We can do this!
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 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, 5 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 5:1-5 NKJV
This passage in 1 Corinthians has been the source of debate for centuries. The practice of expelling church members as a form of church discipline has been around in one form or another since the beginning of the Church Age. The details of how that works, who does it, and the crimes that merit it are subjects of great debate. But that’s a topic for another time. What amazes me is that they had to have a meeting to give the devil permission to attack this man’s body. Let me quote from my book “You Are a Keeper!”
“One aspect of this passage has always puzzled me. It appears that this was a man who was living in open sin of the most shocking kind. To most of our modern understandings, he would have been opening himself up to the attack of the enemy, yet here is Paul telling them to call a special meeting in order to allow Satan to attack his physical body. It appears to me that being a part of the Body of Christ is supposed to provide a level of protection that we know very little about. These folks lived in a state of corporate protection that kept the devil from destroying the man without permission. We are not there yet. Most of our prayer meetings are dedicated to getting the devil off people, since our prayer lives are so shallow that we are all pretty much on our own in fighting the enemy. When we fail and allow sin into our lives, Satan just hammers us at his leisure.” (You Are a Keeper! p. 49)
I have long believed that this reflects a level of connection in the spirit realm that we’ve almost completely lost. In our day, church membership, if it exists at all, consists in completing a class and receiving a card. People change churches as a matter of personal preference or pique. It never occurs to them that they are removing themselves from a covenant commitment that provides them with supernatural protection from the onslaught of the enemy. We’ve lost the practice and the power of what I have dubbed connected, covenant prayer.
Remember our friend Epaphras in Colossians 4:12?
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.Colossians 4:12 NIV
He was committed to praying for the folks back in his home church. He prayed regularly, continually, and in such a way that Paul said he was “wrestling.” The purpose in his prayers was that the people to whom he was connected would fulfill all the will of God, standing strong and mature. This indicates that Paul and Epaphras thought that this kind of prayer was necessary. What kind of relationship prompts this sort of determination in prayer for others? Is it possible that many of us fall short of all the will of God because we don’t have this kind of prayer connection? I believe “Yes!” is our only honest response.
Paul used an interesting phrase in describing the connection of people in the local church: “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. (Romans 12:4-5 NKJV)” In some sense, we are connected to one another in the same way our physical body parts are connected. We are members of one another! Consider some of the other phrases used to describe this unusual link between believers:
- Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15 ESV)
- that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it. (1 Corinthians 12:25-27 NET)
- We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (Romans 15:1-3 ESV)
- Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 NKJV)
- Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous (1 Peter 3:8 NKJV).
I particularly like the word “compassion” in this last verse. I think it sums up the message of all the previous verses. The Greek word is only found in two other places in the New Testament. One is in Hebrews 10:34 where the writer says, “you had compassion on me in my chains.” In that context he is praising them for enduring the same persecutions as those who endured imprisonment, joyfully sharing in their suffering. The NLT says, “You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail.” The point is that they felt the same pain. The Greek word is “sunpathes,” meaning to feel or suffer together with another.
The other place this word is used is in Hebrews 4.
 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.  For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.Hebrews 4:14-16 KJV
Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, has the capacity to identify with us in our weakness because He faced the same temptations. He put Himself in our shoes and bore our pain. He is “touched with the feeling” that we feel. This is not sympathy, or feeling sorry for someone. This is identifying with their pain to the point of feeling it yourself!
Listen to the challenging message of Philippians Chapter 2:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.Philippians 2:5-7 NKJV
I like the way the NIV says it in verse 5: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” He is encouraging us to have the same attitude as Jesus when it comes to bearing one another’s failings, temptations, and pains. Notice, Hebrews 4:16 tells us that because we know that Jesus feels our pain, we can come boldly to Him when we’re in trouble. We know He will do two things: extend mercy for our failures and give us grace to help in our distress. The essence of New Testament covenant community is the willingness to have the same mind, or attitude as Jesus. Can people be confident that if they come to you in their weakness that they will find mercy and grace? Can you imagine what a local church would look like if this attitude were pervasive?
Here’s the point: The New Testament describes a supernatural connection between believers, especially those who are part of the same community of faith. We are not just members of the same organization, we are members of one another. This is true whether we know it or not and whether we believe it or not. The call of the Spirit is to identify with the other parts of our body, both in their joy and in their pain. He wants us to be confident that when we’re in trouble, we can find mercy and grace to help from the other parts of our own covenant community. This is a level of spiritual relationship that most of us haven’t experienced. It’s something we can aspire to with the help of the Holy Spirit. This kind of unity and comity among our own allows us to imagine the mutual protection and power that might come through connected, covenant prayer.
Next Steps: Review the Scriptures in this lesson. In each passage, think carefully about what it would be like if the relationships described were a reality in your life. Join me as we begin to pray that God give us grace to experience what these verses are talking about. “Thank you, Father, that the people you’ve set in my church are members of one another. Teach me to rejoice and weep with my brothers and sisters. to have the same care and concern for them in all things. Lord, let your attitude find a place in me. Help me bear with the failings of others and be willing to bear their burdens with them, both in the physical realm, and especially in the spirit. Teach me to be touched with the feeling of their infirmities, to be tenderhearted, and to love like family. It’s a covenant relationship. We are connected. Teach me to pray like I believe it.”