The Man of Hurtful Influence
The Man of Hurtful Influence
Words of Faith 5-18-17
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2017
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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1 Corinthians 5
 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
So what is the local church supposed to do when one of its members-- a brother or sister in Christ-- falls back into a lifestyle of unrepentant sin? Does the church just look the other way and hope for the best? Do we take a "judge not lest we be judged" approach?
The believers at Corinth had been struggling with some of these issues for a while. They had inquired to Paul about how to handle situations of unrepentant immorality among them. Paul had written a previous letter giving instructions similar to this one, but the Corinthians had misunderstood.
Instead of separating themselves from believers who were acting in an immoral way, they applied this to those outside the church. It was an interesting response-- "Let's not worry about those in our own house. Instead, let's be judgmental toward those out there in the world." That was not what Paul had instructed at all.
Paul was not advocating a monastic life or a separatist model for living. He never advocated judging those in the world and separating from them by refusing to associate with them. The idea was laughable. How could one separate themselves from the immoral, greedy, swindlers and idolaters in Corinth? It was impossible without leaving the world completely! It is just as impossible today.
The instruction of Paul concerned people in the church who had turn away from God, were caught in sin, and refused to allow the Lord to restore them. Anyone who called themselves a "brother"-- that is, they still claim the name of Christ-- and yet boldly continued to sin without repentance, should be cut off from fellowship. Believers should not endorse this manner of living by association.
Paul was not talking about broken people who struggle with sin and its effects. He was not talking about creating a judgmental atmosphere within the church that looks for every little flaw and sin in the lives of fellow believers. Paul was talking about the extreme situation of a person who still claimed to be a Christian believer and yet was in active rebellion against God. He did not say that ministry to this person should not continue in an effort to help them come to repentance and restoration.
The discipline Paul called for was exclusion from close fellowship with other members. This certainly would have included eating the communal meal, the Lord's Supper. Other social contact might also have been excluded. It was unlikely, however, that the sanctioned individual was barred from all congregational meetings, for the church's ministry might lead to the conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit and repentance.
Paul makes it clear in many places that God is our judge. To those in Athens, Paul declared, "For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). Certainly God is the judge of those outside of the church. We are not to judge those who have not come to Christ. We are to proclaim Good News to them.
But for those within the church, we are to responsibly administer church discipline in the extreme circumstance of unrepentant sin. When efforts to "gently restore" a brother or sister fail (Gal. 6:1-2), some structure of the local church-- whether congregation, elders, council or board-- is to "put away" or "separate" that "wicked man" from among the close fellowship of the church. Great care must go into such a process so that we do not fall back into the sort of "rule keeping" religion that Jesus sought to correct (Luke 6:41-42).
It is important for us to see that the Greek word that Paul used here for "wicked man" does not describe a person who is "evil in character" or even "degenerate from virtue". A good translation might be the "man of hurtful influence". The word Paul used speaks to the hurtful effect and influence of a person who is ill or diseased, or caught up in rebellion.
The word translated "wicked" speaks to the damage that is done to others through viciousness, mischief, illness or malice. The action Paul speaks of is a sort of "quarantine" to protect other believers from abuse, and prayerfully, a therapy that will move the rebellious believer to repentance.
What does all this mean for us personally? We need to recognize the responsibility to God and to the Body of Christ to be careful in our own actions and in the covenant of life together. The message of Reconciliation is our Gospel to the world. The message of Repentance is vital within the church not as a one-time event but as an ongoing lifeline.
This ministry of Restoration is vital to the church as we regularly seek to gently put broken parts of the Body back into place. The ministry careful Discipline is vital to protect the Body from those who are ill or rebellious-- and to bring the stubborn back to repentance. It is a big order, but this is the call of the Lord who provides the power of His Spirit.
Father God, help us to become the church You want us to be. Help us, as the Body, to bring the message of Reconciliation to the world and the ministry of repentance and restoration to Your people. Teach us the gentle ministry of caring for those who have slipped out of fellowship. Give us churches of integrity that carefully listen and follow You. In Jesus' Name.