If you believe there is a God and that the Bible is God’s special Revelation to humanity (which I do), then you will find what He reveals about “the” attack on Christ’s Church to be not only interesting but also extremely important. I say “the” attack because there is really only one on Christ’s Church – Satan’s. It’s been that way from the beginning and will continue to be that way until the end.
Paul wrote concerning Satan in 2 Corinthians 2 that “we are not ignorant of his devices” (vs 11). He made that statement in the context of sexual immorality in the Corinthian church “as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1). This sin committed by a member of the Corinthian church was bad enough, but it gets worse. “And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:2). Church leaders and members knew about this terrible sin and were “puffed up” about it! Instead of mourning over this terrible sin and correctly disciplining the man, they were “puffed up” (pephusiomenoi – to puff up, blow up, inflate, swelled … the word was used to describe someone swelled with pride).
It’s important that we as Christians and defenders of the faith learn the lesson Paul taught the Corinthians because it demonstrates how Satan works in the Church. We must not be ignorant of his devices.
Paul called out the Corinthians for allowing the sexual immorality to continue in their midst instead of mourning about the terrible sin (“as is not even named among the Gentiles”) and dealing with the offender. Paul told the Corinthians that he had “already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.” (1 Corinthians 5:3) The Apostle then told them to do something that probably sounds extraordinary to most Christians. “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)
While you might think that what Paul told the Corinthians to do to the sinning church member was extreme, it is really what Christ intends to be the norm for His Church. Let’s look at why the Apostle told them to discipline the church member in this manner.
“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
One of Satan’s devices when attacking the Church is to get Christians numb to their high calling in Christ. Paul used an example they could all understand – bread making. Making bread was a staple of their daily lives, so they immediately understood the idea of “leaven” (zume – yeast used in making bread) and how a little leaven “leavens the whole lump.” The Corinthian church leaders and members had allowed sexual immorality to go unchallenged in the church, which was just like fermented yeast growing in a lump of bread dough.
We’ve already established that the Church is “under attack,” so the question here is what to do about it. Think about the “leavened” bread. How would you get the leaven out of a lump of bread dough? Can you take out a little of the leaven and leave most of it in the lump? Can you take out most of the leaven and leave a little of it in the dough? No. Why not? Because “any” leaven remaining in the lump will continue to grow and infect the entire lump. The only way to deal with leavened bread is to throw it out and start fresh. Paul added the spiritual aspect of “the leaven of malice and wickedness” in his judgment as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
We often think about an “attack” as being something big and obvious. That is NOT how Satan attacks the Church. Look at his first attack on God’s people.
“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3:1
What do you see in Satan’s first attack on God’s people? Was it big and obvious? No. It was small and subtle. That’s how Satan works. The devil begins his spiritual attacks with something so small (like yeast) that it’s barely observable, except for those who are spiritually attuned to Satan’s devices. To people who are gifted, equipped and informed, Satan’s devices are easily perceptible. The leaders of the Corinthian church should have known better, but they had allowed sexual immorality to infect and affect the church and “leaven the whole lump.”
Paul knew that the only way to deal with this devastating attack on the church was to “remove” the leaven. Notice carefully the process Paul gave the church because it’s the process almost every church in the United States and many other countries will have to use to deal with the sin that has engulfed them.
- Judge the deed – discern the sin and determine to deal with the sin as God commands
- Along with my spirit – this direction comes from the Apostle Paul who was directed by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to reach the Gentiles with the Gospel … even though Paul is no longer with us on earth, the words he spoke and wrote by the inspiration of the Spirit of God continue with full force to this day in the Church
- In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – deal with the sin and sinner(s) in the “name” of Jesus Christ, not your name or the name of the church … remember that Jesus is “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” (Ephesians 1:21)
- Gather together – every leader and member of the church is to be involved in this act because the sin has infected everyone in the church … Christians of every age need to see the Church obedient to God in every aspect of life, especially in the area of personal holiness … church leaders often deal with “sin” issues in private, but Paul calls on them to bring together members of the church in similar cases where the sin is well known but has not been dealt with according to God’s Word
- With the power of our Lord Jesus Christ – the only way the church can deal with the power of Satanic attack is to address it with the power of Jesus Christ
- Deliver such a one to Satan – the devil started this attack and he will finish it, but the way the church deals with it will determine whether Satan’s intention succeeds or fails
- For the destruction of the flesh – the goal of church discipline is the destruction of the flesh, not the destruction of the soul … as Paul wrote to the Galatians, “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:24-25)
- That his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus – the spiritual welfare of church members is always the goal … if the goal of the church is anything less than the spiritual welfare of the sinning member, and church members impacted by the sin, the church should repent, pray for forgiveness and wisdom, and start again. Church discipline must be done from a pure heart with pure motives. Nothing more, nothing less.
What did the Corinthians do about the spiritual leaven in their church? They removed it. However, that’s not the most important thing we learn from 2 Corinthians. Satan’s devices are so subtle that he can attack the church even when church leaders and members are obedient to God’s command. There is a danger in church discipline that is similar to the original sin of being “puffed up.” Christians can become proud of their obedience to God to the point of being “unloving” toward the one being disciplined. Christians in that position often point fingers at the accused, gossip about what a bad person they are and how fortunate the church is to have them (Christians pointing their fingers) in their assembly. Instead of following through with the goal of the spiritual welfare of disciplined church members, Christians can become insensitive and even uncaring to the needs of those who are disciplined. Here’s how Paul explained it to them:
“But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow. For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, 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 to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you. But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.” 2 Corinthians 2:1-11
Not only did Paul tell the disciplining church members to forgive the offender, he went so far as to tell them to “comfort him.” It’s not enough for church members to just “forgive” a disciplined member from a distance; God wants us to get personally involved in bringing comfort to the person. The word “comfort” is parakalesai (comforter, helper)- the verb form for the noun used for the Holy Spirit (parakletos – the Comforter, Helper – John 14:26).
Now we know why Paul wrote “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.” One of Satan’s foundational devices is to cause Christians to forget the prime directive – unconditional “love.” That was Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians 13:
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Even if church members do everything God tells them to do in disciplining sinning members, if they don’t do it with unconditional love it’s a waste of their time and energy and a bunch of noise. In the context of church discipline, look at what Paul told the Corinthians to do.
- Love suffers long and is kind
- Love does not envy
- Love does not parade itself
- Love is not puffed up
- Love does not behave rudely
- Love does not seek its own
- Love is not provoked
- Love thinks no evil
- Love does not rejoice in iniquity
- Love rejoices in the truth
- Love bears all things
- Love believes all things
- Love hopes all things
- Love endures all things
That’s what Paul was calling on the Corinthians to do in the wake of church discipline. Unconditional love, agape love, loving people the way Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, is the only way we can effectively defend against Satan’s attacks. I believe, with all my heart, that if the Church will pay attention to what Paul has written in 1 and 2 Corinthians (and his other Letters) and deal with sin in the Church in the power and love of Jesus Christ, the Church can effectively defend itself against Satan’s devices and impact the world in a way that we haven’t seen for centuries.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”