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1 Corinthians 5

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1 Corinthians 5:1-2… It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?


            Though Paul’s tone at the end of chapter 4 seemed to be lightening up a bit as he lectured the immature believers in Corinth, chapter 5 contains a harsh rebuke directed at the church there for allowing the sin of incest to continue without ramifications. Paul is acutely aware of the fact that an unnamed man in the Corinthian church was having an incestuous affair with his stepmother. The report he had gotten was that there was “sexual immorality” among them. The Greek word here is porneia – from whence we get “pornography.” It is a general Greek term used in the Bible in reference to homosexuality, prostitution, lust, premarital sex, and even apostasy and idolatry. Here it refers to incest – a sin not even tolerated by pagans in the Roman empire. It was one of the few crimes that all surrounding societies agreed was reprehensible, and it was punishable by beatings and even death. It was of course strictly forbidden in Jewish law (Mosaic Law) in Leviticus 18:6-8; 20:11. In those passages it is spoken of as “uncovering the nakedness” which is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Such a sin was to result in being “cut off from their people” – another euphemism for capital punishment, being stoned to death.

            The man “living with his father’s wife” was clearly a professed believer in Jesus Christ, for Paul is not in the habit of judging those outside of the faith (cf. vv. 9-13). The fact that the woman is not rebuked attests to the fact that she was not part of the fellowship in Corinth.

            Verse 2 explains why Paul is angry. Putting aside the atrocity of such a sin within the Christian church, Paul appears more horrified by the fact that amidst this problem the church there is “arrogant” by ignoring the problem. Of course this isn’t a new accusation from Paul, but in light of the terrible sins that existed among them they seemed to be content with God’s grace. They were arrogant and boastful over the fact that their church was so open-minded as to allow such sinful people – who professed to be Christians – to go on sinning as they did. Their pursuit of “worldly wisdom” had led them to take advantage of God’s grace and mercy, and it was destroying the temple of God – a crime for which God will in turn destroy those who do as much (cf. 3:16-17). Paul suggests that instead of being arrogant over their newfound freedom they should be “mourning.” This is the same word used in the Bible for grieving for the dead – perhaps the deepest and most painful type of grief and mourning. All sins are to be mourned, and Paul’s anger seems more directed at the church for allowing this sin to continue instead of mourning its presence among them. Their “mourning” was supposed to lead them to remove the offender from their midst. But instead this church was “arrogant” – they were smug over it!

Food for Thought

            Paul was angry not only with the sin in the church but also the fact that nothing was being done about it. Unfortunately many folks today mock God’s grace through their “open-mindedness.” Romans 3:8 addresses those who believe God continually forgives blatant sin: “Their condemnation is deserved!” And Rom. 6:1 says, “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? May it never be!” Anyone who believes they can freely sin and yet remain guilt-free because of Christ’s death for them is clearly not saved. They are ones whom Jesus, upon coming back to the earth to take his children, will say, “I never knew you. Depart from me you doers of evil.” Don’t mock God’s grace. The church is obligated to discipline such people in their midst.

1 Corinthians 5:3-5… For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord.


            Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians in 5:2 was to remove the man from their community who was guilty of incest. In verse 3, though Paul was not physically present in Corinth at the time of his writing, he tells them “I am present in spirit.” They were to act just as if he were there because he was. The “in spirit” can also mean that he’s present in Spirit – that is with the Holy Spirit. Dr. Gordon Fee says, “He is emphasizing the fact that he is indeed present in the Holy Spirit. This is why he can act as he does.” And because Paul was present among the Corinthians in the Holy Spirit he is acting in accordance with the Holy Spirit by pronouncing “judgment” on the incestuous man who claims to be a Christian. The very phrase “in the name of the Lord Jesus” shows where Paul was getting his authority to pass such judgment, but the “judgment” Paul passed on this man cannot be understood as the final judgment sending him to eternal hell.

            Verse 4 is the prescription for disciplining blatant sin. The second sentence of verse 4 speaks of a corporate assembly where the “you” is plural. In other words, when the church in Corinth gathered again Paul said that his “spirit” would be present “with the power of our Lord Jesus.” His “spirit” is better translated as “his Spirit” – meaning his Holy Spirit that was also their Holy Spirit. In other words, when they gathered corporately with the power of the Lord Jesus, the same Holy Spirit that saved their souls and sealed them all for eternal salvation would be present along with their brother Paul who was had already passed judgment on the unnamed man committing incest. This illustrates Matt. 18:20… “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I with them.” The arrogant ones rested in their belief that Paul wasn’t returning (4:18), but they failed to recognize that Paul AND Jesus were already present in Spirit.

