In the Word of God, we read…
1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:1–5)
I. PRIDE IN A SIN THAT EVEN UNBELIEVERS AVOIDED
A. A Man And His Stepmother
In chapter five of 1 Corinthians, Paul moves on to a new topic. He had been discussing the divisions in the church at Corinth, but now he moves to another, even more disturbing, report that he had heard from Corinth.
1 Corinthians 5:1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.
The word “fornication” (πορνεία, NNSF, πορνεία) most often in the Bible refers to premarital relations, although there are some examples where it more generally refers to sexual immorality—such as incest.
This man was sleeping with his stepmother (Paul says that she is “his father’s wife,” probably meaning that she wasn’t his mother).
And it’s not a case of a one-time affair, Paul stated “that one should have his father’s wife.” The phrase indicates that they were living together.
Was the father still living? Did they get a divorce? Did the son and the stepmother get married? We don’t know, but we can probably guess that the woman was an unbeliever, since Paul does not address her at all in his judgment on the man.
God considers incest to be wrong. In Leviticus we read:
8 The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness. (Leviticus 18:8)
29 For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. (Leviticus 18:29)
Paul reaches back in the Old Testament and shows that, when Jesus said that he fulfilled the law, he didn’t mean that he had abolished the law (Matthew 5:17).
There are still moral codes that we need to follow. Grace is not to be an excuse to sin, but a motivation and the strength not to sin (Romans 6:1-2).
B. A Poor Testimony To Unbelievers
He goes on to say that this sexual immorality was of a degree “not so much as named among the Gentiles.”
Incest in the ancient Greek Roman world was normally looked down upon, as several ancient Roman sources testify:
It was also rejected by Greeks (e.g., Euripides Hippolytus; Andocides On the Mysteries; Tatian Address to the Greeks 28) and Romans (e.g., Institutes of Gaius; Cicero Pro Cluentio 5.14). (Charles H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians: A Literary and Theological Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians…Rev. ed., [Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2002], 28)
But why would Paul even bring up the fact that the Gentiles thought incest was wrong? I think that there are at least two reasons.
1) Shock Value
Christians are supposed to be better. We’re supposed to be leaving sin behind and becoming more like Jesus. It’s bad enough that Christians act like the world—how much worse when they are badder than the world!
Perhaps Paul hoped that the shock of being told that they were behaving worse than Gentiles would cause the Corinthians to examine themselves and repent for allowing such fornication to happen among them.
Another reason Paul may have mentioned the Gentiles’ view of incest being wrong was to point out the Corinthians’…
2) Damaged Testimony
The sin of one member can damage the testimony of a local church and, more importantly, the testimony of Christ.
How do you feel when you see on the news how some Christian said that homosexuals should all be rounded up and killed? Or a pastor that has been sexually abusing children in the nursery?
Do you not scream inside, “No, we’re not all like him!” Do you not instinctively realize that even your testimony has been in some way damaged by the other Christian’s foolish behavior?
I mean, you may go to work and suffer the sarcastic backlash from an atheist coworker who watched the news the night before.
We like to think that our lives are our own, but when you become a Christian, that’s not true anymore. Warren Wiersbe wrote:
We are not our own. We belong to the Father who made us, the Son who redeemed us, and the Spirit who indwells us. We also belong to the people of God, the church, and our sins can weaken the testimony and infect the fellowship (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996], 1:590).
A few years ago I got a speeding ticket. To some that’s no big deal, but it was a big deal to me. Of course, in Baker, your name ends up in the newspaper, and I had felt like I had damaged my testimony and that of Christ in the town—at least a little.
As a Christian, you are part of the body of Christ—what you do reflects on Christ (first and most importantly), but it also reflects on the rest of his body (i.e., the rest of us).
So a Christian man was involved with his stepmother, damaging the testimony of the Corinthian church and Christ himself—could it be any worse? Yep. The Corinthian church was…
C. Puffed Up About The Sin
1 Corinthians 5:2a And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned,
The expression, “puffed up” (πεφυσιωμένοι, VRPP-PNM, φυσιόω) is to be conceited or proud or boastful. The Corinthians were boasting of this sin!
Thomas Manton said that “First we practice sin, then defend it, then boast of it.” Watch out for that progression in your life. What sins did you used to condemn but now you defend?
Perhaps the Corinthians had fallen into the liberty trap, and thought that the incest was merely an expression of their Christian liberty. Or perhaps they felt that tolerating the sin was an expression of their Christian love.
