In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebukes the church in Corinth for neglecting to discipline those among them who were still stubbornly, willfully living in rebellious sin, even after every other attempt at reconciliation had been tried (cf. Matthew 18:15–17).
Here, Paul says there are four reasons the church must remove these members from its midst. Those four reasons are as relevant now as they were in the first century:
1. For the sake of the sinning brother.
“… so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV
The hope, the goal, is always that the sinning brother or sister will wake up from their sin; that the pain of being removed from the blessings of the church stirs them and brings them back to their senses. The goal is never punishment or exclusion, it’s always healing and restoration.
2. For the sake of other believers.
“… Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. …” – 1 Corinthians 5:6–7
Leaven is not a common word for us. The word we use is “yeast.” You may not know this, and it may ruin your love of bread, but yeast is a type of fungus that makes bread rise. It grows and multiplies quickly.
And just like a little yeast quickly spreads through the whole lump of dough, a little sin in the community quickly infects everybody. That’s why at the Passover, God had his people take all their yeast, put it outside their homes, and eat only unleavened bread—a symbol that they were leaving the sin of Egypt behind.
In the same way, Paul says, open, rebellious sin will soon affect the whole church. So, for the sake of the church and with love, the sinning brother or sister must be removed from inside the house.
3. For the sake of Christ.
“… For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” – 1 Corinthians 5:7–8
Christ died, Paul says, to get rid of sin. So why would his church tolerate in their midst those things that put him on the cross? He also says that when believers come to worship, they should rid themselves of the leaven of sin. And in another place, he says, “… lift up holy hands in worship …” (1 Timothy 2:8). That means Christians are to seek to offer worship to Jesus that is not mixed with the leaven of sin.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean unbelievers can’t come to worship; they just shouldn’t be counted as family. An honored guest in the house is not the same as a member of the household.
Nor does this mean that if your life has a lot of problems, you can’t worship Jesus. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a huddle of perfect saints. But there’s a world of difference between entering the church as a broken sinner and entering as a proud sinner. If your posture toward your sin is that of repentance, welcome to the community of the forgiven. If your posture toward your sin is a spirit of defiance, know that Christ will not be mocked.
So bring him your messy life, your struggles, your problems. But don’t lift your hands in worship to him if your life is raising its fist in defiance of him.
If your posture toward your sin is that of repentance, welcome to the community of the forgiven. If your posture toward your sin is a spirit of defiance, know that Christ will not be mocked.
4. For the sake of the outside world.
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9–10
Most of the world will never read the Bible; however, they will read the lives of Christians. Our lives become, in a sense, the first book about God that our unbelieving neighbors read. Therefore, we must present Christ accurately.
Remember the old TV show, “The Invisible Man”? (If you’re under 40, I already know the answer.) I loved it. The idea was simple: The Invisible Man could come and go wherever he pleased, since no one could see him.
If someone threw paint on him, suddenly his form became visible.
That’s the church and Jesus. We’re the paint; he’s the man. By our words and deeds, we make the invisible Christ visible, showing the world what he looks like. The world learns how glorious he is by how passionately we worship him—in our love for one another and in our seriousness about sin. So, Paul says, for the sake of the outside world we take sin seriously so they get the right picture of Jesus.
For the sinning brother, for the church, for Jesus, and for the world. What other reason could you need?