Discipline In A Messy Church

Bible Book: 1 Corinthians  5 : 1-13
Subject: Church Discipline; Church; Sin in the Church

Discipline in a Messy Church

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor, www.pastorlife.com

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Tonight we are going to look at a subject that is often avoided in our churches, primarily because we do not wish to upset anyone when it comes to the requirements to join or remain as a member of the local church. In fact, most church members are not even aware of what the Bible teaches about church discipline. It would be easier for us not to consider this chapter from the Bible but then we must study God’s word as He has given it to us. So, let's look at discipline in a messy church.

A principle reason why churches fail to establish a process by which a member or members can be disciplined is due to the abuse of church discipline in previous generations. I once pastored a church established in 1798 – yes, all the way back before the nineteenth century. Some very old business meeting records were present in the archives of that church and I read a number of those simply out of my interest in the history of that church. I discovered something that was humorous but also troubling. Members of the church, back in the 1800s, had been banned from attending church services for weeks at a time or banished completely from the membership due to some rather benign activities. For example, one member had been refused attendance for four Sundays because he turned the tuning key of a fiddle on a Sunday afternoon. That is true! He did not play the fiddle or even tune it. He simply picked it up and turned one the tuning keys and he was reported for it. No wonder church discipline fell out of favor in our churches.

We must not refuse to take church discipline seriously simply because some people in the past misused the practice. God’s Word has something to say about this in 1 Corinthians 5 and we are going to look at that tonight. You see, it is important for us to know what a church expects of those who request or claim membership. That is why we have a process of new member training in our church. In fact, you can’t be a member here unless you go through the new member orientation process.

Now, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 and follow as I read from the New King James Version:

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”

Paul is admonishing the Church at Corinth for allowing open sinful behavior to be carried out by those who are in good standing, and perhaps in places of leadership, in the congregation. Now, let’s stop for a moment and talk about forgiveness and kindness – about not being like the Pharisees in our Christian life and in our church. A person who has sinned and then turns from that sin is to be forgiven and treated as we ourselves are treated when we repent of sin. What Paul is dealing with in this passage is the fact that members and leaders in the church must not allowed to live in open sin and rebellion against God while maintaining good standing in the local church. He mentions several sins in this passage, and he mentions those because of their relevance to the situation at that church. Apparently there was a man in the congregation who began an affair with his father’s wife – his own stepmother. He then began to live with her in open sin and rebellion. The church family had not been willing to deal with this, and as a result the leaven of this sin had begun to grow in the church family as other sins were also overlooked among leaders and members. When you read Paul’s words to this church, you can see that he was terribly disturbed by this, as he should have been.

Paul clarifies what he means regarding church discipline by his statements in verses 9 through 13. He points out that he is not saying that we are better than others, or that we are to avoid the people of the world who do such things. After all, how can we witness to people if we refuse to talk with them or maintain some kind of speaking relationship with them. The drug dealer and street walker who have not turned to Christ and are not part of a church are not the problem in the church. The difference takes place once a person receives Christ and unites with a local church. At that point we are to turn from sin and serve Christ. When we fail as Christians we are to repent; we are never to go on in evil doing while serving in the church. Paul is saying that “inside the church” we must provide for an expectation of living the Christian life in a proper manner.

I am going to share a couple of things with you in this message and hopefully it will help us understand the practice of church discipline according to God’s standard.

We are to maintain church discipline for three reasons:

I. Due to the Damage of the Church Reputation

Look at 1 Corinthians 5:1. Paul was concerned because the church had a reputation of winking at the sin of its members. He said that it is “actually reported” that some of the members are involved in behavior that even the world does not condone. Every church has a “report” or reputation, either good or bad, and it is important that the local church maintain a respectable behavior in the community. There is nothing that the devil loves more than seeing a church act in ways that are contrary to its own teaching. Now don’t get me wrong on this, Christians are not perfect in behavior. We were not perfect when we got here, and we are not perfect in our actions now. Christ shed His blood of our sins! But, we are to have a standard of behavior that does not allow open sin to take place among our people. To do so produces a standing in the community that says we are not serious about all we claim to be.

In Acts, when the Church was birthed at Pentecost, we read that the new believers had a good reputation among all the people, and the Lord was adding to the church daily those that were being saved. That statement tells us that a good report – a positive reputation – regarding the local church is important in the eyes of the Lord. Right from the beginning it was important for the church to maintain a proper way of life in front of the people around them. There was a connection between the number of people being saved in the first New Testament Church and the reputation that they had in the community.

