I Corinthians 5
October 23, 2011
INTRO: This morning we’re going to be talking about some very mature, very controversial cultural and church issues that are found in our text in I Corinthians 5.
But before we do that, I would like to have you meet a few people near you and discuss a couple of challenging questions that are brought up in this passage today. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to be asking you to reveal anything personal except your opinions.)
Don’t feel like you have to talk if you would prefer to just listen to the group. At the same time, let me encourage those of you who may be naturally quieter to share your thoughts on the question your group chooses. You may have the best wisdom on the topic of anyone in your group and your thoughts may make the rest of your group look like you’re all a bunch of geniuses! J
So here are the questions. Feel free to choose one that your group would like to comment on. You’ll have about 5 minutes to discuss this. (See bulletin notes.)
- Do you think there are certain sins that are found either more frequently or to a greater depth in the church than in our culture? If so, what would those sins be and WHY do you think that is?
- How should we reconcile Paul’s command to judge in I Corinthians 5 with Jesus’ command in Matthew 7:1 not to judge?
- Paul addressed very directly and publicly a specific person’s sin in the Corinthian church. When do you think it is appropriate to do the same today in the church? When is it not appropriate? What guidelines would you suggest as to when and how it is to be done? Have you ever seen it done well in your experience with God’s church? Poorly? What made the difference?
Before you get acquainted and talk a little together, let’s read this chapter 5 of I Corinthians to put today’s study in its fuller context.
Read I Cor. 5:1-13.
Now get acquainted with about 4 or 5 other people here today…and their opinions on one of these questions.
NOTE: If you have questions in the course of this message about the topic this text brings to us today or the text itself, write them down and we’ll probably have time to talk about a few of them later.
Sometimes people who aren’t very familiar with the Bible…or who may just be familiar with the way their church handles culturally important questions…think that God doesn’t have much to say about some of the most important issues of the day. I’ve had parents ask me or Sandy, “How do you go about teaching your children about sex?” We usually respond, “Read the Bible with them!” J
It’s really true. You will find more direct, wise and even graphic discussions of sexual issues in the Bible than you get in most historical novels today. But it also comes with wisdom that everyone, no matter what your age, needs.
Today is one such text. While some churches are led to do a whole series on sex for several weeks every year or so, I prefer to talk about it with the frequency with which God brings it forward in his word. Honestly, that is pretty frequently. J By the time you have read Genesis to Revelation in a year, you’ve hit on every conceivable sexual topic: lust, rape, incest, sodomy, prostitution, infidelity, pornography, polygamy, birth control, adultery, fornication, bestiality, pedophilia, STIs, abstinence, using sex as a weapon, the importance of sex in marital life, etc., etc., etc. It’s ALL here in the Bible. But it’s here in the context of what God, the inventor, designer, bioengineer, creator and promoter of sex has to say about its use, its disuse and its abuse.
The Apostle Paul starts right out in this chapter by addressing something that the Corinthian church had apparently written him about earlier. Paul, in a previous (and unpreserved) letter had written to them about how they were to relate to people who were sexually immoral. Now he is going to get more specific about sexual immorality in their church.
And just in case you’re under the impression that this is no longer an issue among God’s people, let me perhaps surprise you a bit.
- The statistical studies of Evangelical youth today say that church kids are not only engaging in sex at the same rate (or higher) as their non-Christian peers but they are engaging in sex, on the average, earlier than their non-Christian peers (age 16.2 vs. 16.8 for their peers).
- The reality on every secular college campus and on many “Christian” college campuses is that a college student can have sexual encounters with other students, not just on the weekends, but every night of the week in multiple places with multiple partners. College campuses have become THE most predatory sexual environment in our country apart from state penitentiaries.
- STIs are THE number one most frequently transmitted infection among teens and 20s after… the common cold and flu, that is.
- The Roman Catholic Church alone has already spent an estimated $2 billion trying to settle with victims of clergy sexual abuse around the world.
