I CORINTHIANS

Chapter 5

The first four chapters developed the truths that a spiritual God brings a spiritual message through his faithful, spiritually concerned ministers, in order to build His temple composed of His spiritual people.

Chapter 5 answers these questions. What should God's people do when the spiritual life of the church is threatened? What should they do when the sins of one member of the church begin to damage the witness of the church and the faithful walk of others.

Verse 1, "It is reported commonly"

The idea is that gossip about the sin of some members of the church had spread among the general community of which the church was a part.

When a sin in the church is so bad that people in society begin to think, "So that is what the Christian church is. So that is what the Gospel teaches," then it is time to take the sin away with strong steps.

An open sin of a member of the church that becomes an advertizement to the world is a sin against the whole church body and a liability to the Christian walk of every member. The sin mentioned in this chapter is not just a domestic problem between two people (such as a man and his father's wife). Instead, it is spiritual rebellion and apostasy that affects the church as an organization and every one of its individual members. The word of God in this chapter is that there must be a corporate response to such sin. The church is God's temple. The faithful leaders and members must be concerned as He is about presumptive and unrestricted sin, for the sake of Jesus' name and the spiritual health of all who are a part of the church.

"such fornication"

The word translated "fornication," pornea, is a general term for all kinds of uncleanliness (Rev. 14:8).

"as is not named among the Gentiles"

The Gentiles have tried it all, even this particular sin. They do not blush at anything. The unusual aspect is in the sense of Jeremiah 2:11,21 and Ezekiel 16:28-34. People who trust in false religions are quite faithful. Their hope is in a lie, but they are loyal and steadfast to their traditions. Those who are part of God's church alone have the true, spiritual Gospel, but many turn away from it! They are far less honorable than the Gentiles. The idea of the phrase is that we can expect such awful sin to be committed by Gentiles. They do not have the truth and are subject to their carnal desires. The church ought to be different. The Corinthians have the only truth there is in this wicked world and some are turning away from it!

Verse 2, "And ye are puffed up"

According to 4:18, they felt self sufficient. They felt that all was well according to their own standards. They set the rules, and things were pretty much going their way. Of course their high self esteem was based on an illusion. Not only were things going quite badly spiritually (according to God's standards), but also they really had no power in themselves to repent and begin to live faithfully. "Puffed up" can be thought of as swollen with the fluff of their conceit in contrast to being filled with the power of God's grace.

"and have not rather mourned"

They should have been part of the solution and not part of the problem. They alone have the answers, being stewards of God's Word. Their focus should have been on the spiritual problems of the church. And they should have been distressed by the sin that was hurting the church. The irony of it all was that they were quick to judge faithful ministers of the Word (4:3), but not so eager to judge destroyers of the temple.

"that...taken away from among you"

This is the action in which their sorrow for sin should have resulted. The verb "taken away," airo, and the preposition "from" (ek, out of) are sometimes combined as ekairo as they are in this phrase. Together they have a strong meaning of separation (John 1:29, The Lamb of God "takes away" sin; Matt. 5:29; 18:9, "pluck out"; Acts 7:10,34; 12:11; 23:27; 26:17, "deliver"; Eph. 4:31, "put away"; Gal. 1:4, "delivered from"). The separation is meant to achieve positive spiritual results.

The concept is if a man insists upon making his sin public, then the church must, after proper warning, make a public answer to that sin. A public sin requires a public response. Such a response is not easy. It comes after much prayer. It requires wisdom. There are rules to follow, such as in Matthew 18:15-20. Not just any sin is dealt with this way, but open, unrepentant sin is and must be. The formal procedure is today called excommunication.

Some members in the congregation are unsaved, whose sins are private and not so obvious. In their case the Word of God can privately work in their hearts and turn them to the Lord, or it can harden them and prepare them for judgment. But some members in the congregation are flagrant sinners and are to be dealt with by excommunication.

Excommunication is a testimony:

1. To the world: There is an `in' and an `out' of the church. Since the church represents God and His kingdom, it has certain spiritual standards which it must maintain (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:15).

2. To the congregation: They are together the body of Jesus Christ. They must want the very best spiritual blessings for a man who is slave of sin and must care about the spiritual witness of God's church (John 13:35).

3. To the sinner: God is not pleased with him. He is liable for His judgment (Gal. 6:7,8).

Verses 3,4, "present in the spirit ... ye are gathered...and my spirit"

These phrases teach that Paul had some special knowledge of what was going on.