Paul says that instead they should have “mourned” (ἐπενθήσατε, VAAI2P, πενθέω) over the man and his sin and that man should have been “taken away from among” them.
What does it mean to mourn for the sin of another? The word for “mourned” here is that same word used for mourning over the death of someone.
Our attitude towards our fellow Christians caught in sin should not be one of detest, which is so often is—but of mourning.
How ought we to mourn for the sins of others?
William Jenkin, a Puritan from long ago, wrote a sermon about mourning for the sins of others. One thing that he said struck me—“They that mourn for others’ sins, should mourn more in secret than in open complaining.”
He referenced Jeremiah 13:17 and Matthew 6:18 for Biblical support (James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, [Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981], 3:118)—
17 But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the LORD’s flock is carried away captive. (Jeremiah 13:17)
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:18)
Our attitude should be first to go to God in secret with the sins of our brothers and sisters. Pray violently that they might repent and change.
Another point that William Jenkin made was that, “They that mourn for the sins of others, must mourn with a holy reflection upon themselves.”
The sin of gossip or self-smugness can send a person to Hell just as easily as the sin of drunkenness or adultery.
Matthew 7 does not say that judging others is wrong, it says judging others hypocritically, with a log in your eye, is wrong. We must come to them with a spirit of humility and truth.
While mourning over someone’s sin may be something we begin in private, and with special examination of ourselves, if their sin continues, it cannot be left there—
II. DISCIPLINE IS NECESSARY TO HELP A SINNER
Disciplining a fellow believer is a hard thing to do. For one thing, in a small church, the repercussions can be hard. People are more than fellow Christians, they might be siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles.
One reason the Corinthians were reluctant is that they were prideful about the sin being committed, as we mentioned before, but they also seemed hesitant because Paul was not there with them. So Paul gives them…
A. Encouragement To Discipline The Sinner
1 Corinthians 5:2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
1 Corinthians 5:3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,
It’s impossible to know why for sure that some of the Corinthian believers hesitated to care out the discipline in Paul’s absence. Was there a small group who wanted to do so but weren’t confident to do so without Paul being present? Or were they all pridefully cheering the sinner on?
Depending on what the attitude was, Paul’s words in verse 3 may be encouragement or exhortation—or both: Don’t be afraid I am “present in spirit.” I have heard about what he did and “have judged already” this man (again, notice that he says nothing about the woman, indicating that she was probably an unbeliever).
In other words, be assured that, if I were there with you, disciplining this man is the course of action I would take.
B. The Procedure Of Discipline
1. The Whole Church Involved
Next, Paul goes about telling them what procedure they need to take. In Matthew 18, Jesus laid out the procedure of church discipline:
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. (Matthew 18:15–17)
There is first a private meeting between the offender and the one offended against. In the case of the man sleeping with his stepmother, it’s not a individual that he is sinning against—it’s more of a public sin.
There’s no mention of a private meeting with the man—it’s possible Paul didn’t think it was necessary, or perhaps he simply didn’t mention it.
According to Jesus, if the private meeting fails, then a group of people are to meet with the offender. This may be the pastor and deacons, but there’s nothing that says that it has to be. It will depend on the situation.
Again, Paul doesn’t mention this meeting with the man either. It may or may not have happened—we simply don’t know.
Finally, Jesus says that the church must become involved. Paul clearly brings this out in verse four:
1 Corinthians 5:4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Notice that this is a meeting of the local church “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus must set the tone of the meeting.
It’s his name that is at stake here. The Gentiles are seeing this sin and shaming the name of the Lord.
And it’s his power that will bring the sinner back into the fold.
The point is this—every case of discipline must eventually go before the entire church. Everyone must be involved, and come with the Jesus on their heart and mind.
Today’s Christians are more prone to overlook and forgive. There is a place for that, no doubt. We are to be “…tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven…” us (Ephesians 4:31).
But there is also a time and a place, when the sinner is unrepentant, that…
2. The Sinner Delivered To Satan
1 Corinthians 5:5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
The word “to deliver” (παραδοῦναι, VAAN, παραδίδωμι) is a common word meaning to “hand over.” For example, Jesus was “delivered” to the executioners (Matthew 27:26).
What is meant by delivering someone over to Satan?
Besides sounding just completely harsh, it also raises a technical “how-to” question—we just cannot walk up to Satan’s house, knock on the door, and leave the man tied up on his door step!
