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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 5

 

 

Verse 1-2

The Corinthians Must Deal With the Immorality in Their Midst (5:1-13).

The Great Sin Among Them (5:1-2)

‘It is actually reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles, that one of you has his father’s wife. And YOU (emphatic) are puffed up and did not rather mourn, that he who had so done this deed might be taken away from among you.’

He has challenged them whether they want him to come with a rod or in a spirit of gentleness and love. Now he suddenly faces them up unexpectedly with certain knowledge that he has received which has disturbed him, a particularly dreadful case of sexual misbehaviour. Try and imagine that you are sitting in the Corinthian assembly and have been following his argument about the word of the cross and the divisiveness of many in the church. He has told you that the divisiveness has been a result of your concentrating your thoughts on secondary matters and on the teachers of ‘wise words’ who have been called to account, rather than on the word of the cross through which you were saved. Hopefully you are feeling a little ashamed. But you are now waiting to hear what defence these same teachers will bring up, and you are confident that it will no doubt be an eloquent one.

And then suddenly and abruptly these words are read out. Like everyone else you are caught napping. All thoughts of defence flee away. You yourself are now on the defensive. You are found guilty along with the rest. And whereas you had not previously thought about it, now you can see that you have no defence. Along with the rest of the church you have been taken unprepared, challenged and found guilty. It also leaves no time for defence against what has previously been said. By the time you have finished defending yourself against this charge the previous ones will appear unimportant. No defence against what was said earlier will be constructed until it has lost its initial impact in the face of this enormous charge that faces you all. You are suddenly made to face the fact that, in the midst of your exercise of spiritual gifts, you have allowed, without protest, the grossest of sins. And this makes you realise that any charge you would make against Paul pales into insignificance besides this. It demonstrates conclusively that the teaching that you have been trusting in has undoubtedly failed at the moral level. It faces you directly with the question as to whether what you now believe in even has a moral dimension. And on your decision as to that will depend your reply to all his previous arguments. For you are made to recognise that the moral dimension lies at the back of all Paul has said. That is why Christ died.

This is surely the reason why Paul now indirectly illustrates what he has been talking about with these vivid examples. They demonstrate as nothing else could that these ‘wise’ teachers, like the whole church, have been condoning gross sexual immorality, and even boasting about it. They have claimed that Paul was lax in his attitudes. But nothing could possibly be as lax as this. For it has included such an example of sexual immorality among them as even the Gentiles would be ashamed of. A man making love to his father’s wife, and possibly even setting up home with her. Any defence that they were thinking of making to his former arguments has been ripped apart. If they have any concern for morality, and that was probably initially why many had responded, this incident has in itself demonstrated that their teaching has failed. They have lost the moral concern they once had.

We must assume that ‘his father’s wife’ was not speaking of the young man’s own mother, but probably of a young wife whom his father had later married. Thus this man is not only guilty of sexual immorality of a kind that would appal even the idolaters, but also of failing to honour his father and his father’s family. He has committed gross sin. He has dishonoured his father, destroyed the unity of the family, and done what even the most open-minded of outsiders would consider a shameful thing.

And what is more the self-opinionated Corinthian Christians, instead of mourning over this dreadful sin, have been puffed up, thinking themselves very broad-minded and quite happy to allow such dreadful behaviour among them. There has been no thought of church discipline or of bringing the guilty person to account. Thus they have all brought dishonour on the name of Christ, for in this way they have all shared with him in his sin. Can you now appreciate what immediate impact Paul’s words would have had? They will sit in silence and shuffle in their seats.

But what could have made the Corinthians consider this case acceptable even for a moment? One reason may have been an emphasis on the great ‘love’ that they had. How could such love possibly be wrong? Did not Christ teach us to love one another? Such distorted reasons are often appealed to, overlooking the difference between erotic lust and spiritual love. Another may have been that having both had experiences of spiritual gifts they had convinced themselves and others that they were bound by a spiritual bond which they had a right to work out by a ‘spiritual’ union which included physical union, excluding the father who was outside their own sphere of spirituality. Such ‘spiritual union’ is often looked on as a good excuse for satisfying the flesh and disobeying convention and the Law of God. The teachers of ‘wisdom’ may well have approved of it. But whatever it was Paul brings it down to earth. They have committed gross sin.