- While statistics don’t exist for what is happening here in Spokane, I can tell you from personal experience and from talking with other pastors that it is a rare day when you see two young people preparing for marriage who, a.) one or both of whom are still virgins and, b.) actually guard their sexual purity during their engagement.
- One world religious leader had this to say about us Americans and how we fail to protect our daughters sexually: “Your nation exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, calling upon customers to purchase them. You plaster your naked daughters across billboards in order to sell a product without any shame. You have brainwashed your daughters into believing they are liberated by wearing revealing clothes, yet in reality all they have liberated is your sexual desire.” That was written by Osama Bin Laden in 2002!
When non-Christians and the non-Christian international leaders of the world become the loudest voices against sexual immorality in our culture, something has really gone wrong with God’s people.
The book of I Corinthians is the Apostle Paul’s response to a letter of inquiry that was apparently written to him by the Corinthian church about a number of issues on which the church felt they needed more education. They were things like marriage, Christian liberty, women’s positions in the church, spiritual gifts and the resurrection. But it is interesting that the first issues Paul chooses to address in the life of the church are not any of those issues. Instead he chose sees the problems of disunity, a lack of holy living in the sexual arena and lawsuits between believers as affecting the church most negatively.
APP: Isn’t it interesting how we, the church, can find theological discussions much “safer” than practical life-oriented and morally challenging issues? Rather than talk about, say, our sexual struggles or our anger issues or our addictive behaviors that are really debilitating our lives and the power of Christ in the church, we prefer to talk about a hundred-and-one other “safer” theological topics. But Paul, under the Holy Spirit’s direction, went after the really spiritually debilitating issues in the church and church members first.
That’s why genuine transparency and open mutual accountability is really vital for God’s people. For years I didn’t understand that. For years I tried to deal with my addictions and my sins on my own, just between me and God. And I honestly was pretty good at deceiving myself into thinking I was making progress. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve come to see how vital it is to have other brothers looking in on my life and making observations, asking questions, praying weekly for me.
Paul wasn’t afraid to tackle some issues we would call “personal” today. Because he knew something else our culture doesn’t believe: my sin and your sin always affects other people, especially the people of God!
Listen to what he says in 5:1. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.”
Now apparently this was some self-proclaimed follower of Christ who was having conjugal relations with his step-mother. Paul could have chosen the word “mother” which would have meant his biological rather than step-mother. That’s why it seems that it was his step-mother rather than biological mother.
Does that make you feel a little better about it? Strangely, in our culture, if we’re really honest, we might say, “Well….I guess so. Teachers are having sex with their students. Professors with their college coeds. Military officers with their enlisted personnel. Men with men. Women with women. Doesn’t make this step-mother/step-son look so bad.”
But Paul says here that even a sexual relationship with a step mother…a non-biological relative…was not something accepted or practiced in the over-sexualized Corinthian culture.
You see, virtually every culture has some sort of sexual boundaries. Even pagan cultures have certain sexual boundaries and limits somewhere. Doesn’t this betray just how pagan America has become of late?
During my lifetime, I have watched our cultural boundaries on sex go from a mostly-biblical standard of sex only being socially acceptable between a man and woman in the safety and boundaries of marriage to…??? Is there anything that is still socially out of bounds? In the day of surgical sex changes, transgender, bisexual, and homosexual sex all becoming more and more accepted in the culture, you wonder if there are any boundaries remaining.
But even our completely confused and sexualized culture still has a few boundaries that have not yet fallen. Even the very thin thread of sexual morality we still cling to is a dim testament to the God’s truth of Romans 1 that ever person knows in their heart that there is an ultimate and absolute right and wrong of some sort. We just know it was put there by God and really isn’t merely a social construct.
So what is left in our culture as boundaries?
- Polygamy…though there are current court challenges to anti-polygamy laws. But people who simply choose to live in a polygamous relationship (without the legal sanctions) won’t be shunned socially.
- Incest: sexual relations with a family member.
- Date rape.
- Statutory rape…though the “age of consent” is being pushed lower and lower all the time and several groups are pushing for it to drop from 18 to 14!
