Paul writes to the Corinthians “not to associate with sexually immoral people”, but he qualifies that statement to say that he is “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters since you would need to go out of the world”. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) What is Paul talking about here?
Paul goes on to clarify that he is writing to the Corinthians “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.”
He is obviously talking about people within the church, and this is a point that I think we have generally gotten wrong in the modern church today, but maybe not in the way that one might suppose.
It seems to me that we have got these instructions from Paul to the Corinthians exactly backwards.
I think of the Moral Majority when I say this. I think of the efforts of Christians to try to impose “Christian values” on our world. I realize that I am departing from many Christian leaders to say something like this, but please hear me out.
Jesus did not lead a political party or advocate that His followers should take over the position of Roman Proconsul or Caesar or even to fill up the Sanhedrin with the followers of the Way (as Christianity was called early on). Jesus didn’t instruct His followers to spread the Gospel through the arm of the government, but by the feet of His individual followers – you and me, being salt and light, candles on top of our own individual lamp stands.
One of the problems with the orientation of the modern American, Evangelical church is that we are not judging the way we should be judging. We tend to think that, as long as someone professes Christ, that is all that matters. As long as they speak our language and call themselves “brother”, nothing else matters. We accept them into our camp as we circle our wagons against the onslaught of the world.
Jesus painted a very different picture when he told the church at Laodicea, “you are neither hot nor cold”; “you are lukewarm”; therefore, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” God can tolerate an honest atheist more easily then he will tolerate a professing brother in Christ who continues to embrace sexual immorality, greed, idolatry and taking advantage fellow human beings.
I say this not out of any self-righteousness. I am convicted as I read the words of Paul. I see within me, the roots of these things that I have not yet completely eliminated from within the soil of my own heart.
I think this is part of the problem. Like the nation of Israel when God instructed them to drive the Canaanites out of the land, every last one, and they did not do it. Contrary to God’s instruction, they allowed some to remain. Those who remained became stumbling blocks for the Israelites in later years, as the Israelites adopted their idolatrous practices, even the horrific practice of child sacrifice. When we allow sin to remain in us and in our churches, it continually trips us up and frustrates the work that God desires to do.
Speaking for myself, but assuming that I am not alone, we are all guilty of this to one degree of another.
Going back to Paul, he concludes, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.'” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
Instead of applying Paul’s words in the direction he applied them (to the church), we have mistakenly applied those words in the direction of the world. We have turned them outward, rather than inward. We have tolerated evil within ourselves and within our church walls, while we focus judgment on the world around us.
I dare say that we in the United States of America have made the arrogant mistake of believing that we are the equivalent to the nation of Israel, which God called, for a time, as his own people and to whom he uniquely revealed himself. God now calls all men and women everywhere to follow Him and reveals Himself to those who do.
This is God’s heart – to have the Gospel (which is the Good News) preached to the world. The church, however, as a whole, seems to have abandoned the command to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The church is preaching judgement instead.
This is not to say that things like sexual immorality, idolatry, and greed okay or acceptable to God. They are not, but the world who does not know Christ. The world does not have forgiveness of sin or the power to overcome sin. People in the world do not have the Holy Spirit.
But one who is within the walls of the church, who claims to know God and to have fellowship with the Spirit, who practices these things, is far more dangerous to the work of God then all the heathens in the world.
Jesus was judged by the religious for having the indiscretion of eating and spending time with sinners. This is a picture of church outreach to the world. When Jesus came upon the woman caught in adultery about to be stoned, this is a picture of Jesus to the world, protecting the world from the church. When Jesus told the woman, “I don’t condemn you; go and sin no more”, this is how a person is to be welcomed into the church.
The church is made up of saved sinners who were washed, sanctified and justified. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has passed away, and the new has come. We should be working out our salvation with fear and trembling as God is working in us. We need to work out the sin that remains in us as God works in us the power to overcome that sin.
The parable of the speck and the plank is the example of judgment for the church to follow. First we need to take the planks out of our own eyes; then we need to help our brothers take the specks out of their eyes. Once we have dealt with our own sins and failings, we can turn with love and compassion to our brothers and help our brothers with their sins and failings. Our brothers are in the church, not in the world.
Jesus didn’t tell us not to judge; He told us to “judge correctly”. It seems that we would rather make broad, sweeping judgments of the world from afar, but the picture of the kind of judgment God asks from us requires us to be close enough to our brothers to take out the specks in their eyes. It requires relationship and love. This can only happen in the body of Christ.
Ultimately, God doesn’t judge anyone from afar. He knows the innermost thoughts of our hearts. His judgment is more intimate then our judgment could ever be.
The gospel message is what should be blasted from the mountain tops to the world, but we also should not remain distant. God’s desire is always to get intimate. Jesus demonstrated this by spending time and even dining with sinners. He did this with grace and compassion. This is our example to follow in the way we should relate to the world.
Now is the time for the Harvest. The Judgment comes later.
What time do we have to spend judging the world for its sins? The world has a judge.
We allow far too much of the world in the church, and we spend far too much time leveling judgment at the world, when we should be judging ourselves within the church. Within the church we should be working on the planks in our own eyes and helping our brothers with the specks in their eyes. Meanwhile, our attention on the world should be focused on preaching the gospel because God has entrusted to us the “message of reconciliation” to reach the lost. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.’” (Revelation 3:14-17)
 See, for instance, Joshua 16:10
 Matthew 28:19; and Mark 16:15
 “Later, as Jesus was dining at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Him and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matthew 9:11)
 John 8:1-11
 “[H]e stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11 She said, ‘No one, Lord.”’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’” (John 8:7-11)
 “But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:8-11)
 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
 Philippians 2:12
 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
 John 7:24
 Psalm 139:2