Principles of Church Discipline
Tim Temple

Introduction

Today we're going to think about church discipline, “Principles of Church Discipline.” In recent months, and even in the last two or three years, we have been hearing a great deal about failure among Christian leaders; and some of the best known names in Christianity, whether we agree with all that those names stand for or not, have been revealed to have sin problems in their lives. I don't know how you react when you hear those kinds of things, but I often react, in hearing those kinds of things, “I wonder if there's some sin in my life that were it discovered would lead to that same kind of failure.” It seems to serve as a challenge to me to once again examine my heart, and I think probably you respond in that way too, because all of us are subject to the sin problem. Every one of us in this room today, if we're honest with ourselves as we know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, continue to have the problem of yielding to temptation and falling into sin.

As we think about this general principle of church discipline and what ought to be done about sin in the lives of believers, I hope you'll keep in mind not just the theory of dealing with a major problem in church, but that you'll also keep in mind what the Word of God has to say about sin in our own lives and the provision that God makes for our forgiveness and also for our resistance to sin as it comes our way.

I want us to think about the principles that are here in this chapter because they're important for us to know. It's important for us to be familiar with what to do if sin becomes a kind of formalized problem in our church or in some other church that you may be a part of. These are important principles of God's Word, but I want us to think about them not theoretically, but hopefully as we work our way through the chapter to spend some time thinking about it as it applies to our individual lives. I firmly believe that if the principles of God's Word had been followed in those cases that have drawn such national attention, if the principles of God's Word had been followed early on, those things probably would have never developed to the extent that they did. The Word of God has a great deal to say about preventive measures that can be taken, so let's keep that in mind as we come to chapter 5 and think about the principles of church discipline.

Problem of Required Discipline

In verses 1 and 2, we have described for us the problem of required discipline at Corinth. Notice there in verse 1:

I Corinthians 5

1It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.

Here's a bold statement, a very clear, unequivocal statement of the problem at Corinth. You remember, by way of review, that Paul was writing to a local church in the city of Corinth, a church probably somewhat like ours. As we've worked our way through these previous chapters of I Corinthians, we've seen that that church there at Corinth had the kinds of problems that we have, and God chose this letter and inspired this letter of the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth because it represented problems that will come into the lives of churches through the lives of individuals all down through the years.

So we come to another problem that has, as I've been saying, in our day particularly, turned into a common problem among groups of believers. That is sin that had become a very public thing in the church. Notice he says that it is actually reported. This was not just a rumor or hearsay, but actually the wording in verse 1 in the Greek indicates that what Paul is saying is, “It has been reported in a verifiable way.” Paul, no doubt when he had heard that information, had taken the time and the effort to verify the information; and now he states it as a fact. “I know,” Paul says, “There is actual fornication–sexual sins–in Corinth.” That was the problem. But notice also in verse 2, the problem was not just that sin, but the problem was what was not being done about it. Verse 2 says:

I Corinthians 5

2And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

Here is a second part of the problem. Notice in verse 2, “You are puffed up.,, ” That's a phrase we sometimes use, and I think we probably take it from the Scriptures, to describe a proud person. That really was the situation there in Corinth. They were very proud of their intellectualism. They were proud of their place in society. They were proud of their church, and because of that they weren't doing anything about the problem. Actually, the two words, “puffed up,” are a translation of one of the Greek words for pride, but it is a unique word that has to do with letting that pride so cloud our vision that we don't pay attention to the things around us.

Sins That Were Ignored

You see, the Corinthians were caught up in their admiration of Paul and of Apollos and Peter, and that was the basic problem at Corinth. They were all taking sides and exalting men and focusing their attention on teachers instead of on the Lord, focusing their attention on their own little cliques built around those teachers instead of on the Lord Jesus Christ. Their minds had become so consumed with those peripheral issues that they were actually overlooking something of major importance right in front of them. They were puffed up. Their minds were filled up with other things that kept them from looking at the sin issue that was taking place right under their noses. And again, isn't that representative? Isn't that the way Satan operates in our hearts and in our minds, even individually? It's so easy, you know, to get so interested in this that we're involved in or in that that we're interested in that we actually overlook some sin in our lives.