‘Puffed up and did not rather mourn.’ Jesus had said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted/strengthened’ (Matthew 5:4). Mourning over sin, although to be kept within bounds, was to be a regular part of the spiritual life, both mourning over one’s own sin and mourning over the sins of others (James 4:9-10 compare Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 12:4; Joel 2:12). And, because this great sin was in the church, the church should have mourned over it even more, for it was making God’s holy temple, the living church, the sanctuary of God, unholy. And by not dealing with it immediately they all share the guilt.

‘Puffed up’ may be a statement or a question. Either ‘are you puffed up?’ or as above. But either way the suggestion is of some who have not only condoned the sin but have actually arrogantly accepted it. This may have been because in their ‘wisdom’ they did not consider moral sin very important. What mattered was the manifestation of spiritual gifts, especially tongues (this is what chapter 14 suggests). Or it may be because they felt that it demonstrated their own tolerance. So Paul says let the whole church now judge themselves. Are they satisfied with such teaching, or are they going to do something about it? Such an attitude as they have does not conform with the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

But further, while Paul here deals with a particularly dreadful example of immorality, he will shortly make clear that that is but the symptom of a deeper disease, a disease not only of immorality but of dishonesty and greed discontent more generally perceivable in the Corinthian church, as subsequent comments will make clear (1 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Corinthians 10:8). He was clearly not just concerned about one person (although he was very concerned about that), but about their whole general state and attitude of mind. This is what their foolish ‘wise’ teachers have brought them to. But not wanting just to launch into an argument about such immorality he has first cleverly shocked them into facing up to their sinfulness by using this undeniable example. Then once he has done that he faces them up to the rest. Perhaps now they will be willing to listen to more.


Verses 1-20

Important Scandals That Have To Be Dealt With (5:1-6:20).

Having dealt with the central spiritual concern which has been to do with their divisiveness over secondary matters, over ‘the wisdom of words’, which were in danger of squeezing out ‘the word of the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1:18), Paul now moves abruptly on to two scandals which are among them. These are important for their own sake, but equally important because they demonstrate that the teachers who are opposing him have clearly not been concerned about moral behaviour, whereas he has.

He has given a hint of this in what he has already said. But he now moves straight into the issues with vivid and forceful directness, for he wants to catch them by surprise. He wants to take them unawares with something that they are not expecting. But he does not directly use them as an illustration to back up his point, for he does not want their impact to be lessened by suggesting that they are simply a part of the controversy, thus making them simply appear to be an arguing point. He is genuinely distressed at the dreadful testimony they are giving about Christ. He wants them to land among them like bombs exploding. By moving straight in he emphasises their seriousness in their own right and prevents their force from being degraded.

This explains the abrupt change of subject which comes without any connecting word or phrase. This is deliberate. It is partly so that his words about the scandals will make a full impact in themselves, demonstrating that he is extremely concerned about the sins for their own sake, and partly so that it will catch the teachers who are sitting listening to the letter, by surprise, and prevent them from formulating their arguments for the defence against what he has already said. With one swift movement he pulls the carpet from under them.

That is also partly why he does not want to soften the impact of what he says by simply suggesting that they illustrate what he has been saying. He wants them to stand on their own in all their starkness. However, having said that, we should note that he does, while drawing attention to them, cleverly draw out their connection with what has gone before by relating what he is saying to the topics of righteousness (1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 6:11), sanctification (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 6:19) and redemption (1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Compare 1 Corinthians 1:30. He is drawing attention to the fact that when it comes to dealing with sin it is the word of the cross that enforces holiness on men, not the ‘wise’ teaching of these men whose words and ideas have no real power. Let them, while they are facing up to the dreadfulness of this behaviour that they have simply passed over, just pause and consider that. He knows that they can have no answer to such a dilemma.

The first scandal he brings out is the church’s willingness to allow to go unpunished among them an act of grave sexual misdemeanour (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). He then directs what should be done to put matters right (1 Corinthians 5:3-5) linking this with his teaching about the cross and sanctification (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) and then gives further advice about such matters (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). He leaves unmentioned the question of how this could happen in the light of his opponents’ wisdom teaching, although pointing out that the word of the cross deals with the matter quite clearly.

His final comments on this then lead on the second scandal, the question of going to the secular law against fellow Christians, which he forbids because it brings shame on the name of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). Let such things rather be judged by the church, he says. The Kingly Rule of God is here, and those who will one day judge angels should not draw back from judging God’s people. And he then draws an important spiritual warning from his comments, expanding the definition of sin to include many forms of sinful behaviour, and again links it with what Christ has done for them, once more introducing the ideas of righteousness and sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). So all manner of sin is being dealt with by him in the light of the word of the cross, which the wisdom teachers seem to have overlooked.

