And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. (1 Corinthians 5:2)
There were a lot of problems among the Christians of Corinth. Some of the problems were “mental” – in the sense of being problems of wrong thinking. Many of the Corinthians had wrong ideas about God’s power, work. and servants. But the Corinthians didn’t only have problems in how they thought; they also had problems with what they did. They had both “mental” and “moral” problems. In some sense, the two were connected. Their moral problems came because they didn’t think rightly about God and His world.
In 1 Corinthians 5, the problem was sexual immorality. Verse 1 explains that someone counted among the Christians of Corinth openly lived in an on-going sexual relationship (either as married or living together) with his stepmother. The woman involved wasn’t a believer because Paul didn’t address her.
Paul said that they must take the man away from among the church: This was part of God’s answer to the problem – to take this notoriously unrepentant man away from the protection of the fellowship of God’s people. Yet, the Corinthian Christians didn’t do this. Why not? How could this kind of thing be allowed?
They allowed it because they were influenced by their surrounding culture. Remember that Corinth was a city notorious for sexual immorality, and the pagan religions did not value sexual purity. It wasn’t hard for a Corinthian to think you could be religious, yet still act any way you pleased when it came to sex. Greek culture matter-of-factly said: “Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children.”
They allowed it because they didn’t know or didn’t apply the Scriptures, such as Leviticus 18:8, which forbids a man to have sex with his stepmother.
More than anything, they allowed it in the name of “tolerance.” The Corinthian Christians said to themselves, “Look how loving we are. We accept this brother just as he is. Look how open-minded we are!”
The Corinthian Christians were proud (puffed up) over their acceptance of this man; they thought it said something good about them. Instead of glorying, they should have grieved, both for the man and over what God wanted them to do with the man: put him out of the church until he repented.
Generally, Christians are to be a tolerant people. In the broader world, we should love even those who are enemies to the Christian faith (Matthew 5:44). Yet leaders among God’s people have the responsibility of dealing with believers who are in open sin, refusing to recognize it as sin or to repent. In those situations, it’s a grave error to pretend everything is OK or the church should be praised for its so-called tolerance.
May God give leaders in the church the wisdom and strength to deal rightly with open sin among God’s people.