            Verse 5 gives the prescription for the church’s response to blatant arrogant sinners. When gathered together in the power of the Lord Jesus the church was to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh…” Though a difficult passage, it is not without clear meaning. The task of the church was to rid itself of anything/anyone that puts the name of Christ in a bad light. As such they were to take the incestuous man and place him outside of their fellowship back into the realm of Satan’s world where his “principalities and powers” continually rule over and destroy God’s creation. The destruction of the flesh cannot be interpreted as death, for Paul in other places encourages restoration – a difficult task if death is in view. But it is feasible to interpret the “destruction” as physical suffering at the hands of Satan with the underlying purpose “so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord.” Paul simply commands the man be cast outside the church community to suffer at the hands of Satan so that he will long for the fellowship of the Christian community with his salvation fully realized at Christ’s second advent.

Food for Thought

            Today’s “tolerant” church is far removed from a place where the Spirit is truly felt. In churches where Jesus Christ is really worshipped and the power of the Spirit is really present a separation from such is excruciatingly painful. The church must discipline accordingly, for exclusion from church promotes redemption. If you attend church sparingly and don’t miss it, the problem lies either with you or it. It’s supposed to hurt to be separated from Christ’s church.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8… Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.


            In 5:6-8 Paul uses a metaphor of dough/leaven to describe the Corinthians and their problems. The dough represents the church in Corinth; the leaven represents sin that had entered into the church. Leaven is a fermented substance used to make sourdough bread, and just a tiny bit of it sours the whole batch. Paul’s analogy is akin to “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel.” The Corinthians, the dough, were full of leaven, as it were, and they knew it not. If they did, they wouldn’t have been boasting. They were like a man with no arms or legs who dares his opponent to a fight. The ridiculousness of their attitude shows how oblivious they were to their sin.

            In verse 7 Paul tells them to clean up their act. In doing so they would have to get rid of the man who was guilty of incest (turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh) because he was the leaven corrupting the entire lump of dough, as it were. If they acted accordingly they would be like a new lump of dough – representative of God’s creatures who have been made into new people once they come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (cf. 2 Corinthians. 5:17). They would become what they already were. You see, that’s what they already were – new creatures in Christ, and because this was so they were to “clean out the old leaven…” If they weren’t already new creatures in Christ then they would have been unable to clean out the old leaven. Paul’s command to clean it out by casting the sinner over to Satan was only something he would tell Christians to do because it’s an action only Christians can do. Pagans simply can’t.

            The last phrase in verse 7 has the Jews’ exodus from Egypt in view under Moses. It was way back in the 15th century BC that God set His people free from Egyptian bondage and led them into their own land – the land of Palestine where they dwell even today. Those who were able to leave Egypt put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts, and as the death angel “passed over” their homes he spared the lives of their firstborn children. Paul says that “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed” referring to his death on the cross. Now as the Jews were separated from the Egyptians so too are believers from their old lives and its corruptions.

            Once the meaning of verse 7 is realized, verse 8 makes perfect sense. The “therefore” draws the logical conclusion about how the Christian life is to be lived, namely, in celebration of the Passover feast (through Christ’s blood and death) and through a life separated from the old leaven… indicative of cruelty and wickedness (worldly wisdom and sexual misconduct). The new life in Christ is lived with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Food for Thought

            Of course the boasting of the Corinthians wasn’t good! They had a terrible sin in their midst, and in the name of inclusive Christianity, where everyone goes to heaven in the end in spite of their sins (a doctrine foreign to scripture), they were quite proud of themselves. They had “arrived” in the name of a new religion outside of Christ crucified – a blasphemous religion that integrates concepts of worldly theology, sexual promiscuity, and God’s grace. The sacrilege comes from thinking that God winks at sin because He’s a God of love. When we are possessed by the doctrine of Christ crucified, however, we become “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Our obedience to Christ as our Passover lamb keeps us from the leaven of wickedness.

1 Corinthians 5:9-13… I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 In no way did I mean the immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. 11 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. 12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.


Paul first met the Corinthians in Acts 18 when he laid the foundation of Christ crucified. Later he wrote a letter to them which is now lost. Verse 9 alludes to that letter, and sheds some light as to its contents, namely, “not to associate with sexually immoral people.” Apparently the church misunderstood that and took it to mean that everyone who was sexually immoral should be shunned – a very difficult idea in the sexually promiscuous city of Corinth. The teaching in vv. 10-11, however, is that Christians are not to associate with those who call themselves Christians and yet exhibit immoral lifestyles. The so-called “believers” who acted like pagans were to be shunned according to v. 11. But v. 10 says that those who do not make such claims to be believers in Christ, and yet who act like pagans, are not to be shunned. To do that one would have to go to another planet because the world is filled with people like that, and there would be no escaping them. Verse 11 is clear-cut teaching then, that Christians are not to associate with men who are involved in sexual immorality, drunkenness, and all the other pagan-like behaviors.

