When Sexual Sin Comes to the Church - Part 1
1 Corinthians 5:1-5
I offer a reminder of a few things. First, the church at Corinth was founded by Paul during his second missionary journey (Act 18:1-17). Hence he referred to himself as their spiritual father (chap 4). He spent about 1.5 years there. He was followed by Apollos.
Second, Corinth was a Roman colony southern Greece. It was an extremely wealthy commercial cross road of east-west trade. Tragically, the city was more widely known for its immorality. To refer to a girl as a “Corinthian girl” was the same as calling her a prostitute. There were 1000 temple prostitutes who serviced the temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Unfortunately the church was also influenced by this immoral culture, as chapter 5 reveals.
Third, the premise of the letter is simply that dangers confronting the Christian in how he deals with everyday life are potentially just as deadly to him as doctrinal deviation. Consequently, this letter to the Corinthian church is a series of practical warnings regarding what I have described as potholes in the road of life. I have organized the book around twelve potholes.
What happens when blatant sin comes to the church? This is a record of an actual case of a church exercising self discipline, albeit, not without stern prodding by the apostle. This chapter along with Matt 18 serves as a manual for church discipline today.
Because all believers are still sinners, we should not be shocked when a member of a local church falls into sexual sin 1
Apparently talk about this sin was spreading throughout the church if not throughout the community and/or to other churches. “It is actually reported” indicates that the sin is no longer a secret. The “among (en) you” preposition means either that the talk was limited to the church or that the immoral conduct was actually in the church. Most versions opt for the latter; this makes sense in that Paul himself had received a report about the divisive problems in Corinth (1:11). Was this now a separate report about sexual sin or were both problems included in a single report to Paul? Remember, Paul was in Ephesus.
The sin is generally called “immorality” but perhaps better referred to as “fornication” from porneia meaning illicit sex of all kinds. It can be used synonymously for adultery that is marital unfaithfulness; however it is a much broader word. For example, it is the grounds for divorce (Matt 19:9); it uniquely damages the body (1 Cor 6:18); it is a reason to get married (1 Cor 7:2); it is a work of the flesh (Gal 5:19); it is a mark of the great harlot of the last days (Rev 19:2).
We are also told what the specific nature of the sin was, namely “that someone has his father’s wife…” This is uniformly condemned in the OT – Dt 22:30; 27:20, Lev 18:8. So, what is this? It may have been a man who was a member of the congregation who had an illicit ongoing sexual relationship with his step mother who probably was not a member of the congregation (she is not subject to discipline here so is apparently “outside” v13). Were they married or was this ongoing relationship outside of marriage. Was the father living or dead? We are not given all the particulars. We don’t need them, though they were known by the church. We could probably label as “incest”, in the sense of sexual relationships between family members.
By the way, Paul’s assertion that the pagan culture detests this conduct is un-nerving. Remember, this is the culture that proudly declared, “Mistresses we keep for pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children.” (Demos as in Fee 196). So we quite naturally ask how this could have happened in the church. It is almost unthinkable; yet it is not just a bad dream. Thus, we should expect sin in the church. Let’s get over a rose-colored view of the Christian church. Okay, take a deep breath - people will sin; and sometimes it is the gross variety.
However, we should be shocked when a local church tolerates sexual sin by its members by failing to take decisive action 2
The fall of one of its members into sexual sin, should be a staggering and humiliating blow to the church
This verse deals with the response of the church to the report of sexual sin by one of its own. What was the church doing about this horrible situation? Nothing; or, as is evident, worse than nothing! In Paul’s view, he has greater concern about this than the sin itself. The chapter is really directed more at the church than unrepentant sinner!
The core issue was that the church was filled with pride - “arrogant”. It is not that the church was proud that one of their own was incestuous. Rather it is that they still remained prideful of themselves and their leaders (look who we are) in spite of the public scandalous conduct. This sin should have punctured their pride and caused them to realize that they weren’t as spiritually mature as they pretended. It should have been a deflating experience. Instead they ignored it. Illust: Our air mattress loosing air on camping at Holiday World – we blew it back up and hoped it wouldn’t deflate the second night.
The obvious issue was that the church did not confront this problem. The picture painted here is really bad. This sin in their midst should have evoked deep grief and sorrow; “mourn” (penqew) is a term of funeral wailing and thus grief over the loss of a brother and the disgrace of the church. But the church was unaffected!
