“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:1-8).
It has been said that our security against sin lies in our being shocked by it. Carlyle said that men must see the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin. When we no longer take a serious view of sin we are in a hazardous position.
“It was sin that crucified Jesus Christ.
It was to free men from sin that He died.
No Christian man can take an easy view of it.”
The Apostle Paul did not take an easy view of sin and challenged the congregation at Corinth to rethink their own position against person who openly transgressed the moral Law of God. In particular there was a man in the congregation who was committing fornication openly. He was co-habituating with his father’s wife.
This private act of fornication had become a public scandal so that even the Gentiles shook their heads in amazement. In this lifestyle the depths of human depravity are discovered. First, sin does not have any sensitivity to social or spiritual boundaries. The act of living with one’s step mother was forbidden by the spiritual codex of the Mosaic Law (Lev. 18:8). The social laws of the Romans also prohibited this type of activity. The union had no legal sanction. But the laws of life are meaningless to sin. It operates as a law unto itself.
Second, sin makes people irrational. We are told that this man, this professing Christian, lived with his father’s wife. It would have been bad enough if the man took up with his father’s widow, but the scandal was all the greater because the father was still alive. How could such a triangle exist? It is really not that difficult to imagine for sin makes itself attractive. Sin will shamelessly appeal to the noble emotions of the heart while appeasing the basic emotions of the body. I am very familiar with a case in point. In the name of “love,” a husband allowed his wife to have a live in paramour because he did not want to loose her. While in the same house, an illicit triangle was not only permitted but supported financially. Sin makes people irrational.
Then third, sin tries to penetrate the church. Sin is bold. It spits in the face of God, laughs in the face of Christians and defies anyone to challenge its conduct.
How does the church deal with sexual sins that are pleasurable and from the philosophy of the protagonist, defensible? How does the church at large keep a high level of moral purity or regain its morality without being self righteous, legalistic, and unloving? The biblical revelation is that the church must return to a doctrinal understanding of what the will of the Lord is in such matters. Once the doctrine is understood, there must be a submission to divine revelation.
God has revealed to the world how He wants humans to live. The Lord has given to man a moral rulebook called the Bible. Without the Bible, without divine revelation, no one really has a right to challenge the thinking or behavior of anyone else. Therefore, when a baseball player spits in the face of an umpire, he should be applauded or ignored but not censured. When a President of the United States blatantly lies and openly admits to infidelity, in the absence of a moral voice of authority, there is no reason why he should not be re-elected. And his advice to young people to inhale marijuana should not be considered outrageous counsel. However, if God has spoken to His creation, if God has given a Moral Law, if God has called out a people to be holy, then it is incumbent upon them as a whole to hold each other to a level of accountability.
The Apostle Paul was amazed that the church of Corinth had not only withheld discipline from the man in question but the church was actually proud about the whole situation. Sin allows individuals to go beyond being defensive about wicked behavior to being proud of what is done (Rom. 1:32). The pop culture of today continues to illustrate this principle. The arrogance of the rappers to excite violence, the strutting of sports heroes, the bizarre behavior of basketball players coloring their hair and cross dressing, the deplorable antics of rock and roll musicians speaks volumes of the pride of sinfulness. The cesspool of vice produced in Hollywood continues to justify meaningless relationships which are reflected on the screen and then re-enacted in society. And the people of this environment are proud of all they say and do.
In contrast are the people of God found in the Church. The church is not to be proud of sin. And when scandalous behavior is brought into the sanctuary, the divine revelation is given as to what the attitude of the church should be. It should not be one of pride. Rather, the church should mourn. The type of mourning Paul has in mind is reflected in the word he uses. It is the word associated with the death of a beloved family member. There is to be anguish of soul, distress of heart, and a wretching desire that the situation be not true. The church is to mourn over sins in self and in others. It does not rejoice in wickedness. Nor is the church to pretend that there is no sin.
Rather, the assembly of God is to make certain that the person who has died to righteousness be taken away just as it would take a corpse from the sanctuary lest the rotting flesh breed disease and more death.
To encourage the believers at Corinth to do what must be done with tears, the apostle Paul declares that he himself has already made a righteous judgment. Though Paul is in Ephesus when he writes to the church, he has received enough evidence to exercise his apostolic authority. Declaring himself to be present in spirit, Paul provides specific instructions as to how the church was to proceed with the act of ex-communication for that is what the apostle counsels.
First, there was to be a public gathering, not a private inquisition (5:4). While private sins can be dealt with privately, public sins have to be dealt with in the open lest there be the change of cover-up. Also, facts tend to be distorted when not aired openly. The larger principle at stake here is that the church is to walk in the light.
As Paul judged the situation so should the congregation as a whole. In this way there was a high level of openness. One of the ways to have a holy, healthy, happier church is to let all things be done decently, in order, and in the open. No facet of a church’s ministry should ever have secret meetings with nameless faces. It would be a terrible violation of New Testament principles of ethics for this to be allowed especially when the character and conduct of a child of God is at stake.
Second, Paul sets forth the principle that there was to be a corporate decision, not a private preference for action. The power to discipline would not and does not rest with one individual. In this way tyranny is prevented. God trusts His church at large to make the right decisions provided Scriptural guidelines are followed.
