Sunday November 10th
1 Corinthians 5
I’ve heard it said that “singing in the shower is all fun and games until you end up getting some shampoo in your mouth – then it turns into a soap opera!”
There are some people here who know a little secret about me – I watch General Hospital. It’s only on Wednesdays when I stop by to visit my parents before returning to church for the Wednesday night service, but I’m able to keep up on the story for two reasons:
Now I know that soap operas can sometimes have pretty steamy story lines, but those are nothing compared to what Paul had to address in 1st Corinthians 5 verse 1:
“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.”
How’s that for an exciting plot? So what was really going on here? There are several possibilities according to Bible commentators:
One possibility is that this man’s father may have died, and then the son married the woman who would have been his stepmother. The other possibility is that the father is still alive and the son is having an affair with his stepmother behind his father’s back, or even openly. In any case, this type of inter-family relationship is explicitly condemned in Leviticus 18:8. And although the culture of that day tolerated a wide range of immoral activities, Paul points out that even the pagan gentiles were embarrassed by this kind of behavior.
Paul also isn’t very happy about how the Corinthian church had been dealing with their soap opera:
2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
This verse is the key to Paul’s real concern. The fundamental problem here wasn’t just the sexual sin of one messed-up individual, it was the failure of the Corinthian church to deal with the sin—in fact, Paul was disturbed because they had a sense of pride about how they were accepting and tolerating it.
That’s a big issue in our culture today, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be very tolerant and accepting of whatever anyone else chooses to do. If you express an opinion about someone else’s behavior possibly being sinful or ungodly, you are immediately labeled as “intolerant”.
But Paul is clearly NOT going to tolerate this behavior in this church that he established, even though he’s now far away from Corinth on his missionary journey. He says:
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. 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, 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.
Paul is physically absent from the Corinthian community, but he tells them that he was there with them in the Spirit during their service, and that he actually passed a prophetic judgment in their midst. His judgment is that the church should forbid this offender from attending their fellowship. Just kick him out! In fact Paul goes so far as to say that he is willing to “deliver this man to Satan”!
Of course that all sounds very harsh, but we have to understand that Paul’s stated purpose in his judgment is the man’s salvation. He believes that the man’s restoration can only be achieved if he is made to repent and his sinful tendencies are overcome. Paul refers to that process as “the destruction of the flesh”.
Then he returns to his concerns about these church members boasting about how “tolerant” they are:
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?
Paul compares the Corinthian’s tolerance of sin to leaven, or yeast. Leaven was often used in the Bible as a metaphor for a spreading sinful and corrupting influence.
That’s why, during the annual Feast of Passover the Israelites had to remove all leaven from their houses.
We see this in Exodus 12:15 for example:
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.
Do you see that idea of being “cut off” from fellowship?
Paul seems to be making a direct reference to that practice when he says this to the Corinthians:
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.
If the cleansing out of leaven was important in the Old Testament, Paul says it’s even more important with Jesus as our Passover lamb. Because He was sinless, we should strive to walk in holiness as well, in order to honor Him.
The next part of Paul’s explanation regarding the issue of dealing with sin might actually surprise you:
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 if he 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.
The first thing that I want you to notice here is that Paul makes reference in verse 11 to the fact that “actually, I wrote to you” about this already.
This means that, prior to writing the letter which we call 1st Corinthians, Paul had already sent another letter instructing these same Corinthians about this same issue!
In other words, he had previously told them to separate themselves from believers who practiced immorality.
And that’s a key distinction that Paul is emphasizing here. He’s saying that he never meant for them to stay away from “the immoral people of this world”.
Otherwise, how would they be able to evangelize?
Paul certainly understood that there was no real value in staying away from unbelievers who sin, because ALL unbelievers sin!
The issue that Paul is dealing with here is staying away from BELIEVERS who sin, so that by draw a line of dis-fellowship it will cause them to get their lives back on the right track.
Paul actually seems a bit frustrated that these Corinthian believers didn’t get the point of his original teaching. At least that’s what it would seem like from how they were treating the sin situation right under their noses!
Possibly the Corinthians had misunderstood Paul, and thought that he was commanding them to maintain separation from the sinners in the world. So he explains again that what he had in mind was separating from anyone who claimed to be a Christian but whose life and actions clearly contradicted the teachings of the faith.