1. We know Chloe told him things. The Lord must have given Paul special wisdom and conviction to assess the facts.

2. As a prophet of God, Paul was led to make these statements because it fit into God's purpose in composing His Word.

3. Paul is a picture of God Himself. God in His Spirit knows all that is happening, especially in His church. Paul uses words that in a figure teach us that fact. In II Corinthians 2:10 we find a similar picture. There we read that because the man mentioned in I Corinthians 5 has repented, Paul has forgiven him. The historical situation is that God has led Paul to write that because He knows the man's heart.

4. This is a repeat of II Kings 5:25,26. For His purposes God revealed a particular sin of Gehazi to Elijah. For His purposes, God also revealed a particular sin of the Corinthians to Paul. In that way, Paul could speak this boldly, convinced that he was right.

"For I verily...have judged already"

This is a special statement which only Paul could say. Paul, even though he was not there, knew absolutely that he was right and expected them to act as he instructed. How could Paul come to a verdict and not even be there? The answer has been given in the discussion of the above phrases. In short, Paul acted with the authority of God. Yet it is not so much Paul himself who sits as judge. Rather the idea is similar Matthew 16:19. The verbs "binding" and "loosing" are present continuous. The judging, or binding and loosing, has already been done by God before the foundation of the world. Paul in I Corinthians 5:4 is really only declaring what has always happened and what is still in effect at the time he declares it. That is what the phrase "In the name of the Lord when ye are gathered together" means. That is, God has already decided on the matter. Now when they get together, they should declare it in the authority of Jesus as sovereign Lord of the church. God is saying to them, "Put the man out." So they should do it.

A similar idea is found in Matthew 18:20. The gathering of two or three is to establish a word. What word? The word of judgment upon sin (Matt. 18:15-17), which is really Christ's own Word because He is "in the midst of them" as they judge. Incidentally, as Matthew 18 teaches in verses 15-20 that believers as a congregation have an obligation to exercise discipline, the chapter goes on to teach in verses 21-35 that believers as individuals have an obligation to forgive.

Verse 5, "deliver such an one to Satan"

The illustration of Hymenaeus leads us to conclude that this phrase is saying as long as a person acts as if he is a servant of Satan, then he belongs to Satan. Let him go to his master (I Tim. 1:20; II Tim. 2:17).

"for the destruction of the flesh"

Even in Hymenaeus' case, excommunication was meant for his spiritual education, though it did not seem to have any positive results. Nevertheless, "taking away" a member is not mindless revenge, but spiritually purposeful. This verse does not say the congregation abandons that person. We can never write a person off as long as he is alive. This verse reminds us that Satan can only destroy physically. However, the end of the road is not to be physically destroyed by Satan. The destruction that really counts is found at the hands of God (Luke 12:4,5; Heb. 10:31). The hope is that a sinner will be reduced physically and realize where he stands before God. When he has no physical hope remaining, when he has no support for his sinful ways, the prayer of the congregation is that he will come to his spiritual senses (Luke 15:17; II Tim. 2:25,26).

"that...Jesus"

God's ways always have a spiritual purpose. That is the point of Paul's commentary on this situation in Corinth (II Cor. 2:1-9; 7:8-12). The benefit is for both the sinner and the congregation. The amazing love of God is shown when He takes away a man's hope in this world. The problem of this man and some in the congregation was their focus upon this material world. That caused them to become anesthetized to the spiritual reality of hell. They were in danger and did not care. God's love is that He makes people uncomfortable in their sin. The amazing news of this verse is "Forget the body. The crucial thing is that the spirit be saved in the day of judgment." Notice also Paul's final words to all at Corinth (II Cor. 13:5). It is always appropriate to take heed to ourselves (I Tim. 4:16).

Verse 6, "Your glorying is not good"

God alone is good. Therefore, this phrase means their boasting is not godly. It does not promote God's purposes. Actually the phrase is to be read, "The boast of you," focusing upon the content of what is said. Boasting can be a good thing (1:31; Ps. 44:8). But the "the boast" they had was not in the Lord.

"Know ye not...lump?

Leaven is a neutral term. It can refer to the influence of a good thing (Lev. 7:13; 23:17, a picture of Christ; Matt. 13:33, the kingdom of God). This question is simply referring to a principle someone can observe in nature, which is here applied to a bad situation. The idea is that sin is dynamic and very infectious, similar to the influence of something bad, as described in Galatians 5:9. Sin cannot be isolated. The only way to deal with a bad case in the congregation (the "lump") is to...

