Earlier in his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul made mention of a report he had received concerning the conduct of some within their fellowship: “…some members of Chloe’s family told me that there are arguments among you… One of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and someone else says, ‘I follow Apollos.’ Another says, ‘I follow Peter,’ and someone else says, ‘I follow Christ'” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12 ERV). He then spent much of the next few chapters working to help the Corinthians establish a proper view of church leadership.
Now as we move into 1 Corinthians chapter five, Paul will go on to address another report he had received concerning the church. This next portion of Scripture will cover the remainder of 1 Corinthians chapter five and opens with a identification of the problem involved…
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!” (1 Corinthians 5:1).
Its often been said that news travels fast and Paul began by saying in effect, “The word is getting around regarding this situation.” We’ll talk more about the nature of this relationship shortly but for now we can say that it appears that there was a man within the church who was involved in an ongoing physical relationship with a woman who was (or had been) married to his father.
As mentioned earlier, the citizens of Corinth were often associated with a general lack of moral integrity. In fact, the Greek word korinthiazomai (which literally meant “to act the Corinthian”) was synonymous with the idea of sexual indiscretion. Yet even though Corinth had a reputation as a sexually promiscuous city, Paul pointed out that this particular type of relationship was not even found among those who had little or no interest in spiritual things.
So it appears that the corrupt moral climate of Corinth had found its way into the church and had actually been taken to an even greater level. In light of this, Paul’s response was one of astonishment: “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do” (NLT).
Paul’s expression of incredulity becomes easier to understand when we consider the context established by the opening chapters of this letter. While the members of the Corinthian church were busily involved in a shallow debate as to who was the greatest teacher among them, this highly inappropriate relationship was also taking place within their fellowship at the very same time.
“It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 4:1 NET).
Even within the sexually promiscuous environment of first century Corinth, the type of affair mentioned here in 1 Corinthians 5:1 was apparently too much even for those outside the church- and the fact that this news had been “widely reported” (HCSB) suggests that this relationship was known both inside and outside their congregation.
Now before we continue with this passage, let’s first take a moment to identify an important term. The phrase “sexual immorality” as found within this portion of Scripture is taken from the Greek word porneia, the word from which we derive our modern-day concept of “pornography.”
The Biblical use of this word serves to identify various forms of inappropriate sexual conduct including adulterous relationships, sexual relationships between unmarried couples, and homosexual relationships, among others. Jesus also expanded this definition to include internal expressions of sexual immorality in Matthew 5:27-28 as well.
As a general rule, “sexual immorality” encompasses any type of sexual activity that goes beyond God’s original design for marital relationships. Jesus clarified God’s design for such relationships in the following manner…
“…at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate'” (Mark 10:6-9 NIV).
Its important to note that Jesus drew our attention to God’s initiative in establishing the institution of marriage and provided us with the appropriate parameters for marital relationships within this passage. Those parameters are established by way of these quotations from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24: one man and one woman who are legally and exclusively committed to one another as husband and wife.
Of course, some might object to this definition by pointing to the Biblical example of men such as David, a God-honoring man who was involved in multiple concurrent marriage relationships. (1) In considering this objection, we should understand that certain aspects of human relational behaviors (such as polygamy, divorce, and slavery, to name a few) were accommodated by God in recognition of humanity’s imperfection. However the fact that God permitted these types of relationships does not necessarily mean that He approved of them.
Jesus directed us to God’s intent and design for marital relationships: a monogamous, life-long commitment, initiated by God between a man and a woman. Physical relationships that fall outside these Scriptural parameters come under the general definition of “sexual immorality.”
“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” (1 Corinthians 5:1 NIV).
Word had reached Paul the Apostle (along with a number of others) that a man within the church at Corinth was engaged in a physical relationship with a woman who was (or had been) married to his father. Paul’s use of the phrase “his father’s wife” as found within this passage may provide us with a clue that helps clarify the nature of this relationship.
You see, Paul’s use of this terminology suggests that this woman was someone other than this man’s biological mother. While it is certainly possible that this couple was involved in a genetically incestuous relationship, it seems more likely that the woman in question was either his stepmother, a widow who had once been married to his father, or someone who had been divorced from his father.
Regardless of the exact nature of their relationship, the Scriptures clearly prohibited these types of interactions…
“Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father” (Leviticus 18:8 NIV).
“A man is not allowed to marry a woman who was once married to his father. He must respect the privacy and dignity of his father’s intimate relations with his wife” (Deuteronomy 22:30 Voice).
