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AThe short answer to this question is “yes”. There is a difference between the publicans and sinners in Mark 2 and the “wicked person” in 1 Corinthians 5. Let’s examine each passage.
Difference Between Mark 2 and 1 Corinthians 5
“And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his [Levi’s] house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Mark 2:15-17
It is clear from this passage that these ones the Lord was eating with were “sinners” in need of repentance. That is, they were unsaved persons being sought by the Savior. The scribes and Pharisees were accusing the Lord of being guilty by association with these persons. They would be classified as wicked persons. The Lord has instructed us to be fishers of men, and so it is right and proper for us to draw alongside sinners and present the gospel to them. However, we do need to beware of defilement, which we will speak more about later.
“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” 1 Corinthians 5:11-13
Here, the individuals to be put out were those whose lives had become characterized by moral sin. The important difference to notice here is that it says “if any man be called a brother be a …” It is a very marked distinction from looking at what comes previously in verses 9-10. Paul had instructed them not to keep company “altogether with the fornicators of this world” it would not have been feasible for them to continue life on earth, “for then must ye needs go out of the world.” Therefore, we can see that Paul is emphasizing their being at least professing Christians who are fornicators, etc. that must be put away.
An Excuse for Assembly Irresponsibility?
Paul goes on to say, “do not ye judge them that are within?” and “therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” He puts the responsibility to put away wicked persons squarely at the feet of the local assembly. The Corinthians were actually responsible to make the judgment themselves but had been slow to, so Paul had “judged already.”
They were “not to company” with the wicked person. Paul says, “no, not to eat.” That is, don’t hang out with them, not even for one meal. Some people take a legal approach to this and will do any and everything with the excommunicated person except eat with them. But the intention is clear. Once a person has been put away, contact should be limited to that which is directly related to seeking their restoration. We do a great disservice to “such an one” by disobeying these verses. Also, the divided state in Christendom lessens the effect of excommunication.
There is no excuse for assembly irresponsibility, although we are often guilty of it. Some people try to use the passage in Mark 2 to say that because the Lord was associating with wicked persons, we can too. In fact He was associating with them, but it was for the purpose of “bringing them to repentance.” Also, as to the Lord’s position, He was baptized by John, taking His place with the faithful Jews. The Lord’s eating with publicans and sinners in no way absolves our responsibility to put away wicked persons.
Another argument some might raise is that the Lord broke bread (the institution of the Lord’s Supper) with Judas, an unbeliever and at the same time a betrayer. However, it says in John 13 that Satan entered into him after supper when he had received the sop. Then he slipped out into the night. Therefore, Judas was absent when the Lord, “supper being ender”, took break, etc.
If the Lord did it, why can’t I?
Often people say that the Lord “associated with prostitutes and thieves” and so we don’t need to be concerned about evil associations, especially when we are giving the gospel. But this flies in the face of so many New Testament exhortations. And we also need to remember to be careful of the wording we choose. The writer of Hebrews said of the Lord Jesus that He “is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” Hebrews 7:26