This next chapter Paul uses a report about one who seems to have “fallen away from the faith” and how the Corinthians have chosen to deal with him. This is important to note that it is only an example that Paul uses to introduce a larger principle. We can easily focus in on just the act itself and think this is what Paul is talking about, but rather he is talking about all sinfulness. Let’s also pay attention to how Paul says the man should be dealt with.
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
5 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. 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.
Before we move forward, I’d like to draw your attention to 2 Thessalonians 3, where Paul instructs the church at Thessalonica about dealing with someone who is acting outside of the will of God and treating him with loving discipline. We all need to be exhorted and reproved from time to time. Paul’s exhortation here about this man is that they continue letting him continue with sinful behavior but instead of teaching him with the truth of God, rather they are boasting about their own piety. We cannot lose sight of Paul’s meaning here: that this person needs to be corrected for 3 reasons: 1) so that the rest of the world understands that this type of behavior is not that of God 2) so that the man himself can be delivered from the slavery of this pattern of sinfulness 3) so that the others will not be enticed to compromise their freedom for this or a similar slavery of sin. I’d like to also point out in this passage that Paul’s reference to “immorality” is sexual promiscuity outside of marriage.
Paul mentions that he has judged this man without being there and that he decided to deliver such a one to Satan. Now, if we stopped right there, it would seem as though Paul doesn’t care about this guy and they should just throw him to the wolves to be devoured. Let us not fall to the deception of cut and paste theology, however. Paul’s meaning here is actually to help him. The judging part is about calling the man out on his sinfulness. You see, when we are caught up in sinfulness, the enemy gets our thinking process all twisted up. We begin to believe the lies of the devil and are not able to resist on our own. This is why we need a community of bold and honest believers around us so when we start going astray, they can shine some light on the darkness of our lives and begin the process of healing, recovery, and freedom from the bondage we have found ourselves in.
Next, I think it is important to explain what Paul means about delivering the man to Satan. His point is “for the destruction of the flesh, said of the external ills and troubles by which the lusts of the flesh are subdued and destroyed.” In other words, sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we finally decide to look up. Some people seem “beyond help” because they won’t listen to what others have to say because it is contrary to their current deceived way of thinking. In this case, the Church at Corinth practically has cheered him on by letting him continue this way. What now will he say if his friends, and family start telling him he is wrong? What have you done in the past when someone tried telling you that you were being sinful in some action you were doing? Some folks just won’t listen until they experience the truth themselves. Sometimes we just have to fall flat on our face to understand that we shouldn’t have been doing what we were doing. Paul calls this person a “so-called brother” because if he truly was a brother, then either he wouldn’t be acting that way or if he were, he would listen when others try to correct him.
I’m grateful for Paul’s clarification about what he means by judging those within “the brotherhood” instead of those outside. The point is that those who proclaim to be believers and followers of Jesus Christ know better. Not only do they know the difference between right and wrong, but as partakers of the freedom of Jesus, we should desire to be corrected as a part of the sanctification process. If we do not, then we are missing something and are merely an imposter. Paul is helping the Corinthians regain purity of heart and spirit. We too should strive for this. We have been offered the opportunity to be freed from the oppression of sinfulness, the cell is open but we have to walk out. As we continue to learn how to follow Jesus in freedom, we need to be open for exhortation.
In Psalm 139, King David pleads for God to cleanse him of the sinful desires of flesh. As painful as it sometimes is, the freedom we experience as a result is like none other. Nobody likes to be told they are doing something wrong; but, when we swallow our pride and with the help of the Holy Spirit and others position ourselves to be sanctified, there is no greater feeling. Want to “feel good” about yourself? Let the work of the Holy Spirit cleanse you from the dirt of the flesh so you can live freely and on purpose.