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Sordid scandals

You must cast this man out of the church and into Satan’s hands, so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved when the Lord returns. — 1 Corinthians 5:5

The pagan world in which Paul lived was similar to ours, not least in that it was a sex-saturated society. Corinth, in particular, was known for its sexual promiscuity.

The Christian church had taken root all across the Roman Empire and was set apart from the rest of society by her convictions. Christians’ view of sex as a divine gift to be enjoyed exclusively in the confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage was well-known and widely disparaged.

The believers in the Corinthian church were an unfortunate exception. They prided themselves in their “freedom,” which had taken a particularly unsavory turn. One of the men in the congregation was “living in sin with his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1).

If this was not serious enough, the church was proud that they were “spiritual” enough to accept what was happening. So Paul found it necessary to point out to them that even pagans would draw the line at that kind of behavior. The church was so out of step with spiritual reality that they had not only done nothing about the man’s behavior, but also had taken pride in their failure to do so! He asked, “Why aren’t you mourning in sorrow and shame?” (5:2).

Paul had no doubt about what action the church should take. The man should be removed from membership of the church for at least two reasons.

First, his removal from the protective spiritual environment of the fellowship of believers would “cast” the man “into Satan’s hands”—not in order to destroy him but “so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved when the Lord returns” (5:5). The drastic action was intended to be remedial, not vindictive.

Second, his removal would counter the serious danger that his continued presence presented to the fellowship. Paul asked, “Don’t you realize that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be affected?” (5:6). This is a serious consideration indeed!

This kind of teaching is rare in many churches, which usually has one of two results. In some churches, sexual scandals are either carefully ignored or promptly forgiven. In other churches, the church embarks on a witch hunt where the wounded are shot, the believers withdraw from all contact with sinners, and a hard, harsh, separatist, and irrelevant church emerges.

There is nothing new about scandalous sexual behavior inside and outside the church. And there is no shortage of teaching in Scripture about how to deal with it. Sadly, there is often a shortage of firm, loving discipline that prizes the church’s integrity. And there is often a shortage of loving, caring concern for the erring person that prizes their redemption.

Contrary to popular belief, love and discipline are not mutually exclusive. The church needs both.

For Further Study: 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.