I wish ostrich tactics worked. In my utopia ignoring hurts, problems, conflicts and sins would make them disappear. I know some people with the opposite personality. These people seem to thrive on on comforting hurts, solving problems, negotiating conflicts and correcting sin. It’s overly simple to say one of these approaches is more correct than the other.
In 1 Corinthians Paul writes to address issues that are causing division within the church. In that sense he assumes the role of peacemaker. I don’t know about you, but when I think of peacemaker I think of someone softly spoken who respects each person in the room and seeks to foster a spirit of understanding between the parties. Generally, this is a person who is mostly warm and fuzzy.
Paul takes a very different approach to peacemaking in these early chapters. In chapters 1-4 he tells the various parties, “You’re all wrong.”
Now in chapters 5 and 6 he jumps in the deep end of the doo-doo pool and addresses sexual ethics! (At times in this letter it seems the only unity he’s going to create is that everyone will be upset with him!) His first response to the blatant sexual sin tolerated by the Corinthian church is to kick the man out of the church. “Hand this man over to Satan“. Wow!
I don’t know what that means, but it sounds bad.
Our culture often encourages us all to go through life with our heads buried in the sand. Sin is subjective. Conflict is bad. Judging is terrible.
On the other hand it seems evangelical Christians have a special mission of shining the spotlight on moral decay in society.
In 5:12-13 Paul lays down a basic principle that many people seem to overlook.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
Sadly, my initial inclination is exactly the opposite. I want to avoid uncomfortable conversations with people I know. It’s far easier to point the finger of condemnation at at broad segments of society or at individuals I’ll probably never meet.
Although the words in this passage seem harsh, the loving side of Paul’s motivation is revealed in 5:5, “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Despite the depraved nature of his actions in sleeping with his father’s wife, this man is not beyond the scope of God’s grace. If he will repent, Christ will still claim him as His own on the day of His return.
It’s easy to be critical of this situation. The sin seems obvious and extreme.
Likewise in chapter 6 Paul confronts the issue of Christians taking other Christians to court. In the course of this discussion he lists behaviours that will exclude people from the kingdom of God. Then he writes this powerful testimony to the grace and mercy of God.
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
The church is no place for pride or smug superiority. We were all outside God’s kingdom before Jesus let us in. We were all condemned in our sins before Jesus removed them. We were all separated from God before His Spirit moved within us.
From this whole ugly episode I’ve extracted a couple of principles.
- Sweeping sin under the rug doesn’t produce unity.
- When addressing sin in the life of another, remember who you were before you met Jesus. In fact, let’s just make that a mindset, whoever we’re interacting with.
If you lean towards approaching life as an ostrich, we learn from this passage the importance of confronting sin. Sin never heals itself. It always requires intervention.
If you find yourself relating more to an attack dog, Paul reminds us of the grace we’ve received and the grace we need to give. Yes, God calls us to confront sin, but the attitude with which we do so is vital. We point out sin not because we’re somehow superior, but because we care about the person caught up in the sin. We judge others not because we want to condemn them, but because we want them to repent and receive the forgiveness they need.
How about you? Which of these principles do you find the most difficult to apply?