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Taking Sin Seriously

February 19, 2023

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 5

Taking Sin Seriously
1 Cor 5 – Being God’s People: 1 Corinthians – Daniel Baker – Feb 19, 2023


Reading of 1 Corinthians 5. “This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.”

Sin complicates our lives.

  • Simple relationships get really complicated when you add sin.
  • A kickball game at school with a bunch of second graders can get really complicated when you add sin: “You’re out! No I’m not, I was safe!”
  • Protecting our air space can get really complicated when you add sin: “Well, we let a Chinese spy balloon fly over the US and now we look really stupid. So, let’s blast out of the sky a bunch of other things to help. Oops, that didn’t go well.”
  • Or parenting. For instance,

Julia Sheeres is a writer and a parent. She wrote an article called, “Raising Chldren Without the Concept of Sin.”[1] In it she tells the story of her 9-year old daughter who asked her, “Mama, what is sin?” She was shocked. But then she thought about her own fundamentalist Christian background in Indiana.

Where she grew up she said, “Actions, words, even thoughts weren’t safe from scrutiny. The list of sinful offenses seemed infinite.”

Her solution was to avoid the term and concept altogether. She was raising activist children, so they had a moral code. But they didn’t even know the word “sin.” On this pleasant afternoon with her daughter, she decided an explanation could wait.

We can sympathize with Sheeres. If you’ve experienced a community where too many things were declared “sinful,” it’s tempting to throw out the label altogether.

But sin doesn’t disappear just because you get rid of the label.

The series is “Being God’s People.” This morning we’ll see that “being God’s people” means taking sin seriously.

One common temptation with the sin of others is, “Who are we to judge? After all, we’re all sinners.” At times that’s just the right thing to say.

But if that becomes the only thing we say, we’ve really lost our way.

Sermon: Taking Sin Seriously: Rebuking the Church (5:1–5); Protecting the Church (5:6–8); Judging the Church (Church Discipline) (5:9–13).


I. Rebuking the Church (5:1–5)

Impossible to miss that this chapter is a rebuke. Paul is rebuking the church for failing to act like it should.

We’ll lose our bearings in this opening paragraph if we miss couple things in this paragraph.

  • One is the purpose of the radical action we are called to take. It’s right at the end of v. 5: “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
  • A lot of this passage feels like punishment.
  • But the goal is not to keep this guy out of the church. The goal is that “his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

And a second thing we need to keep in mind to see this whole paragraph rightly is the holiness of God.

  • If the church is casual about sin, chapters like this one simply make no sense.
  • But sin is a really big deal—and that’s because of God’s holiness.
  • If God isn’t holy, sin isn’t a problem.
  • If God isn’t holy, why worry about any future judgment.
  • But the Bible is clear: God is holy.
  • In fact, he’s not just holy. And not just holy, holy. Isaiah tells us he's holy in triplicate: holy, holy, holy.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isa 6:1–7)

When the Bible wants to communicate that something is the MOST of something, it uses the triple repetition. God is the MOST holy being.

Holy means both “set-apartness”—completely other and distinct from all creation. And it means moral perfection—impeccable righteousness, complete sinlessness.

Isaiah was Israel’s greatest writing prophet. For all practical purposes, he was the best we’ve got. And yet this holy prophet was here standing in the presence of God—God who is “holy, holy, holy.”

  • Before that kind of holiness, he was “a man of unclean the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
  • He was done for, lost, doomed: “Woe is me!”
  • His sin was a big deal, because God’s holiness is a perfect holiness.
  • Isaiah knew it, and God knew it.
  • But Isaiah was delivered that day by God’s saving work.
  • Here it was “a burning coal” from the altar of God.
  • Because of that, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

It’s critical that as we launch into this passage we have the right bearings.

  • Otherwise we’ll feel like these sins aren’t that big a deal.
  • And that God’s commands are too harsh.
  • But to say that means we’ve lost sight of God’s holiness and the full, ugly sinfulness of sin.

Paul is rebuking the church because they’ve lost sight of these—God’s holiness and the seriousness of sin.

He’s also rebuking them in a very particular way: They have completely failed to call out a scandalous sinner.

The man is guilty of “sexual immorality” in a horrible way.

