Summary: An unpacking of the command to ’judge those within the church’ in 1 Corinthians 5
1 Corinthians 5 ’Christ-shaped judgment’
It is always hard to speak on judgment. No one likes to hear about it. We like to hear about love. But love’s not the only topic in the Scriptures. We’ve got to hear all that God is saying in the bible, and so we’ve got to hear about judgment. And here it’s the question of judging others.
Now Judgment comes with negative connotations - After all, Jesus said, ’Do not judge, lest you be judged’. In chapter 4 verse 4 of 1 Corinthians, Paul says It is the Lord who judges me. 5Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time
And yet, we have the passage in front of us, which says in 1 Corinthians 5 verse 12:What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?
The implied answer is, yes, we are to judge those inside the church.
So how do we understand it?
Today as we look at 1 Corinthians 5, I hope to untangle this for us.
1. Churches are to judge those within.
Take it from the top, verse 1: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.
It’s not a one off sin. The present tense of ’has’ indicates an ongoing sexual relationship between the man and his father’s wife. A man has his Father’s wife. So a strong message needs to be sent that this is unacceptable. Verse 2.
2And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?
verse 3 ’Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.’ So Paul does pass judgment, as part of the congregation in spirit.
verse 12 ’Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
So Christians are in some cases to judge those within the church, and leave those outside to God.
But in what sense is this meant?
Well, the verb to judge is used in different ways in the bible.
We all know that there’s a time for some kinds of judgments. We all believe in a court system, as does the bible. And what courts do is judge. The bible speaks positively of the local authorities, and of magistrates, whose job is partly to judge. When there is serious sin, we all know something should be done. Some sort of judgment is needed. And judgment within of church members by the church is what’s in view. Hear me right, it’s not a replacement of the judges of our land. It’s in addition to the court system. But we are to have our own judgments within the church.
Now this is different from the judgment Jesus and Paul warns us against. I’d suggest Jesus and Paul are saying, don’t tread on God’s turf. We don’t know people’s hearts, we don’t make up right and wrong. Let’s not pretend we do. Don’t judge in that way.
But there is a judgment to be made by the church, without making up a new bible, without pretending to know people’s hearts. And that’s what’s in view here.
There hasn’t been an excommunication in the Adelaide Anglican churches for a very long time. We’ve had notorious sin, but no excommunications. That’s the Anglican name for what we’re talking about here, by the way, excommunication. It’s probably a bad sign that we haven’t had any, a sign of our lack of gumption. Oh don’t get me wrong. We don’t want an excommunication in our church. Please God no. But we’ve got to be ready to do it as a church, if it’s the right thing. For churches are to judge those within.
But who makes this judgment?
2. The judgment is performed by the local church.
verse 4: When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan
It’s a church that assembles which is in view doing this judgment. Not a denomination or a worldwide communion.
A few years back the Anglican General synod put forward a canon which said that excommunication was the realm of the bishop. However in Adelaide, we did not confirm that legislation. That’s what I was told at our last clergy formation meeting, anyway. So it is still rightly the realm of the local church to make the judgments of the kind discussed in this chapter. It’s our job. And that’s a good thing.