I was reading earlier this week about situations in the Christian world where a really firm stand is taken about this or that issue and completely overlooking some even more obvious sin that is in that same group. It's easy for any of us to become puffed up, whether it's being puffed up with pride or being puffed up with our work or with some other interest that we have to the point that we really overlook sin. That was the problem at Corinth.

Going back to verse 1, notice that the sexual sin is very specifically spelled out–a man has his father's wife. It's a case of incest. In Leviticus, chapter 18, verse 8, a man is not to lie sexually–not to sleep with, as we would say today–his father's wife. But if you read verse 8 in its context there in Leviticus, chapter 18, you'll see that that is the reference to his stepmother. It's not a reference to his own mother. The previous verses mention that. The reference to sexual relationship with one's own mother is specified there, but as a separate reference, verse 8 mentions a a sexual relationship with your father's wife, so it probably refers to the stepmother, since the mother is mentioned in that chapter in a separate place.

Incidentally, let me make a total digression here and mention that Leviticus, chapter 18, specifically spells out the sinfulness of homosexuality. I mention that because the homosexuals often tell us that that's just something that bigoted Christians have added to the Scriptures somewhere. Well, that's baloney! It is specifically spelled out in Leviticus, chapter 18. You are not to have sexual relationships with another of the same sex. And in fact, it specifies female and male relationships.

The problem was apparently that this individual in the church at Corinth was having some kind of a sexual relationship with his stepmother. We don't know anything about where the father was in all this. He may have been dead, who knows? But the problem was, regardless of whatever the father was doing, the son was having a relationship with his stepmother; and what was worse, nobody was doing anything about it. They were just letting it go on. I want us to also keep in mind that this is not the only area which needs to be dealt with in church discipline. Paul goes on to say in the last part of verse 2, “You should have taken him away from among you. You should have put him out of the church, and instead you haven't done anything about it.”

Sins Worthy of Discipline

We'll come back to that step of discipline in a minute. Let me just mention that other areas of sin are mentioned as worthy of church discipline also. Look down at verse 9.

I Corinthians 5

9I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

But notice verse 11:

I Corinthians 5

11But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

You see, it's easy for us to quickly judge some kinds of sins and say, “Oh, that's horrible! That person ought to be put away.” But really, the point of I Corinthians, chapter 5, is that any kind of sin that is practiced openly and unrepentantly by a believer should call for our separation from that person. Look at the list there in verse 11. Fornicators are mentioned, but covetous? How many Christians are covetous and very openly so? We live in a generation when covetousness has been formalized in the whole yuppie syndrome. This idea of having more and getting more–that's covetousness, and God says that is as much a sin as fornication.

Listed in the same verse is idolater. That's very similar to covetousness. Whatever it is that you focus your attention on is idolatry; and if you are focusing your attention on anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ, then you're worshiping that thing, whether that's a girlfriend or boyfriend, or a job or whatever it might be; that's idolatry. Then it mentions a reviler. That's a person who constantly talks about other people, who is constantly putting other people down.

It is interesting to me how these things about the tongue are so often mentioned right in the same context with murder and adultery, and we so easily overlook those. Now, there are things that have to be discussed, but there are people who are gossips, who are malicious in the things they say about other people; and it's interesting to me that sometimes we'll even mention a person like that and we'll say, “Well, you know, they do talk too much. Maybe they're unkind in what they say, but they're a good brother.” No they're not a good brother. They're just as sinful as if they were living in adultery or as if they were doing some of the other things that are listed here. We need to be careful that we call sin “sin,” and that we not call some sins “sin” and whitewash other sins.