“A man will be cursed who has sexual relations with his father’s wife, because it is a dishonor to his father…” (Deuteronomy 27:19 NCV).
It also appears that the woman who was involved in this relationship was not a Christian and was not a member of the congregation at Corinth. As we’ll go on to see, Paul will spend much of the remaining verses of this chapter discussing the need to exercise church discipline in regard to the man’s conduct while the woman involved is never addressed.
Although we could spend additional time deliberating the exact nature of this relationship, it may not be in our best interest to do so. One commentator provides us with some insight that can help us maintain the right perspective regarding this passage…
“Speculations on the circumstances attending this sin, as to the question of whether the father was alive, or divorced, or the question of whether the incestuous couple were married or not, are all fruitless. The relationship itself was sinful, no matter what the circumstances; and if it had been profitable to know more of the details of this sordid incident, it is safe to conclude that Paul would have provided them.” (1)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:4”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. [verse 1] “www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-corinthians-5.html“. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed” (1 Corinthians 5:2-3).
The Apostle Paul’s response to the news of the immoral relationship that existed within the congregation at Corinth and his refusal to accept such conduct provides us with an opportunity to examine the idea of “tolerance” and how we might apply this concept today.
We should first note that tolerance is an important quality when used in respect to things such as freedom from bigotry or the ability to be patient and fair with others. We can find Scriptural support for this idea in the New Testament book of Titus…
“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Titus 3:1-2).
However, a problem develops whenever we attempt to equate the definition of “tolerance” with the idea that we are obligated to accept or endorse any belief or opinion others may possess. You see, most statements regarding tolerance are self-defeating if “tolerance” is defined to mean that every viewpoint (and resulting behavior) is equally valid.
To understand why, let’s consider a hypothetical debate between two people with opposing viewpoints. In the course of their conversation, one person says to the other, “It’s wrong for you to be so intolerant. You should tolerate everyone’s beliefs.” While this may seem to represent a noble sentiment, the person who makes such a statement is actually guilty of intolerance if he or she equates tolerance with “acceptance.”
We can uncover the self-defeating nature of this statement with a simple response: “If we should be tolerant of everyone’s beliefs, then why are you intolerant of my belief?” You see, a person who truly believes that we should tolerate everyone else’s belief is obligated to accept every opposing viewpoint. Therefore, a person who defines tolerance in this manner can never legitimately accuse another person of intolerance lest he or she also be guilty of the same thing at the very same time.
Another problem with this definition of tolerance is that it overlooks the fact that genuine love may sometimes involve being intolerant of those things that may bring harm to others. Paul’s refusal to tolerate the situation in Corinth reminds us that it is better to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) rather than simply tolerate such behavior within the church and allow it to continue.
“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
The Apostle Paul acted in a decisive and forceful manner in dealing with the immoral situation that had developed within the Corinthian church: “…hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (NIV). One source illustrates the emphatic nature of this directive by defining “hand this man over” in the following manner: “to deliver up one to custody, to be judged, condemned, punished, scourged, tormented, put to death.” (1)
While these verses may naturally tend to draw our attention to the act of “delivering such a one to Satan,” its important to focus upon what Paul sought to achieve in providing these instructions. By placing this man outside the protective environment of the church and exposing him to the hostilities of a world that is “…under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 NIV), Paul’s desired intent was to bring this person to repentance and ultimately, restoration.
We should also note that this was not the only time that Paul had to take this approach: “Some have refused to let their faith guide their conscience and their faith has been destroyed like a wrecked ship. Among these people are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan in order to teach them not to dishonor God” (1 Timothy 1:19-20 GW).
For those who may feel uncomfortable with such a response, it might be helpful to consider an undeniable aspect of human nature: people often cannot be persuaded to do what is right until they are sufficiently motivated to do so. It seems that Paul recognized that the act of placing this man into the enemy’s territory would serve to focus his attention upon what he had lost in pursuit of this immoral relationship and hopefully prompt him to bring his thoughts and behavior into alignment with God’s will for his life.
As one commentator has observed, “The Corinthian brethren could yet impress the pagan community that the Lord was real to them by excluding sin from their midst. The church that actually abides by the instruction of the Lord in His Word can effectively show a wilful sinner that no one approves his deeds but Satan.” (2)
(1) G3860 paradidomi Thayer’s Greek Definitions
(2) T. R. Applebury, Studies In First Corinthians, 5:4,5 I Corinthians [pg. 88] College Press, Joplin, Missouri Copyright © College Press 1963 https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeries1And2Corinthians/121And2Corinthians-Applebury_djvu.txt
“Call a meeting of the church. I will be with you in spirit. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by His power, hand this person over to the devil. His body is to be destroyed so his spirit may be saved on the day the Lord comes again” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLV).
