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Friday, April 1, 2016

1 Corinthians (Lesson 18)

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1 Corinthians                                                                         (Lesson 18)

Introduction to Chapter 5

Failure to Deal With Sin in the Church

Our Apostle Paul picks up right where he left off in chapter 4 commenting on the subjects of pride and boasting in the Corinthian church.  We’ve learned that pride was a major component of this church’s divisive spirit (4:6, 18, 19).  Commencing at verse 5:1 Paul provides a specific instance of their arrogant attitude, regarding the incestuous sin of one of their members.

In regards to their boasting, in their own human achievements, then in the supposed superiority of their teachers or leaders; Paul addressed these concerns at 1 Corinthians 1:29, 31; 3:21; and 4:7.  In chapter 5 we find the Corinthians boasting again concerning their tolerance toward one of their members who was living in gross immorality (5:6).   


Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 5:1 and I’ll meet you there. 

Immorality Rebuked

1 Corinthians 5

1: It is actually reported (probably by Chloe) that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles (pagans; i.e. unbelievers), that someone has his father’s wife.

Verse 1 refers to this immorality as an ongoing thing and verse 2 identifies it as a deed.  Evidently, the accused had taken his father’s wife into his home as his own wife and this phrase may imply that the woman is not his biological mother.   

It’s just as important for us to note what the Bible doesn’t say here.  Paul doesn’t tell us if the father in this situation is a widower or if he is divorced and has remarried.  He doesn’t say if the father is alive or dead; not that any of that alters this man’s immoral behavior.  The son has his father’s wife and Paul said this is immorality (fornication) of such a kind as does not exist even among the (pagan) Gentiles. 

The vast majority in Christendom have concluded that the woman involved in this sordid scene was the man’s step-mother.  But hang onto your Bibles.  Let’s examine this more closely.  If you consider the gross immorality that prevailed among the pagans, especially those living in Corinth, a two-port city, it hardly seems likely that adultery with one’s step-mother (not a blood relative) would have attracted much attention, or would have been so objectionable to the pagans of this city as to be noteworthy “fruit” on the gossip-grapevine.

Furthermore, Paul has chosen to rebuke this particular sin by using strong language:  “Everybody is talking about it…  and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles…  you should be mourning…  this man must be removed from your midst… I have decided to deliver him to Satan...

Adultery was as common back then as it is today, so Paul’s language would seem to indicate that this sin was exceptionally shocking, one which the pagan Gentiles would not even speak of, let alone practice.  That is, this man was actually guilty of cohabitation with a close blood relative (incest) with his father’s wife; or his mother. 
Three times in the Pentateuch this form of incest is designated as a man lying with his “father’s wife.  This was a capital offense, cursed by the LORD God (Leviticus 20:11; Deuteronomy 22:30, 27:20).  Therefore it’s not strange at all to find our Apostle Paul using the same terminology in addressing it and with the same depth of feeling or remorse.  No Believer should be behaving in this manner… the pagans don’t even do this.  The offender was fortunate that he was living under the dispensation of God’s Grace, otherwise Paul would have said, “He must be executed; he must be put to death.”  Under the Mosaic Law he would have been taken outside the city and stoned to death.

Verse 2:

2: You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one (note Paul doesn’t mention the woman only the man; perhaps she was an unbeliever) who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.

Although immorality of any kind is considered very serious sin before God, the root problem in Corinth was the church’s pride and their arrogance regarding this sinful behavior.  Paul is addressing every one of the Corinthians here because he knows that their so-called leaders have led them astray.  They think this individual is free to do as he pleases and they, in turn, have the right not to do anything about his wicked behavior because they possess superior knowledge (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23).

What did Paul say, “You are arrogant.”  The people in the church were boasting in this immoral behavior.  Perhaps their wrong attitude stems from a misunderstanding of God’s Grace, and they use it as “an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13), and says, (as they were saying in Corinth), “All things are lawful for me…” (6:12), turning God’s Grace into license to freely commit sin.  (Romans 6)

But Paul says, “You should have mourned as over the dead,” but they didn’t do this, and they didn’t take any action to correct the sinner or remove him from their midst.  In their prideful state they saw no need to do either of these things.  Paul rebukes this arrogant attitude and subsequent behavior.  God’s Grace does not give Believers license to sin freely.

Let’s go to verse 3.

Verses 3-5 are a judicial metaphor.  The early church followed the administrative and worship pattern of the synagogue.  These courts were common back in the day. 

1 Corinthians 5

3: For I, on my part, though absent in body, but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.

