It is widely reported that there is sexual immorality among you… When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord. 6 …Don’t you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough?… 9 I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. 11 But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? 13 But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves. (1 Cor. 5:1-12).
If you profess to be a Christian and consider the Scriptures to be a trustworthy source of authority that expresses God’s will in guiding New Testament oriented Christians into greater discipleship and holiness, you will undoubtedly be asked the question:
“How can you Christians judge gay people as being wrong?”
In answering this barbed question, four critical qualifications need to be made.
FIRST QUALIFICATION: Firstly we need to distinguish homosexuality as an orientation from homosexual behavior and practice. The first is a state of orientation and is not sinful in and of itself. The distinction between homosexuality as a state of orientation and homosexuality as behavior is a critical distinction with huge implications. For starters it makes the controversial argument, “I was born this way” irrelevant. What matters is not how one came to arrive at the desires they have. What matters is what one does with their desires once they have them. A heterosexual male may have a natural desire to look at porn every night or may admit to being sexually attracted to his married secretary. But that doesn’t give him license to act on those desires.
SECOND QUALIFICATION: Secondly if desire or orientation does not equate to sin, it means it is perfectly possible to have a homosexual orientation and yet be a spirit-filled Christian under the discipline of the Lord. There are numerous people who identify as being “gay” and yet choose not to act on those desires because of a higher conviction and loyalty to Christ. Such people should be welcomed, loved and praised in the Church for their selfless commitment to carry their cross into the most sensitive area of their humanity.
There are various reasons one might choose to deny their sexual urges for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. They may find themselves to have same-sex attractions they can’t disavow but also can’t fulfill or satisfy. Maybe they have a physical impairment that has nonetheless left their hormones raging and the internet a click away. Or perhaps they are a divorced or single missionary living in a foreign land and feel the intimacy of the marriage bed slipping away from them year by year. Either way such persons know the daily battle of loneliness and constantly needing to deny their sexual cravings for the sake of Christ. But they keep their eyes on the beauty and joy of heaven’s eternity and draw strength from its vision. Such people are no doubt who Christ had in mind when he said,
“For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (Mt. 19:12).
The point is, whether it be through nurture or nature it matters not how one came to arrive at a homosexual orientation or how natural those desires feel, because Christ made it clear that if there exists any conflict between who we feel we are and who Christ calls us to be, denying ourselves rather than gratifying ourselves is the mark of a true believer. “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself pick up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
We live in an uninhibited age of self-worship wherein the cardinal dogma is self-satisfaction. Self-denial is considered to backwards, if not “sinful.” In today’s world to have certain desires is all the justification one feels they need to validate fulfilling those desires. Christ says the exact opposite. “Deny yourself and come follow Me.”
THIRD QUALIFICATION: This leads to the next qualification that needs to be made in regards to the opening question. If we are talking about people who seriously profess to be followers of Christ and consider Scripture to be authoritative in their life, then the way they live their life is not only open to the scrutiny of the Church body but is also subject to the judgments of the Church based on Scripture. This is crucial to understand.
FOURTH QUALIFICATION: Given what has already been stated the last qualification is the most important. If we are talking about persons who are outside the Church, the short answer is we can’t judge them! In fact the Scripture says it is none of our business! It is simply not within the purview of the Church to assess and judge the behavior of outsiders on an an internal understanding of Christian sanctification. Paul stated the point quite clearly when he rhetorically asked what business it was of him to judge those outside the Church (vs. 12). Does this mean the Church has no business at all judging the actions of anyone? That would be equally incorrect, for Paul just as equally makes clear that if someone calls themselves a follower of Christ, but lives in unrepentant sin, fellow believers should have nothing to do with them or their hypocrisy.
This idea that the Church is fully within her rights to judge those within the Church but not outside the Church is not at all strange when we examine it. If you think of the Church body as a “club membership” you can begin to understand the internal dynamics more. When you join a “club” you knowingly agree to abide by certain standards that others outside the club do not need to abide by and obey. These standards can relate to a wide range of issues from conduct and etiquette to dress code.
VEGETARIANISM: A HELPFUL ILLUSTRATION Let me use another example. Where I live there are two café restaurants in town that exist next to each other. But they really don’t compete with each other because they serve different clients. One café restaurant is vegetarian and the other restaurant has a wide range of meat choices from fish and poultry to pork and beef. Now if you knowingly choose to walk into the vegetarian restaurant, but start to complain about the restrictive vegetarian menu and demand a T-bone steak be provided, that would be akin to someone outside the Church complaining about the restrictive, moral prohibitions that exist inside the Church and demanding that the Church update itself to the liberal “meat menu” of the world.
