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Scripture reading – 1 Corinthians 5
We continue our chronological Scripture reading focusing today on the 5th chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the believers of Corinth. We can gather that Apollos, whom Paul left behind to minister in Corinth, had sent news of dissension and conflicts that threatened to divide the congregation. As we studied 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, we observed where Paul addressed a polarization of believers around some of the leadership personalities of the first century church. Sadly, and through no fault of their own, Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (Peter) had a following of believers whose affections for them had become a point of conflict and division (1:11-13; 3:3-4). After confronting the carnality of believers in the church in Corinth, Paul reminded them the only one in whom they should glory was the Lord Jesus Christ. Every minister has his calling and gifts from God, and it is He who blesses and “[gives] the increase” (3:6).
Paul continued the subject of servant leadership in 1 Corinthians 4, making mention that the essential requirement of ministers is that they are faithful (4:2). Yet, Paul’s concern was not the judgment of men, but the judgment and approval of God (4:3-4). The apostle was so burdened for the congregation in Corinth, that he promised to send Timothy to exhort and instruct them (4:16-17). Then, Paul proposed a question that introduced a matter of immorality falling falsely under the guise of love, and had been tolerated in the congregation. Paul asked, “What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (4:21)
Having heard gross immorality was tolerated in the church, Paul wrote, “It is reported commonly that there is fornication [sexual immorality; adultery] among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife [referring to the sin of incest]” (5:1).
The latter phrase, “his father’s wife” (5:1), would indicate the sin of incest was committed between a man and his stepmother, and not his mother. Nevertheless, although the heathen of Corinth practiced idol worship and tolerated all manner of sexual perversity in the name of religion, a son lying with his father’s wife was loathed even by Corinthian society.
Rather than feel shame, the Corinthian believers boasted of their tolerance, “being puffed up” (5:2). While Paul was unable to address the sin in person at Corinth, he left no doubt what he expected must be done (5:3). Exercising the authority of Christ and his apostleship, Paul commanded the immoral son be “taken away” (5:2, 5). Such wickedness would not be tolerated in the church, and the perpetrator of wickedness was to be cast out, and delivered “unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (5:5).
What purpose did “church discipline” or excommunication serve? (5:5)
By withdrawing fellowship, the sinner would feel and bear the weight of his sin (its shame, sorrow, even physical sickness, disease, and death). The spiritual goal was to see the man repent of his sin, before he faced “the day of the Lord Jesus,” meaning the judgment of God (5:5).
We are once again reminded how the world and sin have not changed. The sin of the 21st century church is no different than the sins of the 1st century church of Corinth. Fornication (sexual immorality outside the covenant of marriage) is epidemic in the world and the church. The sanctity of marriage has been sacrificed, and adultery and divorce are named within the church as much as in the world. Pornography is rampant, as men and women, inflamed by wanton sexual desires, commit adultery with their eyes (Matthew 5:28). Tragically, the pulpits of churches across the world are wrecked with sexual scandals.
A Spiritual Directive (5:6-8)
Confronting the piety of the believers in Corinth who believed the tolerance of a sinner was evidence of love and compassion, Paul admonished, “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (5:6). The mention of leaven harkened back to the first Passover (Exodus 12:12-14), and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15, 19-20). Understanding leaven (like our use of yeast), needs time to permeate the dough to cause bread to rise, Paul warned sin (like leaven in dough), will spread through a congregation until the whole church is infected.
Understanding leaven represented the sins and idolatry of Egypt (a type of the world), Paul commanded the believers, “Purge [clean out] out therefore the old leaven [sin, in this case, incest], that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (5:7). The hypocrisy of the Corinthian church was tragic, and Paul reminded the Corinthians how Christ was sacrificed for our sins (5:7). Tragically, they had tolerated “malice and wickedness” in their midst, though they had the promise of enjoying the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (5:8).
There is one answer to gross immorality in the church–it must be purged (5:8). After all, sin is like a “little leaven,” it will infect the whole.
Because the church has been unwilling to “put away” sin in its midst, it has lost its moral authority and influence in the world. (5:9-13)
Believers are not to tolerate sin in the fellowship (5:9-13), and a church that does so trifles with God’s judgment. As you will see in our study in 2 Corinthians, the man whom Paul urged to be cast out of the church, would later repent and be restored. Nevertheless, while confession and repentance is the answer to sin (1 John 1:9), believers should remember sexual immorality is a disqualification for those who hold positions of spiritual leadership. Pastors and deacons are to be “blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, 10, 12).
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