At my church we just finished a sermon series entitled “Sexology,” looking at God’s design for romance, sex, and marriage from 1 Corinthians. During the series our local paper, the Lebanon Democrat, asked me to run a few columns on faith. Below is the first of two:
It seems that today “Judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1) has become a more popular verse than John 3:16. People especially quote “judge not” when it comes to sexual lifestyles. The logic is that it’s my right to do what I want with my body as long as I don’t hurt anyone, and you have no right to judge me for it.
Is this really what the Bible says? In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul gives clear directions that we are supposed to judge those inside the church who claim to be believers but persist in unrepentant sexual sin, but we are not supposed to judge those outside the church who engage in sexual sin. The problem is the church too often reverses Paul’s command. We judge sexual sinners outside the church, and we give a free pass to our buddies inside the church who struggle with the same issues.
Therefore, not only do we disobey what Paul said, but we also do the opposite of what Jesus modeled. Jesus was strictest with people within the religious establishment, and Jesus was most lenient with those outside
Paul criticizes the Corinthians because they are allowing a kind of sexual immorality in the church that even unbelievers don’t tolerate. Specifically, a member of their church “has his father’s wife” which either means he is in an incestuous relationship or having an affair with his stepmother. Paul urges them to practice church discipline – which Jesus laid out in Matthew 18:15-18– and remove the man from church membership.
The purpose of church discipline is always redemptive. If a person remains in persistent, unrepentant sin then discipline is practiced to move the person to repentance and thus giving genuine evidence that they are saved. The church does this with the authority of Jesus, announcing to the man that he is not acting like a believer and is in danger of judgment if he does not repent.
Church discipline is also practiced for the good of the church. Paul says that persistent sin left unchecked in the congregation will affect the entire body the way yeast spreads through the whole loaf of bread.
However, after Paul tells the church to remove the man in sexual sin and not to associate with him, he shockingly tells the church to associate with sexual sinners in the world who are not part of the church and do not claim to be believers. He calls us away from fundamentalist isolation and towards a mission to the lost.
The Corinthian Church had apparently – like many churches today – withdrawn from the culture and refused to associate with unbelievers. Paul says you can’t do that. As the body of Christ, we should hang out with the lost, love them, not judge them, and share the message that every sin can be atoned for by the blood of Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Historically, we’ve not done a good job following Paul’s instructions in the American church. We snipe at those outside the church and ignore those inside the church. Instead, like our King, we need to eat with tax collectors and sexual sinners outside the church.
Jon Akin is lead pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN