“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 Co 5:12-13].
In the small town where I live, a popular Protestant pastor recently came under heavy criticism because of an action that he had taken against a couple in his congregation. A woman who heads up the Children’s Ministry programs at that particular church was relieved of her ministry when the pastor learned that she was living with a man who was not her husband. When the pastor first learned of this, he rightly called the couple into his office in order to learn if what had reached his ears was indeed true. When they told him that it was true, he then tried to counsel them in the ways of God. The couple, however, refused to believe that what they were doing was offensive in the sight of God and would not do anything to change their situation. As a result, the woman was relieved of her ministry in the church. (The man was not relieved of any ministry because he did not have one).
Some of my friends attend this particular church, and they were outraged that the pastor removed the woman from her ministry in the church. Who was he to judge? When they asked me what I thought, my statements were blunt and to the point. I told them that the pastor of the church was too lenient toward this couple; if it had taken place in Paul’s day, the unrepentant couple would have been ousted, not from ministry, but from the church. In my opinion, the church leader didn’t do enough.
We are living in a day and age where people have become so touchy, so easily offended, and so politically and religiously correct, that it is becoming harder and harder for truth to prevail, even in the churches. Church leaders who stand for that truth are openly criticized, condemned, and crucified by the indignant masses who respond as they do because, truth be told, they are ignorant of the Sacred Scriptures.
In the book of First Corinthians, we learn of a situation that was taking place in the Corinthian congregation. Paul had learned that a situation involving sexual immorality was taking place in the church, and of a kind that wasn’t even taking place among pagans: a man was having sexual intercourse with his father’s wife! Instead of being filled with grief, the people in this church were proud of this situation. They were touched. They thought it was beautiful and heartwarming. When Paul wrote to them, his words were blunt and to the point: “Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” [1 Co 5:2]. He then instructed the church as follows: “hand this man over to Satan, so that his sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” His final instructions to the church regarding this man were as follows: “Expel the wicked man from among you.” [1 Co 5:13].
Before I proceed any further, it must be understood that Paul is not teaching that everyone in Christ who sins against God must be put out of the church. If such were the case, who among us would remain? What he is teaching, however, is that when you have situations in which a professing Christian refuses to repent, that individual must be removed from the church. The “evil must be purged from among God’s people” because of the fact that “a little yeast has power to work through the entire batch of dough.” Sin and rebellion against God are contagious. If the people of the church in Corinth tolerated this type of sexual immorality, it would only be a matter of time before the church as a whole tolerated every other type of sin. Once a church starts dropping its standards in one area, it’s only a matter of time before that church won’t have any standards at all. Satan never stops with compromise in one area; he always causes it to spread like a cancer to other areas as well. If he can get people to become desensitized to sin in one area, he will continue to work until they have become desensitized to sin in every area. Therefore, unrepentant sin must be uprooted and purged from among God’s people because of the disastrous consequences that will result if it is not dealt with.
Was Paul being harsh, unmerciful, and unloving, as church leaders are often accused of being when they take a stand against professing Christians who refuse to repent of open sin? Absolutely not. In fact, if we take a close look at his instructions in his epistle, we will see clearly what Paul’s motive was for expelling the unrepentant man from the church. When Paul instructed the people to “hand the unrepentant man over to Satan so that his sinful nature would be destroyed but his spirit saved on the day of the Lord,” what was he saying? What he was saying was this: Remove this man from the church since he refuses to repent of his sin. Let him indulge in his sin to his heart’s content. Let him be given over to that which is sinful in the sight of the Lord, and let him reap what he has sown. Since he wants to live Satan’s way and not God’s way, hand him over to Satan. Let Satan have him. Eventually, this man will discover the hard truth concerning allegiance to Satan, for Satan is a tyrant. Satan will make his life so wretched and miserable, that hopefully, the man will come to his senses, repent of his sin, and run back into the arms of Christ with all of his heart, crying out for mercy and forgiveness. And so, his spirit will be saved.
