After sharing his heart, Paul now jumps in head-first to the filth that is the church at Corinth. His first priority when addressing specific matters (he has addressed general matters up to this point) is the immorality present within the local church congregation.
1 Corinthians 5:1-8
5.1 Ὅλως ἀκούεται ἐν ὑμῖν πορνεία, καὶ τοιαύτη πορνεία ἥτις οὐδὲ ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, ὥστε γυναῖκά τινα τοῦ πατρὸς ἔχειν. 2 καὶ ὑμεῖς πεφυσιωμένοι ἐστέ, καὶ οὐχὶ μᾶλλον ἐπενθήσατε, ἵνα ἀρθῇ ἐκ μέσου ὑμῶν ὁ τὸ ἔργον τοῦτο ποιήσας;
3 Ἐγὼ μὲν γάρ, ἀπὼν τῷ σώματι παρὼν δὲ τῷ πνεύματι, ἤδη κέκρικα ὡς παρὼν τὸν οὕτως τοῦτο κατεργασάμενον 4 ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ, συναχθέντων ὑμῶν καὶ τοῦ ἐμοῦ πνεύματος σὺν τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ, 5 παραδοῦναι τὸν τοιοῦτον τῷ Σατανᾷ εἰς ὄλεθρον τῆς σαρκός, ἵνα τὸ πνεῦμα σωθῇ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ κυρίου.
6 Οὐ καλὸν τὸ καύχημα ὑμῶν. οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι μικρὰ ζύμη ὅλον τὸ φύραμα ζυμοῖ; 7 ἐκκαθάρατε τὴν παλαιὰν ζύμην, ἵνα ἦτε νέον φύραμα, καθώς ἐστε ἄζυμοι. καὶ γὰρ τὸ πάσχα ἡμῶν ἐτύθη Χριστός· 8 ὥστε ἑορτάζωμεν, μὴ ἐν ζύμῃ παλαιᾷ μηδὲ ἐν ζύμῃ κακίας καὶ πονηρίας, ἀλλʼ ἐν ἀζύμοις εἰλικρινείας καὶ ἀληθείας.
Porneia (v. 1-2)
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.
Paul heard the report about some of the immorality within the Corinthian church, which means the immorality was common knowledge. Further, it was an immorality not even excepted by society; unbelievers, Gentiles, did not even practice such a heinous crime against God. The word translated “immorality” in english is the Greek word πορνια, which is the word that the english “pornography” was derived from. Sexual sin, in this case adultery and covetousness and incest, is treated more harshly than any other sin, except false teaching and wrangling about words, in the whole of Scripture. In this case, the Corinthian congregation is permitting worse things than the raging heathens. A man has, or possesses, his biological mother—his father’s wife, the woman his father knew intimately (γυναικα).
I don’t perceive that sexual sin is this way for the church currently. Even though there are many ways people can sin secretly (now with privacy modes on web browsers and vanish modes in messaging apps and sexually explicit content on social media platforms, the church at large currently seems to recognize and condemn sexual sin for what it is. There are some who try to defend homosexuality—which falls under the porneia umbrella. The church today has not been as easily or sexually confused as it was in the First Century. The heathen nations seem to have no sense of sexual ethos like the church does, at least in the West. So, let me explain what makes sexual sin so terrible in light of the sovereignty and glory of the only God. God created the world, designed it a certain way, for His glory alone. When we seek to gratify ourselves—our pleasure, identity, preferences—we treat the world as if it were created for our glory rather than God’s. That means heterosexual action motivated by self-gratification, preference, and identity is as sinful as homosexual action motivated by self-gratification, preference, and identity. Scripture is not set against happiness. I believe God does desire we be happy. He wants to be our fulfillment because He created the earth for His glory alone. That’s why He designed love to be sacrificial rather than self-gratifying. The pursuit of self-gratification, which includes all sexual sin, ultimately leads to unhappiness and unfulfilled living. Love is not lust. Love is self-sacrificial—the giving up of one’s preferences, identity, and need to find pleasure. By the very definition of love, then, no one gets to define their own marriage. It is for God’s glory, which works for the good of those who love Him and are called by Him.
Reflecting on this accepted sin in Corinth by a member of the Corinthian congregation, I realize that there are ways, today, that people in local churches sin that are worse than the sins of the world—things society hates. Greed comes to mind. There are many people who profess to follow Christ, but are only interested in their own kingdom inheritance. There are many people in the world who care more about the marginalized than those in the church do. Other than that, I’m not sure I can think of much—perhaps you can in your own context. The world is much more condemning than the church is—the new racism and sexism ensure that (I am currently being condemned because of the color of my skin and my sex by the world, not the church). The world is more oppressive than the church; I am freer to express my ideas in the local church than I am in the world without being oppressed because of what I say or how I reason. The church, the true church and not those false churches around, has grown up so much since the First Century. Hallelujah!
