“Remove the Evil”

“Remove the Evil” March 20, 2023

God expects his people and his church to be holy.  What does it mean for us to “remove the evil?”


Joshua, chapters 7-8; Psalm 69; 1 Corinthians, chapter 5

Joshua 7:13 (NLT):

“Get up! Command the people to purify themselves in preparation for tomorrow. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NLT):

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”


The Defeat at Ai

I have always been intrigued by the story of Achan in Joshua 7.  He took some of the plunder in the conquest of Jericho – plunder that was to be devoted to God. After the defeat of Jericho – the great walled city – the Israelites turned to Ai.  Joshua sent scouts to spy out Ai, and they were so confident that they told Joshua that there was no need to send the whole army.  “Since there are so few of them, don’t make all our people struggle to go up there” (Joshua 7:3b).

But the scouts didn’t know about Achan.  Because of Achan’s sin, the Israelites who attacked Ai were on their own; God was not with them. Israel was defeated, and Joshua and all the people were convinced that they were doomed.  “Oh, Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us?  If only we had been content to stay on the other side?” (7:7).

God’s response was swift: Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this? Israel has sinned and broken my covenant!” (7:10-11a).  The scouts had been confident that God was going with them, but because of Achan’s sin, God had abandoned them.  “I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction” (7:12b).

The Situation at Corinth

At first glance it may not seem that a military defeat at Ai has anything in common with the situation at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 5.  The church did not seem to be facing any outside opposition. Paul had started the church during his stay in Corinth in Acts 18. Paul wrote this letter not too long after his departure, prompted by reports of division within the church.  But in chapter 5, Paul addresses another situation which must be resolved: “A man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother” (5:1b).

As bad as this was, Paul was more troubled by the church’s response: “You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship” (5:2). Evidently they had misunderstood Paul’s message of grace to mean that “anything goes.”

Paul strongly rejects that line of thinking. Five times in this chapter he tells them, in one way or another, to remove this man from the church:

  • “Remove this man from your fellowship” (v 2)
  • “You must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan” (v 5)
  • “Get rid of the old ‘yeast’ by removing this wicked person from among you” (v 7)
  • “You are not to associated with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people” (v 11)
  • “As the Scriptures say, ‘You must remove the evil person from among you’” (v 13)

Remove the evil

Both passages deal with a central truth: God wants his people to be holy, as he is holy. Joshua 7 demonstrates that God will not remain among his people when they harbor sin and disobedience among them. First Corinthians 5 clarifies what that means: God expects the Church to stand for truth and righteousness. You must remove the evil person from among you.

Paul makes one very important observation: “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave the world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associated with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin…”  We need to focus on what is inside – whether inside our own hearts, or inside the body of believers.  God will judge those on the outside.


I fear that we focus far too much attention on the evil that is “outside,” and become defensive and protective of the evil that is “inside.”  I believe that God is reminding us of two important commands through these passages:

  • We are to judge those who are “inside”; God will judge those on the outside. The focus is on the witness of the Church, and the spiritual fate of those who do not obey God. As Paul notes in verse 5, the goal of this discipline is “so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”
  • Tolerating sinfulness within the body will result in the loss of God’s presence: “I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction.”Achan had stolen from God by keeping some of the plunder. That sin impacted the whole nation of Israel, and it would continue to impact them until they dealt with it the way God commanded.


Father, we confess that it is not easy for us to confront and deal with those within the body who are walking in disobedience.  It is much easier for us to confront and condemn those who are outside. Forgive us for that; you will judge those who are outside. Help us to be zealous for you and for the holiness of your Church.  But help us also to always do this in the right spirit!  We should be concerned if we find that we enjoy this.  Help us to remember that sin breaks your heart; help us to address it with clarity, but also with mercy and grace.  Amen.


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