  • Starts by saying the man is guilty of “sexual immorality” (porneia).
  • The Greek word originally had to do with prostitution but eventually for the Jews it meant “every expression of extramarital sexual sin and aberration, including homosexual activity” (Fee, 219).
  • The Greco-Roman culture was a promiscuous one. But even they had lines they wouldn’t cross.
  • And certainly not Jews.
  • And the sin in this passage is one of them—a man sleeping with his step-mom.
  • Paul says “even...pagans” don’t do this.
  • And you’re tolerating it!

Verse 2 – They do this and still they’re “arrogant”! They boast of their spiritual maturity and do this.

Paul calls for radical action.

  • “Mourn” (1 Cor 5:2).
  • “Be removed from among you” (1 Cor 5:2).
  • And then even more dramatic: “deliver this man to Satan” (1 Cor 5:5).

Similar to 1 Tim 1:20: among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Tim 1:20)

But the goal is punishment. The goal is salvation:

  • 1 Cor 5:5: “the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
  • “Flesh” = temporal, short-term, painful consequences.
  • “Spirit” = the immortal part of him.
  • “Day of the Lord” = Pain now to experience salvation on THAT DAY.

Application: Take sin seriously.

  • Take God’s holiness seriously.
  • Take sin seriously.

II. Protecting the Church (5:6–8)

Next verse tells us why.

These verses remind us why it’s so important to respond rightly to sin. It’s because of the effect of sin. We take sin seriously to Protect the Church.

To make his point, he uses a metaphor: Leaven and bread.

  • Leavening bread worked in the ancient world.
  • Make unleavened bread and let it sit out.
  • It would soak up yeast spores from the air.
  • Then could be used in bread as yeast. Add it to a new batch of dough.
  • Then tear off a piece of that new dough to be leaven for a new loaf.
  • Each time you add the leaven to new dough, leaven spreads through the whole life so it will rise.

Paul is saying that’s what sin can do in the church.

  • It can be spread and infect the whole church.
  • Sin is a cancer to the body of Christ.
  • God’s people will never be sinless, but we can’t be casual about sin.

Paul keeps going with this metaphor.

Verse 7 and “Become what you are”

  • “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.”
  • ..that you may you really are...

“Unleavened” = “a fresh start” (Thiselton, 405).

  • Maybe this is part of why unleavened bread was used on the Passover.
  • It reflected a fresh start.
  • So every year Israel would make a fresh start—even in its baking.

How did this happen? How is it that we became “unleavened,” a fresh start?

  • Paul extends the metaphor—from unleavened bread on the Day of the Passover to the Passover lamb sacrificed.
  • “For, Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7).
  • Christ’s blood means we are cleansed.
  • The old leaven is gone. We’re now “new.”

The blood of the Passover lamb, splashed upon the lintel of the door of the redeemed household, marks the identity of those who are about to enter a new freedom from bondage to a new purity of service as God’s own holy people.
Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians[2]

Application: The “THEREFORE” of the gospel.

  • “Therefore”!
  • The gospel always leads to a great “Therefore!”
  • Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.”
  • And praise: But here, “Therefore, let us celebrate the feast!” (1 Cor 5:8).

III. Judging the Church (Church Discipline) (5:9–13)

As I said earlier, a common reaction when we hear about the sins of others is, “Who am I to judge? After all, we’re all sinners.” But this passage reminds us that there are certain kinds of judgments we are called to make.

And certain people—1 Cor 5:12–13a. We judge those “inside” the church. God judges those “outside” the church. This passage develops that idea.

1 Cor 5:9, note the reference to “my letter,” so this not his first to Corinth.

In that letter he had said they shouldn’t “associate with” people who were sexually immoral.

  • They understood him to mean not to “associate with” the sexually immoral “of this world” (1 Cor 5:9).
  • Or “greedy...swindlers...idolaters” (1 Cor 5:10).
  • But that would mean you’d have to leave this world (1 Cor 5:10).

Paul writes to clarify here that he means people in the church who were living that way (1 Cor 5:11).

“Not to assocate with” means something like “not thinking about who you’re with, not thinking about whether it’s right to be with them or not.”

  • Having the mashed potatoes and vegetables on your plate, not even caring if they mix together.

In general, this kind of “associating with” others is just right in the church. We don’t want to divide over sinful things: James 2 and sinful partiality.

Paul has something specific in mind here—look at verse 11.

  • Not to associate IF (1) “bears the name of brother” and (2) “guilty of” these sins.
  • Okay to associate IF (1) DON’T bear the name of brother (evangelism!) or (2) NOT “guilty of” these types of things.
  • But if (1) “bears the name” and (2) “guilty of” then cannot.
  • Lesson = Some behaviors completely INCONSISTENT with being a Christian. If doing them, calls your profession of faith into question.