Its been said that we never truly appreciate the things we possess until we’ve lost them. The same may also be true of our place among the members of God’s family. However, we should recognize that the loss of fellowship spoken of here within 1 Corinthians chapter five was ultimately designed to produce an attitude of repentance and restoration.
In a sense, this was the experience of the prodigal son as found within Jesus’ parable from the gospel of Luke. This parable relates the account of a youth who asked for a share of his father’s estate while his father was still alive. Shortly after receiving his father’s money, the young man packed up his belongings and moved to a distant land where he proceeded to squander his inheritance on wild parties and extravagant living.
However, the money eventually ran out and the young man was subsequently forced into a highly degrading employment arrangement. That led him to the realization that he had made a serious mistake…
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father” (see Luke 15:11-32).
It surely must have grieved this young man’s father to watch his son abandon their relationship. Nevertheless, the period of time that the prodigal son spent outside the family generated a renewed attitude of repentance, humility, respect, and appreciation for his place within his father’s home.
With this in mind, one commentator offers an important observation regarding the act of church discipline found here in 1 Corinthians chapter five: “This is an important word for congregations and for parents. We do not serve each other or our children well by allowing them to live in sin. There comes a point when a person needs to be turned over to Satan in order to reap the repercussions of his sin.” (1)
In was in this manner that the Apostle Paul sought to produce genuine, lasting, and positive spiritual change in the life of the person who had been involved in this affair.
(1) Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 1035). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
“turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5 NET).
The situation described in 1 Corinthians chapter five tells us that there are certain instances where it may be appropriate to ask someone to leave a church fellowship. However, the Scriptures also provide us with a number of important guidelines that tell us when such an action should take place. Jesus personally established such parameters as found in the New Testament gospel of Matthew…
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.
If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17 NLT).
As a man who was authorized by Jesus to act with apostolic authority, the Apostle Paul was among the limited number of people who could say, “…even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present” (1 Corinthians 5:3 NET). For those who have not been invested with such authority, Matthew 18:15-17 establishes the proper way to deal with areas of disagreement or sin within the church.
One commentator also makes a very forthright observation regarding the act of church discipline in the modern era…
“…there are cases, for the good of the sinner, and for the good of the church, when someone should be put out of the congregation. Some call this ‘excommunication’ or ‘disfellowshipping’ a person. They are to be put outside the congregation until they repent.
In today’s church culture, this rarely brings a sinner to repentance, because they can so easily just go to another church and pretend that nothing happened at their old church. Or, it is easy for them to play the victim, and act as if their former church was cruel towards them.
While it is true that some churches have been cruel towards their members, and unjustly kicked some out of the congregation, it does not mean the church should never practice the Biblical principles Paul teaches here. It is to be done, for both the good of the church, and the good of the sinner.” (1)
(1) Guzik, Dave 1 Corinthians 5 – Confronting Immorality in the Church https://enduringword.com/commentary/1-corinthians-5/
“In the Name of the Lord Jesus, when you are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, my sentence is that you deliver such a one to Satan for the subjugation of the flesh, in order that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5 Wuest).
Even those who aren’t religious generally recognize Satan to be a malevolent spiritual entity. For instance, the Scriptures identify Satan as, “the evil one” (Matthew 6:13), “the wicked one” (1 John 2:13), and “a liar and a murderer” (John 8:44). Yet here in 1 Corinthians chapter five, the Apostle Paul provides us with another (and decidedly different) description of Satan: a tool in the hand of almighty God.
Its interesting to note that Paul would seek to employ the devil as an ally in working to subdue the sinful nature of the person who had been involved in this immoral affair, a nature that had its origin in Satan’s own rebellion against God. But while the Scriptures describe Satan as a formidable adversary and tells us to “Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NET), the reality is that his power is not unlimited.
As a created being, Satan is not all-powerful and he is not all knowing. Unlike God, Satan cannot be everywhere at once and he can only operate within God’s restrictions (see Job 1:6-12 and Job 2:1-6). Therefore, if God in His wisdom elects to use the devil to serve His purposes, there is nothing that Satan can do to force or compel Him to do otherwise. While the devil may not serve God voluntarily, he is still a servant nonetheless.
