“When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or who are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways. God will judge those on the outside; but as the scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) NLT
For many of us, the last thing we want to do is start a discussion with a friend about sin in their lives. This may rank right up there with not wanting to talk to non-Christians about our faith. How unbelievably uncomfortable! It’s much cleaner and simpler if we can all just avoid uncomfortable situations. And yet it seems that uncomfortable situations are apparently our calling by God. We’re called to share our faith with those around us which can be uncomfortable (some of us get squeamish about just saying the name Jesus in conversation), and here Paul charges us to “judge” those within the church who are blatantly sinning among us.
According to earlier verses, the situation that prompted these verses to be written was that a man in the church was having an affair with “his father’s wife”. Clearly this has a certain “ick” factor associated with it, and yet apparently it wasn’t really bothering these Corinthians very much. They did what we do. They probably talked about them behind their backs for a little while until they got bored and moved on, having gotten used to it as just the way things are now. Why should we say anything? Their sin doesn’t affect us! Or does it? Earlier in the passage, Paul explains why he is so concerned about this:
“How terrible that you should boast about your spirituality, and yet you let this sort of thing go on. Don’t you realize that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be affected? Remove this wicked person from among you so that you can stay pure…” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7) NLT
Paul’s concern is that, the more we have sin around us, the more we become desensitized to it. God wants us to stay as far away from sin as possible to keep sin from eventually starting to feel normal or acceptable. The catch, as we see in the earlier passage, is that Paul is not talking about staying away from people who sin outside the church. We should be leveraging relationships with those outside the church to help them see and experience the saving love of Jesus. But those relationships are not our most trusted advisors—those we do life with on a daily basis. We love them and care for them, we pray for them and hope for them. But they should not be our most trusted advisors. The advice we would receive from them is based on how they see the world. We are hopefully aspiring to see things from a God-centric perspective.
But as for those in the church, their sin could cause other Christians to stumble (maybe even you).
Sin always has negative consequences but they’re not always visible right away. When we live in that state with seemingly no consequences for a period of time, we start to relax and settle in. Other things we would have never done in the past start to look interesting. Before long, it can turn into an addiction and we begin to lose control of it. At that point, the consequences often start rolling in.
Paul warns us to guard ourselves and those in our circle of influence. Even though it’s uncomfortable, we need to help our fellow Christians see what they’re doing and get help. If they won’t get help, the wisest thing we can do, according to Paul, is create distance between ourselves and their sin. We are all susceptible and none of us can just live around sin for extended periods of time without being affected somehow. For our own safety, it’s better to just work through the discomfort and do the hard thing-- create distance. This becomes a consequence to them as well, which may serve as a catalyst to turn them around. And for you, it’s obedience—and God always honors that.