Sexual Immorality in the Church.
1. It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles--that a man has his father's wife! (NKJVTM)
Messengers from Corinth had brought to Paul's attention a situation which threatened the moral standing of the church at Corinth. A man in the church was having a sexual relationship with his father's second wife; that is to say, she was not his mother. From 2 Cor. 7:12 we may infer the father himself was still alive. The exact circumstances of this relationship are unclear. Whether the pair were living together, or having intercourse without living together; whether the intercourse was regular or whether it had only happened once, we are not told. Of course, the Corinthians knew the details and so Paul had no need to be explicit. Any the above cases would constitute a very serious matter. Not only was it true that the man concerned had not repented of his immoral actions, the church itself had failed to uphold a scriptural attitude toward the immorality. Even among the pagans, although this sin was not entirely unknown, it was not approved of; being frowned upon as something shameful.
2. And you are proud! Shouldn't you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you?
The church in Corinth had fallen below the standard of their heathen neighbors, and yet they were not ashamed. As Morris points out, the general Christian attitude to such matters from the very commencement of the Church was one of uncompromising opposition. Paul alleges that it that it was pride, their sense of being spiritually superior to other churches, which deluded them into thinking that they might take an altogether different stance in dealing with immorality. This is what led to their failure to apply Christian standards to the situation. The Corinthians new found liberty in Christ was not to denigrate into an excuse for immorality. A truly Christ like spirit, insists Paul, would have caused them to mourn over the sin and be deeply grieved by it. They would have then insisted that the guilty party be removed from church fellowship. Only by imposing this discipline would it be evident to Church and to the world around that whilst Christ forgives sin, He does not condone it.
3. For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present.
Although the church had failed to deal with the matter, Paul would not shun his responsibility. He took great care in writing this letter; it was not done on the spur on the moment (2 Cor. 2:4). He knew that something had to be done, and by the time of writing had decided the appropriate course of action.
The Offender Disciplined.
4. When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus.
Paul visualizes a kind of disciplinary hearing which was to be held in Corinth. It was to take place when the whole church was gathered together. Paul would be present in spirit at this meeting as his instructions were carried out in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ; who was certain to be powerfully present Himself in His capacity as Head of the Church. So although it was the church which acted to impose discipline in the name of Christ, it was in reality Christ, acting through His Body, who disciplined the offender. It was His authority alone which sanctioned the punishment.
5. turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
When the church was assembled together with the offending party, they were to hand him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Let the reader be clear about what is meant here. The Church of Jesus Christ is not called to have any involvement with Satanic power; we are not on speaking terms with the devil. The expression is taken to mean excommunication. The man would be put out of fellowship with the church. He was asked not to attend church meetings and he would certainly not be permitted to take part in communion. Nor would he be prayed for - such prayer might interfere with his discipline. While the man remained in fellowship, he was under the umbrella of the Lord's protection, and it may have been the case that whilst the church countenanced the man's actions, the Lord could not deal with the man without dealing with the whole church. The region outside the church was considered to be Satan's sphere. Once outside church fellowship there would be no protection from the ravages of the devil. Yet, as in Job's case, God would let the devil go so far and no further. The Lord would not permit the devil to destroy this man's soul. The devil would be allowed to afflict his body; to the point of death, if necessary, in order to bring him to repentance. But Christ's salvation remained as sufficient and gracious protection for his soul. Discipline is given in the hope that an offender will seek God in repentance as a result of his experiences at the hands of the devil. When he realized what it meant to be far from God, he would hasten to return to the Lord. Morris says "Paul conceives of this punishment as remedial," rather than punitive. He hoped that the discipline would result in a turning again to Christ for mercy and ensure the eternal salvation of the offender's soul. Morris goes on to say "that he means saved in the fullest sense is made clear by the addition of the words 'in the day of the Lord'. At the final day of judgment, Paul expects to see the disciplined offender among the Lord's people."
Time to Clean Out the Old Yeast of Sin.
6. Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?