This is a phrase that comes up elsewhere in scripture:
19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: 20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme [notice that it had a purpose for their good]. (1 Timothy 1:19–20)
Some suggest that this was something that Paul, as an apostle, was able to do—that it would be something like what happened to Job when God allowed Satan to have his way with Job up to a certain point. If this is the case, then it’s something that ordinary believers cannot do.
However, it seems that the church at Corinth were to be the ones that deliver the man over to Satan. They can’t literally do that, but they can expel the man from their fellowship.
They can treat him, as Jesus said, “as an heathen man and a publican”—as an unbeliever. So, in effect, the man would be back where all unbelievers are—in the realm of Satan’s influence.
He would not be able to partake in fellowship or in the Lord’s Supper. Other believers could have contact with him, but it would be different—as if the man were an unbeliever.
Perhaps they would share the gospel with him, perhaps encourage him to repent. But each meeting with the man, whether in a coffee shop or anywhere, would always have his unrepented sin hanging in the background.
Now there’s a purpose to this, two purposes actually, first…
3. For The Destruction Of The Flesh
The word “destruction” (ὄλεθρον, NASM, ὄλεθρος) in verse five is only used four times in the New Testament, and none of them are very good.
What does “the destruction of the flesh” mean? There’s basically two possibilities here, or a combination of the two.
First, it could mean the destruction of the sinful nature. The scripture often uses the word “flesh” to refer to the “old man” or the “sinful nature.” The purpose would then be that the man would come to realize that his incest with his stepmother was wrong and he would stop doing it.
Second, the phrase, “destruction of the flesh” could be referring to the man’s physical body. The Lord (not the church!) would cause the man to suffer physically or possibly even die.
We have learned from Jesus that not all suffering is the result of someone’s sin (John 9:1-2). But the scripture does indicate that sometimes the Lord does use suffering and even death to discipline believers who are stuck in a pattern of sin.
When Ananias and Sapphira lied to the church about the issue of money from a sale of property, God dropped them on the spot (Acts 5:1-11). They went to Heaven, so that they would not continue to corrupt the church.
Later in 1 Corinthians, we find another instance of God disciplining believers with sickness or death. Concerning the Lord’s Supper, Paul wrote:
29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep [i.e., they died]. (1 Corinthians 11:29–30)
So yes, if you are in the midst of a sin, and you keep getting sick or suffering, it may very well be a wake up call for you. You won’t have to wonder what sin you’ve committed, it will be obvious to you…you know what you’ve been doing.
The first purpose was the destruction of the man’s flesh, his sinful nature, and perhaps by means of physical suffering. The second purpose of the discipline of the man was that he might be…
4. Saved In The Day Of The Lord Jesus
What does it mean (in verse five) that the man would be “saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”? The term is used elsewhere in scripture to refer to the Lord’s return (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10).
The idea is that, when the roll is called up yonder, that man would be there. There are at least three possible scenarios that could have played out in this man’s life that would have ended with his salvation.
(1) His exclusion from the church could have been enough to snap him to his senses and realize the sin he was committing. As a result, he quit the sin and there was the “destruction of his flesh [i.e., sinful nature].”
(2) After being excluded from the fellowship, God used suffering in his life (perhaps sexually related diseases) to bring the man to his senses. Seeing this “destruction of his flesh [i.e., his physical body],” he then repented.
With these first two scenarios, there is a possibility that this same man is the repentant man found in 2 Corinthians 2:6-8. So possibly he did repent and live. But perhaps not, and that would be the third possibility:
(3) After being excluded from the fellowship, God took the man home to Heaven before he could do any more damage.
Perhaps his death, like Ananias and Sapphira’s (Acts 5:11), brought fear on the believers at Corinth that helped some of them forsake sins in their own lives.
As I studied this passage, I was reminded afresh of the absolute seriousness with which God treats sin.
We are prone to think that God is like a grandfather who, with a twinkle in his eyes, smiles and says, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell your Mom and Dad.”
We are prone to excuse our sin by saying that God is a God of grace. Listen: Grace is not the liberty to sin as we please—grace is the motivation and power to overcome sin in your life!
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Romans 6:1–2)
Don’t be puffed up about your sin…it’s not a badge of grace—it’s an abuse of grace!
If you are in a continuous pattern of sin, what ought you to do? Repent! Stop doing it. Confess that sin, perhaps even to another Christian or your Pastor, so that we can help you.
Don’t be hard-hearted…end your sin before you find yourself in the midst of discipline. End your sin and follow the Lord Jesus who died for your sins. Make your walk a testimony of how his grace can change a life.
As we pray, examine your life for sin that you need to confess and forsake.