Robert Jeffress - Caring Enough To Confront
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. God calls us to be holy like he is holy. So when a fellow Christian is engaged in blatant sin, how should we respond? When does grace obligate us to overlook other people's faults? And conversely, when does love demand that we confront those faults? Today, we're going to look at a case study for how to deal with sin. My message is titled "Caring Enough to Confront" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Two weeks ago, Qantas Airlines, an A380 jet liner, the largest jet liner ever built, the double-decker airplane that carried 400 passengers, a Qantas A380 had to return immediately back to Singapore airport after takeoff when one of its engines caught fire. Perhaps you read about that. A subsequent investigation revealed that other A380s had a similar problem as well, causing the grounding of the entire fleet of A380s. Now, grounding an airplane like that and grounding many of them is a very expensive proposition. Talk about putting on the shelf an airplane that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Grounding airplanes is expensive, but not as expensive as crashing one of those airplanes and costing hundreds of lives. Qantas Airlines has a habit. They have a record of no airplane accidents in 90 years, and the reason they have that record is that when they find a problem, rather than ignoring the problem, they confront the problem directly.
You know, unfortunately, many churches have not discovered a similar lesson. There are many churches, when they find a member that has a defect, they ignore the problem in the member. They hope that it will go away or will heal itself. That rarely happens, and the result can be very costly spiritually. Tonight, we're going to look at a case study in how to handle problems in the church, and we find it in 1 Corinthians chapter five. Tonight, we're going to talk about what it means to care enough to confront. 1 Corinthians chapter five, verse one. Paul said, "It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not even exist among the gentiles, that someone has his father's wife". The problem in the church was one of immorality.
Now, the Greek word for immorality is porneia. Do you have to wonder what we get our word from that comes from the Greek word porneia? We talk about pornography, but in the Greek language, the word porneia was an umbrella term that dealt with any kind of sexual immorality, whether that sexual immorality was homosexuality or adultery or fornication or incest or bestiality. Paul said, "There is an immorality that I've heard about here in the church at Corinth". And namely, he says, here is the problem, "That someone has his father's wife". That is, somebody in the church at Corinth was having a sexual relationship with his father's wife, but instead of dealing with these sins, the Corinthians ignored this particular sin. Look at verse two. Paul says, "You have become arrogant and you have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst".
The Corinthians were actually priding themselves over the fact that they did not deal with this sin. Well, even though the Corinthians wouldn't deal with this sin, Paul was ready to do so. Look at the sin confronted, beginning in verse three. Paul pronounces a judgment against this person for his sin. Look at verses three through five. Paul said, "For I on my part, though absent but present in the spirit, I've already judged him who has so committed this, so as if I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, I would you in spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh". Paul was not wishy-washy about this. He said, "I've heard the facts of the case. I've already pronounced a judgment against him".
Now, some people say, "Wait a minute, Paul. Remember what Jesus said? Do not judge, lest you be judged. How can you say you've already judged this person? Are Christians really supposed to judge other people"? When Jesus said in Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge, unless you be judged," he was not condemning any kind of judgment. Obviously there are some judgements we have to make in life. For example, a surgeon, before he removes a malignant tumor from a patient, he has to, first of all, make a judgment. He has to make the judgment that that tumor is going to kill his patient unless it's removed. He's making a judgment to cut into his patient, not because he hates his patient, but because he wants to heal his patient. In the same way, we occasionally have to make judgments about other people. The kind of judgment Jesus said we're not to make is a judgment like the pharisees made, a judgment that will elevate ourselves above other people. We're not to do that kind of judgment.
Remember Jesus went on in Matthew 7 to say, "Remove the plank out of your own eye before you try to remove the speck from your brother's eye". You know, if your friend has a speck in his eye, that can be very painful to your friend. It's a nice thing for you to try to help him remove the speck from his eye. But Jesus said before you try to help your brother, make sure that the plank is removed from your own eye. In other words, judge yourself before you attempt to help and restore a fellow Christian. Paul was engaging in a godly kind of judgment here. Now, why did he do this? Why did he want to do this? First of all, there are two key phrases to understand in verse five. First of all, he said, "I've judged this person and I've decided to deliver to Satan this person".
Now, some people kind of think, "Ooh, this sounds kind of creepy here". Delivering somebody to Satan? Is this some kind of little ritual the church gets involved in? Turns out the lights and lights up a candle, and you know, kind of like a seance. We're going to deliver this person's soul to Satan? I don't think that's what he's talking about here at all. I think what he's referring to here is simply he is turning the person outside of the church. Whenever you revoke somebody's membership in the church, it is like you are turning them out of the realm of the church, into the realm where Satan dwells, that is, the world. And when you deliver somebody over to Satan, it means, it's a euphemism for you are really turning them out of the church, and there are occasions when we're to do that.
