Reading for Friday, Aug 31: 1 Cor 5
1 Corinthians 5 is considered one of those “hard teachings” in the New Testament. Paul addresses one of the proofs of the lack of spiritual maturity among the Corinthian believers: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife,” (v1). As if this weren’t bad enough, Paul notes the arrogance among the body, as if they wear this as a badge of their freedom (v2). This is nothing to be proud of! Paul mixes no words when he says, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (v3).
A few words about this unique circumstance: The word Paul uses for “sexual immorality” is the Greek word porneia. Literally, it means “prostitution” but it also is used throughout the NT in a much broader sense describing sexual impurity in a variety of forms. The verb “has” indicates the situation is not a single occurrence but a continuing immoral affair. The fact that Paul does not describe this as incestuous implies that this man has likely taken his step-mother to be his wife. But that’s a bit of conjecture on the part of scholars. What we do know is that this behavior is unbecoming of the Christ-following community and Paul issues a word of judgment upon the perpetrator.
The reason for this is not merely punitive; it is redemptive, a summons to repentance: “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord,” (v5). Biblical excommunication is always focused on the hopeful return of the excommunicated. The figurative “hand him over to Satan” indicates a recognition of free will; if you choose to continue to live this way, we release you to your choice in full. This action follows the lead of a God who creates us with free will, yet gives us over to these impulses and desires, even when they run contrary to His ultimate desire for us (Romans 1).
Paul intends for this excommunication to call the sexually immoral brother back to an awareness of the richness he experiences in Christ. In the end, sin — no matter how appealing — pales in comparison to the richness of life in Christ. Withdrawing fellowship, although painful, stands as a final effort to call the believer back to the Lord. This judgment seems to be unique among disciples: “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil from among you.’ (v12-13).”