Verse 7, "Purge out, therefore the old leaven"

A congregation must do its homework. The sin problem must be carefully investigated and dealt with discretely at first. Premature and hasty actions must be avoided in order to make sure that the facts are correct and in order to allow the sinner time to repent and return to the Lord. However, finally action is required. A church cannot continue to work so long behind the scenes that they suffer a rotten apple to ruin the whole barrel as well as stink up the air. Too often church leaders are so reticent to apply church discipline that the problem gets out of hand and eventually begins to influence the behavior of other members. Such a delay is also sinful rebellion.

"old"

The word "old," palaios, as used in the Bible, is less a reference to age than to a person's spiritual condition. In Matthew 9:16,17; Romans 6:6; and Ephesians 4:22, the word refers to a person's unsaved sinful nature. Even the idea of "Old" Testament (II Cor. 3:14) emphasizes the plan of God in its incompleteness, without the fulfillment of Jesus Christ's work, rather than its antiquity or historical priority to the New Testament.

"new lump"

The elimination of a "bad apple" still leaves the rest of the congregation as the same church. They are not new in the sense they are a different church. However, they would be new in the sense that they would have a new witness in the community, a holy witness, a faithful witness. They would appear to be more like their master.

"as"

This word means "in agreement with" (I Cor. 1:6, "even"; I Cor. 1:31, "according as") or "in the same way" (John 5:23, "even as").

"ye"

This is a plural "you."

"as ye are unleavened"

This phrase refers to the opening command of this verse and explains in what way the congregation is to "purge out the old leaven." How did they become unleavened or separated from the world? They became separated through the Word of God (John 15:3; Eph. 5:26). Therefore, they are to use the Word of God to "purge out" the old leaven in the sense that the Bible gives them instruction in how to do it as well as the authority to do it.

"For"

After all, "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us." If this is true in our lives, then as we take care of sin in our own lives by means of the Gospel of Christ's sacrifice, and, as the Bible commands us to, we take care of sin in the congregation. We obey the Gospel as found in God's Word, and it will do its work in the life of an errant sinners who is rebelliously going his own way.

Verse 8, "Therefore"

As an immediate conclusion to the call to remove a presumptious and open sinner from the congregation, then...

"let us keep the feast"

This refers to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is one outward visible witness to people in and out of the congregation. This is one good way to bring the Gospel. The Lord's Supper is a statement about who the church is, who it represents, and how it gets its life. When we in the church partake of the Lord's Supper, we are making a statement that God has taken care of our sins. His judgment has passed over us and rested upon Christ who is our sacrifice.

"not with...wickedness"

Therefore, when members of the church make such a public statement, they cannot mix their witness with the witness of those who live in open rebellion, even though these sinners might protest that they are believers.

We must not make a statement as a congregation that God really did not deal with sin or does not have the power to change lives or that the Passover sacrifice allows people to live in open rebellion. Such a statement would be made if presumptuous sinners were allowed to feast with true believers.

The historical incident from which the passover comes teaches the same thing. In the night that God's angel of death entered Egypt, the Israelites ate flesh roasted by fire (as a picture of the judgment of the Word upon their sins), unleavened bread (as a picture of their separation from the sins of the world), and bitter herbs (as a picture of their repentance) (Ex. 12:8). The Passover was a picture of deliverance from death that their sins merited. It was also a picture that the Israelites were people who were delivered from sin's dominion over them. God's angel passed over them because of the blood on the door posts (Ex. 12:13). Eventually the Israelites came out of Egypt (Ex. 12:42). Not only that, they were not to be Egyptian (Ex. 12:48). There is a witness to what God has done for His people on the cross. But there is also a witness to what He has done to His people in their hearts. The Lord's Supper should carry both messages. God's people are free of the Judgment to come and free of the dominion of sin.

The comparison of the episode in Exodus 12 to the situation in Corinth is fair. The Passover was a memorial to God's passover to come. The Lord's Supper is a memorial to the same passover who has come. They talk of the same thing, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Verse 9, "I wrote unto you in an epistle"

This must be a letter to the Corinthian church previous to this one. We might think I Corinthians is really II Corinthians, with I Corinthians being a lost letter. But the letter which know as I Corinthians is the first Corinthian letter God wanted in the Bible. This phrase shows God's hand in putting the Bible together. God did not see fit to include this previous letter in the Bible. We study only what God has given. Jesus said and did many more things than those written in the Bible (John 20:30,31; 21:25). However, we do not seek other revelations. We must stay with the Bible.