The reality is that we must either accept the truth that God’s word on sexuality IS the only reliable, ultimate and absolute standard OR are left simply with what 51% or the dominant powers of any cultural group determines at any moment is acceptable behavior.
I know in some ways I’m preaching to the choir about this. But I also know that even “the choir” is in danger of losing God’s standard and IS, in fact, doing so right now in the church in America. NONE of us in this room is risk-free! No one! I’ve found that the people who think they are may be the ones in gravest danger.
And I’m also aware that pastors have been some of the biggest hypocrites in this area of sexual holiness. If you were here last week, you heard about the string of pastors I served with and under who failed sexually. I know first-hand how absolutely devastating it is to their spouses, their children, their churches and their communities.
We all know it isn’t enough just to rail against sexual immorality. It isn’t enough to just highlight the boundaries or tell each other, “No sex outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.” We’ve been doing that for decades and look where we are. Something more, something deeper is needed, and I think Paul addresses some of what is needed right in this chapter.
Here are a few of the things I see in this passage as critical to reclaiming the ground of sexuality for the glory of God in a culture that is being absolutely devastated by sexual immorality.
1.) There needs to be openness about this topic among the people of God.
Paul wasn’t afraid of it. This text proves that. He addresses it here and many other places in his letters. I’m sure his preaching and teaching touched on it too. Jesus wasn’t afraid to talk about it. He spoke of sexual immorality and even raised the bar significantly when he let us know that God’s standard includes not sexual actions but sexual thoughts. Moses wasn’t afraid of talking about it. Whole chapters of the law of Moses deal with sexual purity. Solomon certainly wasn’t shy about it…though it was an area of his life that overran and destroyed him.
It is time that the church of Jesus Christ becomes the champion in our culture for healthy sexuality. The statistics are on our side. Consistently, strong Christian heterosexual married couples report the highest level of sexual satisfaction of any group of people studied. You’d never know that from the way we often shy away from the topic and the way some Christian married couples fail to address the lack of sexual intimacy in their marriage as if it were just a minor problem.
2.) This text teaches that we need absolute spiritual truth about sex.
Here’s what I mean by that.
Our culture says sex is everything. It says it’s THE most important thing. It says it’s got to be the constant thing. It says you can never get too much of it with too many people in too many ways.
God says that’s a lie and that the people who believe that will never find sex to be what it was designed to be. God and knows that GOD is the only “everything.” HE is THE most important thing. HE must be the constant thing. And anything that takes that place…whether sex, money, alcohol, career or another person or a hundred other false gods…will never satisfy.
That’s what vs. 11 of this chapter is saying when it mentions not only sexual immorality but greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness and cheating. Those are all attempts to replace God with things outside their proper boundaries, things God knows will never fully satisfy. Every one of those things Paul mentions is the excess of something good God created to have boundaries around it.
- Sexual immorality—any sexual relations with someone else outside the boundary of marriage between a man and a woman.
- Greed—taking the legitimate desire for life’s enjoyable things to excess by wanting more and more and more.
- Idolatry—making physical things the object of our worship whether that worship is through inordinate time devoted to it, praise, or attributing power to something physical that it doesn’t or shouldn’t have. Idolatry takes perfectly good things and makes them our functional gods.
- Slander—taking the gift of speech beyond the bounds of encouragement and edification and looking to destructive speech to make us feel better about ourselves by making others look worse.
- Drunkenness—Taking the gift of alcoholic drink to excess and turning to that excess to enable us to cope with life rather than turning to Christ.
- Swindling/cheating—using the legitimate business of business to get more than is rightfully ours because we think that more stuff is more important to our souls than more of Christ.
Paul certainly could have named hundreds of other sins. His point is simply that anything, including sex, will run outside its God-given boundaries in our lives unless God reminds us about the spiritual nature and implications of immorality of every form. Without His absolute standard or morality that is rooted in his absolute nature of holiness, we will not be able to talk consistently, constructively or coherently about sex.
3.) There must be an attitude change about sexual sin among God’s people.
