(408) 779-0697 | info@westhills.org

1 Corinthians 5:1-13 Study Guide: The Sin of Tolerance

1 Corinthians 5:1-13
Study Information:
There are many times we should bear with one another and tolerate things. For example there are some things that are just a matter of difference that we should tolerate like country music and liking tea instead of coffee. Just kidding. Tolerance gets thrown around a lot in our culture and it is one of the highest virtues of America today. But, what if what you’re tolerating is leading to someone’s destruction? Paul gives us an example of how the Corinthians boasted in the wrong thing, specifically in how loving and tolerant they were as a church for a serious, unrepentant sinful situation for someone who claimed to follow Jesus (1 Corinthian 5:6). Is tolerance still the way to go? Is it the most loving thing in a situation like that? Let’s look at how dangerous it is to boast in the wrong things, the role of church discipline and hope for restoration.  
Boasting in the Wrong Things:
Paul calls our attention to a prominent and well known sexually immoral relationship in the church of Corinth. Specifically it was an incestuous relationship between a man and his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). It does not appear to be this man’s biological mother but rather a step mother and it was something that even the unbelieving Corinthian culture would accept. Stop for a moment… based on all we’ve learned about Corinth, that is saying something! Corinth was a place where prostitution was celebrated and the culture experienced a high level of hyper sexualization as we will see in the next few chapters of First Corinthians. These Christians were boasting about how loving they were in how they tolerated this person in the church. And this is not an outsider who is just visiting but someone who claimed to be a follower of Christ. The proper response was not boasting but mourning (1 Corinthians 5:2).
We cannot forget the grace God in our passage. The grace of God means that no one is beyond God’s ability to save them. This person could repent and turn from their sin and find forgiveness and love from God because Jesus took the penalty of sin on the cross. Yet this man’s error seems to be thinking that God’s grace gives one a free pass or license to sin. It appears that this man and the church bought into an idea that it would be unloving to confront the sin and to find change and transformation in Christ.
Church Discipline:
Paul tells the church to take a radical step for this unrepentant person: church discipline. We may be unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with this. To be honest, many of us have a “you do you” approach to life. We do not want to be judgmental of others often because it feels legalistic or we are aquatinted with our own sins and struggles or because we do not want the tables turned on us. Yet, what we learn is the most unloving thing the church could do in this situation would be to let this man continue down the path he was going. The book of James tells us that if a believer wanders from the truth and we bring him back from sin we’ve saved his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sin (James 5:19-20). The proper step is to help this man realize the drastic and dangerous nature of the life he was living. Jesus instructs the church to lovingly help one another pursue holiness and to fight sin in their lives in a practice called “church discipline” that is detailed for us in Matthew 18:15-20.
Jesus gives us a series of steps to follow when a Christian sins and how to help them to be restored if they’re unrepentant:

