In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul introduces a shameful problem in the church. The Corinthians proudly attach themselves to certain leaders, whose teaching seems to disclose a “wisdom” not known or taught by other teachers, and certainly not by Paul or his fellow-apostles. These cliques and factions are undermining the unity of the church and are a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 5 is not actually about the immorality of one church member, as much as it is about the pride and passivity of the entire church in response to this sinner.
The church at Corinth was not only a divided church, but it was also a disgraced church. There was sin in the assembly and everybody knew about it. But the church was slow to do anything about it.
No church is perfect, but human imperfection must never be an excuse for sin. Just as parents must discipline their children in love, so local churches must exercise discipline over the members of the assembly. Church discipline is not a group of “pious policemen” out to catch a criminal. Rather, it is a group of brokenhearted brothers and sisters seeking to restore an erring member of the family.
The first things the Corinthians needed to see was the need for discipline. Because they apparently had rationalized or minimized the immorality in their midst, they saw no need for discipline. Paul presented to the church three important considerations.
Consider the church: “What will this sin do to the church?” is certainly an important consideration. Christians are “called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2), and this means holy living to the glory of God. If a Christian loves his church, he will not stand by and permit sin to weaken it and perhaps ruin its testimony.
How should we respond? Paul gave three specific instructions for the church to follow.
Mourn over the sin (vv. 1-2). It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?
This is the word used for mourning over the dead, which is perhaps the deepest and most painful kind of personal sorrow possible. Instead of mourning, the people at Corinth were puffed up. They were boasting of the fact that their church was so “open-minded” that even fornicators could be members in good standing!
The sin in question was a form of incest: a professed Christian (and a member of the church) was living with his stepmother in a permanent alliance. While Paul is distressed by the sin of this one man, he is even more disturbed by the sinful response of the church. They have “become arrogant,” and at the same time, are virtually doing nothing to correct this matter. Paul is distressed by the arrogance of the saints at Corinth.
Pride is the result of turning from the truth. Pride keeps one from seeing the truth. The Corinthians maintain an attitude of pride when the situation should produce mourning.
Paul shamed the church by saying, “Even the unsaved Gentiles don’t practice this kind of sin!”
In this therapeutic age when the church is often looked upon more as a “support group” than a “holy temple,” church members refuse to discipline members and continue to embrace sinning saints, even when it is clear they have no intention of repenting of their sins, and even when they publicly persist in their sinful ways. If this is the case in Corinth, they would love the expression of our day, “unconditional acceptance.”
An easy-going attitude to sin is always dangerous. It has been said that our one security against sin lies in our being shocked at it. Carlyle said that men must see the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin. When we cease to take a serious view of sin we are in a perilous position. It is not a question of being critical and condemnatory; it is a question of being wounded and shocked. It was sin that crucified Jesus Christ; it was to free men from sin that he died. No Christian man can take an easy-going view of it.
Christians are not to tolerate sin within the church any more than they are to tolerate it within their own lives. “But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints.… And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph. 5:3, 11).
Judge the sin (vv. 3-5). Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the fleshly nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
Paul wants to be absolutely clear that the arrogance of the Corinthians is not good. Why not? Because it is destructive. We surely know it is harmful to the man living in sin. But now Paul seeks to show us how destructive failing to deal with sin is to the church.
Paul described here an official church meeting at which the offender was dealt with according to divine instructions. Public sin must be publicly judged and condemned. The sin was not to be “swept under the rug”; for, after all, it was known far and wide even among the unsaved who were outside the church.
The church was to gather together and expel the offender. Note the strong words that Paul used to instruct them: “taken away from among you” (1 Cor. 5:2), “deliver such an one unto Satan” (1 Cor. 5:5), “purge out” (1 Cor. 5:7), and “put away” (1 Cor. 5:13). Paul did not suggest that they handle the offender gently.
This was to be done by the authority of Jesus Christ—in His name—and not simply on the authority of the local church. Church membership is a serious thing and must not be treated carelessly or lightly.
To put the professed believer out of their fellowship, to excommunicate him, would be to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. Satan is the ruler of this world, and turning a believer over to Satan, therefore, thrusts the believer back into the world on his own, apart from the care and support of Christian fellowship. That person has forfeited his right to participation in the church of Jesus Christ, which He intends to keep pure at all costs. The word deliver (paradidōmi) is a strong term indicating the judicial act of sentencing, of handing over for punishment. The sentence passed on a sinning believer is to be given to Satan.
