Paul begins to address another serious issue in the Corinthian church—sexual immorality and the church’s condonance of it. Paul is gravely concerned over the members’ complacent attitude. He urges them to eradicate the evil-doer from among them.
Did You Know...?
- Sexual immorality (5:1): the word is used of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.
The verb form of this word means “to prostitute” or “to become a harlot”. [ref]
- “A man has his father’s wife” (5:1): The LORD forbid anyone among the Israelites to have sexual relations with one’s father’s wife (Lev 18:8).
- The day of the Lord (5:5) is the day of the Lord’s return (cf.
1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3:10; Mt 24:29–44)
- Eat with (5:11): “Table fellowship had great significance in the ancient world, meaning acceptance of those with whom you dined.” [ref]
- “Purge the evil person from among you” (5:13): This injunction is found numerous times in the Old Testament, where God commanded the Israelites to put to death the evildoer in the assembly of Israel (Deut 13:5, 17:7, 12, 21:21, 22:21, 22, 24).
Under what circumstances should the church excommunicate a member?Hide Answer
If a brother persists in sin even after repeated warnings, he is to be excommunicated from the church. Sins mentioned in the Bible that led to excommunication include sexual immorality (1 Cor 5:1–13), rejection of the faith (1 Tim 1:19–20), division (Tit 3:10), and preaching of false doctrines (2 Jn 1:10–11).
How should the church excommunicate someone?Hide Answer
In Matthew 18:15–20, the Lord Jesus outlines the steps we are to take toward a brother who sins: [ref]
1. Tell him his fault in private. If he does not listen, then
2. Take along two or three witnesses to speak to him. If he refuses to listen to them, then
3. Tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then
4. Consider him an outsider.
The intention behind these actions is to restore the brother or sister. But if the person continues to refuse correction, we are to treat him or her as an unbeliever.
The word “excommunication” means to exclude someone from the fellowship. This is in accordance with what the apostles taught—to not associate with those who practice evil in the church. In addition, the church may pronounce judgment on the evildoer, as Paul did in
1 Corinthians 5:3. When the church does so, she acts on the authority given by the Lord Jesus (Mt 18:18–20; 1 Cor 5:4–5).
What constitutes sexual immorality?Hide Answer
The Bible does not define clearly the kinds of sexual acts that constitute sexual immorality. In the Old Testament, the word for sexual immorality generally denotes “prostitution” or “whoredom.” (e.g. Gen 38:24). But the usage of the term in the New Testament suggests that the word is not limited to prostitution as the term is defined today (i.e. engaging in sexual acts for money). For example, in Matthew 5:32, where Jesus mentions sexual immorality as the only legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage, adultery appears to be in view. In the present passage, having sexual relations with one’s father’s wife is considered sexual immorality. The words “sexual immorality… of a kind” indicate that there are other forms of sexually immoral relationships. Furthermore, Paul’s teaching on monogamy in
1 Corinthians 7:2 implies that any sexual relationship outside of marriage is considered sexual immorality.
What was the attitude of the Corinthian church about the sexual immorality found among the believers?Hide Answer
They were arrogant (v. 2).
What can we infer about how they might have expressed this attitude?Hide Answer
Instead of mourning as they ought to, they were boasting (vv. 2, 6). We do not know exactly how they boasted, but their condonance of the evil among them could be a form of boasting. The context of verse 6 suggests that they were probably proud of their tolerance of wickedness. Being a church that took pride in knowledge, the Corinthians might have felt that they were spiritually strong and looked lightly on the sin of sexual immorality among them.
What does it mean to deliver someone to Satan?Hide Answer
The word “deliver” connotes authority, and was used in legal contexts where someone of authority hands over the guilty to be tried, imprisoned, or executed (cf. Mt 5:25, 18:34; Jn 18:35, 19:16). According to verse 4, the church is to deliver the wicked person to Satan when they are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the church has the mandate and authority from the Lord to pronounce judgment on a member who persists and sin and refuses to listen to the church.
What is the outcome of delivering someone to Satan?Hide Answer
The second part of verse 5 may be more accurately translated “to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” One possible explanation of this verse is to take “the flesh” and “the spirit” as pertaining to the church collectively. In other words, by delivering the evildoer to Satan, the church may purge herself of the works of the sinful flesh and preserve her spiritual purity until the return of the Lord. This interpretation seems to fit well with the following segment (5:6–8), which speaks of the purification of the church as a whole.
The deliverance of a person to Satan is punitive, that is, to let Satan inflict punishment upon the offender. Paul told Timothy that he had handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan that they man learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim 1:20). The implication seems to be that the evildoer may be humbled after having suffered under the hands of Satan.
What is the point behind the analogy, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”?Hide Answer
Verse 8 explains that leaven is used as a symbol of malice and evil. Sin works like leaven. It can spread and influence other members of the church.
How does the imagery of removing the yeast relate to Christ our Passover lamb?Hide Answer
The language of this segment derives from the feast of the Passover. Observing the feast involved killing a lamb, putting its blood on the doorposts and lintel, roasting and eating its flesh, removing any leaven out of the house, and eating unleavened bread (Ex 12:1–20).
What does it mean for us to celebrate the festival?Hide Answer
According to Paul, the festival of Passover signifies how the church saved by Christ’s atoning sacrifice must not allow sin to remain in her. Today, for us to keep this festival is to exhort one another every day to not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin but to hold fast to our confidence in Christ to the end (cf Heb 3:6–14). The shepherds of the church must pay careful attention to themselves and to all the flock, caring for the church which God has obtained with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
How do we celebrate the festival “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”?Hide Answer
The word for “sincerity” means to be free of dissimulation. [ref] The adjective form of the word is translated “pure” in Php 1:10. To celebrate the Passover with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth is to dedicate ourselves as a church that is without impurities within and abides by the truth.
What does verse 10 reveal about associating with unbelievers in our lives?Hide Answer
It is impractical to avoid any associations with people outside of the church, since we live among unbelievers who do not subscribe to the godly lifestyles God demands. It is not our responsibility to judge them, and we do not need to distance ourselves from them. God Himself will judge them (1 Cor 5:13). Instead, we are to live as light and salt among them, making every effort to share the good news of Jesus Christ and His salvation with them.
Is it contrary to Christian love to not associate with a sinful church member?Hide Answer
Love is not indulgence. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s greatest love, taught us to regard a sinful brother who refuses to listen to the church as an outsider. Paul, who loved his own kinsmen as well as people of all races, likewise taught the church to purge the evil from among them. True love restores rather than condones. We are to warn the brother who sins, with the hope of gaining him (cf. Mt 18:15). But if he continues in his wickedness, it is our duty to exercise our love for the entire church by removing the malicious evil from the congregation.
How do we reconcile Jesus’ teaching not to judge and Paul’s teaching here that we ought to judge evildoers in the church?Hide Answer
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:1–5 pertains to judging others with the attitude that we are more righteous than others. It applies to us as individuals. Before we try to remove the speck in our brother’s eye, we should first remove the log in our own eye. The context of
1 Corinthians 5 is quite different. The church as a whole has the duty to judge the sinners within her using the authority given by the Lord Jesus. Such measures do not stem from personal pride but are based on the need to preserve the purity of the body of Christ.