He goes on to talk about a drunkard–a person who is continually, publicly drunk–an extortioner, a swindler, and an embezzler. I'm just mentioning those because the one that Paul focuses in on is sexual immorality, but these kinds of things need to be kept in mind about all kinds of sin. I've also listed the reference of Titus, chapter 3, verse 10, in the notes and that speaks of a person who insists in having his own way, one who is self-willed and is going to get his own way even if it wrecks the church or even if it destroys fellowship among believers. Romans, chapter 16, verse 17, refers to a person who just disobeys the Scriptures in general, a person who just is going to do what he wants to do regardless of what the Scriptures may say about it.

The point is that the problem requiring discipline in a church is a person within that church who is living in sin, who is continually, repeatedly, openly living in sin, whether it's sexual immorality as it was at Corinth or some other sin that the Scripture lists. Something needs to be done about that, the Scripture says.

Procedure for Discipline

The procedure for implementing this discipline is in verses 2-5. A negative example, of course, is the Corinthians. The Corinthians were just not doing anything about it. So obviously, that is the wrong thing to do. Their minds were too cluttered up with their church and it's great programs and all that was going on in their church and who the best teachers were and all those kinds of things, and they weren't going to be bothered with something like some Christian within their group living in sin. Paul said, “That is wrong. You are doing wrong by not paying attention to this.” It is something that a local church has a responsibility to do. It is not something that we can overlook. That's the negative example.

The positive teaching is in verse 3 and in verse 5. In the last part of verse 2, he says that this person ought to be taken away from you, but in verse 3, he says:

I Corinthians 5

3For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

Then in verse 5:

I Corinthians 5

5To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

The ultimate decision is in the last part of verse 2:

I Corinthians 5

2…that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

A person who is living in open, unrepentant sin should not be allowed to continue as a part of the local church body. The description of that is in verse 5: “Deliver such a one to Satan.” We aren't going to have time to analyze this step by step, but that sounds pretty harsh, doesn't it? Deliver him to Satan. What does that mean? Well, if we were to take the time to look at II Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 3 speaks of Satan as the god of this age. Notice, please, II Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 3:

II Corinthians 4

3But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
4In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not,…

Maybe you didn't realize this, but Satan is in charge of this age in which we live. God, in His own wisdom, has allowed Satan to have control of the world system that we're living in. Sometimes we see some trend in society and we think, “What in the world is going on? How can people do the things that they're doing? How can we accept the things that our society is doing?” Well, we shouldn't really puzzle about that. It's because Satan is in charge of the world system. Satan is in charge of the direction that society is going. Now, God puts limits on Satan, and sometimes, in answer to the prayers of God's people, God stops Satan from going beyond a certain point. A case that comes to mind is the selection of our national leaders–our President, Vice President, senators, etc. God responds to our prayers, and He keeps Satan in check;, but aside from that, He's given Satan control of this age in which we live.

Result of Continuing In Sin

Coming back to verse 5, when Paul says, “Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,” what he means is, “Turn this man over to the world system. If he wants to live like an unbeliever, what you need to do is put him out of the church and let him live like an unbeliever.” If he's really a believer, sooner or later God will use that very sin to make him sick, and He will use your exclusion of that person to bring him back to Himself, to bring him back to the Lord.

A few weeks ago we talked about the story of the prodigal son. You remember that the prodigal son went his own way. He took that which was his, and he went to the far country. Eventually, the Scripture says,“He came to himself.” How did he come to himself? He came to himself because he wound up at the end result of all that his actions were producing. He came to himself because that which he wanted to do, that which he pursued, produced nothing in his life. Ultimately he lost everything. God still operates on that principle. There are people who may not wind up financially impoverished as the prodigal son did, but a believer, a person who truly knows Jesus Christ as Savior who insists on having his own way, who insists on doing what he wants to do regardless of what God has revealed that He wants that believer to do, sooner or later, either financially or emotionally–maybe one or the other or maybe both–that believer will come to the realization, “I have nothing. This is not producing anything for me.”

