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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 5

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-13

Chapter 8


FROM the subject of the factions in the Corinthian Church, which has so long detained Paul, he now passes to the second division of his Epistle, in which he speaks of the relation the Christians should hold to the heathen population around them. The transition is easy and such as befits a letter. Paul had thought it advisable to send Timothy, who perfectly understood his mind, and could represent his views more fully than a letter; but it now occurred to him that this might be construed by some of the vain popular leaders in the Church into a timorous reluctance on his part to appear in Corinth and a sign that they were no longer to be held in check by the strong hand of the Apostle. "Some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you." He assures them therefore that he himself will come to Corinth, and also that the leaders of the Church have little reason to be puffed up, seeing that they have allowed in the Church an immorality so gross that even the lower standard of pagan ethics regards it as an unnameable abomination; and if once it is named, it is only to say that not all the waters of ocean can wash away such guilt. Instead of being puffed up, Paul tells them, they should rather be ashamed and at once take steps to put away from them so great a scandal. If not, he must come, not in meekness and love, but with a rod.

The Corinthian Church had fallen into a common snare. Churches have always been tempted to pique themselves on their rich foundations and institutions, on producing champions of the faith, able writers, eloquent preachers, on their cultured ministry, on their rich and aesthetic services, and not on that very thing for which the Church exists: the cleansing of the morals of the people and their elevation to a truly spiritual and godly life. And it is the individuals who give character to any Church. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." Each member of a Church in each day’s conduct in business and at home stakes, not only his own reputation, but the credit of the Church to which he belongs. Involuntarily and unconsciously men lower their opinion of the Church and cease to expect to find in her a fountain of spiritual life, because they find her members selfish and greedy in business, ready to avail themselves of doubtful methods; harsh, self-indulgent, and despotic at home, tainted with vices condemned by the least educated conscience. Let us remember that our little leaven leavens what is in contact with us; that our worldliness and unchristian conduct tend to lower the tone of our circle, encourage others to live down to our level, and help to demoralise the community.

In the judgment Paul pronounces on the Corinthian culprit two points are important. First, it is noteworthy that Paul, Apostle though he was, did not take the case out of the hands of the congregation. His own judgment on the case was explicit and decided, and this judgment he does not hesitate to declare; but, at the same time, it is the congregation which must deal with the case and pronounce judgment in it. The excommunication he enjoined was to be their act. "Put away from among yourselves," he says, {1 Corinthians 5:13} "that wicked person." The government of the Church was in Paul’s idea thoroughly democratic; and where the power to excommunicate has been lodged in a priesthood, the results have been deplorable. Either, on the one hand, the people have become craven and have lived in terror, or, on the other hand, the priest has been afraid to measure his strength with powerful offenders. In our own country and in others this power of excommunication has been abused for the most unworthy purposes, political, social, and private; and only when it is lodged in. the congregation can you secure a fair judgment and moral right to enforce it. There is little fear that this power will nowadays be abused. Men themselves conscious of strong propensities to evil and of many sins are more likely to be lax in administering discipline than forward to use their power; and so far from ecclesiastical discipline producing in its administrators harsh, tyrannical, and self-righteous feelings, it rather works an opposite effect, and evokes charity, a sense of solemn responsibility, and the longing for the welfare of others which lies latent in Christian minds.

But, second, the precise punishment intended by Paul is couched in language which the present generation cannot readily understand. The culprit is not only to be excluded from Christian communion, but "to be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved." Many meanings have been put upon these words; but after all has been said, the natural and obvious meaning of the words asserts itself. Paul believed that certain sins were more likely to be cured by bodily suffering than by any other agency. Naturally sins of the flesh belonged to this class. Bodily suffering of some kinds he believed to be the infliction of Satan. Even his own thorn in the flesh he spoke of as a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him. He expected also that the judgment pronounced by himself and the congregation on this offender would be given effect to in God’s providence; and accordingly he bids the congregation hand the man over to this disciplinary suffering, not as a final doom, but as the only likely means of saving his soul. If the offender mentioned in the Second Epistle is the same man, then we have evidence that the discipline was effectual, that the sinner did repent and was overwhelmed with shame and sorrow. Certainly such an experience of punishment, though not invariably or even commonly effectual, is in itself calculated to penetrate to the very depths of a man’s spirit and give him new thoughts about his sin. If when suffering he can acknowledge his own wrongdoing as the cause of his misery and accept all the bitter and grievous penalties his sin has incurred, if he can truly humble himself before God in the matter and own that all he suffers is right and good, then he is nearer the kingdom of heaven than ever he was before. Substantially the same idea as Paul’s is put in the mouth of the Pope by the most modern of poets:-

"For the main criminal I have no hope

Except in such a suddenness of fate,

I stood at Naples once, a night so dark,

I could have scarce conjectured there was earth

Anywhere, sky, or sea, or world at all,

But the night’s black was burst through by a blaze;

Thunder struck blow on blow;

Earth groaned and bore,

Through her whole length of mountain visible:

There lay the city thick and plain with spires,

And, like a ghost disshrouded, white the sea.

