In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul proceeds to deal with the second of the evils existent in the early church of the Corinthian assembly. The first was worldly wisdom, which was leading to division among church members. The second, we see here, is fornication. To add to the seriousness and heinousness of the actual sin, the assembly was already aware of the condition’s presence among them but had not addressed it or attempted to eradicate it from their midst. Paul identifies this problem outright in his letter. He says, "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you." (1 Corinthians 5:1) We also know from 1 Corinthians 7 that the Corinthians had written a previous letter to Paul about other things, but gave no information about this other problem Paul is referring to. It was common knowledge, then, that Paul knew about these sexual immorality issues. However, this was no ordinary problem.
If we look at the Old Testament scriptures with which Paul and the early church would have been well acquainted, we see that the Mosaic Law prohibited this. In Leviticus 18:8 it says, “The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness.” In Deuteronomy 22:30 we learn, “A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor uncover his father’s bed.” These were just two types of laws in the mosaic law regarding sexual sin. In addition, though, these things were forbidden under Roman law during the age of the early church. What we can deduce from the Corinthian situation was that the nature of the sin was that one in the fellowship was living with his stepmother as his wife while his father was still alive. It seems that Paul references this situation when he mentions the man in 2 Corinthians 7:12, saying, “Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you.” The woman concerned in these relationships was probably an unbeliever, hence Paul does not direct his rebuke toward her. Note the depth to which a carnal believes can sink.
Paul describes the spiritual condition of the church as a consequence of this polluting sin. He says, “and you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:2) Paul is identifying the church members as so "puffed up" with their own wisdom, knowledge, and eloquence of their favorite teachers, that they were insensitive to the scandal created among outsiders, and damage done to the testimony of the assembly. They did not mourn such conditions in their church, but should have been grieved by their own sin with a godly concern and confusion over evil. Moreover, there also should be action and evidence of recourse in the church for the sin committed. Paul argues for the offender to be put out of the fellowship. (See Corinthians 5:6-8) It seems from Paul’s later epistle that the Corinthians accomplished this and listened to Paul’s words, and in the interval between the sending of the first and second epistles this man repented. (See 2 Corinthians 2:5-10) In 1 Corinthians 5:3, Paul says, “for I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.” This meant that though absent, Paul considered himself present in spirit. He had judged the situation from afar, from knowing the people involved, and recommended that when the church was gathered together the offender was to be delivered to Satan by the assembly. Paul did not only mean the elders would be responsible for this though. He intended for the entire assembly to participate since that sin had indeed affected the entire church. This was the course recommended by Paul.
Paul then goes on to establish the authority in which such an action is undertaken. He proclaims this is to be done “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 5:4) To Paul, there was no greater authority or power to be invoked than that of the Lord Jesus. Paul intended the action of the assembly to be both drastic and sobering. He commands them to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:5) This would mean that the offender would be put out of fellowship, out from the plans where God's authority was owned, and into the world where "the god of this world holds sway." (See 1 John 5:19) In this instance, this man was also delivered to Satan for "the destruction of the flesh." This might have involved physical affliction from the apostolic authority of Paul.
Paul also aims to show that this action would help preserve the holiness and testimony of the local church, destroy the flesh and it's passions in the offender, and lead to the ultimate restoration of the man concerned. From what we know, it seems as though in this instance, these goals were realized and the man was indeed restored. (See 2 Corinthians 2:5-10) In 1 Corinthians 5:6, Paul then rebukes the church for their boasting since the body is indeed corrupted from even this one sin among them. He exhorts them, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” Leaven is often a symbol of evil in the scriptures, because it spreads and expands. This means that the Corinthian church cannot ignore the evils among them, thinking they are alright as long as they are not the ones sinning. Rather, Paul is saying that insensitivity and indifference to the problems at hand do affect the whole church.
Paul then commands the church, "Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) What Paul refers to here is the traditional Jewish celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (See Exodus 13) Prior to and during this feast, the Israelites meticulously searched for and removed all leaven from their homes. So in assembly life as well as individual life, evil in any form must be recognized and removed, so that the holy character of Christ may be seen. When Paul identifies Christ as their Passover, he is referring to Christ as the sacrificial lamb of the Passover, which was the feast celebrated after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Since Christ is our Passover, like the Israelites we should search for and cast out all sin, malice and wickedness from our lives and in our midst, living sincerely and according to truth before God.
