Judging Those Inside vs. Outside the Church – 1 Cor 5

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In talking about sexual immorality in the church Paul makes a statement about judging those inside vs. outside the church.

“But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 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 man from among you.” – 1 Cor 5:11-13

I think this passage has some implications for how we look at the world and how we evangelize. It also has implications for how we treat each other within the church.

I grew up seeing an evangelistic approach that was pretty judgmental. Sin was pointed out up front with little attempt to actually get to know someone, form a relationship with them, and build enough trust to have the “sin conversation”. Instead people often went on the attack first and never tried to get to know the other person. Here Paul is saying that it is not our place to be the judge of those who are not Christians. Those people are not living a life centered on Christ so of course they are going to do the things they do.

Before we can have the sin conversation with the world we have the Jesus conversation. We have to have a common understanding of the positive alternative before blasting the only thing they know. We also cannot expect non-Christians to act like Christians. I used to get offended when I would be around people who used profanity and things like that. Now, I don’t care to hear it, but I don’t expect a non-Christian to act any better than that. It is amazing how many doors open up when you treat non-Christians with patience and love rather than with quick judgment and condemnation.

I wonder how this passage also impacts the way we interact “on the inside” of the Church. Paul is saying there is a place to judge sin on the inside of the church and try to get things reconciled. Notice Paul is not saying not to have fellowship with those you have minor doctrinal disagreements with. Notice Paul is not saying to expel the immoral “doctrinally challenged” brother. He is saying expel those whose sin is evident to all but who don’t care to do anything about and want to stay in the church like everything is okay. Somehow we have formed the idea that lines in the sand are drawn a lot more freely, quickly, and over much more minor issues than that. The world sees us bickering and squabbling over all these minor variations of doctrines that have split Christianity up into tens of thousands of denominations and wonder why they would want to be a part of that.

How we treat each other has a tremendous impact on how the world sees the church. How we treat non-Christians also has a tremendous impact on whether or not doors into their lives will open or close. This takes a lot of discernment to take this verse and apply it in a way that would be pleasing to God in line with Paul’s intention in 1 Corinthians 5.

Any thoughts?

13 Responses

  1. i have taught on this recently, and never ceased to be amazed at how we usually reverse that command, and go soft on each other in the church because we are friends, don’t want to make someone mad, etc. even though our souls depend on accountability, yet we bash all those big, fat, hairy sinners on the outside.

  2. I wrote a paper on this chapter just a semester ago!

    A couple of things that stuck out to me:

    1. In order to use exclusion as a form of discipline, we have to keep the environment within the church so loving and supportive that it would be genuinely painful to be separate from it. As Yogi Berra said, “If they don’t want to come to the ballgame, you can’t stop them.”

    2. There is no such thing as a private sin. Whether it’s in our attitude, or words, or whatever else, sin always affects the people around us, and maybe people we’ll never even know about. Sin has to be treated seriously. It’s not just a made up word to describe bad things, it’s a real ugly problem.

    I agree…this passage has implications primarily for within the church. We are not to use church discipline against people who are not members of the church. It should not surprise us that lost people behave like lost people. It’s those who have a commitment to Christ who know better who need to be kept in check.

    Thanks for the post,

  3. Well said, Matt

    I continue to be amazed at Christians who expect the State to behave Godly, and go to extremes to try to make it happen. I can find NO evidence that ANY nation shold look upon itself as God Blessed. As we pray for His blessing on America, we need to pray the samy for Iran/China/Colubia/etc.

    Keep up the good work.

    Dan in Reno

  4. Matt,
    You made several very good points. On the subject of how and when to bring up the topic of sin to those outside the church, I was reminded of one of my friends, an urban minister. He has said, “I love being in urban ministry. I got tired of trying to talk people into seeing their need for a Savior. In urban ministry, nearly everyone I meet knows he’s a sinner and needs a Savior.” When he preaches to a congregation or talks with someone individually, he does not hold back about how bad their sin is or what the consequences may be. But he always says, “I care about you and God cares about you. Neither one of us wants you to keep hurting yourself.” He has had an amazingly effective ministry, reaching people most would assume to be unreachable. He has shown me that we can be open about sin and compassionate in calling for repentance at the same time. I have not yet reached his level of maturity or effectiveness, but he has been a good role model for me to try to immitate.

  5. We are quick to judge and quick to seperate. And even if someone has boughten a line of deception, it is easy to write them off as beyond hope. This is different then God’s call. Same with those we encounter who sin in major ways. It is easy to judge and seperate. I did it and have regrets over those actions. We need to exhibit far more grace.

  6. I really enjoyed this post, even as an atheist. While I could not relate necessarily to the religious tone, I certainly relate to the overall message you were trying to deliver. I think it’s extremely important to realize that people have their vices and that often times what they need is compassion. Motivation to change and live a better life. People often alienate those who alienate themselves which just seems to exacerbate the problem. Thanks for the post! :]

  7. According to the verse given its more than just sexually immoral people out side the church were not to judge there a much bigger list of people than just that. It covers just about every one out side the christian church.

  8. This leads to a even bigger problem because only God sees the heart and knows for sure who are members of his true church. And yet he tells us to judge righteously.. And he tells us how to judge righteously by getting the log out of our own eye so we can see the speck in our brothers. Our judgements are to be out of concern not out of contempt or being pleased with our selves for not being like them.

  9. God does though make it very easy to Judge what sin is but not easy at all for us to judge the sinner. Even those inside the church. Look how Jesus love for Judas handled Judas even at the last supper. Any one else would have wanted to rip that Jerks face off .but not Jesus.

  10. I had just read that passage in 1 Cor yesterday and went looking for commentary when I found this rather old post. Glad to see some more recent comments! What I have been seeing is Christians that are so very politically minded and swift to condemn outside the Church, mostly on the say-so of Facebook posts! This mindset that rushes to judgment and jumps on the conspiracy bandwagon to me is appalling. Then on the other hand, those same people are so very ready to give a pass to the part of the Church that’s completely warped the Word with the prosperity message and brought disrepute to the Body of Christ with greed. They say, Oh, don’t judge!! But the same crowd is so ready to judge outside the Body. It looks so very backward to me. I’d love a sane voice with some feedback on this.

  11. The impetus of I Cor. is that we should judge those inside the church, after all God has judged those outside the church who side with Satan, but the context is in regards to obvious ongoing sin, incest-adultery, that is very clearly condemned in the scriptures as an abomination.
    And the judging had to do with them breaking social contact with them in hopes this would force them to come into understanding that they are indeed sinning against God and being worldly.
    At this time they didn’t have church buildings to be forced out of.
    Corinth was accepting of this sin and even were condemned of “glorying” in it.
    Otherwise Paul confronts all of the saints in Corinth for not loving one another and being selfish in regards to desires and even promoting self-righteousness over other worshippers of Christ.
    These people were having many internal problems and yet weren’t told to break off from one another, with the exception of this one obvious ongoing flagrant sinner.

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