This is then followed by further emphatic teaching on sexual misbehaviour, this time in connection with having sexual adventures with prostitutes, many of whom would be connected with idolatrous religion. Their very behaviour is thus in itself blasphemous. So he draws out again how dreadful such sins are to those who are members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit, and finishes by reminding them that they are in fact not their own because they have been redeemed. They have been bought with a price, sanctified as the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, and belong to Another (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). They should therefore recognise that their bodies are His. So while dealing emphatically with, and condemning, the sins he is describing, he draws out again that it is his teaching about the word of the cross that deals effectively with such sins, not the ‘wisdom’ of those who have allowed such things to continue among them.

We must now consider these matters in detail.


Verses 3-5

Paul Demands Judgment On It By The Whole Church (5:3-5).

‘For I truly, being absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as though I were present, judged him who has so wrought this thing.’

While they have been so lax Paul has been far from lax. What has happened has grieved him. Even at a distance from them he has felt bound to act. Although not present with them in the body he has been present in spirit, partly through thought and prayer, for they are his children, but probably he also saw himself as spiritually transported to the scene to carry out his judgment, as Ezekiel was spiritually transported to Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 8:7; Ezekiel 8:14; Ezekiel 8:16 - no one saw him but he was there in some spiritual experience), and as present in spirit he has passed judgment on the man who has so behaved. And he now explains what that judgment was.

‘In the name of our Lord Jesus, you being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’

This was Paul’s judgment. That gathering together ‘in the name of our Lord Jesus’, that is with the authority given them by Christ and in the light of His teaching, and recognising that Paul is among them in spirit, they should exercise the power of ‘our Lord Jesus’ and deliver him to Satan. Thus it is the almighty Judge who is to act, for it is in His name that they are to gather. And it is with His power (dunamis) that they are to hand him over to Satan.

The idea here is expulsion of the man from the inner church meetings which are specifically for true believers, through the authority of Christ. As they sit in judgment Christ sits with them, along with Paul. The New Testament church saw itself as given to Jesus out of the world so that they were in the world but not of the world (John 17:6; John 17:11; John 17:16). They saw themselves as being in the hands of God (Ephesians 2:4-6), while the world lay in the arms of the Evil One (1 John 5:19; John 17:15). The gathering of His people was seen as an enclave of heaven, an embassy from Heaven in the world under the protection of God (John 17:11-12 compare 2 Corinthians 5:20; Philippians 3:20), for they dwelt spiritually in ‘the heavenlies’ (Ephesians 2:6). To be deliberately and judicially cast out of such a gathering was thus to be handed over to Satan, ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2:2).

This description brings out how much the early Christians saw themselves as having entered under the Kingly Rule of God. Gathered together as one they were God’s representatives in the world while being citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20).

It is often commented on that the woman is not mentioned. This is probably because she was a pagan, a non-Christian. Pagan’s were left in God’s hands to be dealt with. (A ‘pagan’ means a ‘civilian’. While Christians had become soldiers of Christ under their Great Lord and Commander, non-Christians had remained ‘civilians’). The man can be dealt with because he, at least theoretically, acknowledges the authority of Christ and admits to being under the Heavenly Rule of God (1 Corinthians 4:20). If the woman is a pagan, however, the church has no sanctions against her. (We can compare how later an unbelieving husband is to be let go for this same reason - 1 Corinthians 7:15).

But it was not just an expulsion. It was the exercise of the power of Christ to commit the man to Satan (see also 1 Timothy 1:20). It was expected that through prayer it would have a spiritual impact. Just as Christ as the strong man had bound Satan and delivered those under his control (Mark 3:27), now that same power will be exercised in handing him back to that control. He is to be seen, and to see himself, as going back into the ‘power of darkness’ (Colossians 1:13). But the aim was merciful. It was intended to make him think and consider his ways. It was for the ‘destruction of the flesh’, that sinful flesh which was responsible for the man’s sin and was supposed to be crucified with Christ (Romans 8:3; Galatians 5:24). It was to bring home to him his sin so that he might once again come to the cross to be crucified afresh, crucifying the flesh with its affections and desires. Should he do that he can be restored. It was to bring the man to repentance as, if he really was a Christian, he would appreciate the horror that he was then experiencing. It was so that his fleshliness might be crucified with Christ and he could thus be restored and his spirit thus saved in ‘the day of the Lord Jesus’. If this interpretation is correct it demonstrates Paul’s confidence in Jesus’ continuing saving activity (1 Corinthians 1:8).

