Study 7 – 1 Corinthians 5:1-13
“How did it come to this!?” Can you think of any light hearted stories of how a small thing grew into something big or massive?
From Chapter 1 Paul has been talking to the church of God in Corinth who are called by God to be his holy people. They already have every spiritual blessing and have heard and received the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And yet, they were a church divided because they celebrated and boasted about particular church leaders. Paul has reminded his readers that there is no wisdom on earth that compares to the wisdom of God and that wisdom, although it looks weak and foolish, is the cross of Christ. Human leadership is about humble submission to Christ as our head and wise service to those entrusted in our care.
Paul reminds them that he will be visiting soon and continues in this chapter as he raises the alarming issue of the Corinthian sexual ethics.
Read 1 Corinthians 5:1-13
5 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
What did you see?
- 5:1-5 Outlining the case of incest and Paul’s verdict
- 5:6-8 Jesus transformed you yeasterday.
- 5:9-13 Judgement of sin inside and outside the church.
Outlining the case of incest and Paul’s verdict
‘It is reported’ – Paul here is moving on from the previous discussion of wisdom and leadership to address a new topic that has been testified to him.
‘there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife’ – The language here suggests that this is unlikely to be his mother, but more likely that it could be a step-mother or a mother-in-law. Almost certainly, the reason for committing this deed is financial… a wealthy step-mother / M-i-L might remarry into a different family and take her wealth with her. It also provides good explanatory power for why the description in verses 10 and 11 includes the sexually immoral as well as those whose financial morality is corrupt (‘greedy and swindlers’).
‘and you are proud!’ – Instead of calling out this man (see Lev 18:8, 20:11) and expelling him from the community, Paul is utterly shocked at their complacency. Not only has pride set in to this Corinthian church, but an incredible insensitivity towards sin! In their arrogance they are deadened to the sinfulness of this man and their complicities in failing to call a brother out of his sin!
‘you should have gone into mourning’ – The actions of this man reveal his heart… that his will is for what he desires and not for the things of God. As Paul later says – he path is headed towards destruction. We should mourn the brother who turns from God towards such wickedness.
But there is an element in here also of mourning for the community. We get these pictures in Ezra 10:6 and Nehemiah 1:4 of mourning for the sinfulness of the exiles… Ezra 10 is particularly helpful. Ezra mourns their sin corporately, he calls for repentance individually and corporately, and those who continue with their foreign wives are excluded from the community. In the same way the Corinthians ought to mourn the sin of their brother and their sin, they ought to repent of his sin (incest) and their sin (pride -> insensitivity to sin), and if this man does not repent and leave his illicit relationship, they ought to remove him from the community.
‘For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit’ – Paul here, carrying the full weight of apostleship which he has outlined in Ch 3 and 4, outlines his verdict that the wicked man should be removed from the Corinthian fellowship. Paul’s use of the Spirit here can be confusing in verse 3 and 4 – what he is suggesting though is that the communication and reading of his letter is a tangible way in which the Holy Spirit uses him in communicating his apostolic ministry in their midst. i.e. God is using him to speak the words that the Corinthians need to hear, so they might repent of their sin and turn back to God.
‘hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord’ – Paul’s judgement is that if this man is unrepentant, he needs to cast out of the Corinthians church for his own good. ‘Over to Satan for the destruction of flesh’ refers not to putting him to death, but rather to turning him back to outside the church where God is at work – to the realm of Satan. This is done with a view to revealing to this man his sinfulness and his need to turn from evil to Christ. The hope is that he will see his sin and will put to death his sexual immorality. The hope is that he will trust Christ as his saviour and listen to him as his Lord, that he might turn and be saved on the last day.
Jesus transformed you yesterday.
‘Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are.’ – The expulsion of the wicked man is not only good for this man, Paul argues, but for the Corinthians as well. The warning here in verse 6 is that the Corinthian church is in danger of becoming stale bread. By failing to call out sin in one instance, they danger themselves of becoming calloused towards sin as a whole. The command is that by removing the wicked man; calling sin, sin, and declaring it’s unsuitability within the church – they free themselves from the tainted yeast and become the fresh bread that they were meant to be.
‘For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’ – Why stand against sin? Why ferret it out of the church so seriously? Because while the sin deserved our death (Passover), Jesus took that punishment for us. This means we need to understand the severity of sin… it is really, truly worthy of death. But we have been saved by Jesus – not to continue in wickedness, but to embrace a new life, by the Spirit of sincere trust in Jesus and the truth revealed by him (see wisdom of the last 4 chapters).
Judgement of sin inside and outside the church.
‘not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters’ – Paul’s previous letter had met with some disagreement or confusion… (historically, we don’t have this letter) and Paul now seeks to clarify in this letter. The Corinthians are to engage with people who are immoral who are outside of the church. The entire world outside the church engages in acts of immorality fitting with being people who neither listen to nor care to hear God. The Corinthians are to engage with this world… holding out the gospel of Jesus, the wisdom of the cross.
‘But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”’ – However, a distinction must be made with how we operate with those who claim the name of Jesus. Jesus isn’t just saviour… but he is Lord also. And he calls for us to continue to amend our lives in following him. This leaves no room for those who persist in sinfulness, unrepentant. The responsibility of church leadership is to point out sin and to call for Christians to repent and continue to amend their lives in line with Christ.
Our business is not to judge the morality decisions of those outside the church… they will make poor decisions which don’t align with Christ, because they do not have the Holy Spirit. Ours is the responsibility for ourselves, to continue to heed the message of the gospel – to strive to align our life with that of Christ and for us to encourage all of those who are in our care to stand against sin and to strive to live as Christ would.
Sin matters in the Christian life!! We are called to ferret sin out of our lives and to conform our lives to the mind set of Christ. Christian leaders need to lead those in their care to continue to do so… and in the case of gross, public, unrepentant sin, they may need to remove someone from fellowship with Christ, so they may see their sin clearly and may be caused to repent.
Topic A: Soft on sin. The Corinthians let their pride get in the way of calling out the sexual immorality of the wicked brother. What kind of things might be taboo topics that we would refuse to call out each other about? How might we engage with those kinds of topics with one another helpfully?
Topic B: Ethics and Engagement with the outside world. A friend of yours, Emily, is not a Christian, but sympathises strongly with the values that she was raised with in a Christian family. “Christians need to tell people in our society to get back to the morals that we used to have and everything will be better.” Where does Emily get this right and wrong according to this passage? How might you engage with her view point and point her to Christ?
Topic C: Sexual immorality. (Personal reflection ONLY) Taking your step mum as your wife to keep the money seems pretty crude… and yet sexual immorality still rears its head in our modern society even amongst Christians. Where do you feel most vulnerable to sexual immorality? What are 3 measures that you might put in place to flee it? What is 2 things which are great about Jesus’ vision for sexuality that you think is so much better than our societies view? Who is one person that you can be honest with and can pray with in being accountable regarding sexual immorality?