Pursuit of Purity – 1 Corinthians 5:1-7

Good morning church! Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in our church.

And as we come before God’s Word this morning, let’s remember that our God wants to speak to us, He wants to meet us in the middle of our struggle & bring us comfort and hope.

As a church we’ve beengoing through this series titled The Church: God’s Dwelling Place from the letter of 1st Corinthians. A common theme that we’ve been seeing right through this letter is that the place in which God has chosen to dwell in – His choice residence is not in a building or religious place but it is actually among His redeemed people.

What we’ll be seeing today and over the next few Sundays is that if God has chosen us as His residence (dwelling place), then our pursuit of purity individually and together as a church needs to be of primary importance. Our pursuit of purity is not a secondary issue, but a core issue of who we are as a church. The topic will be specifically on sexual purity.

And I know even as this topic is introduced, I’m sure some of us are surprised to hear being spoken about in church. It’s like that awkward topic which parents don’t want to talk with their kids and kids don’t want to talk with their parents. Maybe some of us are even thinking, I should have probably stayed back at home this Sunday.

But here’s the thing, if the church doesn’t give us a biblical view of sex and what God intended from it, then all that we’re going to know about sex is what is thrown at us from the world – in the form of movies, books, social media which is often a broken view of sex and that’s why it’s going to be all the more important as a church to have this conversation keeping the Bible at the centre.

When we look at the issue that the church in Corinth had, it was that the lines were blurring between the world and the church. Unlike the other NT churches which were suffering for their faith, the Corinthian church had the opposite problem. Their problem was how to prevent themselves from being influenced by their  culture around them.

I believe that churches in big cities like Mumbai have a similar struggle – more than suffering for faith, it’s about how we prevent ourselves from being influenced by our culture. And so we’re glad that we have a passage like that from today to help us.

And what does our pursuit of purity look like in this culture?

1.We confront sin (v1-2)

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

In the Greek – the word used for “sexual immorality” is “porneia” – the same word from which we get the word “pornography”.

Porneia is a word used to describe a wide range of sexual activity outside the boundaries of marriage between a husband and wife. Every kind of sexual activity outside the boundaries of marriage between a husband and a wife is porneia or sexual immorality.

It includes:

  1. Pre-marital sex – sex before marriage
  2. Adultery – sex with someone else apart from your spouse
  3. Pornography – watching material which arouses your lust
  4. Homosexuality – sex with someone of the same gender
  5. Beastiality – sex between humans and animals
  6. Incest – sex between members of the same family

Any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage between a husband and a wife is considered as porneia or sexual immorality.

And for some of us might wonder – why is Paul making it so restrictive? Is he just imposing his traditional, conservative views on the Corinthians?

Paul is not imposing his own personal view, he’s actually lifting up God’s view and His original design for sex. Let’s remember that sex wasn’t a result of the fall. Sex was a wonderful gift given to Adam and Eve as a married couple. Look with me at Genesis 2:24

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

That phrase “one flesh” isn’t only referring to their spiritual oneness. It’s referring to their physical oneness as well. Marriage is consummated through the act of sex. Marriage is completed through the act of sex.

So Paul is lifting up God’s wonderful gift and design for sex given to a husband and wife in marriage. And on the other side – a distortion, a breaking down and a messing up of that gift and design is sexual immorality.

And that’s the result of the fall – all the events of Genesis 3 has now resulted in sex being distorted, damaged and covered in shame. But that’s not the way God intended it to be.

Coming to the issue in the Corinthian church in v1, Paul received an oral report of sexual immorality – of incest that was taking place in the church.

There was a man who was having a physical relationship with stepmother! And this was in public knowledge – everyone in the church was aware of this and they were okay with it.

And so, Paul is not only correcting the man who did it, he’s also correcting the church who were tolerating sexual immorality within. They were approving of it, they were okay with it.

Not only were they approving of it, in v2 we are told that they were arrogant about it. It was a badge of pride for them. They were probably defending and justifying the sin rather than mourning and grieving over it.

You can see how far away the church has gone from the truth, that they would not only approve the sin but also defend and justify it. Paul is actually calling out and confronting their sin – it’s not because he loves them any less – he’s doing this because he truly loves them.

How does that speak to our church context today? Even though the church needs be a people that is non-threatening, non-judgmental but still they are called to confront sin. Because the goal is not to create a sweet, all-inclusive community.The goal is pursuing purity because we are God’s dwelling place.

Now there’s a way in which that needs to be done – it needs to be done lovingly where you’re wanting the best for the person but you’re still confronting them.

2. We address sin (v3-5)

3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 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.[a]

In v3-5, Paul is actually instructing the church to discipline the man who is in sexual immorality. And he’s basically asking the entire church to assemble together to discipline this man.

When we read this, it almost seems like a disconnected, distant CEO who is terminating an employee for breaching the office policy. But that’s not the case here because Paul wasn’t their CEO, he was their spiritual father in Christ. They came into the faith because he shared the Gospel with them. In all likelihood, Paul would have personally known this man as well. So even as Paul is instructing them to discipline him, Paul is deeply affected as well.