If this is correct the thought is not that Satan contributes to the destruction of the flesh. That is the last thing he wants to do. It is that the sinner, having been committed to Satan, comes to his senses and himself ‘destroys his flesh’ by coming again to experience his crucifixion with Christ (Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:24) once again escaping from Satan’s clutches which cannot hold him because of Christ’s effective power.

‘In the name of our Lord Jesus.’ This may refer either to 1) acting in the name of the Lord Jesus as a heavenly court, 2) delivering the man over in the name of the Lord Jesus, or 3) gathering in the name of the Lord Jesus to act. Whichever way we take it the principle is clear, they are acting in His name. Alternately it may be that it refers to Paul making his judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus. But overall the final responsibility is seen as His and His alone.

Some however have seen it as referring to the man having actually sinned ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’, increasing the heinousness of his sin by giving it a false spiritual motive under some false ‘spiritual’ emotive experience..

‘With the power of the Lord Jesus.’ This may refer to ‘delivering the man over with the power of the Lord Jesus’, or ‘assembling with the power of the Lord Jesus’, but in both cases the power of the Lord Jesus is effective in the man’s delivery into the power of Satan. Alternately the idea of ‘power’ may parallel Spirit with the thought that the Spirit is there to act on Christ’s behalf, so that the gathered church, the spirit of Paul, and the ‘power’ of ‘our Lord, Jesus’ are all present to pass the verdict for the expulsion of the gross sin and its perpetrator.

‘To deliver such a one to Satan.’ Compare 1 Timothy 1:20. He is to be excluded from close fellowship in the church, from the Kingly Rule of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13 b), and cast out into the world over which Satan is in some kind of control, into the power and rule of darkness (Colossians 1:13 a). The hope is that there he will come to his senses and again respond to the word of the cross.

‘For the destruction of the flesh, in order that the spirit may be saved.’ The remedy is drastic but it has a saving purpose. The aim is the destruction of that fleshly element within the man which has clearly been very strong and has dragged him down. The flesh has tugged strongly against the Spirit and the man has fallen (Galatians 5:17). But he can be raised up again through the power of the cross so that, having repented, his fleshliness can be destroyed and his spirit be seen to have been delivered in the day of the Lord Jesus. This probably refers to the destruction of fleshliness (1 Corinthians 3:3) by means of a renewed experience of dying with Christ. This use of ‘flesh’ is not its normal significance later in 1 and 2 Corinthians, but it accords with Romans where it is common and with 1 Corinthians 3:3 where this significance of being fleshly is in mind. Then his spirit can rise above it through the Spirit’s work resulting in restoration ready for that Day. The contrast of flesh and spirit supports this idea.

It is difficult to see how it could be seen as referring to literal destruction of the flesh, presumably through literally dying, for then repentance would not be possible. There is however the possibility that it refers to serious illness which would bring the man to his senses and produce repentance (compare 1 Corinthians 11:30 - those who are sickly being hopefully brought to repentance, those who sleep possibly having no hope. They have shown their hardness of heart by their callous attitude to the Lord’s Supper). But here there seems to be no thought of illness specifically and the emphasis is on restoration. His flesh must be prevented from having the victory by drastic action if he is to have any real hope, and that drastic action is through the power of the word of the cross dealing powerfully with the flesh.

But some do see it as referring to death. For later he will say that some of those who do not discern the Lord’s Table will also ‘sleep’, presumably without the opportunity of repentance (1 Corinthians 11:30). Then we would have to see death as the punishment for this gross sin without it affecting the man’s eternal state, for his spirit is to be ‘saved in the day of the Lord Jesus’. But the fact that such are to be avoided while still alive (1 Corinthians 5:11), and that he may well have later repented and been restored (2 Corinthians 2:5-11), is against this suggestion, as is the regular Scriptural promise of restoration by the Shepherd of those who fall into sin. Nowhere in Scripture do we ever have the direct suggestion that a man can be living in deliberate disobedience to God and have hope for the future if he dies in his sin (compare Ezekiel 33:8). This is not because his salvation depends on his remaining sinless, but because the assumption is there that if he truly belongs to Christ, Christ will not allow him to remain in such a sinful state. Thus in our view this must be speaking of spiritual destruction of the flesh, which is a central thought in Paul

‘In the day of the Lord Jesus.’ Compare 2 Corinthians 1:14. This is the day when the Lord Jesus comes for His own and His people come before His judgment seat. It is similar to ‘the Day of Christ’ (Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16 compare 1 Corinthians 1:8; Philippians 1:6). It is the Day of Salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2) and Redemption (Ephesians 4:30). It is a glorious day.

