How Satan Saves the Soul
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber -- 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 whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you."
If you are not a member of Bethlehem, and did not receive the mailing concerning the adultery and ongoing unrepentant sin of one of our members and missionaries, you need to know that this heart-rending situation is the reason for this sermon this morning. I will save the necessary details for the following time of prayer and church action. Suffice it to say now that we are not dealing in the abstract with this text. Our aim is to understand and obey what it teaches. I enter this next hour with more "fear and trembling" than, I think, any other morning of my ministry. Not for fear that we are wrong, but for fear of what God is going to do in judgment.
I urge you with all my heart to turn your attention now to what the Bible says concerning the presence of impenitent immorality in the body of Christ.
The Situation in Corinth
The situation in Corinth is that a man is having sexual relations with his mother or his step mother. Verse 1: "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife." The phrase "his father's wife" may imply that the woman is not his biological mother. I may imply that his father is a widower or is divorced, and has remarried. The father may be alive. Or he may be dead. Paul does not say that any of these cases would change the sinfulness of what is happening: the son "has" the father's wife. And Paul calls it "immorality"—a kind of immorality that even the non-Christian gentiles condemn.
The immorality was not a one-night stand followed by broken-hearted repentance (which would have resulted in a very different response from Paul). The verse says, "Someone HAS (not, "had"—an ongoing present tense) his father's wife." There is no repentance, no fleeing from this immorality.
In fact, there is not only no repenting; there is brazen boasting. What verse 2 shows is how the church responded to the immorality in the church and how it should have responded. Verse 2: "And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst."
Toleration of Sin Is Sinful
I think it should give us great pause—even shock us—that the diagnosis of the problem at Corinth is exactly the opposite from the diagnosis in many churches today. Today when discipline doesn't happen the diagnosis is often that we are too humble to discipline a person: Who are we to point our finger? Who are we to judge? Who are we to cast the first stone? And so a supposed humility is made the basis of tolerance of impenitent immorality in the church.
On the other hand, today if a church does follow through on discipline it is often diagnosed as coming straight from pharisaical pride. Indignation at sin is often portrayed as a cloak for insecurity and a veil over the Pharisees' own sexual temptations. A kind of "holier-than-thou" attitude is said to be the basis of the indignation and arrogance is said to be the basis of the excommunication.
Now that may be true. But does it give you pause and make you think hard and examine your hearts (it did me) when you read in verse 2 that Paul's diagnosis of the problem at Corinth was exactly the opposite? There, arrogance was the basis of tolerance, and broken-hearted humility should have been the basis of excommunication.
He said, "You have become arrogant." People in the church were actually boasting in this immorality. Now how could that be? What kind of theology would give rise to boasting in immorality? We have seen it in Paul's letters elsewhere. It says, "Let us sin that grace may abound" (Rom. 3:8; 6:1). So it's a theology that misunderstands the power of grace, and turns it into license. It's a theology that misunderstands freedom and uses it as "an opportunity for the flesh" (Gal. 5:13), and says (as they were saying at Corinth) "all things are lawful for me" (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). And so they were boasting in their freedom and in the tolerance of grace. Pride was the basis of sinful toleration not pharisaical judgment.
True Humility Does the Hard Work
And humility, as Paul presented it, was the basis of excommunication not toleration. ". . . You have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst." "Blessed are those who mourn," Jesus said. Blessed are the meek and broken hearted who know the horror of sin and their own vulnerabilities and failures and offenses against God. These are the ones, Paul says, who will remove the impenitent one from the church. True brokenness and sorrow is the basis of excommunication.
True Biblical brokenness does not say, "I could never judge a brother like that." True Biblical brokenness believes verses 9-13 and submits to the authority of the apostle.
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
Biblical brokenness submits to the painful, risky, time-consuming, often oppressive process of church discipline. It says, "I will take the log out of my eye that I may see clearly to do whatever eye-surgery the Bible calls upon me to do." It says, "I will look to myself lest I too be tempted as I try to follow God's counsel in excluding another in the hope of reconciliation." Humility does not tell God how to be gracious. It listens and tries to obey with fear and trembling.
Cleanse Out the Old Leaven
One of our men told me on Friday morning that as he was praying for Daryl, he simply broke down weeping. He is not the only one. That is the spirit in which we come this morning: the means of removing someone from the church is the mourning of humility, not pride. Biblical humility does not say, "We could never do that." On the contrary Paul says it is pride that resists putting the immoral man out.