And you know what? This is exactly what happened! In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian congregation, we find out what happened after the church followed Paul’s instructions by expelling the unrepentant man from among them. In chapter two, we learn that the man became filled with sorrow and remorse for his sin because of the strong action that the church took against him when he refused to repent of it. When Paul learned that the man had repented, he instructed the church as follows: “The punishment inflicted on him…is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” [2 Co 2:6-8]. The man was allowed back into the fellowship of believers once more. Not only this, but Paul instructed the church that they were to forgive this man and to reaffirm their love for him so that he would not be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow. When a Christian repents and feels true remorse for his sin, the last thing the church should do is treat him like a permanent outcast for the rest of his life. If God has forgiven him, then His people must forgive him. If God remembers his sin no more, then His people must remember it no more. If God has restored him to fellowship with Him, then His people should do likewise.
What kind of outcome do you think would have occurred if Paul and the other church members had decided to just look the other way regarding this man’s sin “in the name of love, tolerance, and unconditional acceptance?” Do you think this man would have repented? I can almost guarantee you that he would not have done so. When churches do not take a stand against sin, the people are misled to believe that what they are doing is not sin. If it is condoned, it will be regarded as acceptable in the sight of God.
In the Old Testament, God laid down certain laws that the children of Israel were to follow. If there were rebellious individuals who refused to follow His laws, God’s instructions regarding them were as follows: “You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” [Dt 19:19-20].
Even in the New Testament church, we read of Christ purging out the evil from among his people and the godly fear that occurred within the church as a result of this purging. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, we read of a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Because this couple had lied to the Holy Spirit, they were struck dead by Christ. Jesus immediately “purged the evil” from among His church. As a result, “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” [Ac 5:11]. I can guarantee you that if anyone in that church was tempted to repeat the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, they thought twice before doing so.
Was Jesus “being mean” when He did what he did? Was He being “harsh and unloving?” No, Jesus was being holy. I fear that many in today’s churches have forgotten that our God is a holy God, who demands holiness from His people. Because sin is not being properly confronted, addressed, and dealt with in many churches today, Christ’s church has become filled with uncleanness, pollution, and the corruption of this world. Many who sit in the pews have lost their fear of God.
If you have a priest or bishop who isn’t afraid to take a stand against sin among God’s people, you need to stand by him. Do you not understand that he will one day stand before God to give an account for how he led Christ’s flock? Better to be dealt with by the priest or the bishop than by Christ Himself. I can assure you that if Ananias and Sapphira were given a choice between Paul’s dealings with their sins and Christ’s dealings, they would have opted for the former. The Son of God is a holy God; He doesn’t mess around when it comes to unrepentant sin, godlessness, and irreverence among His people, and neither should we. He sometimes deals with His people harshly in order to send a message to the rest of His church, as we see in the case of Ananias and Sapphira.
In the Corinthian churches, there were some who were taking Holy Communion in an unworthy manner. Paul taught the people that if they ate the bread or drank of the cup in an unworthy manner, they would be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Paul then instructed the people that before they ate of the bread and drank of the cup, they needed to examine their lives before God, “for anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Because there were some in the church who were not doing this, Christ Himself entered into judgment against them. He didn’t wait for the church leaders to deal with the lack of holiness and irreverence taking place within His church; He himself dealt with it. As a result, many of the people in the church became weak and sick. A good number of them even died!
In his first epistle to the church, St. Peter wrote as follows: “It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God…” [1 Pe 4:17]. Brothers and sisters, we need to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. I believe that before the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are going to see a great purging take place within Christ’s churches. This purging will be carried out by Christ Himself. It will take place, not because Jesus is harsh and unloving, but because He desires to present the Church to Himself as a radiant bride, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish. He is coming back for a holy and blameless people, and many in today’s churches are not in a state of readiness for His return. He has patiently waited and waited for the churches to repent, but many are not doing so. They are not doing so because in the age of tolerance in which we live, they have been desensitized to those things which God calls sin, and they do not believe that what they are doing is wrong.
If Jesus Himself did not hesitate to purge the evil from among His people in the days of the early church, we are only deceiving ourselves if we believe that He will not do the same among us, especially when the condition of His church in the 21st century is much worse than it was in the 1st century. That He has not already begun to judge His church speaks volumes of His incomparable strength, mercy, and patience. But His intervention must come, and it shall come, for if it does not, most will not be ready to stand before Him when He returns.