Let’s look at the behaviors:

  • Sexual immorality – porneia – includes the whole array of sexual sins. But this is more than just committing a particular sin. Paul uses NOUNS to describe these sins, not VERBS. He’s describing people completely given over to these sins. It’s a controlling lifestyle. Not a man who looks at pornography once but one who is given over to it, not struggling against it anymore.
  • Greedy: “one who desires to have more than is due, a greedy person” (BDAG). “Not just to desire what is not one’s own, but often carries the sense of carrying through on the desire to the point of defrauding or taking advantage of someone else,” and so connected to “robbery or swindling” (Fee). These are “grasping people who always want more than they have” (Thiselton).
  • Idolater: “image-worshiper/idolater” (BDAG). Not just being tempted to turn work into an idol and fighting against it. But completely given over to a false god.
  • Reviler: Really means “verbal abuse.” Whole array of speech where you’re speaking evil and speaking to tear people down. Intent is important here. Not just clumsy with words. But really intending to hurt people.
  • Drunkard: Note another place where it’s important that the NOUN is used, not the verb for “drinking too much, to the point of excess.” Point is that you’re given over to this sin. You are in some ways defined by it. You don’t just struggling with drinking too much, but you are a DRUNKARD.
  • Swindlers: A person whose greed and selfishness leads them to become a “robber, swindler, rogue” (BDAG, 134).

But these aren’t a limited list of sins or sinful lifestyles. Paul says not to eat “with such a one,” “people like these people.” Other sins could have been put on the list. This type of person is one you shouldn’t even eat with.

If there’s any question whether we should tolerate such people in the church, he closes with a direct quotation from the book of Deuteronomy—look at 1 Cor 5:13b.

The final exhortation: “Purge the evil person from among you” (LXX Deut 17:7; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21–22, 24; 24:7, but especially 22:21–22)

This is a vivid reminder that Paul sees the OT as speaking directly to Christians. As one commentator said, in this case “the rules of the game haven’t changed,” Deuteronomy still commands our behavior (Richard Hays).

Paul is really describing the final step of church discipline here: excommunication.

  • This is where the church puts a person out of the church.
  • We can see it means putting them out of the church and not just removing them from being a member if we see all of Paul’s words:


“Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (5:2).

“Deliver this man to Satan” (5:5)

“Cleanse out the old leaven” (5:7)

“Not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of...” (5:11)

“Not even to eat with such a one” (5:11)

“Purge the evil person from among you” (5:13)

This means there are three categories of people:

  • Christian brothers and sisters—we love and fellowship with them.
  • Unbelievers we reach out to and evangelize—we love and reach out to them, inviting them to church.
  • Those who are excommunicated from the church—we love them by not being with them or fellowshipping with them, trusting that this process will be used by God to bring them to repentance.

This passage doesn’t give us specific steps for how to practice church discipline. For that we would turn to Matthew 18:15–20. But this shows us the same kind of process:

Steps of Church Discipline from 1 Cor 5:

  1. The person is someone who claims to be a Christian—and is a member of the church (1 Cor 5:11).
  2. The person is committing a visible, scandalous sin (1 Cor 5:1, 11).
  3. The person is challenged but continues in the sin without repentance or attempting to change (1 Cor 5:1, 11).
  4. After sufficient time and process to establish #2–3, the person must then be put out of the church.
  5. Lord willing, the person comes to repentance and his/her soul is saved on the day of the Lord.

This gives us important principles. If you want to see our church’s actual process for church discipline, it’s under “Member Resources” on the website.


I joked earlier about the Chinese spy balloon incident. But it illustrates something helpful. At first there was a pretty bad under-reaction. If it was even picked up on radar, it was assumed not to be a big deal.

Turned out it was a big deal, so then radars got super-sensitive and picked up all kinds of things that fighter jets blew out of the sky. Well, turns out those were harmless balloons likely by researchers and hobbyists.

When a church responds to sin we want to avoid both of these: don’t ignore it and just watch sin happen; don’t send fighter jets when something isn’t even sin.

God help us.

Prayer and Closing Song (“Only a Holy God”)

[1] Julia Sheeres, “Raising Children Without the Concept of Sin,” NYT, June 25, 2019.

[2] Thiselton, NIGTC, 406.

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