This is a continuation of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth. In chapter 1 Paul says he is writing because he has heard there is division among them and they are giving glory to man instead of to God. Paul has made it abundantly clear that it’s to God that all glory should be given.
In chapter 2 Paul instructs these Christians regarding how they are to teach – using only God’s Word and speaking simply, without flowery language that the world may esteem. He emphasizes that there is a big difference between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God. When learning the Word Christians must start with the milk (the fundamentals of the Bible) before moving on to the strong meat (the deeper understanding from the Bible). Both are to be taught.
In chapter 3 Paul talks about how we must let our spirit body rule over our flesh body. We are to take whatever knowledge God grants us and plant seeds. It is God who provides the increase. We are to be careful to ensure that everything is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Truth upon Truth. We do this by following His Word.
We finished in chapter 4 where Paul is warning that teaching and living by the Word means you’ll be mocked by people of this world. He says these Christians in Corinth are feeling awfully puffed up (proud of themselves). They reign over a big church and they’ve drifted from God’s message. Paul is delivering some tough love in this letter and he promises to deliver more in person if they don’t straighten up.
I hope you’ll pull out your Bible and join me in a verse-by-verse study of chapter 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.
Paul has learned that there is incest taking place within this church – a man sleeping with his father’s wife (could be his mother or stepmother). He says the fornication they are committing isn’t even done by the Gentiles. These Christians are aware of it happening in their church but do nothing.
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.
Let’s look at the phrase puffed up in the original Greek. I use The Companion Bible and The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible to do this. “Puffed up” in the Greek is phusioo. It means to inflate, i.e. (fig.) make proud (haughty). So these Christians are feeling pretty great about themselves. They’re haughty and they are not mourning the incest that they know is happening right under their noses. If they were then the man committing the incest would have been taken away from them. What does that mean? We are given instruction regarding how to handle a situation such as this in 2 Thessalonians.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
We are to withdraw from that person (more to come on what that looks like). Paul is saying these Christians should not be supporting the incest occurring in their church. It does the guilty party no good because the man will simply continue in his incestuous relationship. It also does the church no good as Paul will articulate shortly.
Does this mean that someone who has in the past participated in an incestuous relationship (or any of the behaviors Paul will outline in a few verses) cannot be embraced by the church? No. Jesus grants forgiveness to those who ask for it. We’re talking in this chapter about behavior that is ongoing. It is not in the man’s past. He is still an active participant and has not turned from it.
Consider the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). He had to reach the bottom before he came back seeking forgiveness. His father was a fair and loving father just as our Father is. Our Father also yearns to open His arms to His children who return to Him.
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,
Paul isn’t physically in Corinth but he will not allow this incest to go on within the church.
We just covered in chapter 4 that only God is qualified to be our judge. What is Paul talking about here? He’s talking about how he has used his spiritual discernment. He’s an intelligent man with a God-given brain that he can certainly use. We are not to judge but we are able to identify right from wrong using His Word.
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,
Christ gives us power over our enemies but these Christians are refusing to use that power.
Luke 10:19 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
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.
So are they to hand this person off to Satan? Of course not. This is a reference to what we just just covered above in 2 Thessalonians. They are to withdraw from this person so as not to support the bad behavior in order that he may be saved. Each of us must decide for ourselves which path we will follow. Our Father wants us to choose Him.
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
They’re so puffed up. They think they’re doing great things but they’re supporting this incest by their inaction.
What do we know about leaven? You can have a big bowl of dough but if you add a small amount of leaven it will go through all the dough and the whole thing will rise. What happens when a church contains someone in an incestuous relationship and the issue remains unaddressed (and through inaction it is essentially supported)? That sin spreads throughout the church.
7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
We have to remove that old leaven so that we may be new and unleavened.
Christ is our passover. Passover is the high sabbath for Christians. Sabbath means rest. We find our rest in Christ, who was sacrificed for us.
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
What feast are we to keep? Passover. Not with the old leaven. Not with the leaven of malice and wickedness. Malice in the Greek is kakia (depravity, the vicious disposition and desires, rather than the active exercise of them) and wickedness is poneria (depravity; iniquity, the wicked acting of the evil nature). So we are to keep the passover but not with depravity in disposition, desires, and actions. Rather we are to keep the passover with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. God knows our hearts and minds so He most certainly knows if we are sincere. And what is truth? The truth is in the Word He provided for us. It tells us exactly how to obtain His blessings. It brings peace of mind. It tells us how to live and what our purpose in this life is. It tells us how to pray. It tells us how to know the Lord we proclaim to want to know and love. It is with a sincere heart and His Word that we keep the passover.
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
Paul wrote this epistle to explain to these Christians in Corinth that they should not company with fornicators. Company in the Greek here is sunanamignumi which means to mix up together i.e. (fig.) associate with. So we are instructed to not associate with fornicators. Does this mean we can’t talk to them? Of course not. Does this mean we cannot witness to them? Absolutely not. It means we are not socialize with them so as to give approval of their wrongdoing. And why would that be a bad thing again? As we learned in verse 6, if we as Christians accept the sin then the sin will spread.
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
Are we to completely avoid these people? No. That’s impossible as this world is full of this behavior and that would also be counter to the actions of Jesus.
Jesus interacted with these people. And He did it in the way we are to do it too. Did He at any time do anything that might indicate He approved of their actions? Did He support them in that sin? Did He say “I just want to love you so let’s not talk about the fact you’re sleeping with your mother”? No. He addressed the behavior and he often instructed that they should sin no more. Does that mean we are to be sinless? We certainly won’t accomplish that while we’re in our flesh bodies. But we are to do our best and we are to genuinely repent so that our sins are blotted out.
Our Father loves us. He is patient. He wants His children to love Him. He wants none to perish. He wants all to repent.
2 Peter 3:9 The LORD is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
Again we are not to socialize with those who engage in this behavior as to give the appearance we support the actions. But we are to plant seeds knowing that only God can bring forth the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
We are not anyone’s judge. God is the judge of all of us. It’s all in the Book of Life. He is fair and good and there is no one else I’d want to be my judge. He knows our minds. He knows our intentions. He knows our actions. There is nothing in the dark that He will not bring to light. It is all known to Him. Our involvement is in the planting of seeds. We do this in our words. We do this in our actions.
We cannot support the behaviors that God opposes. That isn’t planting a seed. That’s misleading someone. We will answer for that.
Paul tells these Christians in Corinth that they need to straighten up. Their supporting this man’s incestuous relationship hurts this man and hurts their fellow Christians. Acknowledging that his behavior is wrong isn’t judgment.
Think of it like this. Is a father judging his child when he says “Please stop doing drugs. This is wrong. It can kill you. You’re destroying yourself and we love you too much to just watch you do it”? Is that judgment of his child or a demonstration of love? Which is a better demonstration of love? A parent who supplies their child with drugs and watches he/she waste away without ever trying to save them? Or the parent who speaks up and uses tough love to try to prevent that precious son or daughter from a sad empty life and a horrific death?
We are not the judge. We are human and flawed. We are by no means qualified to judge another person. Rather we are instructed to remove ourselves from our brothers in Christ who are engaging in the behaviors described by Paul. We can plant seeds (and we should) but we cannot support that behavior. This is love. It is tough love. Supporting that behavior doesn’t help anyone. Not the person whose actions are so wrong. Not the many membered body of Christ.