When the Right Thing is the Hard Thing

2006 started off as a bad year for Charles Moore. He lost his job as a roofer in Toledo, Ohio, and decided to return to his hometown of Detroit in search of work. Sadly, Moore soon found himself living on the street. While homeless, he stumbled upon 31 U.S. Savings Bonds in a city trash bin while searching for empty bottles to return for deposit money—bonds that had a cash value of almost $21,000.

Rather than cash them in for himself, Charles tracked down the family that had lost the bonds and returned them. Jesse Nyikon, a local billiards owner, offered Moore a night on the town complete with food, drinks, and unlimited pool. “He can be my guest,” Nyikon said. “He did the right thing.”[1]

Charles Moore shows us that doing the right thing is often the hard thing.

That is also what we learn in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.

Let’s pick up in…

 

VERSES 1-2a

These verses set the context for the hard thing that the Corinthians are called to do.

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud!

Apparently, a man was having an affair with his mother-in-law and flaunting the relationship.

Remember, this is Corinth. We are not the first generation to live in a over-sexualized culture.

The outrageousness of the sin shouldn’t shock us. We are all capable of heinous sin, even as believers. The bigger issue is the lack of repentance. Sexual sin had become normalized.

We are facing something very similar in our cultural context. But it isn’t only normalizing sexual brokenness, many sins are being normalized.

In his book, Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges makes a case that western Christianity has normalized other sins such as gossip, a spirit of entitlement, greed, unthankfulness, and worry, among others.

What had taken place in the Corinthian church is what can happen in any age among believers – a disconnect between one’s profession of faith and one’s demonstration of faith.

This is what we call cheap grace. “I love to sin; God loves to forgive. We get along great!”

This is a profound distortion of the gospel. Because when God justifies a sinner by grace he also sanctifies that sinner by grace.

Justification is what God does for the sinner; sanctification is what God does in the sinner.

If you tell me that a certain tree is an orange tree, but the tree never produces oranges, what should I assume?

 

VERSE 2b

2b Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?

To mourn is to grieve. Often the loss of something or someone.

What do you think they had lost that is worth grieving over? They had lost a sense of moral absolutes. They had become desensitized to sin.

Moral desensitization takes place in many contexts, from the lyrics in much of country music to the violence and gratuitous graphic sexual content on Netflix originals. Look, I’m just like you. I am as desensitized as anyone. The good thing about big hair bands in the 80s is that you couldn’t understand what they were saying! 🙂

So, Paul says, it’s time to regain our moral sensitivity by excommunicating the man who is having the affair. He instructs the Corinthians to “put him out of the fellowship.”

What does that mean? I think it may be the “rod” Paul was talking about at the end of the last chapter–a rod that represents discipline.

Discipline is the practice of allowing someone to face the consequences of their actions, hopefully teaching a lesson that will wake the sinner up and restore him to God and to the fellowship.

Without critical thinking, discipline sounds unloving. However, it is loving, because the most unloving thing we can do is to allow someone to continue on a path that we know will destroy them.

They are being challenged to do the right thing, even though it is a hard thing.

What is a hard thing you are facing? What is the right thing to do? What is it going to cost you? Doing the right thing is often costly.

  • Just ask Charles Moore, our homeless friend in Detroit.
  • Ask the girl who just broke off a long-term relationship with a guy who was controlling and verbally abusive, and didn’t respect her physical boundaries.
  • Ask the husband who finally had to bring family and friends over for an intervention in order to get his wife to rehab for abusing prescription medication.
  • Ask the employee who had to turn in a co-worker for embezzlement.
  • Ask the mother who has to say “no” to her toddler.

For all of us, there comes a moment when doing the right thing is a hard thing.

It helps to have support when this time comes. We see this in verse 3.

 

VERSE 3

3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this.

Sometimes it helps to have someone else confirm the right thing to do, especially when the right thing to do is the hard thing to do.

Paul claims to be with them, as well as Jesus.

In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches on the process of excommunication saying that wherever two or three are gathered in my name, he is there with them. Why does he say that? For support as they to do the right thing, especially when the right thing is the hard thing.

 

VERSES 4-5

4 So when you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

The time comes to do the right thing. To move from talking about it to acting on it.

For you, it may be time to go to AA.

It may be time to spend more time in conversation with your spouse than on video games.

It might be time to go back to a flip phone.

It might be time to start saying “no” to the wrong things so that you can say “yes” to the right things.

For the Corinthians, it was time to “hand this man over to Satan.”

What does Paul mean?  In that expelled condition, without the nourishment of the means of grace, Paul expected Satan to be an agent of misery in the man’s life, causing him to face the consequences of his sin, leading him to a place, like the younger prodigal son, where he finally wants to go home in repentance.

That is the ultimate purpose of discipline? Restoration to the fellowship and the confirmation of genuine salvation – “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

This restoration required facing the consequences of sin in order to be driven to Jesus for rescue.

 

The Greatest Paradox

Chuck Colson was Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” whose job was to do the President’s dirty work. Eventually, Colson was sentenced to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. Providentially, while there, Colson became a Christian and upon his release, he started a ministry called “Prison Fellowship,” which ministers to thousands of inmates and their families. Operation Christmas Child is just one of the many ways these families are blessed by the ministry, which is the result of Colson being handed over to the prison guards.

In his autobiography, Colson says,

“The great paradox [of my life] is that every time I walk into a prison and see the faces of men or women who have been transformed by the power of the living God, I realize that the thing God has chosen to use in my life … is none of the successes, achievements, degrees, awards, honors, or cases I won before the Supreme Court. That’s not what God’s using in my life. What God is using in my life to touch the lives of literally thousands of other people is the fact that I was a convict and went to prison.”

The best thing that ever happened to Chuck Colson was being handed over to the prison guards to face the consequences of his actions.

That was the intent of what would happen to the man at Corinth. In fact, Paul’s next letter to the Corinthians reveals that the desired restoration did, in fact, take place. Discipline served its purpose—for the glory of God and the good of the sinner.

Of course, Jesus knows what it is to be handed over.

In Matthew 26:2, he tells his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

The same word used in Matthew 26 is the word used in 1 Corinthians 5 – handed over.

What we discover in the biblical narrative is that Jesus wasn’t handed over for his sin. He was handed over for mine, taking my place as a sinner.

On a cross, he endured the judgment my defiance against the King deserved—the death penalty.

Because of his crucifixion in my place, I will never be handed over for judgment. Yes, I will be disciplined as the son of a loving Father, but I will not be condemned. In view of the cross, I can know that every action of the Father toward me is loving – purposeful. [2]

Ultimately, the cross shows us that Jesus is the perfect example of the one who did the right thing even when it was the hard thing—the hard thing that resulted in the salvation of sinners like you and me.

When he becomes my Savior and King, I am empowered by his Spirit to do the same—to do the right thing, even when it is the hard thing.

But first, we must receive Christ as Savior-King.

 


[1] Kim Kozlowski, “Virtue, $100 Not His Only Reward,” Chicago Tribune (7-26-06), A1, p. 3

[2] See Romans 8:28-30.

 

 

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