1 Corinthians 5

Too Tolerant For Our Own Good.

1 Corinthians 5

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?. – 1 Corinthians 5:12 ESV

Tolerance is the official pastime of today’s culture. We are expected to tolerate any and all behavior. We are demanded to tolerate alternative lifestyles and sexual behaviors. We are feed a steady diet of tolerance on TV with programs portraying every imaginable situation and circumstance, selling as perfectly normal what would have been abnormal and unacceptable just a few short years ago. Sin craves tolerance. It demands to be accepted. And while no seems to want to live in a nation that legislates morality, just about everyone wants to live in a society that protects and legitimizes sin through the passing of laws.

None of this should surprise or shock us. It is the nature of sin. It is the natural outcome of man’s sin nature and the devastating impact of life in a fallen world. But the Body of Christ should be another story. The Church is not a place where tolerance should be tolerated. Don’t get me wrong. The Church is where love, acceptance and forgiveness should reign. But acceptance and tolerance are not synonymous. They are not one and the same thing. Paul seemed to know and understand that. He knew that the Church of Jesus Christ was going to be made up of sinners who had been saved. They had been redeemed out of their slavery to sin by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But they were not to remain in their sin. They were not to stay as they were, but were expected to grow, mature, and increasingly take on the nature of Jesus Christ Himself. So when Paul received news that there was sexual immorality taking place among the believers in Corinth, he struck fast and hard. He classified what was going on in their midst as “something that even the pagans don’t do” (1 Corinthians 5:1 NLT). There was a man who was having a sexual relationship with his father’s wife. Not only was he committing adultery, he was doing so with his own stepmother. And the members of the local congregation were doing nothing about it.

It’s interesting to note that Paul says little about the sin of this man and his stepmother. He doesn’t need to. It is wrong. It is immoral. Even the pagans would say so. No, Paul addresses his indignation against the rest of the congregation for its tolerance of the sin. They had done nothing to deal with it. He even says, “You are so proud of yourselves” (1 Corinthians 5:2 NLT). He doesn’t clarify why he calls them proud. Perhaps they were proud because they were so accepting AND tolerant of any and all. Maybe they felt like theirs was a fellowship where everyone was welcome, because after all, all men are sinners. Later on Paul indicates that they were even boasting about what was going on. But whatever it was that motivated their pride, Paul lets them know that their reaction should have been one of mourning. They should have been sorry and ashamed. Not for the couple, but for their entire fellowship. This was a corporate issue. Paul uses the well-understood imagery of leaven to explain what was happening to their fellowship due to their tolerance. “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6 NLT). The sin of this man and woman was more than an individual act, it had corporate implications. Their presence was contaminating the entire fellowship. It was impacting and influencing the entire congregation. Now, what seems to be evident in the text is that there was no repentance or remorse on the part of the couple. It seems that they were living in sin and expecting everyone around them to accept them accordingly. And no one was confronting them about their sin. Their sinfulness was met with silence and tolerance. That is where the danger lies. Yes, we are to accept sinners. We are to lovingly include the lost and welcome them into our midst, but we are never to tolerate their sin. We are to lovingly confront them with the truth of God’s Word and call them to repentance. Paul makes it clear that it would be impossible to disassociate ourselves with unbelieving sinners. “You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that” (1 Corinthians 5:10 NLT). But when someone comes into our fellowship, claims Jesus Christ as their Savior, and yet indulges in unrepentant, willful sin, that is where our acceptance and tolerance must end. We must stand up for the truth of God’s Word. We must understand the danger of allowing sin to influence and infect the Body of Christ. Yet the common response most of us utter is, “Who am I to judge someone else?” What a dangerous conclusion to reach. We have been programmed to believe that judging others is unacceptable behavior for a Christian. but Paul clearly states, “it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning” (1 Corinthians 5:12 NLT). The key phrase is “who are sinning.” We are not to judge another believer’s faithfulness. We are not to make judgments based on income, status, clothes or the color of someone’s skin. But we are to “judge” the sin in our midst. The word Paul uses for “judge” is one that can mean “to separate or pick out, to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong.” We have an obligation to protect the integrity, unity and purity of the Body of Christ. When sin becomes apparent, we are to deal with it. We are to lovingly confront it. We are to call one another to repentance and restoration. But if an individual refuses to repent and continues to willingly remain in their sin, we have a responsibility to act. Paul makes it painfully simple: “…you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worship idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people” (1 Corinthians 5:11 NLT). Not only that, “You must remove the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13 NLT). Unrepentance trumps acceptance every time. But the truth is, we are far too tolerant far too often. We don’t want to judge. We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to cause a scene. So we tolerate the presence of unrepentant, arrogant sin in our midst, and then wonder why the church is weak, powerless and a mere shadow of what Christ intended for it to be.

Father, wake us up. Give us the moral fortitude to stand up for what is right – in our own churches. Help us understand that love is not tolerance. It is not putting up with one another’s sins, but lovingly calling each other to live lives of holiness. It is understanding that the corporate well being takes precedence over a single individual’s self-indulgence. Give us the boldness to stand up for what is right and righteous. But show us how to do it in love, not anger. Help us do it for the good of the Body of Christ, not out of some sense of self-righteous indignation. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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