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  • Pastor Michael Coltman

Unpacking 1 Corinthians 5:9-13


The best thing to say in brief about this passage is that Paul is primarily speaking about church discipline (and that should be done primarily by the leadership of the church) and about the difference in how we must act towards sins of those outside the church vs those in the church. Unless something more specific is meant by the question then it requires a longer answer. Some related questions to ask yourself are - what is Paul's heart behind giving this instruction? What is God's concern or desire for the church? And do you act with humility when it comes to your sins or other's sins being addressed?


Here's the long answer...

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 is clear and yet can be difficult in application inside the church. It is also a passage that may have a lot of baggage associated with it as the church is made up of people that are prone to making mistakes. Church leadership may have judged poorly or harshly and deeply wounded someone. Or the leadership may have judged and acted rightly and subsequently offended the person because of their pride and selfishness. In either case humility before God and others was probably not exercised.

Keep this in mind when thinking about this passage for yourself and others.

And before I continue with reflecting on the passage, let me say that regardless of how you think the church should or should not address sin or certain sins in the church - that if both leadership and those not in leadership (the congregation) acted with Christian humility before God firstly, and secondly before others when their own sins were being addressed or when they were addressing others sins, then most of this discussion would not be needed.

Why some people might cringe at this verse...

Most people would agree with Paul that this particular case - of a man sleeping with his step-mother is detestable - and the discipline Paul prescribed, of having him kicked out of the church, is maybe not that harsh (he would have been stoned in Old Testament times).

But it is very possible that this verse may be the cause of some tension for some readers not because it specifically is disagreeable but because it makes them think of something that is. I have heard Christians say to someone else in the church "don't judge me! What gives you the right?" So, speaking of the situation when the judging is done right, and yet the person rejects the loving correction, it is only because of their pride that they respond this way. You can't logically say that no sin deserves correction, but only that yours doesnt deserve correction.

Why is it the responsibility of the Church to judge each other?... Because we care about holiness (and about each other).

In this passage Paul explains clearly and simply that Christians are not to judge those outside of the church but are supposed to judge those inside the church. We don't judge those outside the church because it doesnt make sense to tell someone who hasn't decided to follow Jesus that they aren't acting like a very good Christian. They're not a Christian. But! If they say "yeah, I'm a Christian!" And then they persistantly don't act like it then it is the responsibility of the church to say something and do something about it.

Why is this a responsibility of the church? Because when sin is tolerated in the church, the church's testimony of being Jesus to the world is ruined.

Earlier in the chapter, before these verses, Paul talks about a man who was committing a crime that even those outside the church would say is not right. (And it wasn't just "not right", but deplorable ). And the church's response was to tolerate it? What good is the church or Jesus' "body" as we call it, if it looks just as sick and vile with sin as other "bodies"? And how serious are people going to take His call to repentance and holiness if, we as His body, have the evidence and symptoms of the same sinful habits they have?

Jesus called out hypocrisy when he saw it. I pray and hope that He doesn't need to say it to us.

And what about his promises of healing and freedom from sin and promises of peace and joy? How seriously will people take those promises if they see bondage to sin, brokenness, sickness, bitterness and conflict towards one another when they walk into the church, which is Christ's body?

Rather they will likely say, "This Jesus sounds good when you talk about him, and I like the the sound of him but I doubt he's actually real, because doesn't believing in him mean you're supposed to look like him? I don't see what difference he makes."

Judging the right way -

With humility and love.

Before God and before others.

Prep your heart with prayer.

We respond with humility before God knowing that every word and deed of ours will be judged by the father some day. We go into a situation of addressing another's sin with the recognition that how we treat others is watched by God.

"For in the same way you judge, you will be judged" - Matthew 7:2.

Be careful therefore in watching yourself, that you are giving your correction out of love, - that you have that person's best interest (maybe at the expense of your own, because thats love), and that there is no pride in the way you are confronting them. Think of how God is patient, gentle and forgiving with you and do the same. Read Matthew 18:21-35.

And Galatians 6:1 and 2. Has some good wisdom for us. It starts with "You who are spiritual" should restore the person. What does that mean? Maybe you shouldn't confront a person if your thinking isn't "spiritual" but just freshly. It might not God well without the Holy Spirit's guidance. And you can take out the 'maybe' and the 'might'. Proverbs says a wise man thinks before he speaks.

Prep your heart with prayer.

It goes on to say,

"... keep watch on yourself, so you don't sin." And "bear one anothers burdens, and you will fulfill Christ's law." We are being obedient (and loving) to Jesus when we help eachother carry their burdens of sin. We're in this together as a family.

Responding the right way -

With humility and love.

Before God and before others.

It's probably easy to agree that if someone rightly confronts you, you should just repent. But we all know that some people are able to reject good correction. And if we're humble, we know that all people, including ourselves, are able to reject good correction because we aren't living in humility before God and others. Proverbs 15:32

Let me take this a step further to what might be an even more difficult situation. When someone confronts you on something that is "minor" or "mildly" sin, or its "debatable".

Now, don't think too much about what's actually debatable and such.

Here's why. Two examples.

1 - someone tells you that you watch too much tv. Do you respond with "hissss" bearing your teeth "dont touch my precious!!"? Or do you take it with humility and appreciation? Thinking about what is most honouring to God and purposefull in love.

2 - what if someone spoke to you about how alcohol is just plain bad. And you didn't really have a problem with It? Do you respond with judgement on their convictions? Or do you respond with respect of their convictions? Paul says that if eating meat made his brother "stumble" (or disobey his conscience) then he would give up eating meat. !! What!? Paul!! That is too far man!!

You know why he would do that?

Because of love for his brother or sister in the church and because of a desire to honour God. Both above his own desires or convictions. That's amazing. That's beautiful. That's maturity and that's love.

1Corintians 8:9-13

Verses for further reading -

Ephesians 4:15 - truth in love

Romans 2:24/Isaiah 52:5 - sin taints testimony

Romans 12:9-21 "behave like a Christian"

Matthew 7:2 "the same measure you use"

Galatians 6:1... "restore him in a spirit of gentleness" & 6:2 - watch yourself too, and bear their burdens.

Luke 17:3 - confront and forgive

Matthew 18:15-20 - in private, then publicly

James 5:19-20 - you are doing something very Good by confronting!

Matthew 18:21-35 - unforgiving servant

Proverbs 29:11 - the wise think before speaking

Romans 13:10 - love is law-fulfillment

Proverbs 15:32 - a fool rejects correction

1 Corintians 8:9-13. - loving our different convictions


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