It contrasts with ‘the Day of the Lord’, which, while similarly speaking of the end of all things, does so from the point of view of a period of God’s judgments on the whole world, however short or long, and as a consequence the establishing of the new heaven and the new earth in ‘the Day of God’ (2 Peter 3:12), and comes ‘like a thief in the night’ (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10 and compare 1 Thessalonians 5:4). Jesus spoke of it as ‘the Day of Judgment’ Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:22-24; Matthew 12:36; Mark 6:11; 2 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 3:7; 1 John 4:17 compare Romans 2:5), although in this latter expression concentration is made more on a specific point in time rather than on a period of judgment when men have to give account to God.

Having Rid The Church Of This Sin The Whole Church Must Then Purify Themselves By A Spiritual Feast of the Passover, Purging Sin and Experiencing The Word of the Cross Through Him Who Is The Passover Lamb Sacrificed For Us (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

This is similar to John’s description of Christian’s purifying themselves from sin in 1 John 1:7-10, although there it is individual. Here they are to do it as a whole church.


Verse 6-7

‘Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, even as you are unleavened. For our Passover has also been sacrificed, even Christ.’

The Corinthians were glorying in what they saw as their high spirituality and their tolerance, but Paul points out that they have no right to glory while there is open sin prevalent among them. A small amount of leaven will soon permeate and affect a whole lump of dough. In the same way a relatively small amount of fermenting sin is infectious, it will soon affect the whole church (compare Galatians 5:9 where the same point is made about false teaching, which is also in the background here).

So the people of God must rid themselves of sin, and especially cast out those guilty of open sin unless such sinners are ready to repent and put right what is wrong, and they must begin with this man who has sinned so grievously. But having purged him from the assembly they must also purge themselves within the assembly. Thus will they become like a new lump of dough that is unleavened, for they will have removed sin from among them.

This picture of leaven leavening bread is taken from the feast of the Passover and unleavened bread. There, before the feast began, all leaven had to be removed from the houses of the participants and a diligent search made to ensure none was left. So must Christians root out sin from within and among them. Paul was probably hoping for an instant revival, while practical enough to know that it might not happen like that. But that it did happen to some extent is suggested by 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.

Leaven consisted of old dough which had been allowed to ferment. It was then introduced into new dough with its leavening effect, causing the new dough to expand. The leaven would spread through the whole which was visibly affected. It was seen as a type of corruption. There would indeed come a time when the leaven had become too acidic and was unhealthy, thus the wise necessity for getting rid of all leaven once a year and starting again.

‘Christ our Passover.’ The thought of leaven and unleavened bread leads on to the thought of Christ as the Passover lamb. Having cleared themselves of leaven the Passover would follow. So the reason why they should get rid of the leaven is because they know that the unblemished Lamb Himself has been sacrificed for us once for all (aorist) so that we might be cleansed from sin and partake of what is holy. This is why Christ died as a sacrifice, for the forgiveness and removal of sin. And God’s people, ‘the church’, must therefore be holy, set apart to Him in purity and righteousness, as they set their eyes, thoughts and hearts on Him. If the Lamb Who was sacrificed for us was unblemished and holy (that the Passover offering could not be eaten outside the dwelling established its essential holiness), with no bone broken, an indication of His complete perfection, so must we who benefit from His death, and from His sacrifice of Himself, and who partake of Him by faith, be concerned to be a holy ‘lump’ free of all corrupting leaven.

Note how it is the connection with the sacrifice on the cross that ensures that all sin is dealt with. Because He has been sacrificed for us we can and should again be made clean (1 John 1:7-10) having set sin aside. In the light of that sacrifice all should recognise that the old leaven must be totally removed. No sin can be allowed to endure the presence of the crucified One. The word of the cross is the great purifier. No sin can be allowed to remain in its way.

