“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. . . .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 – Read the chapter)
So in the last note, we talked about the fact that there are times and situations when it is right and appropriate for the church to remove an incorrigibly errant member from its fellowship. I said at the end that there is another part to Paul’s argument here. Verse 11 (the focus of part one) is surrounded by verses dealing with this other part. The ratio is 4:1. Why so much more on this here than that there? Because Paul likely understood that our temptation would be to get his intention in v. 11 backwards (boy was he right!) and he wanted to try and keep us from doing that.
Look at what Paul is saying here. This judgment that he’s talking about passing on someone is reserved for the church community. For those who have claimed to be a follower of Jesus, there is a certain behavioral pattern to which we are expected to adhere. Variance from this is rightly met with concern and discipline. But, this standard is for followers of Jesus, not those who are outside the body of Christ.
In other words, we are not called or even given permission to act to discipline unbelievers who are not behaving like Christians. We are not called to hold them to account. We should not expect that they will behave like Christians should for one rather obvious reason: They’re not Christians. Holding someone who is not a follower of Jesus to the standard of behavior expected for followers of Jesus is neither fair nor just. It’s not loving. It’s offensive and off-putting.
The efforts of the church over the years to do this is part of what has so hurt our reputation in the eyes of the world. It’s why many people, when they hear the word “Christian,” immediately call to mind all the things we are supposedly against and react with entirely understandable revulsion. Nobody likes somebody who goes around telling everybody around them what they’re doing wrong and why. They like it even less when it’s a whole organization doing so.
Too many folks approach the church from the mindset that we are somehow the guardians of the holiness and purity of God and we need to protect it from the world around us. As a result, they cloister themselves off from the world and lob angry pot shots at it from behind their walls. What does this accomplish? Not a single thing. Our better bet is to take up the way of Jesus, who fellowshipped with the sinners of His day all the time. He loved them and was loved by them. That must be our goal: To be a place where sinners can come in and feel embraced for who they are and in spite of what they’ve done from the moment they walk in the door. Now, does this mean we can’t ever point out where the behavior of the world is not on a path that will lead to life? No. In fact, we should be doing that. But how we do that and the goal of our doing it is incredibly important.
As far as the how goes, we take up the approach of Jesus. We love them for them until they love us back. At the same time, we never shy away from the fact that our lifestyle is not only different from theirs, but also that we are convinced it is morally superior to theirs and will lead to better outcomes than theirs will. We never shy away from the fact that we are inviting them to live like we do instead of however they are currently living. This does not come from a place of judgment, but rather of invitation. We invite them to the way of Jesus with the gentle observation that their current path isn’t leading them anywhere good.
As far as the why goes, we do this not with the goal of seeing them condemned, but rather of seeing them saved. We don’t offer condemnation at all in fact. They aren’t expected to live up to our standards and judging them is God’s job. What we offer is love and an invitation to a better life. Implicit in this (and, at times, gently, humbly explicit) is the affirmation that what they are currently doing is not right. But this is never our lead. Nor is it our primary goal. When they accept our invitation to come to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will do all the convicting that needs to be done. Our place is to love–to act in intentional ways with the goal of moving them in the direction of Jesus. When the church gets this right, growth happens, both in numbers and, more importantly, in holiness. That sounds to me like a win.