We have the problem as friends and as fellow church members, and we certainly have the problem as parents, of doing what James Dobson calls, “fur- lining the pigpen.” I think he coined this term. You know, the prodigal son's father let him go, and he let him take all that money and spend all that money; but when the son wound up in the pigpen, the father rejoiced when the son came home, but he didn't send him money to clean up the pigpen. I'm afraid that too many times as parents, and in the context of I Corinthians, chapter 5, too many times as fellow church members, we “fur-line the pigpen” for the person who wants to live in sin. We may, to some extent, put him away from us, but we keep on supporting him in this little way or that little way. Sometimes we do it in the name of love, and sometimes we do it because we're too puffed up. Our minds are too cluttered with these other things that we want to do. The Word of God says “Put him away. Put him out of your presence. Turn him over to the god of this age. He's worshiping the god of this age in the way that he lives, so let him go that way. Let him go.” And God will use that ultimately to bring him back to Himself.

We are talking about this harsh punishment–actually putting a believer out of the church, telling a believer, “You are no longer welcome to come to our services.” That's really what we're talking about, telling the person, “You are no longer welcome in our church until you get this sin straightened out in your life. You're not welcome to come here.” Besides that, he's going to go on to say farther on in the chapter, “We're not going to have anything to do with you socially either.” What a harsh discipline! I think the very harshness of it has kept people from exercising it; but before you reject that, let me remind you that what Paul is talking about here in chapter 5 is really just the conclusion, just the tip of the iceberg we might say, about a lot of other teaching that undergirds it.

Turn back with me to Matthew, chapter 18. You are familiar with this passage, I hope, because we go over it every once in a while. Jesus Himself gave us the principles that should lead up to what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians, chapter 5. I Corinthians, chapter 5, is not the starting point.

Confronting a Christian Brother

The instructions of I Corinthians, chapter 5, are not, “if you see a brother who is living in sin, say, 'Get out of here and don't come back to our church'.” It begins back in Matthew, chapter 18, beginning with verse 15, where the Lord Jesus told His disciples and told us the steps to take if you know someone who has sin in His life. In verse 15:

Matthew 18

15Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

I want us to talk about these steps individually, because it's important to review. I think if there are any verses of Scripture that are ignored or disobeyed, it is these verses of Scripture, at least in the way they are practiced. First, what we have here is a private confrontation in verse 15. If you know of someone who is living in sin, if your brother sins against you–that means if you are affected by that sin. This doesn't mean that if you hear some gossip about some cousin of a neighbor who did something wrong that you go read him the riot act. No, this means if you are directly affected by the sin of a fellow believer. If a fellow believer lies to you, do you read him the riot act? No, this means if you are directly affected by the sin of a fellow believer. If a fellow believer lies to you, if a fellow believer steals from you, if a fellow believer slanders you–not your next-door neighbor or the guy down the street–if you are directly involved in this sin. You see, if it's your neighbor or the guy down the street who has been sinned against and you get involved in it, you're probably just going to complicate the sin.

The problem is that far too many of us, when someone sins against us, immediately take some action. You know what that action is usually. We call somebody else on the phone and tell them what a terrible thing this person did, don't we? But look what this says. “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” Let me tell you something. If somebody else sins against you, you have no right to tell anybody else about that until you've gone and told that sinner about it. You don't have a right to tell anybody else about it. A lot of times, when someone says, “Oh, you know, we need to pray for so and so.” That's just a formalized way of gossip. And no matter how piously they may word it, if somebody comes to you with some information about the sin of a fellow believer, the first thing you ought to say is, “Now wait a minute. Have you talked to him about this? If you haven't talked to him about it, then don't talk to me about it.” One of the fundamental problems within the Body of Christ today, I'm convinced, is this. And gossip, as we said earlier, is just as much a sin as any of the other “big” sins that we name.

“Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” I think the Lord Jesus put that little phrase in there as a demonstration of His wisdom. Why is it that we don't go talk to somebody who has sinned against us? I speak for myself, and I don't think I'm that much different from you. When someone sins against me, it's difficult to go talk to them about it, because our tendency is to think, “Why, I'll lose his friendship. If I go and confront him with this, it will offend him. I'll lose him.” Jesus said just the opposite. “If you go to him, and he's willing to listen to you, you've gained your brother.” It is just the opposite of what our human nature would think.

In the Presence of Witnesses

What if he doesn't listen to you? Well, Jesus goes on in verse 16:

Matthew 18

16But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

Basically, this is the second step of a plural confrontation. Those two that you take with you are not so that the three of you can pressure him into confessing, but rather that they will be a witness between what you said and what the brother said. They just go as witnesses; they don't go as being on your side against this other guy.

Let's turn this situation around for a minute. What if a brother comes to you and says, “Joe (or Bill, or whatever your name is), you have sinned against me.” Maybe you really haven't sinned against him, but he just thinks you have. And you say, “Well, no, I haven't sinned.” Maybe you'll say, “I can see how you might think that, but I have an explanation for this.” Maybe you're telling the truth, and he has just misunderstood, and you don't confess that sin to him, because you haven't really sinned. Then he is to go get a couple of witnesses and come back. You know, that may be to your advantage because it may be that his witnesses will say, “Wait a minute,” when they hear your explanation. They may say to this one who's confronting you, “Now wait a minute. We're objective in this, and you've misunderstood him.”

You see, the purpose of that is to insure objectivity. It's not to pressure somebody into confessing their sin. “So that in the mouth of two or three witnesses,” verse 26 says, “every word shall be established.” It's for your protection as the confronter, and it's for the protection of the person who might be being falsely accused. It's part of the grace of God to have that plural confrontation. “Take one or two witnesses.”

Public Confrontation In the Church

In verse 16, if you go with the witnesses, and the person who is sinning does not confess sin, or maybe you're accusing him of sinning and he really hasn't sinned; and it still isn't straightened out, then in verse 17, the third step is:

Matthew 18

17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

That is the public confrontation that should have taken place in Corinth in I Corinthians, chapter 5. But they weren't doing anything about it. Then in the last part of verse 17:

Matthew 18

17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Treat him as an unsaved person. That is the background out of which I Corinthians, chapter 5, comes. We just don't go around saying, “Get out of here. You can't go to my church anymore because you've sinned.” If somebody sins against you, you go to them privately and you take those steps that Jesus outlined. I'm convinced that if we were willing to obey the Word of God in Matthew, chapter 18, that 99.9 percent of the cases of public church discipline that take place would probably never have to take place. I believe that if every one of us at Abilene Bible Church would be careful to be obedient to Matthew, chapter 18, verses 15-17, we will very likely never have to have a public excommunication of a believer of our church. Now there are situations where that happens, legitimate situations where that happens, but I believe a large number of those would never have to take place if people were willing to follow the principles of Matthew, chapter 18.

Four Principles In Confrontation

Going back to I Corinthians, chapter 5, this is the situation: This man was living in sin, and nothing had been done about it. We would assume that maybe people had been to him individually and that he's continuing in the sin, and Paul is saying to them, “You have got to deal with this situation.” In verse 4, he gives four qualities which must be present in church discipline, and this would be true at the private level. You need to keep this in mind even when you're just confronting somebody one on one.

Look at I Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 4. Here is the first principle in verse 4: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Can you go to that brother who has sinned against you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Has he really sinned against you or do you just not like the way he wears his hair? You'd better be sure that this is in the name of the Lord Jesus, that it's a real sin, that it is something that is a violation of the Word of God and not just some personal petty grievance that you have. Go in the name of the Lord Jesus. The second thing is agreement among the participants when you are gathered together. Paul said, “You Corinthians need to get together, and you need to agree on this. You need to make sure that you heard both sides of the story, that you're sure that you have the facts. You need to be gathered together about this.”