‘Purge out the old leaven.’ The fact that the ‘old leaven’ is spoken of in such a way as to suggest it is different from the leaven of malice and wickedness has led some to see it as referring to the old doctrines of Judaism as incorporated into a form of Christianity by certain Teachers, which have to be done away with and rooted out (as in Galatians 5:9). They bring the wisdom/folly of the scribes which must be purged out (1 Corinthians 1:20). This might then be seen as especially spoken of those who ‘belong to Cephas’.

Or ‘the old leaven’ is seen by others as something known to them and Paul, some defiling thing on which they disagree. For central to this passage here is the fact that Paul is speaking in the context of a case of gross immorality. Thus any doctrines in mind might be such as caused such immorality to be overlooked, that is, some form of lax doctrine which allows such behaviour, some form of antinomianism (lawlessness) that concentrated on spiritual gifts at the expense of morals. Thus the ‘old leaven’ might point to the teaching of some of the ‘wisdom teachers’ in the church which has resulted in sinful licence. But alternately it may refer to the gross sins and their contaminating influence which have to be put aside if they are to be restored to holiness.

‘That you may be a new lump even as you are unleavened.’ Paul desires that the Corinthians become a ‘new lump of unleavened dough’. He wants all corruption removed. He wants them as it were to come back to the word of the cross through repentance and begin again, having been cleansed in the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7-10). He wants them to be renewed. This parallels his pleas elsewhere that Christians put off the old man and become ‘a new man’ (Ephesians 4:22-24 compare Romans 6:11; Galatians 4:19), something which in one sense happens once for all, but in another sense has to be repeated (Galatians 4:19). He wants them not only to have newness of life but to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). They are to become a new pure lump through their connection with the Passover sacrifice.


Verse 8

‘For this reason let us go on keeping the feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’

This leads on to the consideration of wider sins. Life is now to be for us a continual Passover. ‘Let us go on keeping the feast.’ The sacrifice has been completed once for all but the feast continues. So they are to search out sin and any false teaching continually. Then coming to God’s Passover Lamb for forgiveness through His one time sacrifice of Himself, and partaking of the crucified One, the Passover Lamb, by faith (‘he who eats of Me (by faith - John 6:35) will live because of me’ - John 6:57), they are to keep away from all leaven, the leaven of false teaching and malice and wickedness, of divisiveness and discord, while partaking of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The Christian must thus live purely day by day in the light of the cross and its significance. Thus he must daily be totally honest, seeking daily cleansing, without malice, positive in goodness, concerned for the truth and must keep away from all that is wrong whether in word or deed.

‘Malice.’ The word means badness and wickedness generally, but with a special emphasis on malice, ill will, malignity. ‘Wickedness.’ Again a general word for baseness, evil thinking and evil doing. ‘Sincerity.’ Refers to purity of motive, genuineness of life, openness.

‘Truth.’ The whole Christian life is to be based on truth, and to reveal truth. This includes a knowledge of the Scriptures, an understanding of Jesus’ teaching and Christian teaching in the New Testament (this is for us, these readers had no New Testament), and a oneness with Him Who is the truth (John 14:6). This will then result in total honesty in word and life.

Having Faced Them with The Need For Renewal Paul Now Warns Against The Fleshly Sins To Which They Have Been Subject, But Assures Them That This Does Not Involve Having To Avoid Pagan Sinners (Although They Have To Avoid Their Sins). It Means Rather The Exclusion of Christians Whose Sins Are of a Severe Kind (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)


Verse 9

‘I wrote to you in my letter to have no company with fornicators.’

Corinth was famous for its licentiousness and this had permeated the Christian church, helped on by false teaching. Paul had written to them previously concerning this, warning them against sexual misbehaviour and those who indulged in it, and had warned them to avoid such people. But they had failed to do so. This demonstrated that their failure to deal with the problem was not due to their being unsure what they should do, but to their lax attitude. However, there had been some misunderstanding of what he meant so he now sought to clear this up.


Verse 10

‘Not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters. For then it would be necessary for you to go out of the world.’

He points out that he was not talking about dealings with non-Christians when he said avoid such people. Otherwise Christians would never have anything to do with any non-Christians, for they all disobey the commandments. Thus, while their ways must not be followed, and their sins must not be partaken of (Ephesians 5:7; 1 Timothy 5:22), Christians may have general dealings with them and befriend them. Judgment of them can be left to the judgment of God.