So much like a skilled martial-arts expert who seeks to use an opponent’s force against him, the act of “…releas(ing) this man over to Satan so his rebellious nature will be destroyed” (Voice) would serve to provoke the enemy to act against his desired outcome: “…so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (ESV).
One commentator summarizes this idea in the following manner: “Satan is God’s instrument, serving His redemptive purposes. In the OT Satan is an enemy of humanity, but a servant of God… The relationship intensifies in the NT. Satan becomes an enemy of God, but he still is an unwilling servant. Satan’s function in 1Co_5:5 is to bring ultimate salvation to an erring church member.” (1)
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, 1 Corinthians 5 [v. 5] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL06/VOL06A_05.html
“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
The boastful attitude displayed among the Corinthians in respect to the immoral relationship that existed within their fellowship led the Apostle Paul to issue a frank response: “It is not good for you to be proud of the way things are going in your church” (NLV). While the members of this congregation may have been under the impression that they were exemplifying God’s grace in declining to address this matter, their refusal to take action actually served to dishonor God.
To illustrate the potential danger facing the church at Corinth, Paul turned to a familiar household element: yeast, or leaven. In this instance, leaven is used to represent the idea of sin. This provides us with an opportunity to consider the use of Biblical typology and how such usage can help lead us to a fuller, richer understanding of some important Biblical concepts.
Typology refers to the study of a figure, representation, or symbol of something else. Typology involves the use of patterns or metaphors in which one thing is used to represent another. For example:
- The prophet Jonah’s experience was referenced by Jesus as a type (or representation) of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matthew 12:38-40).
- Paul the Apostle presented Adam as a type of Jesus in Romans 5:14
- Melchizedek, the king-priest of Salem (Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4) is said to be typical of Christ in Hebrews 6:20. (1)
With this in mind, we can understand Paul’s use of the word leaven as a metaphor or “type” of sin. The idea behind this symbolism is relatively straightforward- just as a small amount of yeast will eventually work its way through an entire batch of dough, their toleration of this affair would eventually go on to produce damaging and wide-ranging effects within their congregation if left unchecked.
Paul will later go on to make extensive use of Biblical typologies in 1 Corinthians chapter ten. But for now, we might adapt this concept to other areas such as alcohol abuse, pornography, or gambling to name a few. Like a small amount of leaven, relatively small amounts of involvement in these areas may go on to permeate our lives and produce a significant (and damaging) effect.
(1) Type, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary Copyright © 1986, 1995 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough — you are, in fact, without yeast.
For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8 NET).
To borrow a characterization from the New Testament letter of Jude, the Corinthian believers were following in the footsteps of those “…who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 1:4) by failing to address the immorality of one of their members. To illustrate the error of this approach, the Apostle Paul turned to a familiar image from the history of Old Testament Israel: the Passover.
The Passover celebration served to memorialize Israel’s release from Egyptian slavery as recorded in Exodus chapter twelve. It commemorated the time when God “passed over” every home that carried an identifying mark of lamb’s blood on it’s exterior door frame while the firstborn in every other home was put to death.
The Passover was then followed by the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This festival memorialized Israel’s rapid departure from the nation of Egypt, a departure that took place so quickly that only unleavened bread could be eaten since there was no time for leavened bread to rise (see Exodus 12:37-39).
One source expands on Paul the Apostle’s use of the Passover and its correlation to the situation in Corinth in the following manner: “The day before Passover was called the Day of Preparation, in which the Jews would rid their homes of every trace of leaven in preparation for Passover and the six-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Paul draws on this well-known understanding as a call for a recommitment to holiness and purity on the part of the Corinthian body.” (1)
A more familiar illustration of this concept might be found in the example of someone who develops new relationships with others and then goes on to experience a subsequent personality change. Such changes can often be explained by the fact that our friendships and relationships help to shape our character and personality for better or worse- and the immoral relationship that existed within the Corinthian church did not serve to influence that congregation in a positive manner.
This is an idea that Paul will develop further as we move towards the final verses of 1 Corinthians chapter five.
(1) Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (pp. 1035–1036). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world.
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
Judging from the Apostle Paul’s comments here in 1 Corinthians 4:9, it appears that he had written an earlier letter to the Corinthians that we no longer possess. Within this so-called “lost letter” it seems that Paul provided the Corinthian church with some information on how to interact with others who weren’t particularly moral.
Unfortunately, it looks as if Paul’s counsel was misinterpreted by the Corinthians for they had apparently decided to cut off contact with such people outside their fellowship even while accepting an even greater level of immorality from those who were within.
