The Problem With Immoral Church Members; Page 10 of 11 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
with such an one, no, not to eat.
Paul is emphasizing here the warning given in previous verses. It is not the Lord’s Supper that he is referring to, because it was never designated as a meal. The meaning is that we are not to recognize such a person in any way as a Christian, even by eating with him. The Corinthian Christians were not to invite these people into their home for fellowship around the table, and they were not to accept social invitations from those who behaved in this manner. Such fellowship would serve as a practical acknowledgement of one who has made a mere profession of faith in Christ—a condoning of the evil life—and would make it appear that the believer was in agreement with the immorality. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian believers was to have no fellowship with these so called Christians; not to do anything that would seem to acknowledge him as a brother; and never to eat at the same table with such a person. A similar instruction is given by the apostle John—“If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 1:10-11; KJV). This refers to the common interactions of life. The true Christian was to completely disown such a person, and not to do anything that would seem to imply that he regarded him as a Christian brother. It will be seen here that the rule was much stricter in regard to one who professed to be a Christian than to those who were known and acknowledged heathens. The reasons may have been:
1. The necessity of keeping the church pure and of not doing anything that would seem to imply that Christians were the clientele and friends of the outlandish and the wicked.
2. In respect to the heathen, there could be no danger of its being supposed that Christians regarded them as brethren, or showed to them any more than the ordinary civilities of life; but in regard to those who professed to be Christians, but who were drunkards, or immoral, if a man was on friendly terms with them, it would seem as if he acknowledged them as brethren, and recognized them as Christians.
3. This entire separation and withdrawing from all association with them was necessary in these times to save the church from scandal, and from the injurious reports which were circulated. The heathen accused Christians of all manner of crime and abominations. These reports were very damaging to the church. But it was evident that remuneration and credibility would be given to them if it was known that Christians were on intimate terms and had good fellowship with heathens and immoral persons. For this reason it became necessary to withdraw entirely from them; to withhold even the ordinary courtesies of life; and to draw a line of total and entire separation. Whether this rule in its utmost strictness is demanded now, since the nature of Christianity is known, and since religion cannot be in so much danger from such reports, may be a question to address in another commentary. I am inclined to the opinion that the ordinary civilities of life may be shown to such persons; though certainly nothing that would seem to recognize them as Christians. But as neighbors and relatives; as well as those who may be in misery and want, we are certainly not forbidden to show them kindness and compassion.
If a spiritually minded person visited an idolater for the specific purpose of witnessing to him, that would be different from inviting the person to dinner in the home or for a social visit. Trying to win such people to Jesus through witnessing to them is not the point under consideration here, but simply fellowshipping socially, either in the home or in the assembly. Certainly Christians should do anything and all things honorably possibly, in an effort to win even the most wicked person to Jesus. Paul said, “I become as all men are, that I might win some.” He did not mean that he compromised by participating in their evil ways, but rather that he was willing to make any sacrifice in order to point people to Christ.
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
For what have I to do to judge
By this, Paul means that we are not to admonish, reprove, censure, condemn and punish. This is not meant to be a general statement, because we must make certain judgments every day, because we are responsible human beings. For example; “Should I admit this stranger into my home to make a repair,” or “Is this doctor qualified to treat my ailment.” You could easily compile a similar list and it would probably be quite long, because this is how we must live in the world today.
Paul has been talking about making judgments concerning those who are outside the church (unbelievers) and church members (believers); and he says,
“You might have easily understood that my concern is not with unbelievers outside the Church, but that I referred to those within it. I have no authority over those outside the church; and can exercise no jurisdiction over them. All my rules, therefore, must have reference only to those who are within the church.”
What have I. Although this is an admonition meant for the Corinthians and all of us, the apostle may have chosen to soften his words by making himself the object of a question: “What right do I have to judge unbelievers?”
them also that are without?
Those outside of the church, means persons who are NOT church members; heathens; men of the world; those who did not profess to be Christians—“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time” (Col 4:5; KJV); and “That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 Thess 4:12; KJV). The command of the apostle had reference only to those who were in the church, but it was not his prerogative to judge those outside of the church (nonmembers). That is not his business. He is to judge those inside the church (members)— Those within give me enough to do without including those outside. God will judge those who are on the outside. It is the business of the church to judge evil which is in the church. The Corinthians should have understood this.
Through this statement Paul makes it clear to the unbelievers at Corinth that he did not mean for them to avoid unbelievers to such an extent that they should refuse to even be in their company, because it would be utterly impossible to live in this world and NOT come into contact with unsaved people—in some instances even the vilest of them; but we should not fellowship with them at their social events, or take part in their activities, in the home or any other place. Christians should go out of their way to associate with unbelievers only to the extent that they are pointing them to Jesus and through living holy lives influence them to become believers.
do not ye judge them that are within?
This speaks of believers—children of God—as distinct and separate from the world. The assembly is responsible for those it receives, and if fellowship needs to be withdrawn from one of those members, the assembly is responsible for taking the appropriate action and excluding that person from fellowship. Paul is simply pointing out the believers’ responsibility in such cases.
We are interested to know how things worked out in Corinth. To find the answer we need only to turn to 2 Corinthians 2:4–8: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you. But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” This immoral man had come under conviction and profoundly repented of his sin of fornication after Paul put it in writing in this epistle. Today we need a great deal of courage—not compromise—in the church to point out these things and say, “This is sin.” I think that when this is done, the believer who is in sin will confess, like this man in Corinth and like David did, and will repent and change his ways. The Corinthian church handled this very nicely. Why? Because Paul had the courage to write this kind of letter. In 2 Corinthians Paul explains why he had done it: “Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you” (2 Cor. 7:12). Paul evidently means to say that he did not write his stern charge, because of his concern for the incestuous person, or on account of the person he had injured (his father), but because he loved this church and was concerned for its welfare.
We must bear in mind that the apostle has instructed them to censure this fornicator, and that he does NOT instruct them to discipline wrongdoers, and remove from the fellowship scandalous and unrepentant offenders, and forbid them to be in the company of those who were in the world. It is a matter of degree, and the apostle knew if he excommunicated every member that sinned, the pews would be empty. He will deal with many sins in his epistles, but the case involving this fornicator was especially serious and was damaging the credibility and testimony of The Corinthian Church, and that is why he devoted so much space to dealing with it.