Paul then refers to a former letter he had addressed to the Corinthian church: “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) Most likely, the contents of a former letter needed some further explanation. Perhaps some in the church may have asked as they read the first letter, "How can we live in this world and do what Paul asks?" So as to avoid confusion and give specific guidance in these matters, Paul writes his answer to their specific question. We can only speculate what this might have involved. He then goes on to say, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.” (1 Corinthians 5:11) Paul is clarifying what he means when he asks those in the church not to engage with people committing these sins. He is also including those who are not in the world, rather those in the church as well that should be avoided. This means that if a brother in Christ becomes a fornicator, a coveter, an idolater, a reviler, a drunkard, or an extortioner, you must not fellowship with him in any way, whether in the church or in a social capacity.
Paul continues by asking a rhetorical question: “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?” (1 Corinthians 5:12) Paul is saying here that he has no authority to judge the unsaved without the moral law and guidelines of the church. He also points out that it is the privilege and responsibility of the believers to judge evil in the church because of the authority given to them through Christ. Finally, Paul sums up his exhortation about this evil present in the church by commanding the church, “But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” (1 Corinthians 5:13) Paul intends to show them that God is the only one truly responsible to judge wickedness in the world. While we are responsible to judge evil in the church, only He can truly judge the wickedness in the world. Therefore, Paul admonishes the church to extricate the wicked person from among them so that they no longer will be guilty of indifference and through the corruption of that sin in their assembly.
Note the incredulity of the opening statement.
v. 1—“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you. Immorality of a kind that even pagan’s condemn.”
This incredulous, immoral state, was common knowledge among those in fellowship. The heinous sin that was being practiced at the time of writing was so degrading that it was forbidden by the Romans and also by God. Leviticus 18:8; Deuteronomy 22:30.
This young man, in fellowship, was living permanently with his father’s wife. She in all probability was his step-mother. The absence of any mention of the woman indicates that she was not a member of the assembly. To compound the horrendous nature of the sin, it appears from 2 Corinthians 7:12 that the father was still in fellowship.
The ultimate tragedy of this incestuous relationship was that it was being tolerated by the elders.
v. 2—Despite the immoral, internal conditions there were many in fellowship who were proud of the assembly. Paul reminds them that the proper attitude, under the present circumstances, should be one of overwhelming sorrow and shame. Then they should take punitive action, and the brother concerned should be removed from their midst. Their self-complacency and pride rendered them insensible both to the scandal created among the outsiders, and to the damage done to the whole assembly.
Please note that this case shows that the natural conscience of an unregenerate man can act on a higher level than the seared conscience of a carnal believer.
v. 3—In this verse Paul displays the closeness and reality of his spiritual and apostolic relationship with them in this matter. Even though physically absent, he was with them in spirit and had judged the sin.
v. 4—“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the greatest authority to be invoked. (1) it is indicative of character, John 17:6; (2) it is indicative of rank, Hebrews 1:4; (3) It is indicative of power, John 17:11-12; (4) It is indicative of authority as in this instance.
Then note, “In the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.” What a meeting Paul envisaged. Meeting in the awesome presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Meeting with the greatest authority that can be invoked. Meeting with the limitless power of the Lord Jesus Christ present. At a meeting like this there would be no room for the flesh, pride, worldly wisdom and human vindictiveness. Such a meeting would be permeated with reverence, humility, and godly sorrow. Those present would be utterly cast upon God for wisdom, guidance and the absolute sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.
1. Paul considered judgment in the matter was that this brother should be put away from among them. He did this with full divine authority.
2. That he should be delivered to Satan for the “destruction of the flesh.”
The putting away or excommunication of the erring one should be the last resort and should only be implemented when all other means of recovery have been exhausted.
We do not like to carry out extreme divine commands these days. We are the stronger numerically but the poorer spiritually.
Paul says with apostolic and divine authority, “Put him away from among you…deliver such a one to Satan.”
Please note this action is against him who deliberately, willfully, and knowingly persists in sin.
To deliver someone to Satan is to excommunicate the offender from fellowship, where God’s authority is owned, into the sphere where Satan, the “god of this world”, holds sway.
