bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[a] whom you are to judge? 13 God judges[b] those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

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My previous post discussed the first five verses of 1 Corinthians 5 wherein Paul said that church discipline was necessary to keep the congregation holy. Those guilty of sexual sin needed to be excluded from the congregation until they had repented.

Paul reprises this in verse 9. It is a sin to have a sexually immoral person in the congregation. Paul mentions ‘my letter’, which Matthew Henry’s commentary says could refer to a previous letter of his or this particular one (emphases mine below):

Some think this was an epistle written to them before, which is lost. Yet we have lost nothing by it, the Christian revelation being entire in those books of scripture which have come down to us, which are all that were intended by God for the general use of Christians, or he could and would in his providence have preserved more of the writings of inspired men. Some think it is to be understood of this very epistle, that he had written this advice before he had full information of their whole case, but thought it needful now to be more particular.

Paul then writes something interesting, clarifying that exclusion pertains to someone in the congregation but not from the world in general, because one would then need to leave the world altogether (verse 10). What is our purpose? To spread the Good News in whatever way we are able. Therefore, we must have contact with the world as it is.

John MacArthur explains:

You’ve got to get in the world, let your light shine in the world. You’re to be in the middle of the system. You’re to be contacting it, up against it, hearing what it’s thinking, seeing what it’s doing, and winning the people that are in it and loving them in the love of Jesus Christ without conforming to them

MacArthur points out that Paul names all the major sins in verse 10:

notice he classifies the sinners of the world in three primary categories: fornicators – or immoral – covetous – and extortioner ties right in with covetous – and idolaters. If you notice those three sins, you pretty well sum up the whole of human philosophy. Immorality is hedonism, covetousness is materialism, and idolatry is religionism, and it’s pretty well all there.

The sin of fornication is the sin against the body. Covetousness and extortion is the sin against others where you regard people as objects to be exploited, and the sin of idolatry is a sin against God where you allow something to substitute for God. So here you have all of the sins possible, against self, against others, against God. All of the kinds of philosophies, whether they be hedonism, the libertarian philosophy of the expression of the body, or covetousness, materialism, idolatry, religionism, it’s all there.

Verse 11, in which Paul tells the Corinthians not to associate with such people, might appear to contradict the previous verse. However, Paul is speaking of those in the Church, not the wider world. We know because he clarifies it with the words ‘anyone who bears the name of brother’.

Paul says that he is in no position to judge those outside the Church (verse 12). However, inside the church, judgement is another matter.

MacArthur says:

“What have I to do with outsiders?” Nothing. The literal way to translate the last part of verse 12 is this: “Is it not those within the church you are to judge?” Is it not those within the church you are to judge? And the answer is yes.

Now you say, “John, does this mean that everybody in the church has to be perfect?” No. No, because then there wouldn’t be a church. People always say, “Well, I don’t go to church. There’s so many imperfect people there.” The church never claimed to be the society of the perfection. The church is a hospital with people who at least know they’re sick, and they’re there because they seek to be what God wants them to be, and that’s all God’s asking. He’s not asking for perfection; He’s asking for the desire for it.

Think of it this way. Imagine a hospital had doctors and nurses who practised poor hygiene and infected patients causing them to become sicker and maybe die. That is an intolerable situation, wouldn’t you say? Think of the purity of the Church in the same way as you would a hospital. We should want the best of spiritual care in a church in the same way we would expect hygienic physical care in a hospital. High standards, all the time.

Paul concludes by saying that God is the only one capable of judging those outside the Church (verse 13).

MacArthur thinks that these verses must have had a huge impact on the Corinthians:

that must have hit like an absolute bomb in the Corinthian assembly when that was read. You know why? Every one of those sins can be found in 1 Corinthians. They were immoral, right here in chapter 5, that was the start. They were covetous, chapter 10:24, he tells them to quit being greedy for things and seek other people’s wealth. They were also idolatrous in chapter 10, 20, and 21. They were going to the assembly of the believers, and they were going to worship at the pagan temple, and they were having fellowship with demons.

Not only that, they were slanderers. They had these little factions, and one group was slandering another group. Even when Paul sends Timothy in 16:11, he tells them, “Now, you be easy on Timothy, and don’t speak evil of him” because this is what they were doing. They were drunkards. In 11:21, it says they would come to the Lord’s supper and get drunk at the Lord’s supper. They were extortioners, according to chapter 6. They were taking each other to court and they were taking money from each other, and it caused all kinds of conflicts and problems. Every single one of those sins that are mentioned there was characteristic of the Corinthian assembly.

And he says, “Look, you find all those people and put them out.” You know, they probably would have had a handful of people left if they’d really done it. You say, “Isn’t that the opposite of church growth?” That’s really part of it if your growth is on the right basis. You can’t just accept everybody who calls himself a Christian, no matter what he does.

We expect the world to be imperfect. However, the Church should be synonymous with purity. These days, we have some work to do in that regard. Pray for our clergy and for our people.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 6:1-8