When the church meets in a public gathering to render a corporate decision, it must be very careful to meet in the name of the Lord. It is not enough for the church to meet to conduct business for the world does that. Rather, the church is to meet in order to call upon the Lord (Isa. 30:2) in a conscious way so that nothing is done contrary to His word. This facet of the meeting is not always easy to implement for when passions run deep and divided feelings are high, people are not prone to want to pray. Still, the Lord is to be consulted, not just confessed. As the church meets according to these guidelines, it will know the power of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 5:4). The spirited power will come according to Divine promise (Matt. 18:20).
Concerning the case in question, it was Paul’s apostolic counsel that the church was to meet and deliver the erring church member over to Satan which means they were to excommunicate him. The theology behind the passage is this. While Christ reigns in the Church, Satan reigns in the world. As long as a person is in the Church, he is placed under Divine protection and charge of Christ.
To be put outside the Church is to be handed over to Satan and thus alienated and cut off from the gracious rule of Christ. Once a person is cut off from the Christ, the excommunicated member is at the pleasure of Satan who is presented as having power to torment souls as he did Job and the certain woman of Luke 13:6. “The man is to be excommunicated,” says Paul. Only the man is dealt with because only he was within the sphere of Church accountability. Had to wife been a member of the assembly, she too would have been deal with.
Sometimes, in address evil, the scriptural accountability can be severe as it was with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), Elymas (Acts 13:8-11), and the blasphemers of 1 Timothy 1:20. Many Christians in the church at Corinth had grown sick and died because they sinned in relation to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30-32).
However, as severe as Church discipline is designed to be, the purpose is not to hurt but to help save the soul. The flesh is to be destroyed so that there may be repentance. The word for “flesh” is the word that is used of the immoral essence of man. What is most desired is a moral reformation of the heart, not the destruction of life though the body will be destroyed if sin is not repented of. Cigarettes do cause cancer. A promiscuous lifestyle will lead to disease and death. Drinkers do become alcoholics and drug users do become addicted. All of these things bring premature death.
The Church of Jesus Christ must not only warn its members, it must protect itself from certain individuals who will destroy it without hesitation. It is not the will of God that His people allow this to happen thereby committing spiritual suicide. It is not the will of God that His people allow others to commit soul murder without protest. Nor is it the will of God that His people be proud of sin in self or in others, especially when the known facts are well established (5:1). Paul had facts at his disposal, not a mere suspicion and that too is significant. An evil report is not a fact and church members should be very careful about listening to evil reports, or believing evil reports too quickly. When this happens there is no biblical love present according to 1 Corinthians 13:5. Christians should also be careful about rushing to judgment.
A rush to judgment only breeds anger and hostility. When facts are established, then there is to be action for it is the Lord’s will that the church purge out the old leaven. In Scripture, leaven is a penetrating force that can be used for good (Matt. 13:33) or for evil (Matt. 16:6; Gal. 5:9). In this passage, the reference is to evil. By calling upon the Church to purge out the old leaven, the apostle was calling upon the church to do literally what the Jews did symbolically for centuries.
According to Jewish custom, on the 14th of Nisan (March-April), the eve of the first and great day of the Feast of Passover, great care was taken to remove all the leaven (raised bread) which could be found in the house. In the evening, along with the celebration of the Paschal feast, the sacred week began during which nothing was eaten but the cakes of unleavened bread. Leaven bread represented in association with this feast, the pollutions of idolatry and vices in Egypt which Israel had broken with by coming out of the land. The apostles spiritualizes the ceremony. The church is to break with the bondage of sin especially malice and wickedness that it may be a “new lump.”
By referring to “a new lump” Paul was appealing to another Jewish custom. On the eve of the Passover Feast, a fresh piece of dough was kneaded with pure water, and from it were prepared the cakes of unleavened bread which was eaten during the feast. In like manner, the whole community, by a work of purification wrought on itself, should become like a piece of dough, newly kneaded. In this process, the church rediscovers that it is to be pure and holy. In fact, the Apostle Paul acts as if the church has already made the discovery for he writes “YE ARE UNLEAVENED.”
How could Paul say this? The answer is that Paul thinks of the people at Corinth as what they are by position in Christ and not what they are in point of fact. Paul refers to the believers in Corinth as SAINTS though they engaged in great and petty sins. The believers are to become in practice what they are positionally in Christ and that is holy. Herein is grace.
Therefore, on the basis of grace, says Paul, “let us keep the feast.” Specifically, the feast is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast is to be kept, but not with malice and wickedness. The word for “malice” refers to
“a corrupt state of the soul which
does not allow it to become
indignant against evil but allows
a lax toleration.”
The word for “wickedness” refers to
“an active connivance and protection of
that which is wrong in self and in others.
No effort is made to correct the corruption.”
The Christian is not to partake of the Lord’s Supper with such malice and wickedness but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The word for sincerity is an interesting word. It means to judge something by the light of the sun. The word conveys the concept of being transparent. Spiritually, the heart is to be so pure that it has no sympathy with evil. Likewise, the word for truth refers to righteousness in its active form. Where there is true truth, there is a measure of inflexible firmness. There is a consistent struggle against evil primarily in self without compromise.
According to these gospel terms, individually and corporately, the Lord invites His people into close communion with Himself. Because we have been invited, let us keep the feast.