    1. Go to your brother/sister in Christ and tell them their fault. This kind of thing happens all the time in a church community. We’re called to bear with one another and to forgive one another which means we will regularly sin against each other and need to be called to repentance (Colossians 3:13).
    2. If they will not listen take two or three others with you to talk with them. 
    3. If that does not work, tell the church publicly about it.
    4. The final step is to remove them from fellowship and treat them like they do not follow Jesus, with the goal that they repent and turn from their sin. 
Church discipline is meant to be used for consistent, ongoing and unrepentant sin. There are many check points along the way for a follower of Jesus to turn to God and experience forgiveness.
Paul tells the Corinthians to go down this path and the assumption is that steps 1 and 2 have already taken place because Paul tells them to work on steps 3 and 4. When the church gathers together (assembles) they are to hand him over to Satan which means to remove him from fellowship in the church (1 Corinthians 5:4-5). This may sound harsh, but look at Paul’s goal is restorative, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” This ongoing and unrepentant relationship with his father’s wife was a sign of this man living in his flesh and that part of his old life needed to die if he would really and truly experience the forgiveness and restoration offered in Christ. The big need of reconciliation and faith in God was more important than this man being affirmed in his sinful life.
Notice a few things about the importance of church discipline in this situation.
First, the Corinthians were boasting in their tolerance and that was dangerous for them to do (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). The idea here is that they were celebrating evil things in their church body and that would spread like leaven in a loaf of bread where one day you’d be unable to separate the leaven from the loaf. We should love one another and bear with one another in gentleness, because Christ is gentle with us in our weakness and no one is above the temptation to sin. Yet, this situation was one where they were willfully ignoring biblical teaching and allowing something destructive to develop in this man’s life and the church.
Second, notice that this is serious because this man claimed the name of “brother.” Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 is really important. Often Christians can be cautious about interacting with people who are not believers and can withdraw from the world; Paul mentions that if we wanted to do that we’d need to leave the world completely. Instead the caution from Paul is that we should not give someone in the church who is willfully and unrepentant in their sin cause for false assurance of salvation. Notice 1 Corinthians 5:11, this person is bearing the name of “brother” and purposefully sinning and enjoying fellowship in the church as if nothing is wrong. Paul is really clear, do not judge those outside the church, rather know that judgment starts in the household of God. Christians can tend to want to judge those who do not know Jesus and expect them to act like Christians. We should not be surprised when the world acts like the world; what do you expect? But that is the problem many of us face, it is easy to look outside the church and judge those who do not know Jesus and expect them to live like Christians. We should not be surprised when the world has a different sexual ethic than followers of Jesus. However, the problem in 1 Corinthians 5 is that the Corinthian church had a sexual ethic that was even worse than the world’s. Paul call us to “judge” those inside the church and leave the judgment of those who do not know Jesus to God (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Ideally we hold ourselves to the highest standard of holiness, then other Christians and finally the world. Yet, in practice we often do the reverse; we judge the world and are more lenient on the church and give ourselves the most grace. This is a wake up call that if someone claims to follow Jesus but willfully and unrepentantly sins that the most loving thing to do is to graciously tell them their fault with the goal to restore them in a spirit of gentleness and then if that does not work take 2-3 more with you, and then the church and then remove them as a last resort with the hope that they repent and turn to God. Tolerance in this situation is not loving, it is a sin.
There is Always Hope:
We are often uncomfortable or scared to go down this process because we feel like it will push people who are struggling with sin away from Jesus. Hopefully it is clear that this man was not “struggling” but rather pursuing sin. Even though it is uncomfortable, God seems to have used it to restore this man to fellowship with the church and with God. Read 2 Corinthians 2:6-8, it seems like this man repented and Paul calls for him to be restored into fellowship. It also seems like the Corinthian church erred on the opposite side and were slow to restore him. Paul’s call for them is to reaffirm their love and to once again embrace him as a brother because he repented in sorrow over his sin. The wake up call of church discipline worked, he saw how bad his sin was and turned away from it and towards God.
Christian, we are to be quick to bear one another’s burdens and to do so with gentleness knowing that we are not above being tempted to sin. This kind of practical love helps us walk in holiness as a church community and pursue Christ-likeness. There will be occasions when the sin is unrepentant and willful, and in those moments the worst thing we can do is to tolerate it, look the other way or celebrate it. Rather than boasting we are to mourn. Let’s not underestimate the word of God and the power of God, he can use these moments to bring people back to him and to wake them up from the pathway they are heading down.
Main idea:
The Corinthians were boasting about how tolerant they were, but their tolerance was actually leading someone to destruction as this person was pursuing a sexually immoral relationship that the world wouldn’t even tolerate. The best way for this person to wake up from their sin would be for the church to perform life saving surgery and remove him from fellowship so that his “spirit may be saved” and he’d come to repentance. God’s grace is that anyone who confesses their sin and looks to Jesus can be saved and the hope is that this radical step of church discipline would bring this man to a place where he’d experience God’s grace truly.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Discussion Questions:
Read 1 Corinthians 5:1-13
What were the Corinthians boasting in? Why should they rather be mourning? How could it be that the church was more tolerant with this sexual immorality than the world?
What are the steps of church discipline and how is it meant more to restore rather than punish?
Do you notice that Christians are quick to judge those outside the church? Why is that? How does Paul correct that tendency and what do you think it means to judge those “inside the church?” (Look at Matthew 7:1-6, Galatians 6:1-2 and James 5:19-20 for help).
How would you want someone to approach you if you were stuck in a pattern of unrepentant sin? What ways can we lovingly practice this call to pursue holiness without defaulting to condemnation or legalism?