The other to notice is that the decision to discipline (although initiated by Paul) is one that is taken by the whole church. The whole church is responsible for taking this decision.

But what is this decision that they need to take? V5 – deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.

I know as we are seeing this verse, it probably unsettles because we wonder what that verse means – handing over to Satan. But what this actually means is that this man should be put outside the safety and protection of the church.

What it’s telling us is that the church is actually a safety net that God has provided for our souls. But do we see the church as that? We think that we are better off by being less connected and committed.

But what does this Scripture say? The church is a safety net that God has given to help us fight the darts of Satan. Day in and day out as Satan keeps throwing those flaming darts of condemnation, guilt, confusion – God uses your local church to act as a safety net to protect your hearts from that. As we remind each other of the Gospel and who we are because of the Gospel, we are God’s safety net protecting each other from Satan.

So the instruction is to put this man out of the church. But look at the end of v5 – so that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord. This seems like a contradiction. I thought Paul just spoke about removing him, why is talking about saving him now on the last day?

It’s because church discipline isn’t the end goal. Restoration is. Restoring the brother back to the Lord. That’s why church discipline isn’t like terminating an employee in the corporate world. Out here, the goal is not to just remove people. The goal is actually to restore back people and excommunication is not the first resort but the absolute last resort.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18:15-18)

And I know as some of us are hearing this right now, we’re probably discouraged thinking “I know I struggle with sexual sin, does that warrant church discipline where I’ll be eventually removed from the church?”

This passage is specifically referring to unrepentant, defiant, rebellious sin. There are some habitual sins that we all struggle with which will probably take some time to overcome because of how deep rooted it is, but if you are aware of that sin, if you’re repentant of it and looking to turn away from it, then be assured that God is at work in your heart even though you might not see the immediate victory from it.

And what about those who have been put out of the church? Are they beyond repair? No, if fact in the very next letter we see how another man who was disciplined by the Corinthian church has shown true repentance and is incorporated back into the fellowship of the church.  

The goal is restoration. So we confront sin, we address sin and we finally

3.We renounce sin (v6-7)

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

Suddenly we come to v6 and Paul is talking about a cooking analogy. He’s talking about how a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Some of us here who have done a little bit of baking probably get what Paul is saying. When we use leaven – either in the form of yeast or baking powder – all we need to do is add a small portion of it and that’s enough to make the flour rise.

And Paul is using this analogy of leaven to help us understand the influence of tolerating sin within the church. And what Paul is saying is that by tolerating and approving sin within the church, it can seriously contaminate and damage the church.

And then in v7, he tells the church to renounce sin – he tells them to cleanse themselves from the contamination of sin. He tells them “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump” – what does that mean? People from a Jewish background would have immediately understood it because the Jewish Passover was a very important festival for the Jews. And an important part of the Passover meal was eating unleavened bread. So what Jews would do is they’d go through a very thorough exercise of cleansing their homes from any form of leaven. Even if a hint was found, they would put it out of the house because they didn’t want it to contaminate the unleavened bread. So Paul is using this analogy to tell the church – “You need to cleanse yourselves, you need to set apart yourselves”.

And then he says something strange “as you really are unleavened”! He’s telling the Corinthian church that they are already the unleavened bread. They are already purified. They are already clean. They are not trying to become unleavened bread by renouncing the sin from within, they are already unleavened bread. Their renouncing of sin is a proof of them being unleavened. Of them being purified, set apart and cleansed. But how is that possible that they are already considered as pure?

….For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

Jews understood what this meant because on the first Passover when the angel of death went all through Egypt killing the first born, it passed over those homes whose doorposts were painted with the blood of the lamb.

And that to prep us for the perfect lamb of God Jesus Christ who was to come. He lived the life you and I needed to live but couldn’t live and died the death we deserved. On account of His shed blood on the cross, God’s wrath passes over us and spares us and so for whoever trusts in Jesus, God looks at them and says “No payment pending, you are free and you are my child”.

And because that is who God has declared us to be in Christ, we are already unleavened bread. We are already pure. We are already set apart. So Paul is calling us to renounce our sin in line with the identity we’ve been gifted in Christ.

Even as I talk about sexual purity, I just want to acknowledge that this is not an easy topic to listen to specifically because of the guilt and shame that we experience regarding it. And adding to it the whole subject of church discipline sometimes can seem like a crushing weight.

But what I want to encourage you all to know is that the greatest crushing weight for our sin was already placed on the Lord Jesus to save us. He paid the price for you and me so that we don’t have to bear the weight ourselves.

After he died, he rose from the grave and sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. He is right now interceding for you and me praying prayers so that we may be strengthened to pursue purity. And one day He will return back to take us home and on that day we will struggle with sexual sin no more.

So do not be discouraged my brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus is with you to help you pursue purity. He’s not left you to yourself and He’s granted you loving brothers and sisters to help you confront sin, address sin and also renounce sin!

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