I wrote to 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 to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 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 person from among you.1 Corinthians 5:9-13
Paul refers to a letter that he had written to them, a letter that is lost to us. In it, Paul had evidently said something about not associating with immoral people, and the Corinthians had taken it to mean (as many Christians seem to feel today), that they were not to have anything to do with unbelievers who lived immoral lives.
I am amazed at how that very attitude which Paul was attempting to correct here in this letter has pervaded the evangelical world. I meet people who refuse to have anybody come into their homes who is not a Christian — people who want nothing to do with anybody who lives in a way that is offensive to the Lord. I remember in my early pastorate going to a couple and asking them to open their home for a Bible class. The lady looked horrified and said,
Oh! I could never do that. I asked,
Why, she said,
people who smoke would come in. My home is dedicated to God and I am not going to have any smoking going on there.
That is a misunderstanding of the very thing Paul is talking about. We cannot avoid the world — we were sent into it. The Lord Jesus said to his disciples,
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, (Matthew 10:16 KJV). That is where we belong. Their habits may be offensive to us, but that is understandable. We do not have to pronounce judgment on them; God will do that. We are to love them and understand that they do not have any basis of knowledge for a change. We are not to demand it of them before we begin to show friendship and love and reach out to them to help them to see their need, to see the One who can answer the hunger of their hearts. What we offer the world is the gospel, not condemnation but the good news.
But when it comes to the church, we are to judge the church for specific wrongdoings. Notice how Paul lists them. It is not because they are hard to live with or they are impatient people or they are obnoxious Christians — you are not to judge them on that basis. But if they are immoral, greedy, idolaters, revilers, drunkards or robbers then they are to be judged by the actions of the church, even to the point of social pressures:
Do not even eat with them, he says. If they will not listen, then withdraw from them. It comes at last to ultimate exclusion, as he has indicated in this passage. What health would return to the world, and to the church, if the church would begin to behave this way! The reason the world is going downhill rapidly is because the church lets it by not maintaining the standards that God has given to us here. The purpose of a passage like this is to call us back to what God has given us, and to recognize the unique position the church holds in the world today — when it begins to walk in the beauty of holiness and enjoy the privileges that God has given to us. When we live in victory over the forces that destroy others, then people begin to see that there is meaning, purpose and reason for the salvation we profess to have.
Thank you, Father, for your honest statement of what is the truth about me. You are the God of truth. You do not spare me, and you do not condemn me either. You do not wipe me out, but you do tell me the truth. We see behind it, Lord, your loving father's heart of concern. Help me to judge my life in these areas according to your Word, and to walk in the light and the power of it.
Do we share and care with God about the spiritual health of His Body? Are we judging non-Christians rather than targeting our individual and united godliness? What may be preventing our effective witness beyond the church walls?