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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 God will judge those outside

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, January 9, 2023

12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13 But those who are outside God will judge. “Remove the wicked person from among you.”

The Corinthians thought very highly of themselves, but Paul quietly explains himself to them in ways he would not have to with other groups such as the Bereans or the Ephesians. There is a double standard in the church that is necessary, even though God only has one standard, which is his own holy will. The double standard is this: The church does not judge those who are outside the church, but only those who are within. I may know of terrible sinners in my community, but if they are not part of the church, I will not confront them the way I would if my friend in the church was sinning. God will judge those on the outside. This doesn’t mean that we give up on the outsider. The goal of evangelism is to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ.

Paul finishes the chapter with a much-repeated quotation from the Old Testament. It is often translated: “You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 21:21, 22:21, 24:7). In those verses, the verb “purge” comes from a root word, ba‘ar, meaning to burn. In the intensifying piel conjugation, we have an interesting phenomenon. The literal sense of the word “burn” is taken up by the piel form into the figurative sense, from “burn” to “purge, completely remove (as if it has been burned away).” Christians must of course be careful to correctly understand the Word of God. He does not say we should physically burn with fire anyone who is an outsider and is sinning. It is true that in certain circumstances, the Law of Moses actually called for the burning of certain sinners, but they were always within Israel and not outsiders (Leviticus 20:14, 21:9), and of course those laws no longer govern us since Christ fulfilled the whole law for us. But when there is an unrepentant sinner among us and in our fellowship, when correction does nothing to change his heart according to the steps the Lord gives us (in Matthew 18:15-17), then we must treat him as if he is an outsider, “as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).

We see in verse 13 a proof passage that helps us to understand the divinity of Jesus, that he is true God as well as true man. For while Paul says here that “those who are outside, God will judge,” the apostle also says that “all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Typically our dogmaticians (theologians) have classed our Lord’s divine works in eight or nine categories: creation (John 1:1,3), preservation (1 Corinthians 8:6), divine miracles “as the entire account of the Gospels shows,” redemption of the human race (Luke 1:68), the gathering of the church (Hebrews 3:3), sending the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; John 14:16), sending angels (Matthew 13:41; Revelation 1:1), foretelling future things (Matthew 24:41, 26:34), and his works of grace in the church (Matthew 10:25; 2 Corinthians 11:2). Should we not add to these the final judgment, certainly done by Christ according to his divine nature as well as his human nature? Paul told the Athenians: “He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

Finally, we must ask: Isn’t it possible for a hypocrite, a wicked man, to conceal himself within the church and to slip past the judgment of simple Christians? Our confession takes up this matter: “We concede that in this life hypocrites and evil men are mingled with the church and are members of the church according to the outward associations of the church’s marks—that is, the Word, confession, and sacraments—especially if they have not been excommunicated. The sacraments do not lose their efficacy when they are administered by evil men; indeed, we may legitimately use sacraments that are administered by evil men. Paul also predicts that Antichrist will ‘take his seat in the temple of God’ (2 Thessalonians 2:4), that is, that he will rule and hold office in the church” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession).

But Christ will overcome all in the end. Those outside will be judged, and we who have faith will be welcomed home to everlasting grace and life. Treasure your faith and your Savior. There is no greater gift.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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