This does not necessarily mean that his teaching had not been clear. It may well be that he had expressed it clearly in a general sense but that it had been distorted by his critics who had wanted to bring him into disrepute, which they had done by deliberately misinterpreting what he had said.

Now he includes not just sexual immorality but also misbehaviour of any kind. If they were to avoid all immoral people, all greedy and ambitious people, all deceivers, cheats and blackmailers, and all idolaters, there would be no one left for them to keep company with in everyday life. And that would make life impossible. The only way to achieve it would be to leave the world altogether, and as slaves or employees many of them could not do that.


Verse 11

‘But now I write to you not to keep company if any man who is named a brother is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such a one not to eat.’

However, when those who claim to be Christians behave in the ways described they are to be ostracised by fellow-Christians because they are bringing the name of Christ into disrepute. They are not to be openly acknowledged as brothers in front of the outside world. Nevertheless they are not to be counted as an enemy but admonished as a brother in private, because the purpose of the ostracism is to restore them to repentance (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). Christians regularly met, not only for worship, but also for fellowship meals. So those described must be excluded from such meals and thus from the Lord’s Table. Note the sixfold description below and their connection with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which says that such people will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God. This is why it is so important. Not to exclude them would give a false impression that they were safely under the Kingly Rule of God;

A fornicator. One who indulges in sexual immorality either by adultery or other illicit sex. All sex not based on a permanent relationship is included, whether heterosexuality or homosexuality.

· Covetous. Being greedy for gain. Having a fixed desire for something that someone else has (see 1 Timothy 6:10 with reference to money) in contrast with being satisfied with such as one has (Hebrews 13:5). Paul elsewhere calls such behaviour idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5) because it means the person is putting that thing before God. It is not even to be named among them (Ephesians 5:3).

· An idolater. One who by any behaviour compromises with pagan religion. Many activities in Corinth were directly related to idols, and to partake in them would be seen as paying homage to those idols (see 1 Corinthians 10:27-28). Even eating something openly declared to have been previously offered to an idol is included, for that would suggest to outsiders that the Christian was seeking to participate in benefits from that idol.

· A reviler. An abusive person. Someone who runs down or wrongly criticises others, or who causes dissension by what he says of others.

· A drunkard. One who overindulges in alcohol (Luke 21:34) and may thus be a nuisance, an abuser, dangerous to others or may spoil fellowship by raucous behaviour (1 Corinthians 11:21-22). Jesus often used the idea to depict the bad servant who was unready for his lord’s coming and failed to fulfil his responsibilities (Matthew 24:49; Luke 12:45). Drunkenness is a sign of overindulgence and unworthiness.

· An extortioner. A thief, a swindler, a cheat, one who obtains money by false pretences or for unsatisfactory work.

But these are, of course, major examples. The treatment would apply to any open sin which is against the commandments of God.


Verse 12-13

‘For what have I to do with judging those who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside, while those who are outside God judges? Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.’

It is not Paul’s business to act as an official judge on non-Christians, those outside the church, nor is it the church’s. They can be left to the civil authorities. What he means by a judge here is one who passes a verdict which results in civil punishment. Clearly he is to pass judgment on them as being sinners and as being in need of mercy. But it is not for him in that case to exact the punishment. That is in God’s hands.

But those who claim to be Christians and are in the church thereby submit themselves to the judgment of the church, and are subject to the discipline of the church. They are claiming to be under the Kingly Rule of God. Therefore they must put away the man whom he has earlier described, and all who behave openly sinfully, so that they no longer come among them living a life of pretence (1 Corinthians 5:1), but come to repentance.

‘Put away (or ‘drive out’) the wicked man from among yourselves.’ Or alternately ‘put away the evil (or ‘wickedness’) from among yourselves’. (‘Poneron’ can be masculine or neuter). For this compare Deuteronomy 17:7; Deuteronomy 22:24 LXX where the same verb is used and the remainder of the sentence follows exactly. See also Deuteronomy 13:5. Paul’s words here are a command to follow that Scriptural example.

Some take the words as meaning ‘put away the Evil One from among yourselves’. But the above direct references from Deuteronomy exclude that as the basic meaning, although the idea is similar. By putting the wicked man out, and by putting away evil they are effectively putting away the Evil One. (On the other hand they are also committing them to the Satan, the Evil One- 1 Corinthians 5:5 - which demonstrates that it is not he directly who is being ‘put out’).

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-corinthians-5.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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