Many of us have completely lost our fear of Christ in the church. We have forgotten Who He is and the holiness for which He stands. We have watered down and distorted the truths of God’s Word in order to get them to line up with the standards by which we have chosen to live instead of lining our lives up with those truths. When church leaders take a stand against those within the church who refuse to repent of their sin, it is they who are condemned, and not the unrepentant party.
God will not be mocked. At His appointed time Christ Himself will intervene, and He will deal with the condition of His church. The day of His visitation will surely come. Maybe you have found comfort because you have finally found a church and a church leader who “understands” your situation. Maybe you’ve even found a church leader who has convinced you that what you are doing is not a sin in the sight of Christ. What I say to you I say in love. Your comfort and security are false and will be short-lived, beloved.
Christ, the true Head of His Church, is coming. At His First Coming, zeal for His Father’s household consumed him. He went through the Temple of God carrying a whip. He drove out and overturned everything that did not belong in His Father’s holy house of prayer. Will He do any less among His Father’s household before His Second Coming?
All too often the Roman Catholic Church is criticized both by the media and her own people within her because of the stands she takes when it comes to sin. The liberals among us want God on their terms because serving Him on His terms costs too much. They do everything within their power to change those terms and to put pressure on church leaders who refuse to yield to their persistence. Whether they want to accept this truth or not, God’s standards of holiness, as well as His righteous requirements will never be changed. Men might change the laws, but in the court of Heaven, God’s laws remain the same. When the Lord returns, you and I will be judged according to His laws, and not man’s laws. If a homosexual finds a minister who will marry him to another man, does that minister’s acceptance of his way of life change God’s laws in Heaven? If the unrepentant woman mentioned at the beginning of this article finds another church that does not have a problem with her fornication, does this mean that God doesn’t?
Of what use is it, brothers and sisters, to resist and rebel against church leaders who are not afraid to “purge the evil from among us” if God Himself will do it in their stead if they shirk their duty? Is it not better to have one’s sin dealt with now on the earth than in eternity when we stand before God?
Our personal opinions and beliefs about the way in which we or others choose to live count for nothing. What counts is God’s Truth and what He says.
It is an act of mercy when church leaders put people out of the church when they refuse to repent; it is what is expected of them by God. Better to be dealt with by man than by God. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira.
We need to wake up from our “politically correct” and “tolerant” slumber. Love and mercy do not mean that one looks the other way or condones unrepentant sin when it is occurring within a church. Sin pollutes Christ’s church. We are called to be “the aroma of Christ” before the throne of God, but when we allow sin to go unchecked in the church, it rises up before Him as a stench in His nostrils. Not only this, but God’s Spirit will not move among us when our churches are filled with unrepentant sin.
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were instructed by God as follows so that there would always be cleanness in the camp: “Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself…When you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that He will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.” [Dt 23:12-14].
Sin is excrement. It belongs outside the church. It does not belong inside the church, for the Lord our God moves about in His church in order to protect us and to deliver us from our enemies. The church must be holy so that Christ will not see among us anything indecent and turn away from us. If we are wondering why it seems like the Spirit of God no longer moves mightily among God’s churches as He did in days long past, perhaps the reason lies with us. Perhaps He sees the excrement of unrepentant sin scattered all throughout His church, where it does not belong. Perhaps it is the pollution of indecent living among many who profess to serve Him that has caused Him to turn away.
Let us examine our own lives before the Lord to make sure that we are not one of those who may be “polluting His camp.” Let us be willing to stand behind church leaders who follow the example of Christ and Paul and are not afraid to deal with unrepentant sin within the churches. These men are doing what Christ expects of them as overseers of His flocks. They are our beloved brothers and fathers who deserve our support, not our criticism. They are going to answer to Christ for the way in which they led His flock, not to man.
It is better to have sin dealt with by a church leader on earth, than to have it dealt with by Christ when we step into eternity. The choice is ours to make, brothers and sisters. For the sake of our soul and our standing before God…
…let’s make that choice the right one.
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