Now here is a fun topic. I am currently preaching through 1 Corinthians at my church. This week I am studying 1 Corinthians 5. Paul addresses a public immorality issue in the church at Corinth. Apparently some young Corinthian Christian is living in a very inappropriate relationship with his step mother. Paul’s concern is that this brother’s sin is very known in the church and the church is boasting about it’s openness in the face of sin. Paul says they should “mourn” instead of boasting.

The church at Corinth was situated in an influential and sexually charged cultural context. Corinth was the hub of worship offered to the goddess Aphrodite. The expression of worship in Corinth was nothing less than religiously motivated sexual immorality and prostitution. In the midst of that culture, God’s standard for the church remained the same: “Be Holy for I am Holy” (Leviticus 11:44).  Living a holy lifestyle in a culture of perverse sexuality causes Christians to stand out bringing Glory to the One True God. In Corinth, the church was more impacted by the culture than the culture was influenced by the church. When that happens God’s people neglect to bring Glory to God.

Sexual Immorality in the World

In our day sexual immorality is as big an issue as it was in Corinth. As a pastor I have noticed that Christians sometimes become expert finger pointers blaming the people of the world for the evil and sexual perversity associated with a given culture. Read what Paul says:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people, not at all meaning the people of the world, or the greedy swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who bears the name brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what I have I to do with judging outsiders?”

God will judge the world. We can judge right and wrong and teach our children accordingly, but would we expect any different behavior from people who do not know Christ?  The tone of this passage is simple. Sexual immorality inside the church is much worse than sexual immorality in the world. Maybe we need to stop pointing the finger at the world and instead handle sexual immorality in the church.

Sexual Immorality in the Church

The church is responding to sexual immorality in many ways today. Some churches consider themselves open minded and inclusive even endorsing church leaders who live a publicly immoral lifestyle. Other churches show no grace at all alienating hurting people at even the hint of immorality…  offering no opportunity for repentance and restoration. What is the right course of action?

1 Corinthians 5 ends this way. “Purge the evil person from among you.” Does this mean that anyone who has ever committed sexual sin should be removed from the church?  Consider the whole counsel of Scripture as it relates to church discipline.

Matthew 18

Jesus said, ” If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens you have gained a brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.  And if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.” (Translation, throw him out at that point.)

Galatians 6

Paul said, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him with a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

The church should confront sexual sin with the sincere hope that a brother or sister will repent and be restored to the body. However, as is the case in 1 Corinthians 5, an unrepentant public sexual sin must receive the discipline of the church.  It is tragic when church leadership neglects to offer the loving discipline of a father to wayward brothers and sisters. As Paul indicated, that kind of sin effects the entire church body.  It also tarnishes the view of God in the world. Christ-followers have a new nature. Though not exempt from temptation and sin, the biblical expectation is a new life in the Spirit. Not perfect but humble, repentant, and in the pursuit of holiness.

In a sexually immoral culture the church brings Glory to God when it loves lost sinners no matter the level of their immorality and when it disciplines sexual sin in the church for the purpose of repentance and restoration. To bring glory to God we can not neglect administering loving church discipline in the matter of sexual immorality.

7 thoughts on “The Church and Sexual Immorality

  1. Yes but what about the betrayed? Where does the church stand on this? Where is the support for the one who has been hurt the most by the marital betrayal of the spouse? There is no information but a few small articles on it that I have found. I am not surprised by this because it is evident that there is nothing for the betrayed person. Even the secular community handles the victims of marital betrayal better than the church. Where is the moral compass these days?


    1. Hi Laura,

      I can’t speak for every church but we work to help those who have been abused or betrayed in marriage. We have a new ministry called living water that provides biblical support for people who are hurting including issues of marriage betrayal. If I can help with your situation please email me directly at


  2. Hello Brian,

    This is to request permission to reprint this article,

    The Church and Sexual Immorality
    Brian Haynes, Legacy Milestones, 4 February 2011

    in my journal on sustainable human development at the intersection of society and religion (link under my signature).

    If permission is granted, please let me know the exact wording to give proper credit.


    Luis T. Gutiérrez, PhD, PE
    The Pelican Web of Solidarity and Sustainability
    Editor, Mother Pelican: A Journal of Sustainable Human Development
    A monthly, CC license, free subscription, open access e-journal


  3. I am currently dealing with this with my daughter. Thanks for the insight it helped immensely. The timing could have only been God because my wife and I today were praying for direction. Thanks.


  4. Your comments are entirelu accurate but not usualltywelcomed. The truly difficult part about being a Christian in the US today is that taking a stand for any “absolutes” gets you labeled as an undesirable. My workplace tolerates my Christan testimony; my family sometimes tolerates my Christian testimony; but almost no one embraces a moral high ground position.