And then the third principle is agreement with Scripture. He says in verse 4:

I Corinthians 5

4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

“Along with my Spirit.” At the time Paul was writing to the Corinthians, the New Testament had not been completed. This was just a part of the New Testament that was being written. We didn't have all the other parts of the New Testament yet. In those days, the Apostles, the original eleven disciples plus the Apostle Paul, when they spoke or when they wrote, it carried the authority of Scripture. So what Paul is saying here in verse 4, when he says, “along with my spirit,” would be what today we would call the Scripture. Paul is explaining what his spirit is, what his feelings are about this matter; and so what he's saying in essence is, “Here is the Word of God for you. Get together with this man and get this matter straightened out. This is the Word of God for you.” Now that the Scripture has been completed and the apostles have all gone to Heaven, we don't have apostles anymore, but we have the written Word of God. The implication is, “Do this in accordance with the Word of God.” Be sure that you're in agreement with the Scripture. Be sure that what you're about to discipline this person for is a violation of Scripture and not just a violation of just some standard that you've added to the Scripture. And then, most important of all, the last part of verse 4:

I Corinthians 5

4…with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit to make this thing right. Whether it's on a personal level, if you go to someone one on one, (Matthew, chapter 18, verse 15) or whether you go as a witness, (Matthew, chapter 18, verse 15) or whether it even gets to the point of being a church confrontation, (Matthew, chapter 18, verse 17; I Corinthians, chapter 5), be sure that this is done in dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Doctrine of Separation

In verses 9-13, we have the practice which accompanies church discipline. Let me just point out that in verse 11, he reminds them that he is talking about believers.

I Corinthians 5

11But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator…

He's not talking about excluding people who are not even believers. People who come to our church who are not believers in Jesus Christ are welcome here no matter what they may be doing. Our purpose with them is to get them saved. Our purpose with them is to preach the Gospel. And we're not going to meet people at the door and say, “Now, wait a minute, are you married to that girl you're living with?” “Now wait a minute, are you doing this sin or are you doing that sin?” No. This is not talking about unbelievers. Unbelievers are welcome in our services at any time. We hope they will come so that they can hear the Gospel and get saved. But he's talking about a person who is a brother who is living in sin. Those are the people that we confront about their sins.

Incidentally, let me digress to say that if you're witnessing to somebody about the Lord Jesus Christ, don't try to clean up their life first. The message they need to hear is that Jesus Christ died for their sins. You're wasting your time if you try to reform their lives and if you preach to them against their sins all the time. You'll lose them if you do that. Our message to the unsaved is, “Christ died for you.” Our message to the unsaved is, “You don't have to have that wall of separation between you and God, because Jesus Christ has paid for your sins.” That's what we get across to unbelievers. Once they get saved, they'll have the power of God to get rid of those sins that are in their lives. I think we make a tremendous mistake in preaching against sin in the hearts of unbelievers. The message for the unbeliever is “Christ died for you.” But the message for the believer who is living in sin is, “Confess that sin. Get rid of that sin.” We may even have to force a person to do that by means of church discipline.

In verse 10, in fact, he very specifically says, “I certainly did not mean with the sinners of this world.” And he names the various kinds of sin. Now obviously, we don't make partnerships with those kinds of people. We don't marry unbelievers, and we don't go into business partnership with unbelievers. The Scripture has plenty to say about that, but we do not excommunicate those people. We do not shun those people and avoid them. He says, in fact, “If you're going to try to stay away from sinners, then you need to go out of the world.” You can't seem to get away from sinners; they're all around you. In fact, if you're going to witness to people about Jesus Christ, you've got to know some unsaved people. How can you win people to Christ if you stay away from the unbelievers? See how silly that is? We're talking about believers who have sin in their lives and won't do anything about it.

