolerate Unrepentant Sin

First piece of advice from Paul. Do not tolerate unrepentant sin.
1 Corinthians 5:3-5 “3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

I Have Already Pronounced Judgement (3)

This langauge might strike you as odd, but it ought not. The Church is a government unto itself. When a person becomes a Member of a Church, which every Christian is obligated to do, they willingly submit themselves underneath the governing structures authorities of the Church. When paul says, “I have pronounced judgment,” he’s saying that he, as an Apostle, has heard the case and made a determination what should be done. This is the general practice of Eldership in the Church. When we as Elders meet, cases are often brought before us that need discernment for how to handle them. And the elders pronounce judgments, like a judge might do in a Civil Court.

The Judgment is Excommunication (4)

The judgment to be dealt out is excommunication from the community. When he says, “Deliver this man to Satan,” it carries with the idea of a “herd of animals.” When herds stick together, they are protected from wild animals who love to attack an animal from the herd whos strayed away. So by casting this man out from the community, you are casting him into the Devil’s playground. You’re causing him to leave the support of the community, to be all alone.

So that his spirit might be saved (5)

Why? “so that his spirit might be saved.” Paul’s concern for this man is his salvation. And so Paul sees this excommunication as a step of grace. The ultimate end purpose is salvific. Paul wants to see this man in heaven, and he’s concerned that if major action is not taken now, this man will never truly know Christ.

This Man is not a Christian

To our modern ears, most of you are probably thinking. That man just needs to go to therapy, he doesn’t need to be kicked out of the Church. But the problem is deeper. The root problem is that this man is claiming to be a Christian. He’s a member of the Church. He’s claimed to have truly believed in Jesus, to have experienced the new birth, yet he’s continuing in sexual sin, a sort of sexual that even the unbelievers won’t have anything to do with, incest. His behavior is revealing, that he’s never believed in Christ.
1 John 2:4-6 “4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
Some of you might be thinking about sin in your life and saying to yourself, “Is this me?” If you’re worried about ongoing sin in your life then this is not you. The person that should be truly concerned is the person who has ongoing sin in their life, and they’re not worried about it. Their sin is just normalized.

Illustration: NPR Podcast on Synagogue Discipline

A few years I was listening to a story NPR was running on Jewish communities. And a story was told of a young man in a Jewish community who was punished for sin in his life. The Jewish community excommunicated him from the entire community. Nobody was allowed to talk to him. It wasn’t just a Sabbath worship thing. You couldn’t call him. You couldn’t talk to him on the street. This discipline process uprooted his entire life, because he was Jewish, and now he couldn’t buy his Kosher groceries from his butcher because his butcher was in his synangogue. He couldn’t do anything. He was put out of the synagogue and left in a place where he truly was alone. And in that place he realized how desparately he needed his faith community. And after two months he came crawling back to the community, repenting of his sin, and the community was restored.

We Forget We are God’s Temple

The reason I think Paul’s advice in this chapter falls on deaf ears is because we’ve lost our sense of communal purpose. Too often the Church gets treated like a social club or a community center, a place to make friends. I don’t want to minimize that because I believe the strongest friends you will ever make will be those that you make through the Church. But the Church has a higher purpose. Our highest aim, our communal sense of identity. Remember what we saw in chapter 3, “We are God’s temple (3:17).” The place on Earth where the glory of God dwells, not in a building, but in a people. So when the world looks in on this community, Park South Loop, they ought to look in and say, “I see the glory of God on display.

The Point

The point I’m making is that as a Church we ought not tolerate unrepentant sin. Well before we get to excommunication (that’s an extreme that is rarely, if ever, used), we ought to be a community pushing each other, holding each other accountable, striving towards godliness together in love and charity towards one another.

Sexual Immorality

Let me deal with the sexual immorality for a second. The word in verse 1 that is translated “sexual immorality” is the Greek word porneia which is the root word obviously of our English word Pornography. The word in Paul’s day highlighted all sexual sin outside of God’s design. The Bible has a very high and very clear sexual ethic. Our culture today, and frankly many Churches today, falsely teach something like what this 1 Corinthians Church was saying. Many people think that the God of the New Testament has nothing to say on sexual ethics. Church—This is false. There is no confusion biblically on this. All sex, outside of the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, is sin. Pornography is sin. Sex & sexual activity between a man and a woman before marriage is sin. Sex between two people of the same gender under any circumstances is sin. Sex between two people in the same family (as this chapter shows), is sin.