Vs. 2 tells us that, in some way, Paul sensed that the Corinthians were “proud” about how they were doing even though they knew there was sexual immorality going on among some in the church.
I don’t think they were proud about the sexual sin. But somehow their indifference to sexual sin had left them felling OK about their life together. Paul said they should have been experiencing quite a different feeling— they should have been“filled with grief” (vs. 2).
In a culture that is SO saturated with sexual immorality, it is easy to become indifferent to it in the church. While grief about anything is not to be our constant experience, it should be at least a temporary experience every time we know there is sexual immorality among us.
WHY should we feel grief when it’s someone else who is sinning? (Get responses.)
Paul gives us one reason in vs. 6—“Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” The image here is of yeast as representative of SIN. Just like you add only a tablespoon of dried yeast to make whole cups of flour into a large loaf of bread, so it only takes a little bit of constant, unaddressed sin in the church to infect and affect the entire life of the church.
Our culture likes to talk about personal morality not being anyone else’s business “as long as you’re not hurting anyone else.” That’s the problem. Sin ALWAYS hurts the sinner directly…AND those around them at the least indirectly and at the worst directly. You may not think it’s hurting you. That doesn’t change the reality God knows is happening to you when you sin. The same goes for our sin’s effect on others around us: God knows it is damaging them even when we don’t know it.
- How should we feel when we know that some of our teenagers and collegians are engaging in premarital sex? It should grieve our hearts to such a degree that we do not simply treat it as if we heard they just had another hangnail this week.
- How should we feel when we learn of another marriage that is melting down because of sexual unfaithfulness in the church? It should truly sadden us until we are able to see repentance and restoration of that couple.
- How should we feel when we see more and more churches accepting homosexual sex as “loving” and “normal”??? It should make us weep for the state of the church and the rejection of God’s truth.
- How should we feel when we and so much of the church today engages in pornography whether through soft porn of movies, television, romance novels, checking out the opposite sex at the club, advertising and, yes, even immodest dress OR the hard porn of internet sites, “adult movies” and magazines? [How many of us would be horrified to have our wife or daughters star in a porn movie but feel no horror at buying them clothes that lead every man who encounters them in a day to have to deal with sexual thoughts as a result?[
- How should we feel when Christian dads no longer teach their daughters about modesty and what revealing clothing does to Christian men but instead let them wear what becomes a true stumbling block to their brothers?
- How should we feel when our Christian young women are left to fend for themselves in a world of predatory men without fathers who love them well and protect them passionately?
- How should we feel when we know that men and women in the church are sometimes asking sexual behavior of their spouses that degrades and debases healthy sexuality?
IF we are to recover the beauty, holiness and sanctity of sex, we must experience an attitude change about sexual sin that is right now among us. We must ask God to teach us to grieve over it AND to give us a hatred for the way it infects all of us with sin.
4.) There must be pathways of restoration for those who have strayed into sexual sin.
Paul’s discussion of the discipline process he prescribes for the Corinthians in vss. 3-5 makes it clear that his intent is the saving of a person’s spirit or spiritual man/womanhood. Jesus laid out the process clearly in Matthew 18. (We will discuss that in coming weeks on different issues in I Cor.)
The whole discipline process Paul puts forward in vss. 3-11 hinges on the experience of God’s people being something perhaps too many of us have never experienced in the church or at least not nearly enough. “Church discipline” as presented here only “works” if “church bonding” has actually happened.
The experience the people of God in the first century church had both with God when they came together as well as with each other was SO life-changing and impactful that to be robbed of both of those things was, for most of them, THE WORST thing that could happen to them once they came to saving faith in Christ. Apparently the supernatural nature of church worship and the super-relational nature of church family was something very few even persistently sinning believers wanted to be robbed of.
How different from today where more and more people are choosing to walk away from the church and God’s family. To be “kicked out of church” is viewed as a badge of honor and a blessing today, not something that would rob you of THE very best experiences of life.
I’m afraid that is so because of the poverty of the church today in two areas: 1.) in the lack of what I will carefully call “supernatural encounters” with God in the worship life of the church, and 2.) in the lack of the relational spiritual bonding that God wants to be the norm among His family.
