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As important as a church's policy on discipline is its attitude toward the repentant sinner.
His name is not known. Maybe it was mercy that kept him shrouded. Paul may have initially considered exposing this man by name, but in the end, the apostle hesitated and chose not to reveal his identity.

Maybe to Paul, this man's sin seemed different. This kind of behavior was unthinkable in the early church--or, for that matter, among the people of secular Corinth (see 1 Cor. 5:1).

What deed could this young man have committed that not even a pagan would do? " ... a man has his father's wife" (5:1, NKJV). In other words, he was having intercourse with his mother.

He was the first prominent blemish on the face of the local church at Corinth. He would test the early church in a way that the lame and blind could not.

The Corinthian believers were about to confront an important question about grace: Did it come in limited supply? Or, was it as boundless and available as Jesus portrayed it to be while He walked the earth?

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Sin is sin.

But sometimes our sin is scarlet, standing out like a ruby stain against satin white. Even if you believe sin comes in different shades, no one would disagree that this was a bright red sin.

The Law of Moses was clear on God's position about such liaisons.

"'Cursed is the one who lies with his father's wife ... '" (Deut. 27:20). Clearly, something inside the son snapped. It was catastrophic perversion.

Satan would hammer the faithful for years over this one. Corinth the city could shrug its shoulders and move on, but how could Corinth the church ever recover?

The apostle couched the man's future in spiritual mystery.

"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 Cor. 5:5).

"But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person" (5:11).

He was instructing the church to give the man what he wanted until the man could stand it no more.

Because the first half of this story is so difficult to tell, most Christians are never told the rest of the story. Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church was written in A.D. 59. It was blunt, but graceful in its approach. But the power and workings of grace are found in the content of the second letter, written a year later.

When Paul returns to the issue of the incestuous son who was being disciplined, his words are more shocking than the original sin.

"This punishment ... 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" (2 Cor. 2:6-7).

It's amazing what a year alone with the devil can do for the soul.

Paul was asking the church to forgive. It was time to release this man from the reproach and shame of his deeds in the same way Christ had released each one of them.

Paul also was asking them to provide the man with comfort. He was challenging them to consider the feelings of a man who had disregarded theirs just one year earlier.

1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Once a person is forgiven, the role of the cleansing community comes to the forefront.

When it comes to welcoming home front-page sinners, the church is often guilty of bolting the door, holding a finger to her lips and telling everyone inside to keep their voices down until the sinner stops knocking.

Some churches do make an effort to appear loving by unlocking the door, but then they proceed to hold the knob.

Paul wondered if the church would be more aghast at his suggestions for restoration than they were at the sin. The old question, "Can any good come out of Nazareth?" was replaced by a new question, "Can any grace come out of Corinth?"

With the helpful nudge of a missionary who understood the depths of Calvary's grace himself, the answer was a resounding "yes."

May this be true for our churches as well.

Scott Hagan pastors First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is the author of They Felt the Spirit's Touch (Charisma House).

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