Marriage Points us to the Gospel

Why is this so important? Because marriage, is the great illustration God uses in Scripture to point to the gospel. The Bible says that Jesus is the Great Husband and the Church is His Bride, that comes together in an unbreakable holy bond of marriage. Jesus as the husband, leads and serves his wife by giving himself up for her on the cross. When we distort or pervert marriage on this Earth, we blur the vision of the clearest image we have of the Gospel on display.

Practical: Church Discipline Today

The truth is that excommunication like this very rarely happens for two reasons. One, I’ve seen many people over the years be confronted on some sin, and humly receive it and work together with the Church. A great example is those who are living together or sleeping together before marriage. The process is that we will lovingly confront with Bibles open, challenge them to move out until they’re married, offer to help financially to make it possible. I’ve seen many times (this week even), young couples make wise decisions that show that the Holy Spirit is working in them. But the reason we rarely get to the point of Excommunication is because many people, when confronted on sin, will flee the Church, and simply run to the next Church down the street. Usually they do so pointing the finger at others, often at the elders. This is a tragedy. And I watch from a distance over time as I see the same sin that we were trying to help them root out manifest and multiply over and over in their life. Together, as a community, when you become a member we lock arms together to not tolerate unrepentant sin.

Advice 2: Complacency with Sin Will Slowly Kill a Church

Remember Paul’s main idea is, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” Paul’s first piece of advice was ‘Do Not Tolerate Unrepentant Sin’. His second piece of advice: Complacency with sin will cause it to spread.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 “6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”


Paul utilizes this imagery of leaven. If you know a bit of background on Jewish Culture from which this early Church emerged. Jews did not eat leavened bread during the Passover festival. The reason for that is found in the book of Exodus. When God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, it happened so fast that the people of God didn’t have time to put leaven in their bread, so they had to flee with unleavened bread. Remembering that moment in their history annualy by eatin unleavened bread was way of remembering their holiness. The way leaven works is that once you put just a little bit into a batch of dough, it spreads throughout. You can’t get rid of it, ever. In order to get unleavened bread again, you have to start an entire new batch of dough.

You are Unleavened

Paul says, “You are unleavened.” In other words, you are already holy because of what Christ has done for you. That’s your idenity. The moment you put your faith in Jesus, he removed all of your sin from you, and he granted you all of his righteousness. Your identity is holy. You are a saint. You are beloved. You are eternally secure in Christ. Don’t pollute your holiness by dragging sin into your life because once it gets in, its so hard to get out. Don’t permit sin and vice to just fester in your community and spread throughout it. A little leaven will eventually work throughout the entire batch. This principle is true, and I’ve seen it. One bitter person with the sin of gossip can start a tidal wave in a Church.

What am I Not Saying? We’re Not Aiming to Become the Pharisees

I want to posture this correctly for us. What am I not saying? I am not saying, that our focus as a Church is about obtaining high morality. That can get you in trouble real fast. Remember, Jesus often looked at the Pharisees who were srupulous followers of the law and condemned them.
Matthew 16:6 “6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.””
The Pharisees problem was that they focused on avoiding sin. That’s not the focus, and I want to be clear on that today.

Illustration: David Brainerd

David Brainerd was an American missionary in teh 1700’s who evangelized Native American tribes. He was very successful. There were all sorts of false morality that were part of many Native American cultures. Listen to what David Brainerd writes as he labored to disciple these Native Americans into becoming fully committed followers of Christ:
“I never got away from Jesus, and him crucified, and 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.”
If you want to help people Christians live in alignment with God’s vision for their life. If you want help Christians who are wavering and beginning to develop some not so good habits. Make the priority Jesus. Teach them to love Jesus, to abide in Jesus. As soon as Christianity becomes a list of, “Don’t do this, and don’t do this,” we’ve missed it. Drive people to Christ. If someone is straying aim to primarmily deepen their resolve in Christ!

