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1 Corinthians 5:11–13

“Now I am writing to you 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. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’ ”

The church often finds itself pulled toward one of two extremes. On the one hand, some churches tend to a kind of separatism that, in the name of holiness, refuses to have anything to do with the world. Such churches often multiply the number of things that invalidate a Christian profession of faith. They might forbid, in addition to the sins condemned in Scripture, watching television of any kind or playing games of any kind. On the other hand, there are churches that in the name of forgiveness tolerate all kinds of grievous sins in their midst. They might keep unrepentant but talented leaders in their positions, tolerate divisive people, and more.

Legalism is the tendency of the first group, while antinomianism—being against the law of God—is the tendency of the second. First Corinthians 5 shows us that neither is the answer. The church cannot withdraw entirely from the world, so Christians must develop relationships with non-Christians, even non-Christians in deeply serious sin (1 Cor. 5:9–10). Verse 12 adds to this that we do not disassociate from non-Christians because it is not our place—in the present—to judge the world. One day we will judge the world (6:2), but that awaits the consummation. Until then, we preach the gospel and seek to show nonbelievers Christian love. At the same time, the church cannot continue in warm Christian fellowship with those who profess Christ but live in ways that grievously violate His commandments in Scripture. That is the point of 5:11. By retaining such people in church membership and acting as if they have a good Christian profession, we are giving them a false assurance of salvation. They must be cast out of the church and treated as if they are what their lifestyle says they are—unbelievers.

This should not be done hastily. Matthew 18:15–20 lays out disciplinary procedures that counsel us, in most cases, not to move too quickly but to warn the professing Christian in the hopes the person will repent and not be excommunicated. But when a person remains impenitent, that individual must be cast out of the church.

Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 5 by admonishing the Corinthians to purge evil from among them. This call appears frequently in the Old Testament (v. 13; see Deut. 17:7, 12; 19:19; 24:7; Judg. 20:13). The old covenant church could not tolerate grievous sin, and the new covenant church cannot either.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Excommunication should always be taken seriously. By taking this step, the church is saying that as far as it can tell, the excommunicated person is not a believer. If we ever find ourselves under the formal discipline of the church, let us heed the call to repent. This is one of God’s means of keeping us in faith until the end.


For Further Study
  • Ezekiel 20:38
  • 1 John 2:19

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Dwelling with Difficult Neighbors

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From the February 2021 Issue
Feb 2021 Issue