In the book of 2 Corinthians we learn that simply being ostracized from the people of God was enough for this sexually immoral man to experience pain, conviction and loss in his life that led him back to repentance and holy living. Why is that so rarely the truth today? Maybe we all need to do a little soul-searching about why we’re not bonding deeply to the people of God and why we’re not experiencing regularly the touch of the Holy Spirit that moves our hearts so into the presence of God that we never want to be without it again.
But what we must also be clear that any attempt to address sexual sin in a brother or sister is for the purpose of helping them recover in actuality and practice the holiness God has granted them in their position in Christ. It’s not about embarrassing or publically exposing someone else’s sin. It’s about helping them crucify their sinful nature and the flesh while learning to live in ways that lead them into fresh, new, enlivening ways in Christ.
NOTE: Next week I’ve asked a friend and brother in Christ who speaks all over the world with a ministry of restoration for the church and specifically for people who have been scarred by sexual sin to take the service. I’ve known Jim Anderson for almost 2 decades. I’ve respected his prophets heart and passion for the sexual integrity of the church from the beginning. He’s just come out with a book I would highly recommend for every parent, every grandparent, every young man and young woman to read entitled Unmasked. Jim is a truly gifted man at dealing with the sin as well as helping people experience healing and restoration from sexual sin. You may not find what he says and the passion he has “easy” or “comfortable” to experience. But I assure you that you will find him a true healer of hearts wounded by sexual sin of our day. And women, he has the heart of a father some of you have never had the privilege of experiencing from the men in your lives. Don’t miss it.
5.) There must be a difference between how we treat the sexually immoral IN the church and how we relate to the sexually immoral IN the world.
For the sake of this morning’s message I’ve kept the focus on sexuality. But Paul actually doesn’t keep his discussion that narrow in I Corinthians 5. We’ve already seen in vs. 10 that he broadens it to a number of other things that are equally representative of destructive excesses and behavior.
But Paul wants us to be very clear that we are not to seek to remove ourselves from the sexually immoral people of this world (vs. 10). If that was God’s will for us he would have taken us out of the world when we got saved. Rather we are to live among them in such a way that our sexual morality affects them rather than their immorality affecting us.
The only chosen relational separation God’s people are to know from other people around them in this life is chosen separation from people who have claimed to be Christians, been a part of the church and yet refuse to turn from persistent involvement in sin which God says is not to be a part of the people of God. On the other hand, we should be more, not less, involved with the immoral pagan and godless people around us who do not claim to be followers of Christ. And that involvement should focus first, foremost and perhaps exclusively on bring them the Gospel of Christ rather than imposing on them the morality of the church.
ILL: Working so hard for the Mayday for Marriage years ago her in Spokane. While I still think that the church needs to be called to the holiness of marriage between a man and a woman and away from all attempts to compromise that (either by homosexual marriage or by divorce or any other attack on marriage), I think my efforts would have been more long-term productive to have spent that time organizing an evangelistic outreach in our community.
CLOSE: We’re not going to share the Lord’s Table together today for a reason. Paul says in vss. 7 & 8, “Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.”
(Describe what the Jews do to cleanse their house of yeast during Passover.)
I entitled the message today “Cleaning House” for a reason. I’ve put up here today some household cleaning items for a reason.
I think there are times when God just wants us to spend a little more time letting His Spirit really point out stuff…sin… immorality in some form we may have discounted until now… that He wants to sweep out of our souls. Christ has been sacrificed as our Passover lamb. The question is, “Have our souls and lives been cleansed from the yeast of sin that we can so easily grow accustomed to?”
Here’s what I would like us to do right now and this coming week. As we prepare for a time of healing and restoration together this next weekend, I would like us all to give God permission to show us where we are involved in any of the sins mentioned in this passage AND any other sins God may want to point out in our lives and deliver us from. How about if we all ask God all week long to do some “cleaning house” in our lives of sins that are weakening us and the church?
AMEN'd this Sermon: