1 Corinthians 5:1-13 (ESV)
5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 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. 11 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. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Although Paul specifically mentions the sin of sexual immorality at the beginning of this chapter, verse 11 demonstrates the principle that Paul is talking about, and that is unchecked sin being tolerated in the Church. As the Apostle notes, even the merest acceptance of sin within the Body of Christ, soon spreads to infect the entire body, and is especially corrupting to those who are not strong in the Lord, those who do not have a firm grip on sound doctrine. This is also why Paul (and Jesus, and James, and Peter, and John) all warn about allowing false teachers within the Church. They are equally as dangerous, and in some cases even more dangerous, as those who are living in unrepentant sin within the Church.
The danger of allowing or tolerating unrepentant sin within the Church, is that it encourages others to engage in sin as well, and thus serves well the evil intentions of the enemy who wants nothing more than to disable Christians and make their testimony as ineffective as possible. Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is an essential part of the salvation of others (Romans 10), and we should feel privileged that our Heavenly Father has chosen to include us in such a way. Yes, people must believe in order to be saved, but as God's Word tells us in Romans 10, before they can believe, they must first hear the gospel, and they cannot hear the gospel if there is no one to preach it.
Equally as important as verbally sharing the gospel is living the gospel. Philippians 1:27 tells us, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” If we are tolerating sin in the lives of others within the Body, or worse, tolerating sin within ourselves, then our witness has become corrupted as we then are not letting our “manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” No one is going to take seriously, someone who is telling them they must repent of their sin when they themselves are known as a drunkard, or a drug addict, or is known to be living in sin with someone other than a spouse. The first word that will come to that unbelieving sinners mind will be “Hypocrite!” And they will have nothing to do with Christ.
So you see, tolerating unrepentant sin within the Church no only harms the one living in that sin, but also others in the Church, and it even harms those outside of the Church.
Tolerating false doctrine and those who spread it within the Church is also harmful to the Body. False doctrine leads us away from Christ, away from the Father, away from the truth of God's Word, and, I am sure, it grieves the Holy Spirit terribly. False doctrine is always contrary to the clear teaching of God's Word. It adds to the Word, it takes away from the Word, and always involves the unsound teaching of carnal individuals.
Only a small amount of sin or false doctrine (leaven) can corrupt the whole Church (batch – verses 6-7 above); so shun it, do not tolerate it. Do not say to yourself, “it is unloving for me to confront someone else's sin, or say that what they believe is not scriptural;” for the fact is, not only is tolerating such things unscriptural, it is unloving to allow yourself and those around to be exposed to such harmful corrupting influences.
All Scripture in this article is from the English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.