  5. Associated story:

    Joel Osteen tells it like it is – finally
    John Aman – Guest Columnist – 2/4/2011 10:45:00 AM
    So there we were outside a Bally Fitness Club in Fort Lauderdale several years ago, “questionnaires” in hand, looking for someone to ask about their faith or lack thereof. A buff gentleman leaving the gym stopped to answer our pop quiz, and being a friendly sort, he heard us out as we presented the Gospel.

    He volunteered that while he was not exactly a follower of Christ, he really enjoyed the upbeat messages of TV preacher Joel Osteen. However, he didn’t like D. James Kennedy, the late pastor of nearby Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and founder of Coral Ridge Ministries.

    He took issue with Dr. Kennedy over homosexuality, a matter of personal importance to our parking lot friend and one about which Dr. Kennedy, who died in 2007, was rather old school. Dr. Kennedy called it sin, did so publicly, and opposed the homosexual political agenda. He also urged his congregation to pray for homosexuals and do good to them. His church sponsored an outreach to help people find freedom from homosexuality through Christ and gave money to help people with AIDS.

    Despite that, local homosexual activists picketed his church on numerous occasions, waving placards with pleasant messages like “Temple of Doom” and “Kennedy = Hate Crimes.”

    It’s safe to say that has never happened to Joel Osteen. Yet.

    Up to now, “sin” has not been a regular part of Osteen’s vocabulary. Watched weekly by some 10 million people, Osteen is a telegenic preacher with messages that breathe out optimism and are focused on helping viewers find success and prosperity. His bestselling book, Your Best Life Now, has sold eight million copies and mentions the word “sin” or “sins” a total of four times in 310 pages.

    The word “sin” didn’t come out of his mouth in 2009, when both Larry King and the ladies on The View asked him about same-sex unions. It’s “not God’s best,” he said, a comment that disappointed some evangelicals for its moral ambiguity.

    Homosexuals also felt dissed, but they are even more upset now in the wake of Osteen’s recent admission, when pressed by CNN interviewer Piers Morgan, that homosexuality is sin.

    His answer was not a bold declaration but, give him credit, one that is faithful to Scripture: “Yes. I’ve always believed, Piers, the Scriptures shows that it’s a sin.”

    Osteen added: “But you know, I’m not one of those that are out there to bash homosexuals and tell them that they’re terrible people and all of that. I mean, there are other sins in the Bible too.”

    That modest caveat didn’t help. One of the nation’s largest homosexual advocacy groups, the Human Rights Campaign, blasted Osteen for his “hateful remark” and demanded an immediate apology. HRC president Joe Solmonese charged that Osteen’s “tired and dangerous statement” only “furthers ignorance and discrimination” and “adds a burden to those already struggling to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

    But is it true? Do the “Scriptures show that homosexuality is sinful,” as Osteen said?

    The answer has been “yes” for the last 3,500 years, but recent attempts to reinterpret Scripture have cast doubt on that claim and have been used to bolster pro-homosexual arguments inside the church. In rebuking Osteen, the HRC noted, for example, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Episcopal Church accept homosexual conduct and “see God’s divine presence working across the spectrum of human sexuality,” whatever that means.

    We’ve heard lately from revisionists that the sin of Sodom was not sodomy, but inhospitality (for that you get rained on with fire and brimstone?), and that Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality was not universal.

    Author James De Young gives readers a comprehensive answer to these and many other false assertions that seek to undermine the traditional biblical understanding in his book, Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law. It’s a fascinating, if excruciatingly detailed, refutation of revisionist scholars that looks at not just the relevant Old and New Testament passages, but references in other ancient extra-biblical literature, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, as well as other sources, including Plato.

    The “inescapable conclusion,” De Young writes, “is that the Old Testament teaches that homosexuality is sin and brings God’s judgment.” And that conclusion, he shows, is only reinforced in the New Testament.

    The sin of Sodom, which God called “very grave,” brought a unique judgment in which Sodom, Gomorrah and surrounding cities were entirely destroyed. The land smoked and Sodom became a symbol referenced 39 places in Scripture, De Young writes, of “all sorts of sexual perversion, violence, and pride that violates heterosexual marriage.”

    That’s what we see in Genesis 19. When Lot’s visitors arrived in Sodom, their presence attracted a crowd from throughout the city: “And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally” (Genesis 19:5 NKJV). It’s clear from the text and context that this was not a Welcome Wagon call, but a mob seeking homosexual contact.

    When Moses announced God’s law to the Jewish nation, he included this rule: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22 NKJV). Moses relayed this warning from God: “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants.”

    Homosexual conduct, which was among the sins practiced by the prior occupants, the Canaanites, brought God’s judgment and their ouster.

    In the New Testament, Paul condemns homosexuality as “vile passions” that are “against nature.”

    But that’s not all Paul has to say. He also offers hope. After telling Christians in Corinth that “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites…will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9), he adds this:

    And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:11)

    As Joel Osteen might say it, this is God’s best.


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