You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
Paul refers, again, to arrogance. Puffed up knowledge and sordid pursuit has led the congregation into arrogance. Arrogance caused the congregation to justify the offensive party. They did not mourn over the present sexual sin. Why? If you point out sin, and hold people accountable, you’ll lose some people—whether church discipline leads to excommunication or people simply leave. Arrogance is what causes us to try to keep our attendance up by retaining people. Arrogance is what causes the church to overlook and even try to justify great sin in her midst.
If the local church is the mechanism in which God sanctifies His people (1:10), then overlooking or trying to justify sin sets the local congregation against God’s purpose for the local church. Though different types and degrees of sin should be dealt with in different ways and with wisdom, we want to see all of God’s people master their sin so their sin does not master them. We want to Holy Spirit to wrestle our hearts and win. He does that through the preaching moment and through the overall loving discipleship of the local church body. If the local church at Corinth cared at all about the one sinning, she would have mourned over his sin and he would have been removed from their midst—either voluntarily or by excommunication.
But, wait. Should we not want to keep everyone? Shouldn’t we love so much that we never let anyone go and always plead with those who leave to return? Should we not always try to reconcile? Isn’t unity the most important thing? According to the instruction here, no. In fact, operating so arrogantly breeds disunity like we read about the Corinthian church. Paul explains his thoughts beginning with verse 3.
The benefit of being judged (v. 3-5)
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. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 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 judges the one lost in porneia. Worldly people, within and without the church, often misuse Jesus’s instruction in His sermon on the mount in order to try to justify their own actions:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged (Matthew 7:1).
Jesus’s statement is not removed from its context:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:1-6).
Jesus taught that we should be careful about the measure we use to judge others, not that we should withhold judgment altogether. He taught that judgment is for those within the family of God, not to be given to dogs or swine (unbelievers) because unbelievers will not respond well to the judgment. Be sanctified and be used to sanctify others. So, judgment is a tool used for sanctification—unbelievers are not being sanctified. Such is Paul’s judgment against the man trapped in porneia.
Paul decided to deliver him to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Paul’s motivation is this man’s salvation and sanctification. If the church only ever coddles his sin, his sin will always master him and he’ll never know Christ. He may or may not ever come to Christ, but the church will not have enabled him to sprint into Hell without ever having said anything to him. Make no mistake. There are many people who slide into Hell on the back of a local church because that local church cared too much about numbers and making sure people felt comfortable in their midst.
Excommunication benefits the one who is excommunicated since it is motivated by his or her salvation and sanctification. Paul’s use of excommunication is opposite that of the Roman Catholic Church historically. When excommunicated by Rome, one was also excommunicated from the kingdom of heaven. When excommunicated biblically, the hope is repentance and restoration to the local church for the exile’s good—that he or she may be brought into Christ and master his or her sin. This type of judgment is for the church alone, not the world (cf. v. 9-13).
Being an unleavened local church (v. 6-8)
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.
What are the Corinthians boasting about, I wonder? We do not know specifically. We do know that they are boasting in their arrogance and even though there is great sin and division in their midst. Look how inclusive they are. Paul makes it known that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. When the local church accepts sin, especially porneia, the whole church is in sin. As we see in the church at Corinth, this single immorality has led to much of the dissension in the body at large. Sin breeds disfunction.
Paul instructs the local church to judge the one in sin like he has, excommunicating him so that the whole church may be renewed. Excommunication, then, serves two purposes. 1) It encourages the one living in sin toward true salvation and sanctification. 2) It renews the local church, empowering her toward maturity and unity. In a very real way, we are to be killing sin—experiencing sanctification as part of Christ’s body. Paul, again, explains himself in the next verse.
For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 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.
We overcome our sin because Christ, who is our Passover, has been sacrificed. Paul recognizes Jesus as the passover lamb, the one who was sacrificed in order to deliver His people from the oppression of sin. Because Christ liberates us from sin, we do not celebrate the feast, Passover, with old leaven—works righteousness as if we were still under the Law. To clarify, the Law is still binding and is in no way nullified. When we are in Christ, we know that He has fulfilled all righteousness on behalf of His people in fulfillment of the Law and Prophets (cf. Deuteronomy 31-32; Isaiah 52-53). Therefore, we do not have to fulfill all righteousness. Salvation is not based on works. The Law is not nullified, but those who are in Christ are no longer under the Law. We do not celebrate with old leaven as if we had to earn our place. Simultaneously, we do not celebrate the feast, Passover, with the leaven of malice and wickedness. Salvation by grace alone is not license to live in sin. Christ’s substitutionary atonement means we do not have to pay the consequences of our sin. When Paul identifies Christ as the Passover lamb, He indicates that Christ’s atonement was efficacious—delivering His people not only from the consequences of their sin but, also, from its power. If anyone lives in sin (not to be confused with sinning once and repenting), especially porneia, he or she has not been liberated from the power of sin and is likely not in Christ. If someone is not in Christ, he or she is not a part of Christ’s church. Excommunication communicates such a reality. Excommunication, then, is not license to react to a sin or use a sin as an excuse to rid the church of someone. Excommunication is a gracious response to someone who lives in sin and so reject the atonement of Christ Jesus. He reveals himself a false convert, and the local church recognizes his false conversion.