In verse 3 Paul assets his apostolic authority with the expression:  though absent in body, but present in spirit, meaning his decision stands, but he wants the church to confirm it.  Paul gave them the authority to break fellowship with this man who has been living in a steady immoral sexual relationship, since he has already judged him. 

Let’s go to verse 4.

1 Corinthians 5

4: In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus,

In the name of our Lord Jesus (v4) - this is a Hebraic way of asserting the prestige and power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ as Paul’s source of apostolic authority, meaning Paul emulates Him and represents Him here on earth.

Verse 5:

1 Corinthians 5

5: I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (v5) –
Throughout Paul’s writings he uses the terms flesh and spirit repeatedly but never as two distinct parts of a person.  He uses them to reflect an individual’s orientation toward God (Romans 7:5). 

  • He meant the term flesh to mean that the man or woman (physical body, mind, and spirit) was living a life apart from God.
  • He meant the term spirit to mean that the man or woman (physical body, mind, and spirit) was living a life honoring God.

Therefore when Paul used the phrase “for the destruction of his flesh” he meant for the destruction of his sinful ways. 

By commanding the church to excommunicate this man (v5) Paul is effectively giving the man over to Satan to cause him trials and difficulties of the flesh so that he may repent of his sin (2 Corinthians 12:7; 2 Timothy 2:24-26).  Paul recognizes that an individual’s mind and heart can change but only if their fleshly tendencies (sinful nature) are overcome. 

Paul also knows Satan is “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).  Paul saw the earth as Satan’s realm and dominion.  Satan’s evil forces have conquered humanity as a whole and holds them as prisoners of spiritual warfare as “rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:15). 

However, Paul understood the significance of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion; it “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:14-15), and “rescued us from the domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13).  Those who are in Christ Jesus (Believers) don’t have to sin; God has provided a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). 

Paul used the phrase “Body of Christ” as a symbol of the church where the works of the Spirit are present (Romans 12:5-21; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:1-16; Colossians 1:18-24).  He saw the church as a refuge from the realm of Satan.

The phrase “handed over to Satan” is a figurative expression for excommunication where the sinner is cast out from the Body of Christ and into the realm of Satan, a.k.a the world.  While this judicial act within the church was intended to help the individual recognize his unconcealed sin, repent of it, and then after some time has passed be restored to fellowship; the other intent was to cleanse the church so that the sin would not grow into a much larger problem as “a little leaven permeating the whole lump.”

Paul used similar terminology to describe other church discipline cases too.  Let’s all turn to 1 Timothy 1:20 and I’ll show you one example …Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have punished by handing them over to the power of Satan; this will teach them to stop their blasphemy.

Even though Paul has commanded that this man be expelled from their midst, sending him into Satan’s realm, it’s for his own good.  No one enjoys discipline, but I think we can all agree discipline is an effective tool when applied appropriately and in a timely fashion:  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). 

If you’ll turn with me to 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 for just a minute, I’ll show you the end result of this church discipline, as Paul writes:  Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.

Here we learn that this man had a change of mind and heart; he was graciously restored to fellowship within the church, yet because of his downward spiral into sexual immorality he was in danger of being over taken by excessive sorrow (v7).  This was a healthy result.  He was remorseful; a contrite vessel ready for the Lord’s use.  He also provided a much-needed lesson for the rest of the church.

Let’s go to verse 6.

6: Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?

Let’s begin with this - Do you not know is a phrase used by Paul to refer to things Believers should have known, things previously communicated to them, but things they have apparently (based upon their current actions and attitudes) forgotten or rejected. 

Your boasting is not good – we’re back to the primary problem within this church and it’s certainly not the immoral behavior of this one man.  It’s their pride.  This is why Paul uses the illustration of a piece of leaven.  It can have devastating effects on the whole.  The Jews associated fermenting with rotting, so leaven became a symbol of corruption, a.k.a. “evil.”  The evil that’s infecting this church is their pride and boasting about their toleration of this man and his immoral activities.

Arrogance is what Paul wants to eliminate amongst the Believers in Corinth, and if expelling this man will accomplish this so be it.  (See 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul is concerned about “the many” who have sinned in impurity, sexual sin, and debauchery, which they have practiced.  That is the leavening influence of sin in the Body of Christ.)

A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough - Paul had quoted this in Galatians 5:8-9 as a proverb that was commonly known back in the day (Matthew 13:33-35, 16:6, 12).  Here he builds a more extensive illustration which draws from the O.T. Jewish ritual of the annual Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. 