Look at a second reason that church discipline is important …

II. Due to the Damage of the Carnal Relationship

As God’s people, we are not to align our behavior to the times in which we live, but rather we are to obey God’s Word. When we fail to do so we must repent and change our actions. It is easy for us to be swept along in history and to begin to accept behavior that is called sin in God's Word. To do this is to damage the church and its mission. Also, however, we must understand what it means to forgive people who truly repent and change their lives.

As Jesus was being falsely arrested and tried, Simon Peter warmed his hands at the enemy fire. He denied before the world that he even knew Christ. Now you will admit that was a horrible sin, yet this did not disqualify Peter from later being used of God. In fact, it was Peter who was chosen by God to preach the sermon at Pentecost that saw the first 3,000 converts to the Christian faith, and Peter delivered that sermon about 50 days after he had sinned terribly. The difference in his situation was the fact that he had renewed his relationship with Jesus and submitted totally to the will of God in his life.

It is true that carnal relationships are damaging to the kingdom and to the person who is involved, but repentance can lead to usefulness in the kingdom. We cannot, however, remain in a carnal, rebellious and sinful lifestyle and expect God’s blessings. Paul was making that very clear. The church is required to deal with such situations, even if it is difficult to do so.

David lived in the Old Testament days, prior to the Church Age, but he is an example as well. David sinned against God in a carnal relationship with Bathsheba, yet he was willing to repent and face his wrongdoing. He sought forgiveness from God and was known as a man after God’s own heart.

The important issue here is that the church in the New Testament Age must not wink at sin among our members and leaders. Where open sin is taking place, we must require a change or ask that the member(s) be removed from the local church until the issue he handled in a Biblical and honest manner. The goal is always to see the person walking with God and restored to a place of usefulness in the church.

Lastly, look at the third reason for church discipline ...

III. Due to Cross of Christian Redemption

Our salvation is not due to our behavior, but due to the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. We owe everything to Him. Paul mentions in verse 4 of our text that we maintain church discipline in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ died for us and we are responsible to Him above all else. He is Lord! We are to never place any relationship on earth above that of our Lord.

We serve a risen Savior and our responsibility is to Him and not to any family or particular leader in a local church. We must act as followers of Christ in order to be blessed in our service and empowered by His Spirit. God is not going to use a congregation that yields to ungodly behavior in order to avoid a confrontation with a person or family in the church. Churches that allow sinful behavior in the lives of people because they have money or a longstanding family history in the church always end up paying dearly for it in the days and years that follow.

Again, we must be careful not to use church discipline as a political tool, or to become a moral police force. The goal is to honor our risen Lord and Savior with lives that comport to His glory and that reveal our true salvation. I have seen many people fail miserably but through repentance and renewal come to serve in ways far greater than at any time in their lives. I haven't just seen this a few times, but I've observed it numerous times through the years. Many Christians "trip up" and fall victim to temptation and the lures of the world. Such people don't need to be beaten up over their failure and that is not what church discipline is about. The entire purpose of dealing with sin in our lives as believers is so that God can renew us and use us in ways He intends.

You remember John Mark from the Book of Acts; he was with Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey of the New Testament Church in Antioch. Mark left Paul and Barnabas and deserted them while on that first journey. It was a terrible thing for him to do, and it upset Paul much more than Barnabas. Yet, we note that Mark recovered and was greatly used by God in the years that followed. He was not an outcase because of failure - he simply needed to deal with his lapse properly and then allow the Lord to help him go forward to do greater things.

Let's conclude with this thought ...


Imagine a person who cannot feel pain. Now, if you are person who lives with pain everyday that may sound like a good thing, but actually pain is a God-given protection. If a person cannot feel pain it is possible for that individual to touch something very hot and not realize it. The result could be the loss of fingers or a hand due to the damage done by the fire. Pain is a good thing – it protects us from unseen danger.

Now, think about a church that tries to avoid the pain of dealing with an immoral situation. Once the pain is avoided one time, it is easier to avoid it again. After a while you don’t even feel it any more at all. The results for that church is that it may well become a mockery before the world. Right now we see the terrible problems that some are having in parts of the religious world because they hid the facts concerning sexual abuse or financial misbehavior. The cost is high. The church is disdained by the world. The world looks at all churches and claims that we are all fakes and frauds. Only honest repentance and a new start will ever bring about that which God requires from the individual or the congregation.

When sin is in our lives, let us turn from it and repent. When sin is apparent in others within the kingdom of God, let us be the ones involved in seeking to rescue them. But, where sin is open and rebellion is clear, there must be open repentance and a new start in the life of that individual. When repentance is rejected, let the church deal with it as God teaches that we should.

(Other scriptures on this subject: Mathew 18:17; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6)