What should have happened? Well first of all, they should have been knocked off their high horse and plunged into anguished soul searching. And then this sorrow should have resulted in action; “so that” (ina) is probably result rather than purpose. Never miss this connection. To deplore the situation and do nothing is not helpful. In fact, inaction makes the church a partner in the sin. Further, sorrow that leads only to feeling bad about the situation or feeling sorry for the person or is not helpful either.
And what was it that they should have done? Paul doesn’t mince words here. Literally he says that the person who committed this despicable “deed” “should have been taken away out of your midst.” (ESV, NAU = “removed”; NIV = “put out of fellowship”). The term (ai;rw) can mean something as benign as taking your eyes off something (Jn 11:41). However, it can also have an extreme meaning such as killing (Jn 19:15) or sweeping away in a flood (Mt 24:39), or as Christ taking away our sins for good (NAU 1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin) (Friberg lexion 680). This action contemplated here is not a benign slap on the wrist!
Unfortunately, doing nothing is normally the path of least resistance. The Corinthian church didn’t even “mourn” the situation let alone do anything about it.
When one of its members falls into sexual sin, Christ expects the church to confidently judge the matter 3-5
Biblical judgment includes an evaluation of the facts and a recommended course of appropriate action 3
How serious was this? Paul says that he has rendered a judgment remotely! Apparent Pau’s line of thought was: I have the facts straight; the life of the church is at stake; therefore I cannot afford to wait until I travel to Corinth or until the church acts to pass judgment!
There is no way to sugar coat what Paul did. He flat out made an authoritative decision. He judged. This was not a wishy-washy-maybe-if-it-won’t-offend-you sort of conclusion.
A severe course of action is fitting in the case of scandalous conduct - dismissal 4-5
Dismissal is clearly in mind in v 2 – “remove” him
Excommunication is extreme 5 – “deliver such a one to Satan”. This is a shocking statement. The only similar passage is 1 Tim 1:20 “among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.” What is this? Here is the thought: Satan rules in the sphere outside of the church. Thus to excommunicate implies casting the person back into the pagan world dominated by the power of Satan. It means removing his umbrella of protection that is the church. This is a shuddering thought. Here is the point – the congregation must pursue purity at all costs. This is the application of the principle of full blown separation.
The congregation must bear in mind several controlling principles when excommunicating a member who falls into scandalous conduct 4-5
Be obedient 4 - “In the name of our Lord Jesus” marks both the gravity and the authority of the action. The idea is that the action must always be done in accord with the revelation of Jesus Christ in his Word. Don’t go beyond the rule of Scripture.
Be transparent 4 – “When you are assembled” means this action must be above board and public. Can’t afford charges of favoritism or deception. No one man, elder or not – not even the apostle, could expel an individual. If the congregation does not act then it must corporately live with the disgrace.
Be reliant 4 – “With the power of the Lord Jesus” means that the congregation does not rely on its own abilities rather solely upon divine power. No one said it was easy or pleasant to do this.
Be intentional 5 – “For the destruction of his flesh” shows that the intended result (eij) of the expulsion is that the sinful conduct itself will be killed. On the strength of the word “destruction”, some believe that the reference is to the death of the offender. However, context seems to argue against this view (see Fee 210-212 discussion). Rather, the hope is that the individual will get so immersed in sin that he will loath it – that his carnal appetites might be destroyed as in crucifying the flesh in Gal 5:24). This coupled with his being separated from the community of believers is the hoped for catalyst for the offender laying aside his sinful conduct and fleeing back to the church.
Be hopeful 5 – “So that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” indicates what the ultimate purpose is – restoration. Yes, apparently this individual is a believer; at least the context in general supports this as does the allusion in vs 11, “a so-called brother.” If so, the spirit being saved is not salvation; repentance and restoration is in view to be fully realized at the coming Day of the Lord. Thus, this action is restorative rather than punitive.
No matter how one views the difficult details, excommunication is still the proper action.
Just how far has the contemporary church slipped today? Well, our culture hasn’t made it any easier to stand firm on the Word.
Rich Atchley says that if you went to the average university campus today, & asked students if they know a verse of Scripture, most would say that they do. If you had asked 10 or 15 years ago, most would have quoted John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Everybody knew that verse then.
But today, most would reply with, “Judge not that you be not judged.” Atchely says, “The whole focus has changed. Ten or 15 years ago the focus was on the truth of God’s love. But today, surveys reveal that practically everyone is convinced that there is no absolute truth. So the emphasis has switched from truth to tolerance.”
And that leaves us free to do anything we want without worrying about what God teaches. Melvin Newland in Sermon Central accessed 6/30/10
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2017. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.
Posted on Mon, August 21, 2017
by Joe Flatt filed under