Asaph was a Levitical song leader and prophet during the reign of king David. He wrote a number of the Psalms. In Psalm 82:1, Asaph wrote, “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods.” The Old Testament “congregation of the mighty” was the nation of Israel, His chosen people. The “gods” referred to in this verse were the rulers of Israel, the elders and priests of “the congregation of the mighty”.
Often, when there is a difference in judgment among the “gods” who rule over God’s people, those rulers are all saying right things. At issue in such cases is not whether the rulers are saying right things; they all are. Rather, the issue is, which of those right things is the right thing to say for the situation at hand. In other words, what is the right “right thing”? In such cases, it is impossible for men of earth to help. The gods in God’s congregation are all wiser than the world can be. In such cases, only God can judge among His “gods” and determine which of them is speaking the right “right thing”, the right thing that applies to the situation at hand. Solomon said, “The thoughts of the righteous are right” (Prov. 12:5). But that is not the point. The point is, which of those right thoughts is what God is thinking at the moment?
This is why Paul stressed the importance for all of us to hear the tender voice of the Spirit and be led by it. All of us who are called by God to Jesus will find ourselves having new, right thoughts. What we need is for our heavenly Father to show us which of those right thoughts applies to the situation we are presently in.
Jesus told some afflicted people that he healed to “go and sin no more”. But he said on other occasions that the affliction was not caused by sin. He was always perfectly guided by God in all his judgments; he always knew which right thing applied to which person and which situation. He had no formula to follow, and he had no pat answers prepared for all questions. He listened always to the Father so that he would know the truth of the moment.
When To Forgive, and When Not To Forgive
When someone in “the congregation of the mighty” errs, there are various directions which the congregation may take, depending on the type of error and related circumstances. But which one applies to a particular transgression at any given time? Judas confessed to the chief priests in private that he knew Jesus, and knew where he prayed, and was damned forever. His motive was evil. Peter cursed and swore in public that he did not know Jesus at all, and yet he was forgiven and became one of the chief apostles. He was simply overcome by fear. What man could judge such things rightly? Only God can give His people a right judgment because only God knows the hearts.
On the one hand, sin can be handled the compassionate way that Paul taught in Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if a man be overtaken in some transgression, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ.”
That’s a godly attitude. But on the other hand, there are times when another approach in dealing with sin in the “congregation of the mighty” is in order, as Paul taught the Corinthian congregation. We need to take some time to consider what he said:
1. It is widely reported that there is immorality among you, and such immorality as is not even known among Gentiles, in that a man has taken his own father’s wife!
Note that Paul is telling the believers in Corinth that they were tolerating such sin as would make decent sinners sick to their stomach.
2. And yet, you are puffed up, and have not mourned instead, so that the one who has done this deed might be put out from your midst.
Paul criticized the saints in Corinth because they were tolerating a scandalous wickedness. The only remedy in their situation was to remove the young man from the assembly. The fact that the Corinthians had not done so told Paul that they had become proud. Therefore, Paul instructs them as to how the humility of Christ would have them to handle this situation.
3. As for me, absent in body but present in spirit, I have already judged, as if present, the one who has done this deed.
4. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you and my spirit are gathered together, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5. deliver such a man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Instead of judging the matter rightly, the body of believers in Corinth had continued holding their meetings as usual, with the wickedness in their midst, rejoicing in the Spirit, singing, testifying, exercising spiritual gifts, and so forth. But with that filthiness in the midst of the congregation, this was Paul’s assessment of their worship:
6a. Your glorying is not good.
The result of these believers continuing with their prayer meetings as usual was that after their meetings, they were in worse condition, spiritually and physically, than before. Paul said so in 1Corinthians 11:17, 30. The apostle James also warned the saints not to worship God when sin was present among them. He said, “If there is bitter envying and strife in your hearts, do not glory!” (Jas. 3:14). Jesus taught his followers the same thing. He said that if you have done wrong to a brother, you should not worship God, but go instead to the offended brother and make things right. Then, he said, you may return and worship God acceptably; that is, with a clear conscience (Mt. 5:23-34).
