Summary: The primary reason for discipline in the church is to restore the offender both in his fellowship with God and with the church
“How Not to Attract Visitors to the Church” would make a fine essay title critiquing the three part sermon series we are in. Consider the titles: Discipline by Admonition, Discipline for Restoration, and Discipline for Purity. It is doubtful that people looking up our notice in the Saturday paper are being inspired to hear these sermons.
Why then preach the series? Because these verses are in my way. I can’t get to the rest of 1 Corinthians without going through them. This is the dilemma for preachers who preach through books of the Bible. We don’t have the luxury of “letting the Spirit inspire us” for our topics. Instead, we have to deal with what he has written!
Last Sunday we considered the type of discipline identified as admonition. That was the easy form to accept compared to what is presented to us now. Chapter five presents an instance of a man being excommunicated, the most extreme form of discipline.
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.
A specific sinful activity is publicly going on within the church body. A church member is guilty of incest with his “father’s wife.” The expression indicates that the woman is not his biological mother. We don’t know the details, but it is difficult to imagine that the father is alive. The phrase indicates that the man is in an ongoing relationship, most likely living with the woman. Even in ancient pagan society, in which the sexual mores easily match those of our modern secular society, such a thing was taboo.
Certainly Paul is aghast at such behavior, but the real scandal is not the man’s sin but the church’s response to it. The scandal is that the church is not scandalized by this man’s behavior.
2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
The Corinth church, not only does not bemoan the sin, it somehow endorses the behavior. It is unclear exactly what is taking place. Is the church actually condoning the behavior as something good? Perhaps it is showing indifference, simply ignoring the irregular relationship. The believers do not seem to be upset or embarrassed about it and have no problem with the man remaining in good fellowship. (Since Paul makes no judgment against the woman, it is likely that she is not a member of the church.)
Paul makes clear what ought to be done: Let him who has done this be removed from among you. He is not merely passing on his opinion. As he demonstrates next, he is proclaiming judgment according to his authority as apostle and father of the church.
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.
Note the three parties involved in the judgment process – Paul, the congregation, and the offender. First, consider Paul. He is exercising his authority to pronounce judgment and is joining with the congregation to render action. They are to consider him as being present for the judgment. Then there is the congregation. They are not mere messengers for Paul, but are to be as involved in the process. They are to carry out the verdict. Then, of course, there is the offender who now becomes the subject of discipline. He, undoubtedly, is dismayed by the letter’s instructions.
These three verses are grammatically complex, composing one sentence in the Greek. It is unclear, for example, if the congregation is to assemble in the name of the Lord Jesus or that Paul has rendered judgment in the Lord’s name. Is it Paul or the congregation or both who is delivering the person over to Satan?
Two phrases are difficult to understand. What does it mean to hand someone over to Satan? What is “destruction of the flesh”? Does Paul mean physical harm, even death, as some commentators believe? He does believe that some believers have died for abusing the Lord’s Supper (cf. 11:29-30). Acts 5:1-10 records the deaths of a couple for lying to God. At the least, Paul means for the church to excommunicate the individual, i.e. to remove him from the fellowship of the church. Is he then thinking that the Lord will render some kind of physical affliction? Perhaps.