Matthew 18, Jesus said the most extreme action we take toward an unrepentant sinner is we turn them out of the church. In 1 Timothy 1:20, Paul said, "I've delivered hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan, in order that they may be taught not to blaspheme". The second phrase to understand here is the destruction of his flesh. "I have turned him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ". What does he mean, his flesh be destroyed? I think this phrase, the destruction of his flesh, might be best paraphrased until his flesh gets its fill of sin. In other words, if this person will not repent of this sin that is destroying the reputation of Christ in his church, you turn him out of the church, into the world, until he gets his fill of sin, until Satan can have his way with this person and completely break him so that his spirit might be saved.
You know, those of you who are parents, some of you have had this experience, this heartbreaking experience of having a child who is so rebellious that you had to come to the point that you said, "You know what? If you're going to rebel against me and God, you're going to have to do it outside of this house". And you turn them out of your house. It's the most painful thing any parent can do, because when you turn a child out of your house, into the world, you open them up to every kind of evil imaginable. But the only reason you do that is because you know that the consequence of allowing them to continue in their rebellion is even more severe. Sometimes we have to do that in the church. Sometimes we say, "We care too much about you and your future to allow you to go on sinning. We care too much about our church to allow you to continue to cause a disruption, and because of that, we're going to turn you out of the church, into the world, until you're ready to repent, until you're broken".
Isn't that what happened with the prodigal son? It was only when he got his fill of sin in the world that he came back to the father. I think that's what Paul has in mind here. What is his motive for doing this? Notice there are always two motives for church discipline. First of all, to restore the sinner's relationship with God. Remember this, if you don't hear anything else. Church discipline is not about retribution. It's about restoration. Now, the reason we engage in this form of extreme discipline is not because we're mad at people, not because we hate people, not because we have a personal vendetta against people, but it is always restoration that is the goal. That's what Paul said here. We have his flesh destroyed, that his spirit might be saved.
Listen to me tonight. The Bible offers no hope for a professing Christian who continues sinning and dies in his rebellion. There is no hope of eternity, there is no word of comfort and assurance in the Bible for a professing Christian who keeps on sinning, keeps on rebelling against God, and dies in his rebellion. And that's why, even if you have to go to this extreme measure of turning someone out of the church, if the end result is that sinner's repentance, then it's well worth the effort. Remember what James wrote in James 5, verses 19 to 20? He said, "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins".
Charles Finney once said, "If you see your neighbor sin and you pass by and neglect to reprove him, that is just as cruel as going by his house, seeing it on fire, and failing to warn him". The reason we confront Christians about their sin is to restore their relationship with God. It's interesting that apparently the Corinthians followed this advice. They put this man out of the church. He eventually repented, and he was ready to come back into the church. 2 Corinthians 2, verses six and eight tell us that the Corinthians were reluctant to allow him to come back. No, if somebody does repent, then we need to welcome them back with open arms. But there's a second purpose for discipline that's often overlooked, and that is to maintain the purity of the church. The reason we go to these drastic steps is to maintain the purity of the church.
Look at verse six. He says, "For your boasting is no good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough"? Now, in the Bible, leaven represents influence, and it's usually an influence for evil. It only takes a little pinch of leaven to cause a whole dough, a batch of dough to rise. In the same way, it only takes a little bit of sin to contaminate an entire congregation. And by the way, that is especially true when it comes to gossip and bitterness in the church. Just a little bit of bitterness in the church can spread like gangrene throughout the church. And Paul says that's why it needs to be dealt with. And he says, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump". It would be like our saying one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel. That's what he's talking about here.
Now, Paul illustrates that truth by using an Old Testament story that his readers were very familiar with, the Old Testament feast of Passover and the feast of unleavened bread. Remember the story in Exodus 12? It was when Pharaoh was holding God's people captive in Egypt, and God sent the 10 plagues in order to convince Pharaoh to let his people go. And remember, the 10th plague was going to be God passing through Egypt and killing the firstborn of every family. But God said to the Israelites, "If you will take the blood of an innocent lamb and you will place it on your doorpost, if I see the blood, I will pass over you in judgment".
