1 - 5 Sin In the Church
1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 [I have decided] to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
It is not that easy to comment on this important chapter in a simple way. This chapter is of great importance indeed. Here you have one of the principal sections from the New Testament, where you can read what the local church should do when it appears that there is sin in their midst.
There is no local church that can prevent that someone sins. The church consists of believers who are unfortunately still able to sin. Only, the big question is: how does the church respond in a case when somebody’s sin has become known? The answer on this question is also important in order to identify whether a faith community can truly be called a church. If the members take the presence of sin lightly and do not heed the call to put it away, then you do not have to do with a church of God.
Before you continue to read this chapter, you should first see that there is a difference between falling into sin and living in sin. The difference is this: Falling into sin means that we do something that is sinful; we are committing a wrong deed. But living in sin is not something you do just once; it is having a sinful practice in everyday life. It is terrible when somebody commits adultery once, but it is most terrible when he is living in adultery. That is the point in this chapter.
There is something else that you should know and that is that we should not deal in the same way with all sins. For example: You see a brother or sister committing a sin. He or she is doing something that is against the will of God. What should you do? Should you tell that to the church straight away, meaning all brothers and sisters? No, you should not! What you should do, is to be read in Matthew 18 (Mt 18:15-17). Briefly it says that you should first go to the person to try to win him. If you do not succeed, you should try it once more with someone else (one or two) to win the other person. If you still do not succeed to make that person confess his or her sin, only then you should tell the church. Then the church will intervene on this issue.
Imagine the case that you could have convinced the other person of what is wrong in a personal conversation. He or she would have then confessed that to God and – if the sin was done against another person – to the one to whom the sin was done. Nobody else would have then known about it. Just realize what would have happened if you had gone straight away to the church and had told the others what you’d seen. That really might have damaged the other person terribly, who is a brother or sister.
V1. Here in Corinth it is about a terrible sin. It is about a case of sexual immorality as was not even named among the Gentiles. The Gentiles, who lived without God, lived in all kinds of lusts and debauchery. But what was found here in the church of God, was unacceptable, even to the Gentiles. You may ask yourself if something like that is really possible with a believer. Yes, such a thing is possible. Never think that you, now you are a believer, are not able to do something like that. He who thinks so, has not learnt the lesson from Romans 7, where it says: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom 7:18). That shouldn’t be a lesson you’ve learnt by heart, but it should be a deep inner conviction. The more you are aware of that, the more you will be kept from falling into sin.
V2. How did the believers in Corinth respond to this sin? They actually acted as if there was nothing wrong. They were really not worried at all. On the contrary, they had “become arrogant”, which means that they pretended to be greater than they were; they were very proud of themselves. After all, they had so many gifts, hadn’t they? Paul refutes that. He says that mourning, being sad about what had happened, would have been more appropriate to them. Then he who had sinned, would have been put away from among them. For it is inconceivable that sin within the church can remain, isn’t it? We cannot connect God to sin, can we? It is impossible to God and the Lord Jesus to remain in a church where sin remains.
Thus the point was that the Corinthians had not become sad for what had happened among them. They were insensitive about the fact that somebody among them lived in such a sinful way. On top of that, this deed was everywhere reported (verse 1)! What a dishonor to the Lord Jesus. If they would have had any sense of the holiness of God, wouldn’t they have bowed deeply to the Lord and confessed before Him that such a thing had happened among them? You can be sure about it that the Lord then would have made clear what had to be done.
For us that is also important. Imagine that sin in the church has become public and it is about a sin that is even reported as a disgrace in the (civilized) world. Wasn’t that the case in Corinth? What would we do? Do we react as if there is nothing wrong? Do we just go on with our gatherings as if nothing has happened and glory ourselves that we have received so many blessings? Or do we mourn about it? Do we feel ashamed of ourselves? Do we take it to the Lord and ask Him what we should do? I hope we do the latter.
V3-5. To Paul the case was clear. To him long stories with a thousand apologies were needless. He had already delivered the evildoer to satan. What Paul is doing here is a personal deed. As an apostle he had the authority to do that. We cannot do something like this.