"not to company with"

The verb actually means to "mix up together" and fits the picture of the leaven and the lump. The command is to not allow such people to be part of the composition of the organized church. The Greek word for "not to company with" is used only here, in verse 11, and in II Thessalonians 3:14. In verse 11 it is used in a parallel way to the phrase "with such an one no not to eat (the Lord's Supper)." The idea is not just to avoid fellowship with that person, but to avoid the particular kind of fellowship with anyone who destroys the distinctive Christian witness of the congregation. The fellowship that is a distinctively Christian witness is in congregational worship, especially in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Therefore the idea is that such a person should not be part of the worship service and certainly not partake of the Supper.

"fornicators"

Notice this does not say, "one who fornicates," but "fornicators." The term does not focus upon what they do, but who they are. It is a fitting description for someone who is dominated by their fleshly lusts. They are known by their sin. It is true that men who sin are justly condemned for it. Yet even deeper than that, they are sinners. That is what they are in their very core and can do nothing else but sin (Rom. 8:7,8). This does not describe someone who commits a particular sin and then repents. This describes a person whose habit is to sin in that way, flagrantly and unrepentantly, and therefore has a reputation for being that kind of a sinner.

Verse 10, "Yet...of this world"

When we first read this verse we can be quite confused. Continuing the thought of verse 9, we could conclude that while Paul told them not to take the Lord's Supper with fornicators, in verse 10 he does not mean all fornicators, since they are part of this world in which we live. But that does not make sense.

We can clarify the situation in this way. It is true that when Paul wrote in a previous letter "not to company with," he meant the Lord's Supper, as he explains in verse 11. But the Corinthians did not understand what he meant by those words. It must be that they thought it meant to not associate in any way with a person who is a fornicator. Paul in verse 10 corrects their thinking in two areas. First, in verse 10 he is saying, "If you thought I meant not to associate in any way at all, then you obviously are thinking illogically. I could not have meant that because there is no place on this planet you can go to escape from the presence of fornicators." Secondly, in verse 11 he is saying, "I did not mean any kind of association anyway. I meant the special fellowship of eating the Lord's Supper."

This statement brings the problem into sharp focus. One danger to the church is people who attend the worship services and declare that they are believers, but really do not live as if Jesus was sacrificed for them nor as if the Lord was their master. The fornicators he is talking about are not the ones in the world, but the ones in the church. We do not isolate ourselves from the people of the world whose normal life is to ignore God and His will. Rather, we must separate ourselves from those people who want to identify with the Christian congregation but who do not want Jesus Christ as their Lord.

"or with...for them...world"

In fact, it is impossible to escape the fellowship of unbelievers who have no desire to live according to God's will. We would have to journey to Mars or die and go to heaven in order to stop associating with unrepentant sinners. Some have tried to live isolated from sin on the earth. However, everyone has sin in their life, even those who are saved by grace. People who try to hide from the world still bring sin along with them. A hermit life style is not a solution. Besides, the call of God to the believer is to go out into the world and bring the Gospel. Isolation from the world is a rebellious act. It certainly was not Jesus' personal desire (Matt. 9:10-13) and must not be the desire of His people.

Verse 11, "if any man that is called a brother be a..."

That is the issue. The man has a reputation for being part of their fellowship and at the same time a reputation for being a...." Calling a man a "brother" is not necessarily equivalent to calling a man "saved" (II Cor. 11:28; Gal. 2:4). A brother is a man who lives in the same house and is called by the same family name. He has an outward appearance of belonging to the family, but his heart may be against the family. He may not be a true brother at all. This is illustrated in Jesus' own human family (John 7:5) and national family (Acts 3:22,26). Jesus' true family members are those who are faithful to God's will (Matt. 12:46-50).

"no not to eat"

This refers to the meal that identifies him with the people of God, namely the Lord's Supper. As a congregation there must be no official identification with the man. The church must say, "That is not what God's faithful children are like. That is not what God's kingdom is like. That is not what God's Spirit does to a person." We shall discuss a Christian's personal obligation to such a man at the end of this chapter.

Verse 12, "For what...without?"