Paul broadens excommunicatcable sin beyond porneia, claiming that the church should not be leavened with malice or any type of wickedness—again referring to lifestyles and not momentary lapses of judgment. If someone is habitually malicious, being pugnacious or wrangling about words or regularly looking for ways to be critical or putting others down, the local church is to discipline him or her. The same is true for any kind of wickedness—porneia, chronic lying, spousal abuse, infidelity, and so on. Paul’s instruction, here, is to the church at large and not only the elders—that’s congregationalism. So, the church has the responsibility to hold its members responsible to Christ and Scripture alone (cf. 4:6). If someone is not bearing the fruit of the Spirit, showing that they have been liberated from their sin, the local church has the responsibility to recognize that they are not part of Christ’s church and remove that person from covenantal membership.
Thus, we are introduced to the doctrine of regenerate church membership. Membership is not having your name on a roll. There are many churches who seek to have many members listed or who idolatrize membership according to the non-profit corporation rules of the United States. The kingdom of God is a higher kingdom and church membership is a higher office than 501(c)(3) compliance or the right to vote in church business meetings. Here, we are introduced to the principle of regenerate church membership. Everyone is welcome to join us for worship. Not everyone is welcome to become a member. At The Church at Sunsites, if you are a member it means we believe you bear the fruit of the Spirit and show that you have been liberated from sin in Christ—having eternal life. Unregenerate church membership breeds many problems because people without the Holy Spirit are trying to lead the body of Christ, but Christ has no union with Satan.
We celebrate Passover with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. We are not interested in trying to justify ourselves or build our own kingdoms. We are interested in repenting, overcoming our sin, and knowing God more through His revealed word. By Paul’s statement, here, we know that the local church was celebrating Passover each time it gathered. We do the same, eating unleavened bread and drinking the fruit of the vine as Jesus did with His disciples at Passover before giving Himself on the cross. Without celebrating Passover, a church meeting is missing the key testimony about what Christ has done. Each week when we observe the meal, we observe it with sincerity in truth—not for sordid gain. Observing the meal each week causes us to reflect on our sincerity and the truth we have gleaned from God’s word that week.
Contrary to what worldly people claim, the church is to judge and bears the responsibility to excommunicate those who prove to be unregenerate. Excommunication does not cause someone to lose his or her salvation but, instead, is a response to a person living like he or she does not have Christ. Excommunication is for the good of the one excommunicated and the congregation at large.
I have never had to excommunicate someone. In my eleven years of ministry, I have seen people leave the church because they did not get their way. Upon affirming a deacon in one place, a lady came to visit me because she “had some stuff” on her mind. She lambasted me because the church affirmed a deacon. There was nothing wrong with the person affirmed, but this person was critical of there being more than only a couple deacons; there don’t need to be that many! So, I brought my Bible from my bookshelf and asked how the church was in disobedience to God. It wasn’t. Her preferences were simply not being met, and she had a certain pet-peeve. I showed her what Scripture instructs concerning deacons. She came up with a few other things to complain about, left, and I never saw her in church again. On another occasion, I received an email informing me that I should know better concerning my views about a particular doctrine. I asked my accuser what he thought I believed, and he was unable to answer. What he did say was entirely incorrect. He called me a name, and insinuated that I was a very hateful and smug fellow—definitely too young and playing fast and loose with the Scriptures. After I told him I would be praying for him, he did not darken the doors of the local church. There are many people who will bully others if they can. Unfortunately, there are many worldly people with pent-up malice and wickedness who are not shown the door and infect the local church body with their sin. Most people who leave and complain about the church are such people. By Scripture’s instruction, we are to let them go for their own good and the good of the body. Our prayer for all those who have gone because of their own malice and wickedness is their repentance and restoration to the covenant community. We can have no other prayer for them. Let Christian judgment accomplish its work. Let it be shown that the body of Christ is liberated from sin. That doesn’t mean we never take missteps. It does mean we don’t live and wallow in our sin—unhappiness, criticisms, malice, malcontent, wickedness, porneia, etc… For, Christ is our Passover.
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