And of course, that was a picture of the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, and what he would do for us. When we trust in Christ as our Savior, when God sees the blood of Christ covering our life, the blood we sang about tonight, God passes over us in judgment. Well, when that happened and when God moved and killed the firstborn of every family that didn't have the blood applied, of course, one of those killed was the firstborn son of Pharaoh, and at that point, he was broken, and he said to Moses, "Get your people out of here," and Moses knew it was time to go. So he had the Israelites pack up and leave as quickly as they could, and in fact, they had to leave so quickly, Exodus 12 tells us, that they had to leave with their dough, and I'm not talking about their money. I mean their actual dough. They got out of there as quickly as they could, and they didn't even have time to leaven the dough. That's how quickly they had to move out of Egypt.
Well, that began a tradition, and the tradition was, God said, "Every year at this time, I want you to have a Passover meal to remember what I did for you in Egypt that night, but before you sit down and enjoy the Passover lamb, you're to go through the house and you're to look for any trace of leaven in the house. You're to sweep out the leaven, and then you can sit down and eat the meal". The leaven represented sin. It represented their old way of life in Egypt. You get the picture?
Now, before you sit down and enjoy the Passover meal, make sure there is no hint of your former way of life. And so they would sit down and eat the Passover, and that would begin the feast of unleavened bread that would last for the next week. Now, Paul is using that illustration. Look in verse seven. He says, "Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed". And then look at verse eight. "Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth".
In other words, Paul is saying, we who are Christians have experienced the true Passover. We have partaken the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, but because we are a part of that true Passover, we should not tolerate any hint of our old way of life. We ought to do everything we can to rid our lives individually and corporately of sin. That's why Paul says we must maintain purity in the church. God has called us to a whole new way of living. Now, look in verse nine to 10. Paul had to clarify what he meant by this judgment. He said, "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people. I did not at all mean with the immoral of this world, or would the covetous and swindlers, or the idolaters, for then you would have to go out of this world".
Remember there was a previous letter Paul had written that got lost, and Paul said, "You know, I need to clarify what I meant. When I said don't associate with immoral people, I wasn't talking about immoral Christians. There's no way. Or non-Christians. To not associate with sinners, you'd have to leave this world. When I said don't associate with immoral people, I meant immoral Christians". You see, what had happened was these Corinthians had misunderstood what Paul said. They were trying to withdraw from having any contact with unbelievers. No, Jesus said we're the salt of the world. We're supposed to have contact with unbelievers. The kind of immoral sinners we're to withdraw from are professing Christians, not non-Christians. That was the whole point here.
Look at verse 11. He says, "But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother, if he's an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even eat with such a person". Don't associate with them. Look at verses 12 and 13. "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves". You know what most of us want to do? We want to judge the sins of non-Christians. We want to condemn them, but pass over the sins of fellow Christians. Paul said, you've got it all wrong here. We need to quit judging unbelievers. That is not our calling in life. God says, if you want to judge somebody, judge the immoral Christian who is living within your midst.
What are the principles from this passage? Let me just mention two in closing tonight. Write 'em down, if you will. First of all, sin in the church should be confronted firmly, yet lovingly. Let me say it again. Sin in the church should be confronted firmly, yet lovingly. The church at Corinth had made so many compromises with sin that it had lost its influence in the city. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5:13? "You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men". We are to confront sin, but we remember when we do, the goal is not condemnation, it is restoration. And then second principle, sin in our own lives should be confronted honestly and quickly. Sin in our own lives should be confronted honestly and quickly.
Ladies and gentlemen, the only way for the church to remain pure is for those of us who are members of the church to be pure, and that means just like the Israelites looked in their home for any trace of leaven, and swept it out, we ought to ask the Holy Spirit of God to shine his spotlight into the deepest recesses of our heart and make us aware of anything in our life that is displeasing to God. And when we find that little bit of sin, we need to deal with it. We need to sweep it out decisively.
I want you to believe me tonight when I'm saying I'm not speaking about any situation that I have direct knowledge of tonight, but I just have a feeling in a group this size, those listening by broadcast, I'm speaking to somebody tonight who's engaged in secret sin. It may be an overpowering addiction in your life. It may be a dishonest deal you're involved in. It may be an illicit relationship you're experiencing right now. And you may think nobody knows anything about it, and that may be true, but God knows. What is a secret sin in your heart is an open scandal in heaven right now, and regardless of what this church does or doesn't do about that sin in your life, God will deal eventually would that sin, especially if you're his child. Remember the words of Hebrews 12, verse six. "For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines. And he scourges every son whom he receives". Paul said if we will judge ourselves, we will not be judged.