The Apostle Paul was giving instruction to the Corinthians because they were supporting a man who had entered into sexual immorality and who refused to repent of it. But he wanted this church to understand that there was a difference between associating with this sinner and those in the world. That is important for us to understand as well because many believers attempt to remain pure by avoiding the lost, but Jesus commanded us to go to the lost:
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10)
Often we judge the world, point fingers, and put pressure on them to conform their ways which is all pretty silly considering they are only behaving according to the nature that has enslaved them. They have no choice in what they do. That's the whole reason Jesus had to come, to bring freedom so that we are able to make a choice. Paul writes:
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
Some might say, "But I thought we are not permitted to judge anyone?" We are not to judge the repentant heart. When a believer sins and repents we must let it go and celebrate the victory. However, when a believer sins so blatantly, as in moving in with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or who is bragging with pride about their sin and refuses to repent, then we are to judge correctly and walk away. Remember that repent is not simply confession but is also a turning away from that sin. So if I confess that I have sex outside of marriage and then continue doing it my confession is useless. The Word is clear on this:
But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. (1 Corinthians 5:11)
I have to admit that I have been part of the bleeding heart club but I am not even sure my motivation was so much compassion as it was timidity. But Paul warns that this sin is like yeast and will work itself into our lives until we too are deceived. Don't think it's true? Consider how many churches have begun to sanction homosexual marriages, that don't consider living together to be a big deal, and who teach more about living a good life in place of teaching the Word of God. Paul wrote:
Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:8)
Our relationship with Jesus must be sincere and based on truth. We cannot call a lie a truth and have a proper relationship with Jesus. If we think we do we have deceived ourselves and are now on the road to destruction.
It is important that we draw the distinction here between the sinners in the world and those who claim to be a believer and yet refuse to repent of their sin. We are to enter the world of the sinner with great love and compassion, presenting Jesus to a people lost in darkness. This is our purpose and we are told to bring these people into our lives so they can see Jesus in us. Yet we are to have nothing to do with those we deceive themselves in the Body of Christ. We can warn them but when they refuse to turn away from their sin we must turn our back and leave them in God's hands, praying for their deliverance.
We must turn away for our own sake, that we too will not fall into the same self-deception. Tolerating sin in others raises the danger of us tolerating sin in ourselves. Paul writes it clearly for the Church, quoting the old scriptures, "Expel the wicked man from among you." Not those who recognize their sin and repent but those who harden their hearts, refuse to acknowledge their sin and do not turn from it. This is what we are refusing to do and we are becoming weaker because of it. Choose life today, choose Jesus and the counsel of his Word.