1 Corinthians 5

1 Corinthians 5  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 8
As WE READ the opening verses of chapter v., we see that the Corinthians quite deserved the rod of which Paul spoke, as he closed chapter 4. There was a very grave case of immorality in their midst. Corinth was a licentious city, and the standard of morality amongst the Gentiles was deplorably low, yet even they avoided the particular sin which had been perpetrated by this professing Christian. The thing had not been done in secret. It was known on all hands.
But though it was a matter of common report the assembly at Corinth had taken no action. That was bad enough, but they aggravated their indifference by their conceit. Possibly they might have pleaded that as yet they had no instructions what to do in such a case. But this, if true, was no real excuse, for a very small measure of spiritual sensibility would have led them to mourn for the dishonor done to the Lord’s name, and also to pray that God would interfere by removing the evil-doer from their midst. Instead of this they were “puffed up” with a foolish and baseless pride.
In verses 3 to 5 we see the holy vigor and decision which marked Paul in contrast to the supine indecision of the Corinthians. They should have been gathered together in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and acted in the putting away of the wicked person from among themselves, as indicated in the last verse of the chapter. They had not done so. Paul steps into the breach, judges and acts with Apostolic authority, though associating the Corinthians with his judgment and act. Such an one as this he would deliver unto Satan, for even Satan may be used for the disciplining of a guilty saint.
Apparently the utmost limit to which Satan can go is the destruction of the flesh. In the case of Job he was not allowed to go to that limit, though he grievously tormented his flesh. But, if the flesh be even destroyed and death supervene, it is in order that the spirit may be saved in the coming day. This, you see, supposes that the one coming under this extremist form of discipline is after all a real believer.
But there was another fact overlooked by the Corinthians, which showed the wrong and folly of their boastful spirit. They were like a lump of dough in which a little leaven had been placed. Now leaven has well-known properties. It ferments, until the whole lump is permeated by it. Thus they could not rightly look upon this sin of one of their number as being a thing in which they were not involved. The very opposite. It was indeed the “old leaven,” the very thing that had been rampant amongst them in their unconverted days, and would be very certain to spread amongst them again if unjudged. Hence they were to purge it out, by putting the wicked person away.
The effect of so doing would be to render them practically “a new lump, as ye are unleavened” (ch. 5:7). They really were a new and unleavened lump, as regards their place and condition before God; and they were so to act that they might be in practice what God had made them to be in Christ. Let us all seize the underlying principle of this, for it is the principle on which God always acts in grace. The law did indeed demand that we should be what we were not. Grace makes us to be what is according to God, and then calls upon us to act in accordance with what we are. You may apply this in a multitude of ways. You are always so to act, “that ye may be... as ye are” (ch. 5:7).
The Apostle uses a figure, of course, in speaking thus of leaven. But it is a most appropriate figure. Israel’s passover feast had to be eaten without leaven, and was followed by the feast of unleavened bread. Now the pass-over pointed forward to the death of Christ as its fulfillment, and the church during the whole time of its sojourn here is to fulfill the type of the feast of unleavened bread by eschewing all evil, and walking in sincerity and truth.
Just as Israel had to sweep all leaven out of their houses, so are you and I to sweep all evil out of our lives. And beside this there are certain cases in which assembly action is demanded by the Word of God. Such cases in the matter of moral evil are those mentioned in verse 11. The transgressor may be a “man that is called a brother” (ch. 5:11). Just because he has professed conversion he has been found inside the assembly and not without it; and because he is within he comes under its judgment and has to be put away. This putting away is not just a formal and technical excommunication. It is an action of such reality that all the saints were no longer to “keep company” in any way with the offender. When dealing with the men of the world on a business basis we cannot discriminate in this way as to their moral characters: but if a professed Christian is guilty of the sins mentioned in verse 11 we are to have done with him, and not own him as a Christian at all for the time being. Time future will reveal what he really is.
This chapter shows very clearly that while an evil-doer might be dealt with, while the apostles were alive, on the basis of apostolic authority and energy, the normal way is by the action of the assembly gathered together in the name of the Lord. Its jurisdiction only extends over those who are within it. Those who are without must be left to the judgment of God which will reach them in due season.