There is a real difference between a church that deals with sin in a biblical way to help people overcome it and one that chooses to ignore, overlook, or confront sin. The church at Corinth was such a church. In 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 we see Paul addressing them in their sin because they had failed to do so themselves. They were a divided and disgraced church because not only was there blatant, known sin in their assembly, the church leadership was reluctant to do anything about it. While no church is perfect, there must be accountability when it comes to sin. Christians are supposed to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16) and expected to come out from the world and be separate (2 Corinthians 6:17). No church needs “righteousness rangers” policing and pointing out the faults of others for the purpose of shame, embarrassment, or gossip. But what a church does need is for all its members and leadership to be humbly and lovingly confrontive towards sin to restore people to the fellowship. They should also willingly welcome confrontation towards sin in their own lives. A Christian who loves their church must ask the question, “If this sin goes unchecked what will it do to the church?” They will not stand by and permit sin to weaken and ruin the Lord’s church. So what is the right way to deal with sin in the church?
1 Corinthians 5:1-2 tells us there is sexual immorality in the church of Corinth and the church has not confronted it but is actually proud of it. Paul gets real specific here and calls out the sin of a man in the church who is sleeping with his father’s wife. This is not adultery, fornication and a form of incest in the community but in the church itself. Not even the kind the unsaved Gentiles practice (1 Corinthians 5:1). They should first mourn over it like mourning for the dead, feeling deeply sorry for the pain it is causing the Lord and in their church. Instead, they are bragging about how tolerant and “open minded” they are as a church that even adulterers and fornicators can be members in good standing. Overlooking sin is never good. They should help the fallen believer like Galatians 6:1-2 says: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” I’ve met a lot of mean, self-righteous Christians bent on hurting people in sin. A real Christian confronts out of love to restore fellowship and relationship with Christ.
After mourning over the sin, Paul instructs the church to judge the sin (1 Corinthians 5:3-5). Judge? I thought we weren’t to judge others (Matthew 7:1). This is the most abused scripture in the Bible. It does not mean you should overlook sin and is certainly not a license to sin because “everyone does it”. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 Christians should judge those inside the church. Christians should expect Christians to act like Christ and obey the Scriptures. Nobody likes a hypocrite. This was someone who claimed to be a Christian but refused to repent of known sin. Obviously Paul knew the steps Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15-19 for dealing with sin. If the person in sin would not repent, which cannot be forced, they were to apply church discipline and remove them from the church. While it may seem harsh, the purpose in this final step is to allow God to convict and hopefully restore someone who claims to be a Christian but blatantly disobeys and rebels against the Lord and His Scripture. God isn’t into throwing people away and neither should we be but sometimes as a last resort it is necessary to get their attention and destroy the fleshly desires of the sinner (1 Corinthians 5:5). Hopefully and prayerfully they will return to the church if they repent. The good news here is 2 Corinthians 2:1-11 indicates that this man did repent and was restored to the fellowship. Unrepentant and unchecked sin in the church will cause the church to lose its testimony and effectiveness in the community.