READ | SERMON NOTES
Summary | Why do we need discipline in church? What happens when we don’t discipline? How do we balance relationships and trust with Christian values and beliefs? Having a theology of Christian discipline(theory) aims to guide the execution of discipline(practice). The principles may be applied in any place under Christian leadership.
The Corinthian church was a first generation church comprising largely gentile converts. Corinth was steeped in Greek culture known for idolatry, divisive philosophies, spirit of litigation and rejection of body resurrection. It was infamous for sensuality and sacred prostitution. Many gentile converts have this lifestyle which was creeping into the church. Paul founded the church in Corinth and stayed there for one and a half years before going to Ephesus. Some 4 to 5 years later, Paul received disturbing news about the church in Corinth. Many of the church leaders did not know Paul, the founding leader. 1 Cor was a pastoral letter written to address the problems in the church. Paul spent 4 chapters to instruct them that earthly wisdom and arrogance lead to divisions in church, as distinct from godly wisdom which heals and unites, corrects false views of church and leadership and establishes the role of his apostleship. Through the suffering and persecution of apostles which are the cost of discipleship and marks of apostleship, the church in Corinth gained status and wisdom.
A Theology of Christian Discipline
1. Establish a relationship of sincerity and authority before disciplining
How do you discipline someone who may not even know you or respect your authority? Paul used 4 out of 15 chapters to establish his sincerity and authority before moving to the problem. He understood the importance of having a sincere relationship and this is the first step that is important to approaching any discipline.
2. God regards sin seriously, so should the church
The sin referred to in 5:1 refers to a live-in and enduring sexual relationship between a man and the wife of his father which was forbidden by both Jewish (Lev 18:7-8) and pagan laws. The man was not even shameful and persisted in the relationship after conversion. As Paul only singled out the man, it was likely that he was a member of the church but not the woman. A bigger scandal than incest was that the leaders knew about the sin but failed to confront this man. Paul’s message was that God had already passed judgment and action must be taken.
Christian character, holiness and moral conduct is more important than service and sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22, Mt 15:8-9, Jn 14:15). We are to deal with sin in our lives seriously.
3. God holds church and leaders accountable for moral conduct of the church body – be spiritually mature
Because sin is taken seriously, God does hold the church and leaders accountable for the moral conduct of the body of Christ. What’s acceptable to society isn’t necessarily acceptable to God. We are to be aware and mature in spiritual wisdom on what is acceptable or not to God. Ignorance is no excuse.
4. Church discipline is God’s saving grace
To hand the sinful man to Satan is discipline aimed to lead him to repentance and restoration, not destruction. We discipline out of love, not hatred or bitterness. The goal is always towards restoration of the person.
5. Lack of discipline stumbles and corrupts the body of Christ
What one generation tolerates the next generation embraces (unknown writer). The church becomes fragmented with some people condoning sin and some who don’t.
6. We are to hold believers accountable for their spiritual lives
Paul is open to associating with idolaters, swindlers, etc. The public ministry of the church (eg: worship services) is always open to them to encounter God’s love and holiness through His people. However, for those who choose to believe God’s message, we need to disciple them to help them let go of their sinful lifestyle. Paul teaches that we need to be strict with believers especially those who indulge in a sinful lifestyle. Expulsion from church is the last resort after all means are exhausted. There are times when drastic measures are needed to avoid infection (William Barclay).
May we take sin seriously and deal with it as part of real faith and real church. The Holy Spirit grant us wisdom and boldness to confront sin with love so that the church will shine in love and purity for God.
PONDER | REFLECTION QUESTIONS
How to Discipline in Theory & Practice
- Read 1 Cor 4 – If you have to discipline someone that don’t know you (or someone you don’t have a personal relationship with) – how would you do it?
- Read 1 Cor 5:1-2 – What do you think are the issues that Paul is upset with? When you know of a fellow brother/sister in Christ doing something wrong – What comes to mind? What would you personally do?
- Read 1 Cor 5:3-5 – Do you think it is important for the church to discipline those who continue in a lifestyle of sin? Who should do it? What do you think “hand this man over to Satan for destruction of the flesh” mean? What do you think is the end goal of church discipline?
- Read 1 Cor 5:6-8 – What happens when church discipline is not done or enforced?
- Read 1 Cor 5:9-10 – V9 & 10 seems to be a contradiction – What is Paul trying to clarify between V9 & 10?
- Read 1 Cor 5:11-13 – What should we do as a church if someone doesn’t repent? Under what circumstances or/and when do we “expel” them from church?