So may the truth be flashed out by one blow,

And Guido see one instant and be saved."

The necessity for keeping their communion pure, for being a society with no leaven of wickedness among them, Paul proceeds to urge and illustrate in the words, "For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us purge out the old leaven." The allusion was of course much more telling to Jews than it can possibly be to us; still, if we call to mind the outstanding ideas of the Passover, we cannot fail to feel the force of the admonition. That must be the simplest explanation of the Passover which Jewish parents were enjoined to give to their children, in the words, "By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And it came to pass when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, with the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the firstborn being males, but all the firstborn of my children I redeem." That is to say, all the firstborn of animals they sacrificed to God, slaying them on His altar, but instead of slaying the human firstborn they redeemed them by sacrificing a lamb in their stead. The whole transaction of the night of the first Passover stood thus: God claimed the Israelites as His people; the Egyptians also claimed them as theirs. And as no warning would persuade the Egyptians to let them away to serve God, God at last forcibly delivered them, slaying the flower of the Egyptian people, and so crippling and dismaying them as to give Israel opportunity of escape. Being thus rescued that they might be God’s people, they felt bound to continue to own this; and in accordance with the custom of their time they expressed their sense of it by sacrificing their firstborn, by presenting them to God as belonging to Him. By this outward sacrificial act engaged in by every family it was acknowledged that the whole nation belonged to God.

Christ, then, is our Passover or Paschal Lamb, in the first place, because through Him there is made the acknowledgment that we belong to God. He is in very truth the prime and flower, the best representative of our race, the firstborn of every creature. He is the one who can make for all others this acknowledgment that we are God’s people. And He does so by perfectly giving Himself up to God. This fact that we belong to God, that we men are His creatures and subjects, has never been perfectly acknowledged save by Christ. No individual or society of people has ever lived entirely for God. No man has ever fully recognised this apparently simple truth, that we are not our own, but God’s. The Israelites made the acknowledgment in form, by sacrifice, but Christ alone made it in deed by giving Himself up wholly to do God’s will. The Israelites made the acknowledgment from time to time, and with probably more or less truthfulness and sincerity, but Christ’s whole spirit and habitual temper of mind were those of perfect obedience and dedication.

Only those of us, then, who see that we ought to live for God can claim Christ as our representative. His dedication to God is unmeaning to us if we do not desire to belong entirely to God. If He is our Passover, the meaning of this is that He gives us liberty to serve God; if we do not mean to be God’s people, if we do not resolutely purpose to put ourselves at God’s disposal, then it is idle and false of us to talk of Him as our Passover. Christ comes to bring us back to God, to redeem us from all that hinders our serving Him; but if we really prefer being our own masters, then manifestly He is useless to us. It is no matter what we say, nor what rites and forms we go through; the one question is, Do we at heart wish to give ourselves up to God? Does Christ really represent us, -represent, by His devoted, unworldly life, our earnest and hearty desire and intention?

Do we find in His life and death, in His submission to God and meek acceptance of all God appointed, the truest representation of what we ourselves would fain be and do, but cannot?

It is through this self-sacrifice of Christ that we can become God’s people, and enjoy all the liberties and advantages of His people. Christ becomes the representative of all whose state of mind His sacrifice represents. If we would fain be of one mind and will with God as Christ was, if we feel the degradation and bitterness of failing God and disappointing the trust He has confided in us His children, if our life is wholly spoiled by the latent feeling that all is wrong because we are not in harmony with the wise and holy and loving Father, if we feel with more and more distinctness, as life goes on, that there is a God, and that the foundation of all happiness and soundness of life must be laid in union with Him, then Christ’s perfect surrender of Himself to the will of the Father represents what we would but cannot ourselves achieve. When the Israelite came with his lamb, feeling the attractiveness and majesty of God, and desiring to pour his whole life out in fellowship with God and service of Him, as entirely as the life of the lamb was poured out at the altar, God accepted this symbolic utterance of the worshipper’s heart. As the worshipping Israelite saw in the animal yielding its whole life the very utterance of his own desire, and said, Would God I could as freely and entirely devote myself with all my powers and energies to my Father above; so we, looking at the free, and loving, and eager sacrifice of our Lord, says in our hearts, Would God I could thus live in God and for God, and so become one with perfect purity and justice, with infinite love and power.