Purge the sin (vv. 6-13). Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
Paul turns his readers to imagery of leaven, and the way a little bit of leaven can change the whole lump of dough in which it is found. The sinner whom the Corinthians embrace and fail to put out of the church is likened to a little leaven placed in a lump of dough. If left there for long, it changes the whole batch of dough.
By removing this man from their midst, the church at Corinth not only seeks the sinner’s restoration, they also promote their own purity.
The image here is that of the Passover supper (Ex. 12). Jesus is the Lamb of God who shed His blood to deliver us from sin (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:18-25). The Jews in Egypt were delivered from death by the application of the blood of the lamb. Following the application of the blood, the Jewish families ate the Passover supper. One of the requirements was that no yeast (leaven) be found anywhere in their dwellings. Even the bread at the feast was to be unleavened.
Leaven is a picture of sin. It is small but powerful; it works secretly; it “puffs up” the dough; it spreads. The sinning church member in Corinth was like a piece of yeast: he was defiling the entire loaf of bread (the congregation). It was like a cancer in the body that needed to be removed by drastic surgery.
The church must purge itself of “old leaven.” However, the church must not judge and condemn those who are outside the faith. That judgment is future, and God will take care of it. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Paul emphasized once again the importance of separation from the world. Christians are not to be isolated, but separated. We cannot avoid contact with sinners, but we can avoid contamination by sinners.
Paul does not mean for the Corinthians to try to keep the church out of the world, but to keep the world out of the church. He means that those who profess to be saved must live like one who is saved. A person should not be embraced as a believer whose profession and practice are in contradiction.
If a professed Christian is guilty of the sins named here, the church must deal with him. Individual members are not to “company” with him (1 Cor. 5:9—”get mixed up with, associate intimately”). They are not to eat with him, which could refer to private hospitality or more likely the public observance of the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Cor. 11:23-34).
Church discipline is not easy or popular, but it is important. If it is done properly, God can use it to convict and restore an erring believer. Second Corinthians 2:1-11 indicates that this man did repent and was restored to fellowship.
Whatever happened to sin? Years ago, a secular psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger, wrote a book entitled, Whatever Became of Sin. Even this man realized that evils have become too “psychologized,” and that a simple diagnosis of “sin” is needed. I can imagine the kinds of diagnosis we would have today for the malady of this Corinthian man, living with his father’s wife.
For Paul, the diagnosis is simple, and so is the prescription. The problem is the sin of immorality, and the prescription is to remove him from the church. When the Bible is the standard for conduct, and it is viewed and used for defining sin and righteousness, the diagnosis of this man’s problem is not that difficult.
Whatever has happened to church discipline? I have seen very little of it. Even when such discipline is taken, all too many church members are tempted to second-guess the church and to privately continue to fellowship with the one under discipline. This is a most serious matter, for if I understand the Scriptures correctly, to do so is to become a partner with that person in the sin.
Church discipline is one of those very clear duties of the church and of the individual Christian. Why, then, is it not practiced more often? These verses suggest that arrogance or pride can be one cause.
I would also suggest that these days fear may now be a cause for not taking disciplinary action. We may be afraid to take a stand against sin because we are afraid of rejection. We may be afraid of appearing to be narrow and unloving. We may be unwilling to lose the friendship and the fellowship of those we love. Some church leaders are afraid of being sued for taking disciplinary action against a church member. It can and does happen. I suspect that it will happen more and more in the coming days.
Sinful men and women should not and cannot be comfortable in the presence of a holy God, save through the cleansing of their sins by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Men and women cannot come to faith without first becoming uncomfortable about their sin and God’s judgment. That is what being saved is all about—being saved from the wrath of God upon sinners.
God takes sin seriously. That is why the cross of Calvary was necessary. God took our sin so seriously that He sent His Son to die in our place, to suffer the punishment for our sins.
The good news of the gospel is that while God takes our sin seriously, and while our sin must be judged, He has judged our sins in Christ. To enter into this forgiveness, all we need do is to receive the gift of salvation which God offers to us by faith in His Son. Believe that Christ is the Savior and be willing to repent of the sin and confess that you want Christ to be both Savior and Lord. And be immersed in water so you wins can be forgiven.
When we see how seriously God has taken our sins, we see how serious we must be about sin as well.