1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:1-13 ESV).
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
Instead of being arrogant, the Corinthians must excommunicate the incestuous church member so that he might be saved, because sin corrupts and the Corinthians are God’s people, and because it is the church’s job to judge its members.
In these verses, Paul gives the same command to the Corinthian church with three different emphases, and for three different reasons (see the Series relationship between verses 1-5, 6-8, and 9-11).
1. Let’s first examine the three different descriptions of church discipline.
First, the church must remove the sinner from among them (2c); this is also called delivering over "to Satan for the destruction of the flesh" (5b-c). If a church practices church membership, so that not everyone who comes to a church service is a “member,” they can obey this command by removing the person from their position as member, without attempting to force them to stop attending church.
The language of delivering someone “to Satan” sounds strange to our ears, but when we combine this description with the language of removal from the church in verse 2, we can see that to be cut off from membership in a local part of the body of Christ means to be exposed to Satan’s power, who exercises power and deception over the sinful world (2 Cor 4:4; 1 John 5:19).
Secondly, the church must purge out the sinful leaven from their group (7a-c). Jewish believers under the Mosaic Covenant were to remove all leaven from their homes when celebrating Passover (Ex 13:7). Leaven pictured sin, and this ritual underscored God’s requirement that his people be holy (Lev 11:45). So, in the New Covenant, must believers be separate from sin; this requires the removal of unrepentant sinners from the midst of God’s covenant people.
Thirdly, the church must completely dissociate itself from the so-called brother who is living in unrepentant sin (9, 11a, 11h). Paul had told the church in a previous letter, now lost, that they should not associate with immoral people; he makes clear in this letter that he is speaking only of immoral people who claim to be believers (“who bears the name of brother,” 11a). They are not even to eat a meal with such a person.
2. Now let’s look at the three reasons Paul gives for the action he commands the church to take.
First, the purpose of the excommunication is the eschatological salvation of the soul of the sinner (5c-e). “The day of the Lord” refers to Christ’s Second Coming—the end of history and the time of judgment. God will use the destruction of the “flesh,” which could refer to the sinful nature, as a means to preserve this man’s soul, to move him to turn from his sin and toward the Lord (see Col 1:22-23).
Secondly, the reason for the excommunication is the identity of the church as God’s new Israel, rescued from God’s wrath by the sacrifice of Christ (7c-d). Christ is “our Passover lamb”; he is the reality which the OT Passover sacrifices were pointing to (7d). We should “celebrate the festival” of the Passover, therefore, not literally but figuratively, putting away “the leaven of malice and evil” (8a, 8b). Since we are God’s NT people, we must live out the fulfilment of the picture of the Passover: lives of holiness because we have been redeemed from death. That necessitates church discipline if a member refuses to repent of open sin.
Thirdly, another reason for the excommunication is the church’s responsibility to act in judgment toward those inside the church (12). God will judge “those outside”—that is, those who are not called “brother” (11a)—but the church must judge “those inside the church” (12b).
What does it meant to “judge”: to condemn angrily? To harshly denounce? No, because Paul is urging one action upon this church, in several different terms, as we saw earlier (removing the sinner, delivering to Satan, purging out leaven, and not associating with the sinner). And “judging” is part of the third member of this Series, dissociating with the sinner. Therefore, for the church as a whole to “judge” someone is to remove them from the church.
And that judgment is the church’s responsibility—one which they are sinning if they refuse to carry out! The church has the responsibility to declare who are in Christ and who are not; and in a church discipline situation, the church must say to a member who is involved in grievous, public sin, “We can no longer affirm your profession of faith and say that we believe you are a Christian.” That person may be a Christian, but since there is fruit that denies this church, the church must exercise judgment and treat the person as an outsider.