Nevertheless, Paul’s actual intent was to instruct the Corinthians to avoid associating with those who claimed to follow Christ but failed to demonstrate that commitment through their choices and decisions. Paul was well aware that the members of the Christian community in Corinth would have to co-exist with those who were corrupt, unprincipled, or immoral as long as they remained in this world, but his point was that they should not tolerate such behaviors within the church.
For the members of the Corinthian church (as well as those who read this epistle today), the act of coming into contact with others of differing beliefs is a fact of everyday life and it is important to maintain friendly relationships with others whenever possible. As Paul will later go on to say within this letter, “…I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22 NLT).
However, Paul will also go on to provide an important word of caution later within this epistle as well: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character'” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV). Since our friendships tend to influence our individual attitudes and beliefs, it’s important to exercise wisdom in the pursuit of our various relationships. As we’re told in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26).
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 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.
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” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NIV).
The Scriptures have much to say in regard to choosing our friends carefully. There are no long sermons featured in today’s message- just some important counsel from God’s Word regarding the importance of choosing our friends carefully…
“My son, if sinners lure you, do not go along. If they say, ‘Come with us. Let’s set an ambush to kill someone. Let’s hide to ambush innocent people for fun. We’ll swallow them alive like the grave, like those in good health who go into the pit. We’ll find all kinds of valuable possessions. We’ll fill our homes with stolen goods. Join us. We’ll split the loot equally.’
My son, do not follow them in their way. Do not even set foot on their path, because they rush to do evil and hurry to shed blood. It does no good to spread a net within the sight of any bird. But these people set an ambush for their own murder. They go into hiding only to lose their lives. This is what happens to everyone who is greedy for unjust gain. Greed takes away his life” (Proverbs 1:10-19 GW).
“Be with wise men and become wise. Be with evil men and become evil” (Proverbs 13:20 TLB).
“Keep away from angry, short-tempered men, lest you learn to be like them and endanger your soul” (Proverbs 22:24 TLB).
“…Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them” (Romans 16:17 NLT).
“Let no one deceive you with empty talk; for it is because of these things that God’s judgment is coming on those who disobey him” (Ephesians 5:6 CJB).
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV).
“How can one who has put his trust in Christ get along with one who has not put his trust in Christ? …The Lord has said, ‘So come out from among them. Do not be joined to them. Touch nothing that is sinful. And I will receive you'” (2 Corinthians 6:15, 17 NLV).
“In my earlier letter I wrote you not to associate with people who engage in sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 5:9 CJB).
It seems reasonable to assume that the first-century Apostles wrote a number of letters to various churches that we longer possess today. One such example can be found within the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letter to the church at Colosse in which he said, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16 NIV).
While we have the ability to read Paul’s letter to the Colossians as part of the New Testament canon of Scripture today, the letter that Paul addressed to the Laodician church is no longer extant. Another example of a “lost” apostolic letter can be found in the earlier letter that Paul references here in 1 Corinthians 5:9.
The failure of these apostolic letters to survive may lead us to question why God did not elect to preserve such documents for the benefit of succeeding generations. One possible answer might be found in God’s intent for such material. For instance, certain apostolic letters might have been intended for a limited audience consisting of a local church (or group of churches) at a specific point in history but not necessarily for the church at large.
One commentator offers another possibility that is related to the “lost letter” that Paul had written earlier to the Corinthian church: “This most probably refers to another epistle Paul had written to the Corinthians, but which was lost; and, since they misunderstood it, perhaps it was lost providentially.” (1)
Another scholar addresses this question on a larger scale…
“Paul refers to a previous epistle he ‘wrote’ to the Corinthians which is not in existence. But since it was written by an apostle to a church and contained spiritual and authoritative instruction, it must be considered inspired. This raises the question as to how an epistle inspired of God could be allowed by Him to be lost…
First, it may be that not all apostolic letters were intended to be in the canon of Scripture. Luke refers to “many” other gospels (1:1). John implies that there was much more Jesus did that was not recorded (20:30; 21:25). Perhaps this so-called “lost” letter to the Corinthians was not intended by God to be collected in the canon and preserved for the faith and practice of future generations, as were the 27 books of the NT (and 39 of the OT).” (2)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1co&chapter=005>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
(2) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 452-453). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“…I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.
I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NLT).
