Communication can be frustrating. it doesn’t matter whether it is in personal conversation, face to face or if it’s by phone, email, twitter or a letter written to a person or group. Things can always go wrong and you end up giving a message that wasn’t what you meant at all. I doubt there has ever been a parent that didn’t have their children answer them when they had gotten into some kind of trouble, “But you said” and then quote some statement you had made, but totally out of it’s context and used in an entirely different way than what you intended.
In some ways it is encouraging to me to read Scriptures like I Corinthians 5:9-13 where Paul shouts back to the Corinthian church that they have totally missed what he was trying to get across to them. He obviously had written to them an earlier letter that we don’t have in which he had told them not to associate with sexually immoral people. But they had taken it in their application into areas he never had in mind at all. Look at the verses themselves for a moment: “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. Perge the evil person from among you.”
The church in Corinth had a man in it that was obviously a leader in some way. The man was living an extremely immoral life by having sex with his mother-in-law. Instead of being ashamed of it or hiding it he was flaunting it and the church’s reaction was to be proud. They evidently thought their tolerance was a good thing and demonstrated how grace ruled in everything. Paul commanded them to withdraw all fellowship from this man, realizing that his influence would spread through the church. He needed to be delivered to Satan so he would learn not to live such a life. Paul had already written to them once about the whole thing. But they had taken what he said in a totally different way that what he had intended. They took his challenge not to associate or fellowship as brothers and sisters in Christ with one living an immoral or ungodly life, to refer to their associations in the world. They applied it to people on the outside of the church when Paul’s whole point had been about those on the inside.
If they had or even if we apply this teaching to those who are in the church the result is purity in the church. it shouts the message to the person living an ungodly life that being a Christian demands a different way of life from us. It sends the message through the whole body that being a follower of Christ means we live pure, holy and godly lives and don’t get involved in immoral, idolatrous, worldly living. Notice, even in the church, this point is about those who when the realize their sin or when their sin is pointed out to them, refuse to repent and turn from their evil lives to be a devoted person for the Lord. Many times we fail in our life for the Lord because of weakness or because we are overtaken in a fault. But when we come to ourselves on such occasions or when someone tells us our wrong, we are ready to repent and live the right kind of life. But if one refuses to turn from evil, even when it is evident, they should face the discipline of the body to remove them as one removes a disease from the body or takes away a limb that is poisoning the whole body.
But, what happens if we take this whole point of not associating with the immoral and ungodly and apply it to the world as a whole rather than to the church? Paul said, the first thing is that we separate from the whole world. We would have to leave this world to totally escape such ways of life. Secondly, if we treat those in the world with such removal of association the result is we have no influence on the world and even those who would be open to the gospel of Christ are never reached because we have isolated ourselves from the very people God wants us to influence. Our light is to shine in the dark world not just in the community of believers. Paul made the major point that our place as Christians is to judge those inside the church to help each other live the life God calls us to live. God judges those who are outside and I need to leave that in his hands rather than trying to set ourselves up to take his place. Too often we find ourselves in the church trying to force the outside world to live by God’s standards when we aren’t applying those standards very well inside the body.
Our greatest desire for the world should be to influence them and teach them about Jesus so that they might turn from their sin to the Lord and be true to him in every part of life.
Picture this point in this way. Imagine a parent that has no control over their own children. Their children are running wild and they aren’t paying any attention to them to correct them or train them in the right way. At the same time they are telling the other parents how they should be bringing up their children. They write about and talk about the best way to bring up a child in the way they should go, while paying no attention to their own children. Such inconsistency tends to make everyone around angry and to think what hypocrites these parents are. We wish they would open their eyes and see what everyone around them sees. That is the same concept Paul is making here.