AN EXAMPLE OF JUSTICE

by Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)
(Chapter 12 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, Justice)


"It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judge already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." I Corinthians 5:1-5

Several people had brought to Paul's attention that there was an act of fornication being committed by a man in the church of Corinth. To make it even worse, it was being committed with the man's own stepmother. Notice how Paul reacted to these accusations.

Paul never mentions the man's name. In I Corinthians 5:1 he refers to the man as "one." In verse 2 he merely uses the pronoun, "he," and again inverse 3, the pronoun, "him." Inverse 4 he refers to the man as "such an one." Not once did Paul refer to the man by his name. I believe that Paul did not know who the man was because Paul was not responding to gossip that he had heard about somebody. Paul was responding to a situation.

When I was preaching out of town once, a man wrote me a note asking me how he should handle a situation in his church. A man had been stealing money out of the offering plate at his church, and he wanted to know how to handle the situation. I met with him and told him what I thought he should do. I did not ask him the man's name because I did not need to know his name. I was not interested in judging the person. I was interested only in judging the situation. Many years ago I established a policy of how to handle this situation.

Likewise, Paul did not hear an accusation about a person, but about a situation. He was wise and experienced and had faced almost any possible situation, so he had already judged the situation without even knowing the person involved. Paul was not trying this individual, but was applying his principles and policies as he had at other times when he faced similar situations.

Paul's writings taught against gossip and slander. Do not take Bible doctrine from an example or illustration. Take doctrine from Bible teaching. If you are not careful, you will begin to think that Bible characters were perfect. You cannot always do everything like Paul did. For example, Paul once had his head shaved and took a Jewish vow, even though twice he spoke against those very things in Scripture. Paul did wrong!

Esther married a heathen king. That king had a drunken party and asked his wife, Vashti, to strip and display her body to all those at the party. Vashti refused to do it; yet Esther agreed to marry him. Yes, Esther was a courageous woman. Once she had made her mistake, she did save Israel, but Esther still should not have married that king. Do not take Bible doctrine from illustration. The Bible teaches not to marry the heathen, so Esther should not have married that heathen king. God often uses people who make mistakes to do something great.

Daniel made a horrible mistake. When the Jews had been in captivity for 70 years, everyone who wished to do so was allowed to return to rebuild the temple and later to rebuild the wall. Daniel did not return perhaps because he was influenced by the heathen university which he had attended in Babylon. It was not right that Daniel did not return; yet God still chose to use him. It is important that we not look for our doctrine in the illustrations of the Bible, for many of them reveal God's working in spite of men's disobedience.

I have heard many preachers use I Corinthians 5:1-5 as basis for revealing an individual's sin and telling people to deliver that individual to the Devil so that the Devil could kill him. That is not what Paul said; nor is it God's form of justice! If God wants someone killed, you do not need to do it. Paul was not speaking here of punitive or destructive judgment. This was remedial judgment. He was talking about allowing the Devil to have him for a little while to shake him up a bit.

When the Israelites had neglected God, God called Nebuchadnezzar "His servant." This wicked vile king was called God's servant so that God could deliver His people to him for a little while to allow him to rough them up to destroy their fleshliness so that they would get right with God. Paul is speaking of the same thing here. He is instructing them to deliver the man to the Devil to rough him up and teach him that sin does not pay. Why? So that his spirit could be saved.

I Timothy 1:20, "Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." Why did Paul deliver Hymemeus and Alexander to Satan? He did not do it to kill them, but to teach them not to blaspheme. That is synonymous with I Corinthians 5:5. Paul is not speaking of allowing Satan to destroy the man's body, but of destroying the man's carnality by delivering him to the Devil so that he could punish him. God has a chain on the Devil. The entire purpose is remedial, not punitive.

Too many Christians like to reject sinners and watch them suffer and die. That is NOT New Testament Christianity! God never tells us to deliver anyone to death. He is a corrective God. Hebrews 12:6a, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth."

Paul did not end his lesson there. In his second letter to the church at Corinth he mentions the situation again. II Corinthians 2:1-8, "But I determined this with myself that I would not come again to you in heaviness. For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me? And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you. But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.

Paul grieved over this man's sin, but only in part. He did not lose his joy. I understand how Paul felt. I carry an immense amount of grief and heartbreak, but I sorrow only in part, for my name is written in Heaven, and I am still God's child! That is what God is speaking of in I Corinthians 2:5b when He says, '...that I may not overcharge you all." Paul did not want to burden the people and to pull them down, so he tempered his grief.

Paul went on to tell them to leave the man alone who had committed fornication with his stepmother because he had been punished enough already. When the sentence is over, we are to accept people back, and we are not to leave a stigma on them. Paul told them that he had been punished sufficiently.

Tragically, most of us are not like that. We keep on punishing people for what they did in the past. This man committed a horrible sin of committing fornication with his stepmother; yet, Paul told them that they had punished him enough already. Most Christians would never speak to him again.

Paul told them that they should forgive him. I have received many letters in my ministry because of the way I handle sinners. Imagine the letters that would have gone to and about Paul for telling the people in Corinth to forgive this man who had committed fornication with his stepmother. He even told them to comfort the man, using the same word for "comfort" used to describe the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. He was telling them to pick him up, strengthen him and to get him back on his feet so that he could be used of God again. Paul wanted to correct and restore him.

Every sermon preached about sin ought to be corrective, not punitive! Every single action taken in the church concerning sin ought also to be corrective, not punitive!

A great artist once said that anytime someone paints a picture of a forest, he ought to paint a pathway out because people who look at that painting will be stifled if they see no way out. Anytime we discipline a sinner, we ought to provide a pathway out, a way back!

Paul did not wish for this man to live a life of grief and sorrow. He instructed them not to make him live sorrowfully the rest of his life for the sins he committed. He even commands them to confirm their love toward that man. The word "confirm" means to "underline it" or "emphasize it." Paul wanted them to make certain that the man knew they loved him.

Let me give you ten principles we learn from the way Paul dealt with this situation.

1. People did not tell Paul the man's name. If you want to spread juicy gossip, why don't you leave out the individual's name? I will tell you why you don't! It is because you tell it to hurt somebody. Slanderers do not have fun by telling their story, but by destroying somebody.

2. Paul already had a principle by which he judged, and he judged the principle, not the person. The course of action was not the main thing. The result was the main thing.

3. Paul gave his advice because he had been asked for it. It is not our job to give our opinion on how others should do things unless we are asked.

4. Paul did not accept an accusation against a specific individual in this passage.

5. Paul sent them a policy in his reply.

6. Paul never said that he believed the accusations. He said that it was "commonly reported," but not that it was true.

7. Paul did not punish to hurt but to salvage.

8. Paul taught that punishment is to have an end, not to go on indefinitely.

9. Paul taught them not to allow the sins of people to take their joy away.

10. Paul showed us that the type of punishment is not the main thing. Correction is the main thing!

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