by Rev. Tommy Williams, Senior Pastor
In the previous entry to this series, Lessons on Unity from a Church in Conflict, we ended with the apostle Paul’s general conclusion about his parental love and concern for them and the special concern he has for their particular struggles.
Chapter 5 launches into one of those very particular concerns — a sexual scandal in the life of that church. It seems that the church has not dealt with the gravity of the situation, so Paul compares it as worse than that which is found among pagans in Rome. This incestuous affair was bad enough, but the church’s toleration or laissez-faire response seems to infuriate Paul.
I Corinthians 5:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?
Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world.But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”
Do the Christians at Corinth take seriously the violation of relationships?
Do they understand how betrayal affects not only the ones involved but the entire community?
Are they less concerned with matters of the body and more concerned with matters of the spirit?
It becomes clear very quickly in this chapter that God is concerned with the health and life of the whole person—body and spirit. And any violation of right human relationships is something the community of faith should take seriously as a people called toward holiness.
Paul’s desire for this particular circumstance was that the Corinthian church would cast the betrayers out of the community so that they would understand the weight of their sin and the impact it has had on the whole community. But he does not leave it there.
His hope is that these persons will always be saved and restored to the community (vs. 5). Evil cannot be ignored. The church neglects evil’s presence at its own peril. “Sincerity and truth” is what is called for and what builds true Christian community.
In our own time, our life together as church can often swing between two extremes. On the one hand, the church has a record of closing the door, shutting out people who have committed obvious betrayals, who have fallen short in public ways, or who we are just not like the prevailing group in a particular church and therefore are deemed “outside.” In this vein we supersize certain sins over others.
On the other hand, churches can reject this view and refrain from comment on any sort of wrong behavior in the name of keeping the peace.
Neither position achieves what Paul seems to be after. Sincere and honest Christian community finds loving ways to be truthful and kind—through prayer, friendship, small groups who trust each other, and other ways that build real Christian connection.
We yearn to have such a community in St. Paul’s and in the United Methodist Church. This is why small groups were important to our founder John Wesley and why they continue to be the hallmark of fruitful Methodist churches today.
What are the ways you have experience this kind of Christian community in your own life?