You see that he does that with a view to the salvation of the evildoer. The flesh had to be destructed, but the spirit to be saved. The evildoer was following the desires of his flesh. By delivering him to satan, an unlimited freedom was given to satan in order to make him feel what the flesh actually is. Thus satan is an instrument here in the hand of God in order to make one of His children feel how foolish it is to seek his own pleasure. That it is about a believer here appears from the second letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 2 and chapter 7 of that letter you read about the good effect of the measures applied.
Even though it was a personal deed of Paul as an apostle, he did not do it apart from the Corinthians. He felt himself spiritually related to them. He expected that the Corinthians would have felt that way too. Then they would have also fitted in with the way Paul dealt with the evildoer. For it is important that a disciplinary measure, applied on a believer, is acknowledged by everyone. That means that when a person is to be put away from among the church, everyone should cooperate. Such a person really has to come to stand alone.
This measure seems rigid. It can also give the impression that the believers, who have to do this, feel better themselves. But is obedience to God’s Word something that we do because we are better, or to make us feel better? Is it not our duty? In addition to that, we need to admit that, in essence, the evildoer is not worse than we are. We are exactly like him. If we realize that, it will keep us from a rigid attitude.
In a family you see the same. Parents have to discipline their children if they do bad things. Parents don’t do that because they are better, but they want to obey God’s Word and they also want to protect their children against worse things. Parents should not punish their children in a fit of anger and rage. Parents who really love their children, shall discipline them in love, because they know that (a right) punishment shall have a good effect.
One more thing: the church has received the power and authority for taking the measure from the Lord Jesus. The church is the church of Jesus Christ. Thus, the disciplinary measures taken by one local church, regarding a person among them, applies also for all local churches in the whole world (cf. 1Cor 4:17). That means, that a person who has been put away from the church in A, is not supposed to be accepted as a believer by the church in B.
Now read 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 again.
Reflection: What should you do, when it appears that there is sin in the local church?
6 - 13 Remove the Wicked Man From Among Yourselves
6 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. 9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I [did] not at all [mean] with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within [the church]? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
Things were not right in Corinth. In spite of that, Paul started this letter by addressing them as “the church of God which is at Corinth”. Because that was the case, Paul could and had to correct them. When they would not heed to what he wrote to them, only then would they not be a church of God anymore. That still applies to us nowadays. Only when a group of believers pay heed to what Paul has written in his letters, under the guidance of God’s Spirit, you can recognize such a group as a ‘church’ of God.
Needless to say we should pay heed to the entire Bible, because the whole Bible is the Word of God. Nevertheless, it is primarily the letters of Paul, from which many Christians have deviated. And from the letters of Paul it is mainly the first letter to the Corinthians to which many Christians have given their own explanation. That’s the reason why so many churches and denominations have arisen. If you want to know about what and how a church should be in our time, you should read the first letter to the Corinthians.
V6. As it is said, it was far from ideal there in Corinth. They boasted in their blessings, while the rudest evil happened among them, without them taking any notice of it at all. This attitude is being rebuked by Paul clearly in verses 1-5.
In verse 6 he clarifies one more thing. That too is important. He compares the evil, the sin, with leaven. To understand why he makes this comparison, you should first know what leaven is. Leaven is a substance, as yeast or baking powder, which causes fermentation and expansion of dough or batter. So when this substance of leaven is put in the dough, it slowly leavens the whole dough and the dough becomes totally leavened. This picture of the leavening effect of just a bit of leaven is being used by Paul here. In fact, this word is mentioned more often in the Bible. And everywhere you read about leaven in the Bible, it is a picture of the evil, the sin.
As it appears from the example of leaven, sin is not only something that concerns the person who sins, but it is also something that affects other people. When sin is not put away from among the church, the consequence is that God sees the whole church as a sinful church. It does not necessarily mean that the other people live in the same sin. Paul doesn’t say that everyone at Corinth has now become sexually immoral people. Because of the fact that they, however, did not deal with the sin that was found among them, he had to tell them that they made themselves one with the sin.
V7. What did they have to do now? What should we do when sin has become apparent? The order is “clean out the old leaven.” That means that sin has to be put away. If the person who has committed the sin doesn’t want to confess that sin, he has to be removed. If that happens, the church becomes a new lump again. After all, the church is an unleavened dough, isn’t it? That means: the church consists of believers who know that God has taken away their sins, which are judged in the work of the Lord Jesus, isn’t that true?
The Lord Jesus is presented here as “our Passover”. By this Paul reminds the Corinthians of Exodus 12. There they could (and you can) read that the Passover was a feast that was celebrated by the Israelites, right before they were liberated from Egypt. The father of the family took a lamb and killed it. The blood of that lamb was put on the doorposts and on the lintel. That was done under God’s command. God actually said that He would send an angel out into the land to kill all the firstborn. However, when he saw the blood on the doorposts, he would then pass by. It was, as it were, that death has already been there. The lamb had died instead of the firstborn. In that way we know that “Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed”.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. After Exodus 12 he also reminds the Corinthians of Exodus 13. Actually, after keeping the Passover, the Feast of the unleavened bread followed. That was a feast which lasted seven days and in those seven days, actually, the whole life of the believers is being pictured. Can you somewhat see the association? It is a fact that with Israel the Feast of the unleavened bread came after the Passover. The application for us, the church, is that the death of Christ should have the effect that we do not give room to sin anymore in our entire life.
But yet, when sin does enter the life of a believer, he or she is supposed to deal with it immediately and purge it out or take it away. That means that sin has to be confessed before God and, if necessary, before the persons affected, and it has to be forsaken. Only then does their practice harmonize with their position. What I tried to make clear to you can be summarized in a couple of words: Christ and sin cannot go together.
And what to do when a local church doesn’t deal with it in this way and doesn’t purge out the evil? In 2 Timothy 2 we find the command for each believer of that local church, who wants to deal with it according to the will of God (2Tim 2:21). There it is said that such person himself should depart from there. He should ‘purge himself out’. Afterwards he should seek others who also did that, in order to call on the Lord together out of a pure heart (2Tim 2:19-22).
V8. After the appeal to purge out sin, comes the appeal in verse 8 to keep the feast. By this feast is not meant what I once saw on a T-shirt: a couple of large foaming beer glasses and below it says: ‘Life is one big party.’ That kind of feast belongs to the old leaven. We are really keeping the feast when we live for the Lord Jesus. He is the truly unleavened bread. In His life there was nothing of sin. In everything He lived for His Father and that was His pleasure.
V9-10. The world around us is full of people who live in most terrible sins. It is not possible to avoid those contacts in everyday life. You deal with them at school, at your working place, in your neighborhood. Therefore when Paul says that we shouldn’t keep company with sexual immoral people, he doesn’t mean the people in the world around us.
V11. No, by that he means “any so-called brother”, while such a person is living in sin. He calls himself a believer, and he indeed might be a believer too, but he doesn’t live accordingly. On the contrary, his life is in contrast with the Bible. (By the way, the list of sins that follows in verse 11, is not meant to give a complete overview of possible sins with which the church should deal. In this list you do not find for example the murderer and the thief.)
We should not keep company with “any so-called brother”, but who lives in sin. We shouldn’t even have supper with him just like that. Therefore it is totally inconceivable that such a person should still participate in the Lord’s Supper.
V12-13. In this respect we have nothing to do with the people of the world. Those people will be judged by God in His time, but in the meantime we still have the opportunity to preach the gospel to them so they can escape from that judgment. But the church does have the responsibility to judge those who belong to the church. Evil has to be put away from among the church.
Sometimes it is said that discipline is not to be practiced in the church. People refer to Matthew 13 to prove that (Mt 13:29). However, if you read that section carefully, you see that it doesn’t concern the church, but it concerns the kingdom of heaven. You don’t have to be deceived by that.
When there is real love for the Lord Jesus and for His church, we will never ever allow something in the church that dishonors Him. The important thing is that we choose God’s side towards sin.
Now read 1 Corinthians 5:6-13 again.
Reflection: Why is it that important that evil should be removed from among the church?