Now, my bible commentary says that this injunction to expel or shun offending church members (going so far as to say “not even to eat with such a one”) is primarily referring to life within the church and probably does not mean that all personal contact of any kind was to be avoided.
(In others words you didn’t have to avoid them at the supermarket)
That view especially makes sense when we compare this situation to what Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Do you see the balance there? Don’t associate with disobedient brothers and sisters, but remember that they ARE still your brothers and sisters!
In verse 13 of today’s chapter Paul quotes the command found in Deuteronomy 17:7 which says to purge or expel the wicked from Israel. “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”
In doing that, Paul is drawing an important parallel between the Old Testament Jewish community and the New Testament Christian church. This is something that he will emphasize again when we get to chapter 10.
The bottom line is that these verses tell us that the church has the authority to exercise discipline within its own fellowship, but it does not have the authority to regulate the behavior of non-Christians. Sinners gonna sin! But believers gonna stop sinning!
So how did this apply to them back then, and how does it apply to us now?
Well, for starters, we can confidently conclude from 2 Corinthians 2:3–11, that the Corinthian church finally did obey Paul’s instruction, and that this man did repent of his outrageous sin.
Let’s look at that account:
3 This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.
Paul is making reference here to the fact that he knew that his rebuke would make them sorrowful, but that their sorrow wasn’t his ultimate goal. His true goal was to show love to them by bringing correction to a situation that clearly needed to be addressed. And what was the response to that loving rebuke? Look at verse 5-8:
5 But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. 6 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority,7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.
Paul says that true source of everyone’s sorrow wasn’t him, it was the man who was sinning. That man’s sin caused pain to the entire church community. Paul then refers to the “punishment which was inflicted by the majority.”
This means that the majority of people in the church had obeyed Paul’s instructions and cut this brother off from fellowship. Paul also says that this “punishment” was “sufficient”, meaning that it accomplished its purpose by causing the man to repent.
Now that the man has repented, Paul says, forgive him, comfort him, and reaffirm your love for him, because we don’t want “excessive sorrow” to overwhelm him.
Sometimes it’s important to know when enough is enough.
Once a person has repented, they are clean in God’s eyes, and we need to see then as cleansed and renewed also, rather than continuing to remind them of their sin.
And Paul adds a few more verses to explain why this is so important:
9 For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
In verse 9, Paul tells the Corinthians that his original instructions – to cut the man off from fellowship – were sort of a “test” to see how obedient they would be. Since they were obedient, and now that the goal of the man’s restoration has been accomplished, Paul says that he has no reason to harbor any un-forgiveness towards this person.
And the most important point that Paul is making, for the Corinthians and for us, is that holding on to un-forgiveness plays right into the hands of the enemy.
Paul says, “We are not ignorant of his schemes”.
We know how Satan works. We know that he is the accuser of the brethren. So why should we allow him to use us as his co-accusers?
I think that’s the most crucial lesson that we have to learn today about this “issue”.
As Pastor Josh pointed out last week, we aren’t supposed to be in the business of running around judging each other, and yet there are clearly going to be times when we need to hold each other accountable. That’s what families do for each other.
There are times when we need to say, “Hey brother, I’m concerned about some of the choices that I see you making.”
“Your behavior doesn’t match up with the standards of a Christ-follower.”
There may even be times when we have to say, “I’m not sure that I can hang out with you if you’re going to keep choosing that ungodly lifestyle.”
But that’s never the ultimate goal. It’s simply a step towards the goal.
Because the ultimate goal is always to see that brother or sister restored to a proper relationship with God, both in their heart and in their behavior. And once they have started to turn their heart back towards God, we should be running out to meet them like the Prodigal Son’s father!
The only one who wants to keep reminding them of their sin, and putting them through guilt and shame, is Satan.
And we certainly don’t need to be helping him to carry out his schemes of condemnation.
The devil is always working to keep people separated from God and from each other. God is always working towards reconciliation.
Look at these verse from 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Let’s choose to make that our heart today towards any brother or sister that is struggling in their walk. If we need to bring correction, let’s do it gently, in a spirit of humility, knowing that we’ve all stumbled and fallen short at times.
Remember Jesus’ instruction that we should begin by removing any log from our own eye before we start pointing out specks in other people’s eyes.
And consider Paul’s wise words from Galatians 6:1 - Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
Always keep in mind that the ministry that we’ve been given is one of reconciliation – helping people to get back to a right relationship with God and with the family of God. The Corinthians did it, and so can we.