            Paul lists six behaviors to watch out for in reference to people who call themselves believers. First, the sexually immoral – those involved in any sexual activity outside of marriage. Second, greedy people – a sin that involves not only the desire for what one does not possess but also the willingness to defraud others to get it. Third, idolaters – those who would prioritize anything over Christ. Fourth, verbally abusive people – those who verbally attack anyone in retaliation for their attacks on others. Proper Christian behavior is to remain silent. Fifth, drunkards were to be shunned – those given to excess alcohol. Finally, swindlers were to be shunned because they are extortionists who steal money from others. What a shame that Christians could even be named in the same sentence as these sins – both then and now.

            It’s important to note that Paul was not saying that Christians had to be perfect in order to associate with one another. His point was that those who persist in the very activities they have been freed from following their faith in Christ must be shunned. It involves not those who fight with past sins but those who continue in their previous lifestyle. Their own persistence in their former way of life is what separates them from the community of believers. In essence, it’s their own choice to be shunned, but it is important to note that Paul’s command to shun these sinners likely involves only the corporate gathering of worship, not individual contact. Paul’s similar words in 2 Thes. 3:15 seem to allow for individual fellowship with those shunned corporately.

Food for Thought

            Verses 12-13 sums up the whole matter: Christians who behave immorally are to be banned from the church until such a time as they can turn from their ways. The church has the charge to critique sinful behavior coming from its members, and blatant sin must not be tolerated. Doing so pollutes God’s temple – the church body of believers. Verse 13, however, says that judgment toward those who do not profess to be Christians is God’s prerogative. He Himself will judge them, but Christians are “remove the evil [people] from among them.”


God is pure, and those who represent Him must be also. The church is that representation of Jesus Christ – God incarnate. When He called Israel to represent Him on the earth He gave them the strictest of laws through His servant Moses. It was strict because it reflects His holiness. When He led them into the Promised Land of Canaan He commanded them to wipe out the Canaanites – not a race of people as much as it is a designation of people given to sexual perversion and misconduct. His command to annihilate them was because God knew that their sexually perverted practices would take root among his holy people – a people called out of the world to be holy. When they failed to heed God’s command they became corrupted by the sins of the Canaanites. As time passed God allowed their sins to reach its inevitable conclusion: captivity and exile – destruction. God then sent His Son, and the church was born following his ascension into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Now it is the church who, not Israel, who represents God on the earth. It is through the church that Christ is honored, represented, and glorified. Unfortunately sexual misconduct has long since taken root in the church, and as long as we continue to exist as the entity by which Christ is represented we have a moral obligation and a specific commission to rid ourselves of all impurity. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5 address this issue head on, just a few years after the establishment of Christ’s church.

Destruction of the flesh

  1. His purpose is not in the “destruction” but in the final salvation of the man
  2. Paul never expresses death using this term
  3. The relationship in 11:30-32 Paul makes a judgment after the fact.
  4. In v. 11 the fact that they weren’t supposed to eat with him means that death wasn’t in focus.
  5. Paul doesn’t make it a habit of judging one w/o giving them a chance at restoration.
    • Second Cor. 2:5-11 says that restoration is in view
    • Gal. 6:1; 2 Thes. 3:14-15 both speak of restoration, not death.
  6. This is typical of Paul in his separation of the flesh and the spirit
  7. Paul wanted what was carnal in the man to be destroyed so that he might be saved eschatologically.
  8. Spirit refers to the whole person as directed towards God; Flesh refers to the whole person as directed away from God. The destruction of one’s sinful nature (NIV) would then belong to the same category of “crucifying it” (cf. Gal. 5:24; Rom. 7:5-6).
  9. This refers to the ad hoc church discipline similar to that of 2 Thes. 3:6-15
  10. This text refers to church discipline as coming from the church itself
  11. The ultimate reason for the discipline was remedial not judgmental.
  12. This kind of discipline is reserved for contaminating sins (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19-20)
  13. Unfortunately people normally just find another church
  14. Most significant is how far removed we are from a view of the church in which the dynamic of the Spirit was so real that exclusion could be a genuinely redemptive action.
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