Reason for Separation

I want to conclude with this one final point. Look back at verse 7. Paul is telling the Corinthians:

I Corinthians 5

7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

The leaven in the Old Testament always represents sin. In the Old Testament, leaven was a symbol of sin. In fact he mentions the Passover in the last part of verse 7. In the Passover, they would be very careful not to have any leaven in their bread. They ate unleavened bread, and that was to picture sin. Leaven is a picture of sin, and Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “You need to deal with this sin in your church.” Why? Because he says in verse 6, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” You see, Paul is saying, “If you let this sin go on in your church, if you don't do anything about it, it is going to eventually affect the whole church.”

We think so much the opposite of that. The old saying, “a rotten apple spoils the whole bunch”, is one of the laws of nature. You don't put a rotten apple in with a bunch of good apples, hoping that the rotten apple will turn good. However, we seem to operate that way a lot of times. The same thing is true of leaven; a little leaven is going to spread through the whole lump. Paul says, “You have got to get rid of that.” Remember, it is talking about if it is a believer.

Let's conclude with thinking about our own life. We have talked about the general principles of church discipline. Hopefully these are principles that we in this church will never have to use, but we need to know what they are.

Recognizing Sin In Our Life

I want us to spend the last few moments we have together today thinking about our own individual lives. Think about your life as we read the Scripture, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” Are you toying around with some sin in your life? Are you finding some way to rationalize it away and keeping on with it because it is enjoyable or because you like the other people who are doing it or because it is relaxing or whatever rationalization you can come up with. We all do that from time to time, don't we? We trifle with sin; we flirt with it; we play along with it. We don't put it out of our lives. Let me tell you that the principles that Paul is talking about for the church in chapter 5 are equally applicable to our individual lives. That sin that you are playing with, that sin that you are rationalizing away, that sin that maybe no one has confronted you with, will leaven the whole lump. It will ruin your whole life. It will open the door for other sin. If you rationalize this sin away, before long Satan will come along with a bigger one, and you will eventually get to where you can explain that way. Before long, sooner or later, your whole life will be covered with sin. You will be infected with sin.

Since we have no problem that needs to be dealt with as a church that I know of at this point, according to I Corinthians, chapter 5, let me conclude by focusing on our individual lives. Let me plead with you today. Put out the leaven in your life. Deal with that sin. Today is the day to do it. Confess that sin.

Principles for Freedom From Sin

There are two principles that I want to give you with three references that will help you in this regard. So often we think, “Well, I just can't get rid of it.” Three principles for freedom from sin–these are not the only principles by any means, but they are three things that have occurred to me as I thought about this chapter:

Colossians 3

2Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

The god of this age will cause us to set our affection on things below. Set your mind, your thinking, on things of God. Don't let your mind get caught up in the spirit of this age, the god of this age. That is the first principle. Be careful what you think about. Be careful what your affections are on. Be careful where your mind is.

The second principle is in Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 14, where we have the armor of God. God has provided in His Word preventives for those things that Satan throws at us. Study Ephesians, chapter 6, verses 12-14. We have a whole series that we have done on that subject. God has provided protection against those temptations that the god of this age brings against you.

The third principle is found in Galatians, chapter 6, verse 1:

Galatians 6

1Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

That third principle works two ways, but the most immediate way is to look to other believers for help. Find someone that you can ask to pray with you and for you about that sin in your life. You don't have to confess it all to them. They are not your priest. But you can say, “Listen, I am having a real battle with temptation.” You don't have to tell them what the sin is. Bear one another's burdens. Be willing to pray for someone else when they come to you, or maybe you will even observe a sin in someone else's life that is not something that you feel free to confront them about, something that you see them getting caught up in; pray for that person.

Three principles: Be careful where your mind is; take the armor of God; seek the prayer support of other believers. Those three things will help you keep that leaven out of the whole lump. If we will all do that, God helping us, we may never have to implement I Corinthians, chapter 5. I am telling you that if we don't do that, the day may come and may come soon when even in this church we might have the painful experience of having to grapple with the instructions of I Corinthians, chapter 5.


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