See 1 Timothy 1:20. Paul had exercised his apostolic authority and delivered two false teachers to Satan.
See 2 Timothy 2:26. He did this that “they may return to soberness out of the snare of the devil, having been made captive by him, unto the will of God.”
The object of this excommunication is “the destruction of the flesh.” It was the flesh that caused the sin and it must be destroyed. This is not annihilation, but rather that his physical body should experience the destructive powers of Satan. If the erring one is really a true believer he will repent under the pressure from Satan and the judgment of God. On the other hand, if he is only a false professor, he will plunge deeper and deeper into sin.
v. 6—“Your glorying is not good.” Possible rendering—“Your pride in your church is lamentably out of place.”
Pride blinds the eye, hardens the heart, and loosens the tongue. This is a blow against their professed wisdom.
Then there is a certain emphasis on the word “little.” All housewives know that a little leaven inserted into the dough will eventually permeate it completely. If thou, a little leaven, spreads so quickly through the whole lump, how much more will this gross sin of fornication affect the spiritual well-being of the assembly?
v. 7—“Purge out the old leaven.” Leaven is symbolic of sin. Sin or evil should be dealt with as soon as sufficient evidence has been gathered of its existence.
The church is afraid to exercise discipline today. In this case the apostle was not acting upon hearsay. There was concrete evidence as to this man’s guilt. Neither the church nor the elders should jump to premature conclusions. Neither should they believe every scandal that is circulated. This is a divine, infallible role—Matthew 18:15-17. If he will not hear the church then he is to be put under discipline. The old leaven must be purged at all costs.
Stress at this point the importance of holiness, purity, and moral integrity. 2 Corinthians 6. Warn of the dangers of sin in a local assembly—public and private.
Paul reminds us here that “Christ, who is our Passover has been sacrificed for us.” At the Passover, the Jews were commanded to remove all leaven from their houses in preparation for the feast. This signalized the complete break with the old life in Egypt, and announced their entrance into a new life with God.
So with an assembly, the fellowship must be maintained in all purity. Every sin and impurity must be cleared out of the individual life and the corporate life of the assembly.
v. 8—“Wherefore let us keep the feast.” The feast is not the Passover or the Lord’s Supper. But the believer’s life, which is spoken of here as a holy feast, is to be kept continuously from the evils in the context, including adultery, malice, and wickedness.
We should forsake, cast out the sins of the old life, the sins of the flesh, the sins of malice and wickedness. We should practice the Christian graces of sincerity and truth.
In the concluding verses of this chapter the apostle stresses the treatment that should be meted out to evil-doers who have gotten into the church. We are not responsible for what goes on in the world. God alone is the judge of those outside the church.
v. 9-10—The believer’s attitude to the world is that he is in it but not of it.
v. 11—In this verse the tone changes. Paul writes with apostolic authority and divine power. In the church there are certain rules and commandments. Spiritual believers are not to keep company with certain people.
1. A brother who is a fornicator—one who is living immorally.
2. A covetous brother—the grasping, greedy brother. This is just as evil in God’s sight as fornication.
3. An idolatrous brother—He is one who has demoted God to second place because of his interest in some other thing of passion.
4. A railing brother—A person with a loose, vicious tongue. A character assassin is as wicked in God’s sight as a murderer.
5. A drunkard—Do not touch strong drink. You may stumble a brother.
6. An extortionist—He is one who cheats, especially the poor. Then gives a large offering to the Lord. God says “keep your dirty money.” God wants holy money for His holy service.
Paul has brought to our attention 6 heinous sins. Then he gives us a direct command as to how we should treat those who practice those sins. “Don’t eat with such persons.” “You are not to sit down to eat with such a one”, and I take it that this includes the Lord’s Table. People should be warned to stay away from the Lord’s Table if living as depicted here.
v. 12-13—it is not our business to judge those without the church. God will judge Him in due course. It is our business to judge those within the Church. The elders and the church should maintain careful discipline over its members for the glory of God. The final admonition, “It is your duty to put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” Before this extreme action is taken, every effort should have been made to restore the erring one.
Should he persist in his sin and defy the discipline of the church, then the time has come for the Word of God to be acted upon.