Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 5 - 6 ...
Being a part of the visible church is a voluntary thing. No one forces you to be part of it, and you can leave it whenever you want. People do it all the time. I read recently that one of the most popular mega-churches in the country has hundreds of names removed from its membership roles every year. It's sad, but true, that a commitment to the church is taken lightly by many ... but it shouldn't be! A commitment to Christ must lead believers to a commitment to His Body, the Church. It is here that the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts and minds of those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ!
The Corinthians displayed the same reckless view of the church that many do today. Paul is amazed that they are tolerating incest, among other obvious sins, within the church. He tells them to "hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord" (5:5). What could Paul possibly mean? And why would you write such a thing in a letter to a church?
First, Paul was concerned about this man’s spiritual welfare. It is the responsibility of the Elders of the Church to watch over souls of the congregation. When Paul writes, “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed,” God is saying that the Church is called to exercise what we call “church discipline.” Those who continue in sin without repentance are in effect “choosing sides” with Satan. They are rebelling against God! Paul is saying that in order for his spirit to be saved on the day of the Lord he needs to see the serious consequences of his sin and repent and trust in Christ.
Secondly, Paul is concerned for the Church. He writes, “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch – as you really are” (5:6-7). He goes on to explain that the “old bread” was “leavened with malice and wickedness,” which are contrary to their new nature in Christ. The “unleavened bread” is directed toward “sincerity and truth” (5:8). Jesus came to establish His Church, shedding His own blood to pay the penalty for sin. Jesus did not come to gather a people who would join an organization called a church and then go on living however they pleased, still enslaved by the sinful nature.
Paul tells the Corinthians that the community of believers has been "sanctified," set apart by God to bring Him glory. So he tells them not to associate with those who are sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler ... he doesn't mean those OUTSIDE the church, but those INSIDE! "Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside" (5:12-13).
This is serious business! Those within the church are supposed to hold one another accountable ... but accountable to what? God's Word! It's not up to us to determine what is right or wrong, what is pleasing to God and what is not. God has revealed HIS standard and each of us is accountable to Him. In the Church God has established Elders, who are called to oversee the Body. The writer of Hebrews is talking about these leaders when he says, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13:17).
Having dealt with a specific situation, Paul goes on in Chapter 6 to speak to the believers in Corinth about the importance of rightly handling internal disputes. It is important to put these instructions to practical use in the Church today. Denominational disputes have often led to one “side” or the other enlisting a lawyer and even bringing lawsuits against brothers and sisters in Christ. Such should not be so. One side or the other (preferably both) should hear what Paul says in Chapter 6, verse 7: "Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?" (6:7).
We exist ... the Church exists, to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God says, and we believe, that those who remain in bondage to sin "will not inherit the kingdom of God!" (6:9). Love for those who remain in sin without repentance requires speaking truth and calling them to repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. And the good news of the Gospel is that those who DO repent and who turn from their sin are "washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (6:11). Living in unconfessed, habitual sin is bondage, and Jesus came to set His children FREE!!
To the Corinthians, and to us, God says, "the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (6:13). Living as a disciple of Jesus is not simply a spiritual exercise, it is a "total makeover!” Our bodies are the "temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price!" (6:19-20). God calls believers to live in holiness and gives us HIS standard in His Word. All who believe are called to obedience.
Yes, the church is a voluntary institution. You can come and you can go. But following Jesus Christ and being part of HIS body, the true Church, is a calling that requires commitment. By God's grace we enter into a covenant with God by faith, and His Spirit dwells within us, enabling us to be what God calls us to be and to do what God calls us to do. Yes, "there is power in the blood!"
Know today that Jesus cares what goes on in His body, and those of us who take His name upon us are accountable ... to Him AND to each other. By the grace of God, we need to encourage one another and hold one another up, and if necessary, to break fellowship in order to impress on a brother or sister the seriousness of their sin. Thank God for godly Elders and leaders who love the flock enough to care about sin and to call people to repentance. God's forgiveness is available to all!
"Father, living together as disciples of Jesus is challenging at times. We need Your Spirit to lead us and we are thankful for the guidance of Your Word. Give us wisdom, Father, to live out our calling in a way that honors You and that builds up the Body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Remind us daily that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, that we might not accept sin, but turn from it. In Jesus' name, Amen"