But in the same manner if I choose to freely and knowingly walk into a restaurant that is a meat-lovers smorgasbord, I can’t start judging and condemning everyone around me for seeking to fulfill his or her meat cravings and appetites. I can’t demand that that they all convert to vegetarianism as a way of life simply because I have chosen such strict, diet restrictions for myself. Unfortunately this is exactly what some Christians seek to do in their interaction with the outside world. They seek to import the internal restrictions of Church-life on those outside the Church before such people even have the “spirit” to live under those restrictions by their own choice.
WHEN JUDGMENT IS APPROPRIATE: But now we get to Paul’s critical, second statement in verse 12. He clearly says it is God’s business, but not his business, to judge the behavior of outsiders. But then he rhetorically implies he is fully within his rights to judge those inside the Church! In other words Paul is singling out professing Christians who undermine the internal unity of that which they profess to follow by acting like outsiders who snub their nose at the Church’s “vegetarian” restrictions.
Earlier Paul warned that a little bit of yeast could easily spread throughout the whole loaf (vs. 6). This concern of Paul sets up his later counsel to “not associate with anyone who claims to be a believer” (vs. 11) but whose actions undermine that claim. He declares that the in-house judgment of the Church should be to “put away the evil person from among yourselves” (vs. 13). This may sound overly harsh at first blush, but Paul rightly recognizes the stakes are enormous. If the Church were to compromise with hypocrisy (and cater to it by ignoring it) the end result will be detrimental to the Church at large. Paul does not want to see this. It is not about hatred but maintaining integrity and wholeness and preserving essence. In the same way a vegetarian restaurant would be unwilling to compromise the integrity of their menu to cater to those who say they are vegetarians but demand to be served pulled pork and steak sirloin on weekends, so also the Church is fully within her rights to not compromise the integrity of the Scriptures by catering to those that want to flaunt them.
A note of caution is in order. I am not talking about Christians who admit to an occasional struggle with sexual immorality (whether it be gay or straight) and sometimes fall into sin. I am talking about persons who reject the very notion that their sexual immorality could be classified as “sin.” That is to say I am talking about persons who knowingly refuse to maintain the integrity of that which they profess to follow and seek to actually re-orient, if not completely jettison, any restriction that prohibits them from pursing and satisfying their sexual desires.
Imagine if butchers, calling themselves vegetarians, hauled in huge slabs of bloody, red meat into a vegetarian restaurant, slapped them on the kitchen counter-top and started demanding that the vegetarian kitchen stop discriminating against their dietary preferences and commence grilling their meat to their liking. The proprietor of the vegetarian restaurant would only be acting responsibly if he or she were to tell those customers they have no business being in their restaurant until they can agree to abide by the very regulations that define what a vegetarian restaurant is– as opposed to what it is not!
But once again that same proprietor has no business walking over to the non-vegetarian restaurant and judging everyone inside who is eating meat. In essence this is what Paul meant when he said, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (vs. 12)
Paul rightly recognized that following Christ is a matter of conversion, and conversion is a matter of the heart rather than simply copying the internal mannerisms of a group. Does all of this mean Christians can’t evangelize, talk about sin, or call out for people outside the Church to surrender their hearts to the rule of Christ?
Not at all.
EVANGELISM VS JUDGMENT: I have found it interesting that in the last decade there has been a huge campaign by the non-meat-eating sector of our society to literally evangelize and convert the heart of people to their side by inundating our consciousness with gut-wrenching pictures of animal cruelty, soul-searching documentaries, informative billboards, conferences, magazine subscriptions, social media campaigns, t-shirts and cook books. It is their mission to reach as many people as possible around the world and convert hearts and minds with their message. For some it may be annoying, and for others it may come off sounding judgmental and self-righteous, but vegetarians are certainly within their rights to call people out of what they perceive to be the “darkness” of the meat industry and into the “light” of vegetarianism or a vegan way of life.
In the same manner, while the Scriptures make it clear we are not called to judge and condemn those outside the church, we are certainly within the boundaries of Scripture to encourage people outside the Church to give up their worldly ways and come to the light of Jesus.
Yes there are different voices and various denominations in the Church preaching the gospel of Christ, just like one can hear various voices from the vegetarian community preaching the benefits of vegetarianism. Some vegetarians are quite restrictive vegans and consider themselves to be morally superior to all meat eaters. Many won’t even drink milk on moral grounds, while others will make allowances for eating fish and eggs. Some identify as vegetarians solely because they believe animals have intrinsic rights, equal to human rights, while others are more attracted to the health benefits they believe such a diet affords them.
