2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.
3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst
4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.
5Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
6This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
7And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
8And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.
9But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
10Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:2-11
1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is intolerable even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been stricken with grief and have removed from your fellowship the man who did this?
3Although I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, and I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of the Lord Jesus, 5hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the Day of the Lord.
6Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven works through the whole batch of dough? 7Get rid of the old leaven, that you may be a new unleavened batch, as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with the old bread, leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and of truth.
9I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10I was not including the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a verbal abuser, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
12What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:1-12
Here we have two New Testament stories about sexual immorality, each focusing on forgiveness, but from opposite ends of the spectrum.
In John, we have the legalists who are so proud of their strict adherence to the law that they want to stone the adulterer to death.
In 1 Corinthians we have the antinomians who are so proud of their freedom from the law that they are actually bragging about a sin that would typically make a pagan blush.
In both stories, the facts are not in dispute. The woman in John was basically dragged to the confrontation directly from the scene of the crime.
The man in 1 Corinthians and apparently the whole local congregation were happily letting their freedom flags fly.
If we look carefully at both stories, we will find that the primary focus in each is actually on the people who are surrounding the guilty parties, with special attention paid to what their response to the parties should be, rather than on the parties themselves.
In John, the scribes and Pharisees seem almost gleeful at the prospect of not only enjoying a good stoning, but also the likelihood of catching Jesus in some quote that they could use against him later to destroy him, almost literally taking down two birds with one stone! They were practically salivating.
Jesus' response to them was to start writing something in the sand, which he interrupted for only a second to suggest that whichever one of them was sinless could go ahead and throw the first pitch, before he continued writing.
Whatever he wrote was personally convicting enough to each accuser, as far as their qualifications, that they left one by one, starting with the oldest.
In 1 Corinthians, on the other hand, Paul was appalled at the apparent gleefulness of the believers at the opportunity to flaunt the efficacy of the blood of the Passover Lamb to cover malice and wickedness. They were literally proclaiming as true the exact spurious idea that Paul refuted in Romans chapter 6, that we, as Christians, should go on sinning so that grace might abound.
What strikes me first in this story is that Paul's response wasn't to go off about the affront that this error was to Christ. His concern, rather, was that the error would corrupt all of Christianity at the outset, like yeast quickly spreading through the whole batch of dough, turning grace and forgiveness into a license to sin.
He was adamant and urgent in his orders for the people to turn that proudly unrepentant sinner over to Satan to save both Christianity and the man's own soul.
"The world is gonna world," he basically said to them, "they aren't my concern. You are! Get that guy outta here fast! It's both your and his only hope!"
In John, when Jesus finally spoke to the woman, who I picture as standing there with her eyes closed, waiting to die, he asked her where her condemners were. She looked around then and saw there was no one; not one of her original accusers met the criteria for casting a stone at her. The fact was, of course, that only Jesus actually qualified, and he knew it, but he opted out.
The truth is, Jesus, the true Passover Lamb came willingly and specifically for the purpose of shedding his blood to justify the ungodly (Romans 4:4-8), because every one of us is in that category. At the same time, he wants not only forgiveness and salvation for us but everything that is good.
Slavish pursuit of sin, particularly sin that we justify in the name of Christ, never has and never will fall into that category. So, after telling her that he did not condemn her, Jesus pointed her away from sin.
As for the man in 1 Corinthians, the believers did as Paul asked. They completely separated themselves from him, for both his sake and their own.
In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 Paul says that the punishment did its work and that the man should now be forgiven and comforted, and that their love for him should be reaffirmed, lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
Forgiveness is available to all, through Christ. Only the circumstances and the means by which it is best given and received may vary.