In addition to the reference to sexual immorality mentioned within this passage, the Apostle Paul identified a number of other negative behaviors within these verses that we would do well to avoid…
Covetousness. Many translations use a form of the word “greed” to communicate the idea behind this term. Covetousness refers to an intense desire to possess more of something that we already possess or an intense desire to possess something (or someone) that belongs to another. According to one source, this word can also be used to identify one who is eager to have more, especially what belongs to others. (1)
Extortioners. This word is associated with the idea of a someone who unlawfully takes property that belongs to another. Today, we might associate this concept with someone who engages in dishonest business practices or anyone who acts in a similarly unjust manner.
Idolaters. An “idol” can refer to anything that someone loves, respects, fears, or depends on more than God. It may also refer to anything that takes the place of God in someone’s life. Once someone or something becomes more important than God in someone’s life, that thing (whatever it is) effectively becomes his or her “idol.”
A reviler or abusive. A modern definition of “revile” would include “to assail with contemptuous or opprobrious language; (to) address or speak of abusively.” (2)
The New Testament epistle of 1 John provides us with an important piece of spiritual insight in regard to the ultimate origin of such behaviors: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 NIV).
In light of this, we should not be surprised when others engage in such practices, for these are the types of actions that we should expect to find in a world that is “…under the control of the evil one.” It also implies that such practices should not be found among anyone who claims to be a man or woman of God.
(1) G4123 pleonektes Thayer’s Greek Definitions
(2) revile. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved July 19, 2016 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/revile
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:11 NET).
After cataloging the extensive list of inappropriate behaviors found within this verse, Paul the Apostle’s final directive might seem out of place: “Don’t even sit down to eat with such a person” (GNB). However, Paul’s counsel may become easier to understand when we stop to consider the cultural significance associated with the act of taking a meal in the days of the first century.
You see, mealtime was often viewed as a time of intimate fellowship and conversation in the society of that period. One commentator tell us, “In the culture of that day (and in many cultures today), eating with someone is an expression of friendship and partnership. In some cultures, if a man eats at your table, you are bound to regard him as a friend and a partner. Paul is warning the Corinthian Christians they cannot continue in Christian fellowship with a notorious sinner who calls himself a Christian.” (1)
Jesus also provided us with some additional insight in this regard as well…
“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16-20).
Just as a tree can be identified by the type of fruit it produces, a person may also be known by the results or “fruit” that his or her actions produce. In general, a God-honoring person is someone who should demonstrate God-honoring characteristics. In addition, the fruit that our lives produce will have an impact upon others- and the results of our choices (and their subsequent consequences) are sure to have a beneficial or detrimental influence upon those within our social circle and beyond.
A person who claims to be a Christian but habitually pursues a lifestyle that denies Christ effectively serves to misrepresent Jesus to others. Thus, we have Paul’s instruction to disassociate with such people, even to the point of declining to eat with them.
(1) Guzik, Dave 1 Corinthians 5 – Confronting Immorality in the Church https://enduringword.com/commentary/1-corinthians-5/
“For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person'” (1 Corinthians 5:12).
“The church should leave the judgment of unbelievers to God and concentrate on setting its own house in order” (1)
The final verse of 1 Corinthians chapter five brings to mind another Scripture that relates to a different act of judgment: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'” (1 Peter 4:17-18 NIV).
This is a passage of Scripture that calls for serious attention. If judgment is to begin at the house of God, then where does that leave those who wish to have nothing to do with Him? As one commentator observes, “if this is what God’s children experience, what will become of those who have made themselves His enemies? How can they ever hope to stand before the judgment and wrath of God?” (2)
The members of the Corinthian church had an opportunity to “set the house of God in order” by dealing appropriately with one of their own, a person whose conduct was clearly inappropriate for a God-honoring individual. This serves to remind us that people often judge Christ and the God of the Scriptures by those who claim to represent Him, for better or worse. The act of addressing this situation in an authoritative manner would help the congregation at Corinth send the right message to those who were both inside and outside the Christian community.
So this verse brings us to the end of 1 Corinthians chapter five. But even though we have now reached the end of this chapter, we have not yet reached the end of this account. You see, Paul’s follow up letter to the church at Corinth tells us that the church elected to follow his counsel, as painful as it might have been at the time. The good news is that their response produced the desired result- and that enabled Paul to write the following…
“This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).
(1) Ryrie, Charles Caldwell Ryrie Study Notes, © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp.
(1) Guzik, Dave 1 Peter 4 – Serving God in the Last Days https://enduringword.com/commentary/1-peter-4/