Look at verse 6: "Your boasting (there's the pride) is not good." Why not? First, because it was rooted in ignorance. The verse goes on: "Do you not know (there's the ignorance) that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?" In other words, "In your supposed knowledge of grace and freedom you are destroying the church." They would have never dreamed that by boasting in grace and freedom they were corrupting and destroying the church from the inside out.
So Paul says in verse 7, "Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed." For a week after the Passover lamb was sacrificed in Israel the house was supposed to be free from all leaven, all yeast. Paul takes this as a picture of sin in the church. Christ is now our Passover Lamb. And our Passover celebration does not last one week but for a lifetime. The leaven of sin is to be put out permanently. We never make peace with sin again. We fight it and confess it and flee it and never boast in its presence.
But the pride at Corinth was saying, "Christ has been sacrificed for our sins, therefore we can sin and grace will abound." But Paul said, "Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, therefore clean out the old leaven."
When I spoke to Daryl on the phone to plead with him to repent and return to his wife and his church and his Savior the last text I used was Titus 2:14, "[Christ] gave Himself for us, that He might . . . purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." In other words Christ died to cleanse the leaven of sin out of our lives and out of the church. And I said, "Daryl, to choose impurity week after week, without repentance, is to choose against the purpose of the cross and to thrust a sword into Jesus' side with every new act of immorality. He did not just die to pardon your sin, he died to empower you against sin. And those who do not embrace the power of the cross to fight their sin will not have the pardon of the cross to forgive their sin."
The pride of Corinth was that they presumed to cut Christ asunder. They thought they could have him as one who pardons and reject him as one who purifies.
To that Paul gives a clear answer in verse 7: No. But "clean out the old leaven, that you may be" what you really are in Christ—unleavened and pure. For if you do not act like what you are, you aren't. The proof of your pardon is your passion for purity.
What then shall they do? And what should we do?
God Can Use Satan to Sanctify
Paul says in verse 2 and 7 and 13 that the man who is guilty of this impenitent immorality is to be removed from the church: "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves" (v. 13). But he gives his answer more fully in verses 3-5: "For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present." In other words Paul cannot be there in person, but says that he will exert what influence he can from a distance (perhaps by prayer) to see that the discipline is effective.
He goes on in verse 4: "In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled [which is why we are not doing this in private, but in the assembly of the church], and I with you in spirit [in other words, you can count on Paul's approval and the presence of his influence by prayer], with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided [that you ought] to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
It may be that simply putting a person out of the covenant community is the same as handing him over to Satan, but I don't think so. When Paul says at the end of verse 4, "with the power of the Lord Jesus," I think he shows us that something more is happening—something that takes the power of Jesus to perform. Paul did it at least one other time that we know about (1 Tim. 1:20): "I have handed over Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan so that they may be taught not to blaspheme."
What seems to be in view is something like what happened in the book of Job. The only other place in the Bible outside Paul's letters where "handing someone over to Satan" with these very words occurs is Job 2:6, which says, literally, "And the Lord said to the Devil, 'Behold I hand him [Job] over to you. Only spare his life.'"
The next verse says, "Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head." And the result of God's gracious purpose? Job 42:6-7: "Now my eye sees you [O Lord] and I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
So Satan became the means under God's sovereign control of purifying Job's heart and bringing him closer than ever to God. This is not the only place where God uses Satan to do that. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul describes his thorn in the flesh as a messenger of Satan which God appoints for Paul's humility and Christ's glory. Verse 7: "To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself!"
When Paul prayed that Jesus would take it away, the answer he got was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Notice that the one who is in control of whether the "messenger of Satan" stays or goes is Christ. This is why it is so significant in our text (v. 4) when Paul says that handing someone over to Satan is "with the power of the Lord Jesus." We don't have the power or the authority in ourselves to do this.
I close with what I hope will feel as hopeful to you as it does to me. Jesus is Satan's ruler. And he uses Satan, our archenemy, to save and sanctify his people. He brought Job to penitence and prosperity. He brought Paul to the point where he could exult in tribulation and make the power of Christ manifest.
And Paul hopes that the result of handing over this man to Satan will be the salvation of his spirit at the day of Christ. In other words, Paul's aim—our aim—in handing someone over to Satan is that some striking misery will come in such a way that the person will say with Job, "My eyes have seen the Lord, and I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
It could be boils. It could be blindness. It could be AIDS. And it would be as nothing, if it would save Daryl's spirit from hell. May Jesus come now and help us.