Leaven refers to a substance used to produce fermentation in a small amount of dough.  When you mix it with fresh dough, the whole batch became fermented and lighter, and over a period of time, the process may have become a “health risk.”  Permit me to explain:  Leaven, to be distinguished from yeast, was made by keeping back a piece of the previous week’s dough, storing it in suitable conditions, and adding juices to promote the process of fermentation, much like sourdough.  This moldy dough could go bad on you becoming a contaminant, an acid, which explains why it was a fitting symbol for the infectious power of “evil.”  This is why Paul uses it; he’s making a point about the pervasiveness of sin. 

Now I believe we’re ready for verses 7-8.

7: Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.  For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.

 8: Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Clean out the old leaven – the Jews were required to remove all the old leaven from their homes as part of the purification custom prior to celebrating the annual Passover feast; this was a symbol of repentance:  Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel (Exodus 12:15, 19).

The Jews would literally go through the entire house with a candle searching for all the old leaven for the LORD God had said they must never eat the Feast of Passover with leaven present in the home.  They still do this today except for the candle thing…

Paul borrows from this imagery to instruct the Corinthians to clean out the old leaven so that you (or you ‘all) may be a new lump – this phrase from Paul makes it quite clear that his primary concern is for the corporate body and not the one individual acting immorally. 

The community was watching and they were getting the wrong impression from this church.  It didn’t appear as if they were acting any differently than the pagans living outside the church.  They weren’t offering or presenting a solution to any of the problems which existed in the city a.k.a. the world; they were part of a prevalent problem.  So Paul is telling the church they are to lay aside every hindrance and make a fresh start as a new lump or congregation:  Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run the race with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1). 

Just as in fact you (you ‘all) are unleavened.  For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  What we are in Christ Jesus positionally, as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father, and fellow heirs with Jesus Christ, we are to become in our Christ-like lifestyle.  In other words, Paul is saying be who you ‘all are, in Christ Jesus.  If they would do this, the pagan world would know them by what they do and say. 

Paul then relates the crucifixion and death of the Lord Jesus Christ to the O.T. concept of the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:15, 46, 13:7).  This is one of the few places in the N.T. that this connection is specifically stated (John 1:29, 19:36).

Paul’s point is clear:  sin spreads in the church as leaven does in dough.  A piece of bad leaven will infect and poison the next batch and so on.  The only way to break the chain of baking bacteria-laden bread was to ditch the whole batch and start fresh.  If we apply this principle here, Paul’s metaphor teaches that this man’s sin brings greater harm than simply being a bad example for others in the church.  It likens his sin to a cancerous tumor that will infect and ruin the entire community unless it is purged from the body.

Let’s go to verses 9-13.

9: I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people;

10: I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.

11: But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother (or sister in the Lord) if he (or she) is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one.

12: For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Do you not judge those who are within the church?

13: But those who are outside, God judges.  REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

In this paragraph Paul instructs the Corinthians (and us) that church discipline is for Believers and not the outside world.  It’s not the church’s responsibility to judge those outside the church.  There is only one Righteous Judge (John 8:7; James 4:12).  Our responsibility is to be Jesus Christ’s ambassadors here on earth, speaking the gospel of reconciliation to them, and not to control them (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  It’s not the church’s task to clean up the world’s fishbowl, when all God asked us to do was, “go fishing.” (Matthew 4:19; Romans 10:13-15)

It appears that Paul wrote 4 letters to this church all total but we only have 2 of these in our Bible.  (1) The letter referred to in 1Corinthians 5:9 (see note there); (2) 1 Corinthians; (3) the “severe” letter (see 2 Corinthians 2:3–4) and then (4) 2 Corinthians.

Evidently, in one of the other letters the Corinthians apparently misunderstood Paul’s meaning.  They thought he didn’t want them to associate with any immoral person.  Paul clarifies this misunderstanding by explaining this ban pertains only to Believers. 

It’s impossible for Believers to avoid contact with the outside world.  We have to function in the world but we’re not to be joined with it (John 12:31, 16:11, 17:14-15; 1 John 5:19; Romans 12:1-2).  When an unbeliever sins that’s a natural act; that’s part of their job description, if you’ll permit.  But the difference between a sinner and a saint is that a saint doesn’t have to sin anymore (Romans 7).  So, when a Believer sins blatantly there’s a problem.  The church must intervene for the good of the individual and for the good of the community who’s most certainly watching and waiting to point the accusing finger of shame at God’s Church, and the opportunity to run God’s good name through the mud. 

(To be continued)

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GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
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