I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (ESV)
Christians face two different types of difficult decisions. First, there are those decisions which are quite clear but rather hard to do. Paul may have been addressing precisely that sort of situation in verses 1-8. It is always difficult to actually excommunicate someone from a congregation and, if this man was prominent in the community, it may have been even more difficult. Nevertheless, we easily get Paul’s point: A person flaunting notoriously sinful behavior cannot remain a part of the people of God. The Second type of difficult decision that Christians face involves decisions that are less black and white yet engage our emotions and relationships in a most personal way: “If my son is marrying a Jehovah’s witness, do I go to the wedding?” “A friend at work is cheating on his wife. Can I still have lunch with him? Should I?” “Should I attend a Roman Catholic funeral where the mass is going to be celebrated?” The only people who never wrestle with such questions are those who are not very concerned about living a life that is pleasing to God. Today’s passage teaches us the important truth that Paul is specifically NOT saying that you should only fellowship with non-Christians who somehow still live in accordance with Christian ethics “since then you would need to go out of the world”. The rub comes with how we apply Paul’s teaching that we are “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” How do we do this in an environment where most of the non-Christians we know call themselves Christians? Does this mean that you shouldn’t invite your Roman Catholic friend who only attends church once a year over to dinner? Such an application of the passage seems unlikely. Paul is assuming in the passage that all the Christians in Corinth are attending the same congregation. Notice that the climatic end of Paul’s argument is a command: “Purge the evil person from among you.” The immediate application of this passage in our own day would be to our own local church. By extension, with much wisdom we could apply these truths to other like-minded Christian churches. To rigorously avoid associating with all the immoral people who claim to be Christians would essentially require us to leave this world when we are elsewhere commanded to remain engaged as salt and light.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 95
Q. 95. To whom is baptism to be administered?
A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.