In their pride, the Corinthians considered themselves beyond sin's tainting, even whilst sin was ravaging them. A large portion of Paul's epistle to the Romans is taken up with the doctrine of how being saved from sin means being saved from its power, not just its penalty. Living for Christ means dying to sin. In the words of Jesus, "if your left hand causes you to sin, cut it off" denotes an uncompromising opposition to the cancer of sin. If the Corinthians did nothing about the sin, it would take only a very small amount of yeast to leaven a large lump of dough. By accepting sin rather than mourning over it, the Corinthians were admitting evil into their lives. "One thing leads to another" is a common saying. If they continued to wink the eye at fornication then the evil would spread quickly until all were affected. In the modern age, many Christians are lulled to sleep about sin by television soap operas which week after week are filled with fornication and all kinds of abnormal behaviour. When the Church begins to accept the standards of the world, it becomes less concerned about sin. By losing the right view of sin and its consequences, it becomes increasingly easy to condone our own ever lowering standard of behavior. Restraint is cast off and sinful deeds multiply. In this way the leaven leavens the whole lump. The spirit of the world creeping into the any church contaminate the lives of God's people. There was no doubt in Paul's mind that the rot had to be stopped. As Ellicott says, "the Church is to be the light of the world and not the recipient of the world's darkness"; for as Thomas Thaherne observes, "souls are like apples, a rotten one rots another." The treatment of the individual at Corinth may seem harsh. Yet when gangrene sets into part of a limb, the limb must be amputated in order to save the life. Individual sin must be dealt with for the sake of the whole life and witness of the local church.
7,8. Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough -- you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
Paul calls upon the believers to "clean out the old yeast". Before the feast of Passover, Jews would clean out their houses so that no yeast (leaven) was found in their dwellings prior to the lamb being sacrificed (Ex. 12:15 ; Ex. 13:7). It was not sufficient for them not to have leaven in their bread, there was to be none anywhere in the house. In the same way, the only thing to do with sinful habits is to get rid of them entirely. If we allow them back they will once again become established and spread quickly, taking us further back from the Lord. Since Christ, the true Passover, has already been sacrificed to remove our sin and redeem us for God, the time has come for us to rid our lives of the acts of the "sinful nature", or as Paul puts it here, the "old batch". This is a reference to the sinful habits we lived in before we knew Christ. We are to rid ourselves of them completely, and so "celebrate the festival", rejoicing in our new life in Christ. Since we are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:7), we must show the evidence of this change. In practice this means putting off the old man and his deeds, and putting on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). The new life is characterized by sincerity and truth, in contrast to the old, which was characterized by malice and all kinds of wickedness.
No Compromise in a Fallen World.
9. I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.
Paul clears up a misunderstanding which had arisen as a result of his previous letter to them - a letter of which we have no record. He had plainly told them not to keep company with those who were involved in sexually immoral relationships.
10. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world.
Christ told His followers that they were not of the world, for He had chosen them out of it; so Paul urges the believers not to be "unequally yoked" with unbelievers. But neither Christ nor Paul meant that we should try to completely avoid the company of unbelievers - for without leaving the world that would be impossible. We rub shoulders with immoral people every day. It is rather that we are not to seek their close or intimate friendship, for light has no fellowship with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). Yet it is impossible for us to avoid their company altogether: indeed it would be unchristian, for we must seek to win them for Christ.
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.
Paul clarifies his remarks in that earlier letter by saying that we should deliberately avoid and refuse to keep company with any one who calls themselves a Christian, but who: indulge in sexual sin; is greedy for financial gain; who makes money out of other people dishonestly; who worships other gods (involved in the occult, including horoscopes); who is a drunkard; or someone who is abusive and uses threatening behavior or language. We are not even to eat with such people, enter their homes, or seek their company. We are to shun them completely. As Morris says, "when we reflect that our Lord ate with publicans and sinners, and that Paul regards it as permissible to accept invitations to eat in heathen homes (1 Cor. 10:27)... the principle is plain. There is to be no fellowship with anyone who claims to be a Christian but whose life belies his profession." Other scriptures make clear that Paul does not mean that we should hate such people, but that by withdrawing from their company we might shame them and lead them to repentance (2 Thess. 3:14-15). Whether in church discipline or private life, Paul's motives were always restorative, seeking to bring the best out of people.
12,13. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.
There is a difference between those within and without the Church. Just as God made a distinction between His people Israel and the Egyptians, so He make the distinction between believers and unbelievers today (Ex. 11:7). It is no part of the Church's function to discipline non members. God will be their judge. But it is a different matter in the case of those within the Church. It is the responsibility of every local church, under the direction of its oversight, to take action with regard to disciplining its own members. This is likely to be the reason why only the man was dealt with by the church at Corinth. The woman involved was evidently an unbeliever, otherwise she would also have been disciplined. Since she was an unbeliever, the church had no jurisdiction over her and were unable to impose discipline. Nothing they could have done would have helped anyway, since she was outside of Christ. Unless she received Christ as her Saviour, God would be her judge, and in the Day of Judgment she would be lost in everlasting hell. The same is not the case for the believer, for God deals with us differently. In 1 Cor. 11:32, the reason for our Lord's acting in discipline is clear:
Recommended for You - Further Reading in 1 Corinthians
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