Even though the vegetarian community is diverse and there exists different degrees of vegetarianism, the one thing that binds them altogether and gives meaning to their diet identity is their commitment to not eat red meat. The day that “vegetarian” means one who eats both vegetables and red meat is the day the word ceases to have any coherent meaning. The word “vegetarianism” only has meaning to the degree that its core features are upheld.
WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN? Similarly the word “Christian” only has meaning to the degree that a Christ-like walk is upheld through faith in Christ and faithfulness to Christ. In that sense the word “Christian” refers to one who faithfully carries their cross rather than condoning their sin. One can always find hypocrites in the Church just like one can find vegetarians who “cheat” on weekends. But by and large the Church is called by God to be a community of people who have committed themselves to not “cheat.” They recognize that following Christ may be personal but it is not private. It is journey of exposure, transparency and being held accountable to Scripture’s teachings and injunctions about what it means to be “holy” and set apart from the uninhibited impulses of the world. At least it should be!
The very word disciple means, “one under discipline” and implies we are called to bring our natural desires and impulses under the tutelage and discipline of God’s revealed will concerning the acceptable and unacceptable. In multiple places in the New Testament homosexual behavior and practice is forbidden and lifted up as a symptom of a world that has departed from God’s creational intention for men and women (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; Jude 1:7). It is simply not on the “menu.”
In short the Scriptures tell us we have every reason to socially associate and reach out in love to unbelievers outside the church. But we are not to associate or “mix” with professing “insiders” who routinely act like unbelieving “outsiders.” We are called to do the former because it is God’s will that the Church be a hospital for sinners rather than a Hilton for saints. We are called to do the latter because what good is a hospital to anyone if it begins to misdiagnose the ailments of people and allow those ailments to spread unabated. It then becomes a place for transmission rather than healing.
Paul is careful to note the dangers that exist outside the Church and the threat they pose to the health of the Church if she were to assimilate certain practices into the internal life of the Church. Paul does not limit himself to only those who are sexual immoral but to professing believers who are “greedy, idolaters, verbally abusive, drunkards, and swindlers”( 1 Cor. 5:11). The Church has compromised for far too long with the sin of greed, verbal abuse in marriage, and an overconsumption of alcohol. To our detriment we have marginalized such sins to the side as if they are minor infractions to be overlooked rather than confronted, challenged and rebuked.
We are currently suffering the ailments of such sins spreading like yeast throughout the Church. The Western Church has never been more weak and anemic as she is now. A revolution is needed and it will take bold men and women being unafraid of being labeled as “intolerant,” “extremist,” and “narrow-minded” to restore an uncompromising message of holiness to the Church.
RADIATION AS CHURCH DISCIPLINE: Though we have many Christians currently pounding the pulpit about sin, we still lack the most essential attribute that undergirds authentic Church discipline—love. We are called to do all things out of love. Even Paul’s harshest language is undergirded by a deep love and concern for the sinner’s eternal well-being. He stated, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:4-5). The phase “so that” is translated from the Greek word “hina.” That should not be missed! “Hina” is a word that denotes the purpose or result of an antecedent action. Paul has both senses in mind. He is saying the purpose of removing the sinner from the congregation is to bring ruin and destruction to his sinful, fleshly desires with the end result being that his spirit would be eternally saved!
If one has cancer in one’s body, radiation may keep it from spreading and save the individual, but it is never pleasant. So also the “radiation” of Church discipline may be a painful and bitter experience, but the goal is to shrink the sinful “tumors” of the flesh and save the individual out of authentic, loving devotion to their eternal good.
TRADING IN TRUTH FOR SELF-CENTERED “TOLERANCE”: To ignore and excuse the sinful “tumors” in those inside the Church because we are afraid to offend them is not love or even appeasement. It is extremely selfish and manifestly hateful because we are choosing to enjoy their short-term appraisal of us as “tolerant friends” rather than be concerned with their long-term well-being.
It is no less repulsive and un-loving than if a doctor were to refuse to tell his or her friend the sad (yet true) diagnosis of their terminal (yet treatable) sickness because he or she doesn’t want to disappoint their friend with upsetting news. How utterly deplorable it would be for a doctor to “tolerate” their friend’s tumors because they want to avoid “offending” their friend’s happiness and personal sense of well-being. Indeed it would be manifestly hateful for them to knowingly choose to enjoy a few, brief years of phony, yet pleasant, doctor-to-patient conversations with their friend than provide a true assessment of their’s friend’s condition and endure the unpleasant conversations that will inevitably follow.
God is not so un-loving and selfish.
He is a true friend and a true physician.
And He desires that His Church be of the same mind.