Complacency With Sin

But as we do that. We must also take with utmost seriousness the reality that a little leaven does indeed leaven the whole lump. I fear that we have become so complacent with sin. We’ve grown numb to it. So when we see it in ourselves or in others, it doesn’t strike us as dangerous. The Puritan writer Thomas Watson wrote about the heart of a person who is chasing hard after Jesus, and how their affections are moved when the see sin.
“The Godly are weeping doves; they grieve for the oaths and blasphemies of the age. The sins of others, like spears, pierce their souls. This grieving for the sins of others is good. It shows a childlike heart to resent with sorrow the injuries done to our heavenly father.”
Does your love of God cause you to grieve for the blasphemies of our age? Are you able to rightly see the difference between godliness and sin? Complacency with sin will slowly kill a Chuch.

Advice 3: Don’t Settle in Any Area of Your Life

Paul’s third piece of advice, ‘Don’t settle in any area of your life’.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 “9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.””

Not Go Out of this World

Paul here is clarifying that he is not speaking about judging or excommunicating outsiders. And actually I need to clarify for everyone here today. If you’re not a Christian in this room today, I need you to understand, we are not going to excommunicate you. We are so glad you’re here. You are welcome to come as often as you want and here what the Bible really teaches, because I believe its incredible. But also, if you’re not a Christian in this room, I want you to see with clarity how serious we are about the pursuit of God. This whole conversation today is driven by one thing, God is worth it. Every member of this Church, a majority of the people in this room, have signed up for this. If you want a purpose so transcendant… If you want to know God as He really is, not some cheap knock off… join the Church. Until you do that, you’re welcome to come as often as you want. We’re going to be in your life and love you sacrificially!

Do Not Associate

But look at these words of verse 11
1 Corinthians 5:11 “11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”
That list makes me nervous. Paul has thus far been speaking about extreme sexual sin. Now he flattens the playing field and lists out sexual immorality right next to greed and revelry. And he says it again that we are to completely cut the person off from the life of the community if they are found with these sins. “don’t even eat with them.” Or as verse 13 says, “purge the evil person from among you.

Jesus Was Cut Off

Let’s begin by reminding ourself of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Nobody has lived up to the standard set by Christ. And every one of us can find in our own story those sins in some level. The consequence was that we were “cut off” from God. We were excommunicated from His Kingdom, from His presence. But God is in rich kindness sent Christ who knew no sin, who perfectly obeyed the law, to suffer on a cross in our place. Jesus experienced the full penalty of sin, being cut off, in our place. He experienced in a sense the Excommunication that we deserved so that we wouldn’t have to. So when you believe in Jesus, God looks down on you and says, “You will never be cut off. I’ve saved you from that destiny in this life and the next.” But, if you have never truly trusted in Jesus, if you’ve never received salvation then your true identity is that you are cut off from God because of your sin. Your sin has excommunicated you from God.

Treat Them As They Truly Are

So When Paul is looking at this Church and he sees a person whose behavior, in any area of life, is clearly revealing that even though they say they are a Christian with their words, is actually not a Christian. Paul says, “Let them see the fullness of their spiritual condition.” In other words, if you are confronted on sin in your life, and there is no grieving over it, no hunger to repent, no striving, its revealing you don’t know Jesus.

Abide in Christ: The Holy Spirit Does It All

Church—Don’t settle for sin. Remember John Owen’s woods from the beginning of the message. We must be clearing away new patches of woods and undergrowth regularly. Otherwise they grow back. The Spirit will help you in this. How doe He do that? As you abide in Christ, the Spirit will make you aware of sin in your life. He’ll bring to mind. If you abide in Christ, the spirit will teach you how to grieve over your sin. If you abide in Christ, the Spirit will help you kill sin. If you abide in Christ, the Spirit will lead you to help others do the same.
Don’t settle in any are of your life.

Closing & Application

Let me close by jumping ahead to the beginning of 2 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians is written a few years later and in the second chapter Paul writes,
2 Corinthians 2:5-8 “5 Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.”
We don’t know for sure. But it sounds like this man who was excommunicated from teh Church, ultimately repented of his sin, came back to the Church, and the Church received him back! What glory! Church—We must never fear doing things God’s ways. God’s work done God’s way will bear God’s fruit. And when it comes to our pursuit of holiness as a Church, we must be Killing Sin or Sin Will Be Killing You
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