Here in 1Corinthians, Paul is teaching that the worship of a group of saints is no good if sin is tolerated in the congregation. Sin will influence the spirits around it, and it can pollute the worship of a whole body of believers, making it unacceptable to God. Paul instructed two young ministers, Timothy and Titus, to rebuke sin openly in the congregation. We assume, therefore, that there are occasions when doing so is God’s will for His people (1Tim. 5:20; Tit. 2:15).
After the ancient Israelites won their first battle for Canaan at Jericho, a man from the tribe of Judah, named Achan, took a few articles found in the destroyed city which had been dedicated to God. In the next battle, because sin was now in the camp, thirty-six men of Israel were slain, and the army limped back into camp, defeated. Thirty-six families lost fathers because there was unconfessed sin in the camp. Joshua did not understand why the army lost, and going to God’s altar, he fell on his face, weeping. But God was too angry to be compassionate. He rebuked Joshua, told him to get up off his face, and then thundered, “There is sin in the camp! That is why the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed. Neither will I be with you any more, unless you destroy the accursed from among you!” (excerpt, Josh. 7:10-12).
This was similar to Paul’s indignant message to the Corinthian believers (continuing from 1Corinthians 5):
6b. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
7. Purge out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, since you are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, was sacrificed for us
8. so that we might keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9. In a letter, I wrote to you not to associate with immoral people,
10. not meaning, of course, the immoral of this world, or the covetous, or swindlers, or idolaters, for in that case, you would have to leave the world.
11. But now I write to you not to associate with anyone called a brother, if he be immoral, or covetous, or idolatrous, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler -- not even so much as to eat with such a one.
Where do you see such judgment against wickedness in “the congregation” executed in our time? It is rare, admittedly, but it is the will of God, and it is found everywhere that believers enjoy genuine fellowship in the light of Christ because the light of Christ demands it.
Note also that Paul said he had already judged this situation - and he was not even there in Corinth. Paul knew nothing of the notion, which many in our time hold, that making judgments of people and of situations is ungodly. The truth is, it is ungodly for a body of believers NOT to have judgment among themselves. Paul even told the saints here at Corinth that they could escape God’s judgment if they would only exercise their own (1Cor. 11:32).
12. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?
In the next chapter in 1Corinthians, Paul rebukes this “congregation of the mighty” because there was no one there among them godly enough to exercise righteous judgment when it was needed. He said in 1Corinthians 6:5, “I say this to your shame. Is it really so, that there is not a single wise man among you, one who is able to judge among his brothers?” Then, Paul, as one of the “gods” in the “congregation of the mighty”, concluded with this judgment of the situation:
13. Those on the outside, God will judge, but you put that wickedness out from among you!
Where there is genuine fellowship, there is no continuation of worship as usual when sin is discovered in the congregation. When the body is truly one in Christ, it feels God’s displeasure and sorrow, and it cannot rejoice. Sin is a spiritual disease, and it must be cut out, or it’s influence will grow until the whole body is infected. And when the entire body tolerates sin and is corrupted by it, God will reject the praise of the congregation. Remarkably, when a congregation becomes so sick with sin that God rejects its worship, it often happens that the people do not even realize that their worship is being rejected. By the time sin has spread that far, the people’s feelings are so dead that, like the shaven Samson of old, they do not even realize that God has departed from them.
Preacher Clark used to warn us that sin is as catching as diseases are. Catching a cold, for one example, is not something you know has happened until the effects are felt. Then, when the fever, stuffiness, and aching begin, you know that somewhere along the way, the unseen, microscopic disease has infected you. The infection is a “secret” event until its effects show, but it is nevertheless real. That is why Paul warned the congregation in Corinth that a person living in sin, especially such a disgraceful sin as had been committed among them, would ruin the whole congregation if that sin was allowed to remain. That’s not a theory; that’s a fact.