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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

1 Corinthians 5

Verses 1-13

1 Corinthians 5 .

In 1 Cor. 3 and 4 the apostle has dealt with the strifes and divisions that existed in the assembly at Corinth. In the next section of his Epistle, comprising 1 Cor. 5 to 7, he treats of the great subject of holiness. In 1 Cor. 5 he speaks more especially of collective holiness, in 1 Cor. 6 of individual holiness, and in 1 Cor. 7 of holiness in the family relationships. He shows that collective holiness must be maintained by purging out the old leaven from the assembly and putting away a wicked person from amongst the saints, that individual holiness is maintained by self-judgment, and family holiness by the right use of the relationships established by God.

Already the apostle has reminded these saints that they are the temple of God, and, he says, “The Spirit of God dwelleth in you”. He then adds, “The temple of God is holy” ( 1Co_3:16-17 ). The presence of God is intolerant of evil, and demands holiness. Whatever form the house of God may take, whether a material building as in days of old, or a spiritual building composed of believers, the first great and unchanging principle of God's house is holiness. As we read, “Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever” ( Psa_93:5 ). Ezekiel sets holiness as the great leading principle of God's house. “This”, says he, “is the law of the house; Upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the house” ( Eze_43:12 ).

(V. 1). The carnality of these believers was not only seen in that they ranged themselves under certain favourite teachers, thus making divisions, but it was further manifested in extreme laxity of morals. They were surrounded by the filthiness of heathenism, from which they had just emerged, and they had been used to think lightly of gross sins. Nevertheless, amongst them had occurred a case of unholiness of such a gross character that it would have shamed the heathen.

(V. 2). Moreover, there was not only this gross evil in their midst, but there was the tolerance of the evil-doer. Indeed they were puffed up rather than mourning. It is true that they had not received any apostolic directions how to deal with the offender, but spiritual instincts should at least have led them to humble themselves about the sin of this wicked person and desire his removal. We thus learn that, apart from distinct instructions involving definite responsibilities, there are the moral sensibilities of the new nature which should lead us to take a certain course. Cases may arise when a man's course becomes such an exercise to the saints that they desire his removal from their midst and yet have no clear ground for action. In such cases this Scripture clearly indicates that we can spread the matter before the Lord and mourn before Him, with the assurance of His intervention in removing the troubler. The Lord, in such a case, does Himself what we ourselves may have to do when the case is clear. It may be well to note in this connection, that “taken away” in verse 2 and “put away” in verse 13 are similar words in the original. As one has said, “Humiliation and prayer are the resource of those who feel a wrong, and know not yet the remedy”.

(Vv. 3-5). The apostle proceeds to give them definite directions how to act in a proved case of public wickedness. He was absent in body but present in spirit, and had already judged as present, that when gathered together, according to the directions given by apostolic authority, and with the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, to act in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, by delivering “such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”. It is well to note carefully these directions and what they involve.

“When ye are gathered together” supposes the assembly in its normal condition, composed of all the saints in the locality, acting in the spirit which energised the apostle, and the power of the Lord Jesus with them. Gathered thus they would act as representing the Lord Jesus Christ in delivering such an one to Satan. This further supposes that outside the assembly there is the world dominated by Satan. The offender had behaved in such a way that he had proved himself unfit for the presence of the Lord, so was delivered over to Satan's sphere - outside the assembly. Even so, he was not looked at as an unbeliever, for it was for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Today this could not be carried out as when things were normal. We could not deliver such an one unto Satan, for in the ruin of Christendom no company could say that outside their assembly there is nothing but Satan's world; and no company could claim to include all the saints in one locality. Nevertheless, the injunction at the end of the chapter still remains, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person”. The result may, indeed, be that the wicked person comes under the power of Satan, to learn to judge the flesh in himself that he failed to judge when in the place of the power of Christ.

(V. 6-8). The apostle proceeds to show the solemn result of the moral insensibility that allowed unjudged evil in their midst. Evil is presented under the figure of leaven. As a little leaven permeates the whole lump, so known, unjudged evil in any assembly of Christians will affect the whole company. The whole lump leavened does not imply that the whole company becomes incestuous like the evil-doer, but that all become defiled. Nothing more clearly condemns the false principle that known sin in the assembly concerns only the one directly guilty and does not involve all. It is not, therefore, enough to put away the wicked person; they must judge themselves for the low condition that could complacently tolerate evil. Thus they would purge out the old leaven and be in practice what they were in position before God in Christ, an unleavened lump as the result of the work of Christ.

We are thus exhorted to keep the feast, not with old leaven of indifference to sin, nor with leaven of malice and wickedness, but with sincerity and truth. When the apostle says, “Let us keep the feast”, he is not referring exclusively to the Lord's Supper, but rather to the whole period of the believer's life on earth, of which the unleavened feast is a type.

(V. 9-13). In the verses that follow, the apostle shows that, in exhorting Christians to exercise holy discipline and live a life of sincerity and truth, he is referring to the Christian circle. To extend either to the man of the world would be unreal and impossible. If, however, one “called a brother” is living in open and unjudged sin, we are not to have company with him, or show any fellowship with him by eating a meal with him. It is no business of the Christian to attempt to put the world right by judging its evil. This God will do in His own time. Our responsibility is to judge any evil that may manifest itself in the Christian company. “Therefore”, says the apostle, “put away from among yourselves that wicked person”.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/1-corinthians-5.html. 1832.