The word "without" means outside of God's fold (Mark 4:11; Col. 4:5; I Tim. 3:7). Paul is saying, "What business do I have judging the people of the world? I do not have time or a calling to pass judgment on all the sins the people of the world commit." The point of the question can be either

this:

1. If "without" includes all who are not part of the organized church, then the idea is instead of looking out into the world, we should be judging those in the congregation who need to be judged.

or this:

2. If "without" includes all who are not truly saved and in their heart are part of the world, including the man who is the subject of this chapter, then the idea is, "Why should I have to deal with this man? That should have been taken care of by you some time ago."

"do not...within?"

The word "within", eso, can refer particularly to the basic essence of a person (Rom. 7:22; Eph. 3:16). The question can mean either

this:

1. If "within" refers to those rebellious sinners who are within the organized church, then the idea is, "Aren't you supposed to be judging those in the congregation who are destroying the temple? Aren't you supposed to deal with their open sin and put them away?"

or this:

2. If "within" refers to those who are within Christ and truly saved, then the idea is, "Aren't you supposed to be leading, teaching, and warning those who are faithful by how you deal with this man? Are the sinful tendencies of the remaining members of the congregation to be curbed by your action against this man? You should not be tolerating that man. Put him away and leave him in the hands of God so that he might shape up and so that the rest of the members can be properly edified."

Verse 13, "But them...judgeth?"

The future of the man must be left in the hands of God. He judges men now by His Word and by the action of excommunication. Later He will judge at the judgment throne.

"Therefore put away...person"

An unrepentant sinner does not belong with the organized assembly, which stands as a witness in the midst of the world. Believers still have a sinful body with which they battle all their lives (Rom. 7). But their sinful body is dominated by their spiritual soul by the power of God (Rom. 8). Anyone who is clearly dominated by their carnal nature is not a citizen of the kingdom of God. Such a person cannot be ignored, especially if he affects the witness of the church.

Is there any relationship at all between an individual Christian and a person who is has been put outside of the church? There certainly are limitations in our ability to fellowship with people who are rebellious (Rom. 16:17), especially if they want to influence and teach us their ways (II John 10; Titus 3:10). Nevertheless, the man who has been excommunicated has not disappeared from the face of the earth. Surely Christians have some obligation to ward the man.

II Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives some excellent advice about an individual Christian's responsibility toward a man who is put away. The Thessalonians should be examples as Paul was (verse 9). They should be doing God's will (verse 13). But there were some who walked disobediently (verse 6,11,14). What kind of example are the Thessalonians exhibiting? What is spoken about the Gospel and the church because of those who walk among them? That sin is O.K.? May it not be so! They must put the man out so that he may reflect on his sin and repent (verse 14).

Having taken that action, the members of the Thessalonian church still have an obligation to him. They should always talk to him as they talk to their fellow brothers in the church. What do they say? They talk about the Gospel. In particular, they discuss things that admonish him (verse 15). The idea is that once out of the organized church, a person is a candidate for the Gospel. He stands in the normal relationship between believers and people in the world. Believers bring the Gospel to the world. Even blood relatives who are put out, but with whom we have a personal relationship, are people who need the Gospel. As a parent's attitude to a wayward child, their spiritual concern for a man in spiritual trouble is heightened. It is always their hope that the Word of God will turn men from their sin and restore them, not just to the church, but to fellowship with the Lord.

Again, if we have a spiritual rather than a material focus, we will have a real concern for God's name, for the welfare of the church, and for the souls of those who are not saved. This chapter is a challenge to a church that cares too little about spiritual things.

It is also a chapter that reveals the love of Paul, and ultimately of God, for sinners. More than anyone else in the congregation, Paul cared for the man enough to insist that steps be immediately taken to wake the man up from his sinful self delusion. Paul cared for the rest of the congregation, that they not be spiritually discouraged by a sin that was an embarrassment to them and to God. Paul cared for God, that His name be honored.

Sin problems are spiritual and therefore very serious. They must be dealt with in spiritual ways with a view to accomplishing spiritual changes in people. We cannot be afraid of using the spiritual terms of sin, wrath, judgment, hell, repentance, prayer, grace, obedience, etc. We cannot be afraid of stepping on toes, nor can we expect the world or carnal people in the church to understand. We must continue to bring the truth no matter what the opposition. Do we care enough about spiritual things? Do we want to protect and defend the souls of men and the honor of God?

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