The Paschal Lamb then was in the first place the acknowledgment by the Israelites that they belonged to God. The lamb was offered to God, not as being itself anything worthy of God’s acceptance, but merely as a way of saying to God that the family who offered it gave themselves up as entirely to Him. But by thus becoming a kind of substitute for the family, it saved the firstborn from death. God did not wish to smite Israel, but to save them. He did not wish to confound them with the Egyptians, and make an indiscriminate slaughter. But God did not simply omit the Israelite houses, and pick out the Egyptian ones throughout the land. He left it to the choice of the people whether they would accept His deliverance and belong to Him or not. He told them that every home would be safe, on the doorpost of which there was visible the blood of the lamb. The blood of the lamb thus provided a refuge for the people, a shelter from death which otherwise would have fallen upon them. The angel of judgment was to recognise no distinction between Israelite and Egyptian save this of the sprinkled, stained doorposts. Death was to enter every house where the blood was not visible; mercy was to rest on every family that dwelt under this sign. God’s judgment was out that night all over the land, and no difference of race was made anything of. They who had disregarded the use of the blood would have no time to object, We be Abraham’s seed. God meant that they should all be rescued, but He knew that it was quite possible that some had become so entangled with Egypt that they would be unwilling to leave it, and He would not force any-we may say He could not force any-to yield themselves to Him. This rendering of ourselves to God must be a free act on our part; it must be the deliberate and true act of a soul that feels convinced of the poverty and wretchedness of all life that is not serving God. And God left it in the choice of each family-they might or might not use the blood, as they pleased. But wherever it was used, safety and deliverance were thereby secured. Wherever the lamb was slain in acknowledgment that the family belonged to God, God dealt with them as with His own. Wherever there was no such acknowledgment, they were dealt with as those who preferred to be God’s enemies.

And now Christ our Passover is slain, and we are asked to determine the application of Christ’s sacrifice, to say whether we will use it or no. We are not asked to add anything to the efficacy of that sacrifice, but only to avail ourselves of it. Passing through the streets of the Egyptian cities on the night of the Passover, you could have told who trusted God and who did not. Wherever there was faith there was a man in the twilight with his basin of blood and bunch of hyssop, sprinkling his lintel and then going in and shutting his door, resolved that no solicitation should tempt him from behind the blood till the angel was by. He took God at His word; he believed God meant to deliver him, and he did what he was told was his part. The result was that he was rescued from Egyptian bondage. God now desires that we be separated from everything which prevents us from gladly serving Him, from every evil bias in us which prevents us from delighting in God, from all that makes us feel guilty and unhappy, from all sin that enchains us and makes our future hopeless and dark. God calls us to Himself, meaning that we shall one day get forever past all that has made us unfaithful to Him and all that has made it impossible for us to find deep and lasting pleasure in serving Him. To us He throws open a way out from all bondage, and from all that gives us the spirit of slaves: He gives us the opportunity of following Him into real and free life, into glad fellowship with Him and joyful partnership in His ever beneficent, and progressive work. What response are we making? In the face of the varied difficulties and deluding appearances of this life, in the face of the complexity and inveterate hold of sin, can you believe that God seeks to deliver you and even now designs for you a life that is worthy of His greatness and love, a life which shall perfectly satisfy you and give play to all your worthy desires and energies?

Sacrifices were in old times accompanied by feasts in which the reconciled God and His worshippers ate together. In the feast of Passover the lamb which had been used as a sacrifice was consumed as food to strengthen the Israelites for their exodus. This idea Paul here adapts to his present purpose. "Christ, our passover is sacrificed for us," he says, "let us therefore keep the feast." The whole life of the Christian is a festal celebration; his strength is maintained by that which has given him peace with God. By Christ’s death God reconciles us to Himself; out of Christ we continually receive what fits us to serve God as His free people. Every Christian should aim at making his life a celebration of the true deliverance Christ has accomplished for us. We should see that our life is a true exodus, and being so it will bear marks of triumph and of freedom. To feed upon Christ, joyfully to assimilate all that is in Him to our own character, it is this which makes life festal, which turns faintness into abounding strength, and brings zest and appetite into monotonous labour.

