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Where to Draw the Line
Brett Anderson ©2005

Well it was inevitable I guess, although no-one actually quoted this passage to me, but it's been going around in my head and so I thort in the context of what I've been writing on lately, I had better go and read it and maybe say some stuff about it:

"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have PUT OUT OF YOUR FELLOWSHIP the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgement on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

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."

[1 Corinthians 5:1-13]

Wow! Hectic stuff! So how does this all sit with Belong, Believe, Behave? And this is in direct response to my friend Sammi's question 'So where do you draw the lines?'

UNDERSTANDING WHERE GOD STANDS ON THE MATTER

I do think the key underlying principle of this whole passage is linked to the concept of God's feeling about sin. And I really believe that this is an area where we as Christians often underestimate God or miss the point when it comes to His holiness. Because God absolutely hates sin. He doesn't just not think it's such a cool thing. He hates and abhors and detests it. It is everything that is vile to Him.

From one perspective it is the reason for His Son Jesus having to die which should be reason enough. But the definition of sin is that it is being/thinking/feeling/acting anti-God. Going against His way or plan or instruction or being. It is not so much 'doing our own thing' as 'being in direct opposition to His thing.' When we lose sight of this (as I think so many of us have, often because we have misunderstood and abused the concept of grace, seeing it more as 'it doesn't matter that we sin' than 'God, out of His love and mercy has made a way for us to be delivered from our sin.')

"Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked." [Psalm 97:10]

"You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." [Psalm 45:7]

"Seek good, not evil that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say He is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts." [Amos 5:14-15a]

So don't be mistaken for a moment - God hates evil. He is absolutely against it. If we realised that a little bit more then I think maybe we would start to understand and appreciate just how amazing His grace is, that allows Him to cancel out the punishment of sin over us because of what Jesus did on the cross, in substitution for us.

So maybe when we start to understand God's hardcore attitude to sin, then this passage will make a lot more sense. It is talking directly about believers who are sinning and from the passage it appears blatantly so. So people, who know better, who are living in sin. They are the ones God is saying we must deal harshly with by putting out of the fellowship.

I mean look at the language that is being used: 'hand this man over to satan' - a bit extreme Paul don't you think. Yet if we understand God's feelings with regards to sin, then maybe we would choose to side more often with God than man. Because that's really what we're doing, isn't it? When we condone sin, when we call what is sin 'not sin ', when we actively allow it to take place in our churches and homes without facing it head on, aren't we really just choosing to side with man over God?

The hatred God feels towards sin and the ruthlessness with which He deals with sin sent Jesus to the cross. Think about that!

WHAT IS THE DRIVING FORCE?

But lest ye flee from the cracking of my whip (sorry, but the flu seems to be allowing Charlton Heston to channel through me or Indiana Jones or someone...) let's take a moment to look at another side of things.

Why is this all done that way? "so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord" Not so much for the purposes of having a clean tidy church with no messiness, but for the sake of the person living in the sin. The motivation for all of this is, as always, Love. With a capital LOVE!

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God demonstrated His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us." [1 John 4:7-12]

In fact in his later letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that 'Christ's love compels us!' [2 Cor 5:14] and that is the key. Our motivation is of paramount importance to how we live this out.

Our motivation of love for God should help us to connect with how He views sin and to act accordingly.

Our motivation of love for our fellow Christian should cause us to act decisively in our dealing with their blatant sin that thyey are living in, so as to not simply allow them to live in sin. Cos as much as living in sin can be fun and seem beneficial to the person, it is the worst place for us to be as it negatively affects our relationship with God, possible causes Him not to hear our prayers (Psalm 66:18) and negatively affects our relationship with others and our witness to non-believers.

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you may also be tempted." [Galatians 6:1]

"Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is broughy by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning." [1 Timothy 5:19-20]

...and then more importantly (lest you like me start thinking it's just Paul who was on that kick) Jesus Himself sets out a model (within the church body) of how to deal with a brother who sins against you [Matthew 18:15-17] which is obviously a slightly different context, but which concerns judging those within the church and also leaves a space for removing him from the church if he persists in his behaviour ("treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.")

WAIT JUST ONE SECOND...

But what about the 'do not judge' and 'speck and plank' analogy? [Matthew 7] Someone asked me about that recently and I went and looked at it and my understanding of that comes from verse 3, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and PAY NO ATTENTION to the plank in your own eye?" So the focus seems to be more on indescriminate judging of others. The parable Jesus uses here goes on to say that once you've dealt with your plank, you can deal with your neighbour's speck. So I don't think it is saying, there is no place for noticing sin and dealing with it (in the correct way) but I think the key is to not ignore the sin in your own life in your enthusiasm to bring others to correction.

CONCLUSIONARY REMARKS

Okay, so let me try sum up what I've tried to say here:

There is a distinction between how we treat believers and non- believers who sin that is apparent from Scripture.

We do not have a right to judge non-Christians who don't believe what we do anyway, but must invite them to have an experience of Jesus by loving them unconditionally and welcoming them into our church meetings.

Understanding God's heart towards sin (and His love for sinners) will help us to gain a greater understanding of what is the right way to live this out, rather than what we might choose to do in the situation with regards to excusing sin as allowable.

The motivation for our behaviour when dealing with sin within the church should be love. We are acting our ot our response to God's immense love for us, which recognises how He feels about sin. We are also acting out of love for our neighbour and for their greater good, trusting that they will be restored, rather than hoping for their punishment.

There is a primary importance for each one of us to be looking at our own life first and dealing with the sin that is evident there and sorting that out with God before making such a big thing of someone else's sin.

God bless you and all the best as we try live this stuff out, which we can only do by God's grace and through His Spirit living in us. This isn't about us trying harder but about submitting our whole life to God and allowing Him to transform us and the choices we make.