But Paul’s purpose in introducing the idea of the Passover is rather to enforce his injunction to the Corinthians to purge their communion of all defilement. "Let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness!" Leaven was judged unclean, because fermentation is one form of corruption. This impurity was not to be touched by the holy people during their festival week. This was secured at the first keeping of the Passover by the suddenness of the exodus when the people fled with their kneading boards on their shoulders and had no time to take leaven, and had therefore no choice but to keep God’s command and eat unleavened bread. And so scrupulously did the people at all times observe this that before the day of the feast they used to sweep their houses and search the dark corners with candles, lest a morsel of leaven should be found among them. Thus would Paul have all Christians be separate from the rotting, fermenting results of the old life. So suddenly would he have us issue from it and so clean would he have us leave it all behind us. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump; therefore must we be careful, if we would keep this precept and be clean, to search into even unlikely corners in our hearts and lives, and as with the candle of the Lord make diligent search for the tainting remnant.

It is the purpose to keep the feast faithfully, and live as those who are delivered from bondage, which reveals in our consciousness how much we have to put away, and how much of the old life is following on into the new. Habits, feelings, likings and dislikings, all go with us. The unleavened bread of holiness and of a life bound to and ruled by the earnest and godly life of Christ, seems flat and insipid, and we crave something more stimulating to the appetite. The old intolerance of regular, intelligent, continuous prayer, the old willingness to find a rest in this world, must be purged out as leaven which will alter the whole character of our life. Are our holy days holidays, or do we endure holiness of thought and feeling mainly on the consideration that holiness is but for a season? Patiently and believingly resist the stirrings of the old nature. Measure all that rises in you and all that quickens your blood and stirs your appetite by the death and spirit of Christ. Sever yourself determinedly from all that alienates you from Him. The old life and the new should not run parallel with one another so that you can pass from the one to the other. They are not side by side, but end to end; the one all preceding the other, the one ceasing and terminating where the other begins.

The old leaven is to be put away: "the leaven of malice and wickedness," the bad heartedness that is not seen to be bad till brought into the light of Christ’s spirit; the spiteful, vindictive, and selfish feelings that are almost expected in society, these are to be put away; and in their stead "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" is to be introduced. Above all things, Paul would say, let us be sincere. The word "sincere" sets before the mind the natural image from which the moral quality takes its name, the honey free from the smallest particle of wax, pure and pellucid. The word which Paul himself, using his own language, here sets down, conveys a similar idea. It is a word derived froth the custom of judging the purity of liquids or the texture of cloths by holding them between the eye and the sun. What Paul desiderates in the Christian character is a quality which can stand this extreme test, and does not need to be seen only in an artificial light. He wants a pure transparent sincerity; he wants what is to its finest thread genuine; an acceptance of Christ which is real, and which is rich in eternal results.

Are we living a genuine and true life? Are we living up to what we know to be the truth about life? Christ has given us the true estimate of this world and all that is in it, He has measured for us God’s requirements, He has shown us what is the truth about God’s love; -are we living in this truth? Do we not find that in our best intentions there is some mixture of foreign elements, and in our most assured choice of Christ some remaining elements which will lead us back from our choice? Even while we own Christ as our Saviour from sin, we are but half inclined to go out from its bondage. We pray God for deliverance, and when He throws wide open before us the gate that leads away from temptation, we refuse to see it, or hesitate until again it is closed. We know how we may become holy, and yet will not use our knowledge.

Let us, whatever else, be genuine. Let us not trifle with the purpose and requirements of Christ. In our deepest and clearest consciousness we see that Christ does open the way to the true life of man; that it is our part to make room for this self-sacrificing life in our own day and in our own circumstances; that until we do so we can only by courtesy be called Christians. The convictions and beliefs which Christ inspires are convictions and beliefs about what we should be, and what Christ means all human life to be, and until these convictions and beliefs are embodied in our actual living selves, and in our conduct and life, we feel that we are not genuine. Time will bring us no relief from this humiliating position, unless time brings us at length to yield ourselves freely to Christ’s Spirit, and unless, instead of looking at the kingdom He seeks to establish as a quite impossible Utopia, we set ourselves resolutely and wholly to aid in the annexing to His rule our own little world of business and of all the relations of life. To have convictions is well, but if these convictions are not embodied in our life, then we lose our life, and our house is built on sand.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/1-corinthians-5.html.
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