Summary: 1) The Need (1 Corinthians 5:1–2a), 2) The Method (1 Corinthians 5:2b–5), and 3) The Reason (1 Corinthians 5:6–8) that the discipline should be imposed.
One of the common themes in modern news reporting is the "failure to act" story. Reporters mention attacks in places like Bagdad and Syria and how forces have failed to act to repel ISIS. We see how we must root out domestic forms of terrorism or face domestic terrorist attacks like the one apparently this week resulting in the death of a Canadian Soldier in Quebec, and the shooting of a Soldier at the National War Memorial. One of the most heartbreaking is when we hear of a young child being abused and no one takes notice or intervenes.
1 Corinthians 5 is a case study in the failure to take action. The chapter is devoted to the problem of immorality in the church, much of it specifically to sexual immorality. As serious as the immorality itself was the church’s tolerance of it. Probably because of their philosophical orientation and their love of human wisdom they rationalized the immoral behavior of their fellow believers. In any case they were not inclined to take corrective measures. Even those who were not involved in immorality had become arrogant about the matter (v. 2), possibly citing their “freedom in Christ,” as do many believers today. Apparently there were many who arrogantly flaunted their vice in the church. The root problem is their spiritual arrogance combined with moral laxity (Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians (p. 153). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)
At times in the past people have been zealousness for holiness but misapply the zeal to presume upon motives and overly restrict freedom, resulting in a legalistic religion that defines itself upon what it does not do. Today, as a culture, our challenge is much like the Corinthians, is erring on the over application of liberty to the point of undue permissiveness. The question to ascertain in our selves and living in community is the proper balance of appropriate liberty and a righteous zeal for holiness. 1 Corinthians 5 will help us regain this balance.
Paul’s thrust in this chapter is for discipline of persistently sinning church members. He presents 1) The Need (1 Corinthians 5:1–2a), 2) The Method (1 Corinthians 5:2b–5), and 3) The Reason (1 Corinthians 5:6–8) that the discipline should be imposed.
1) The Need for Discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1–2a)
1 Corinthians 5:1-2a [5:1]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. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?( Let him who has done this be removed from among you.) (ESV)
The first things the Corinthians needed to see was the need for discipline. Because they apparently had rationalized or minimized the immorality in their midst, they saw no need for discipline. Paul’s first step was to show them that the immorality was immorality and that it was serious and should not be tolerated—something they already should have known. The fact that it was actually reported. The reporting mentioned conveys the concept of thoroughness ... and signifies that the whole story has been reported (Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 154–156). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.)
• One crucial but often overlooked factor in dealing with problems is information. Starting from giving the personal the benefit of the doubt, and not presuming upon motive, action must being only once sufficient, collaborative details of a situation are ascertained. Without this, any action will be premature at best or destructive and defamatory at worst. Given that this case is judged based on action itself, motive and surrounding circumstances would be irrelevant. Since Paul had determined the action itself, it is enough to condemn.
It was reported that there is sexual immorality among you, indicates it was common information and should have been as shocking to them as it was to Paul. Such a thing ought not to be heard of at all (Robertson, A., & Plummer, A. (1911). A critical and exegetical commentary on the First epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (p. 95). New York: T&T Clark.)
The Corinthian church had a general reputation for immorality, and word of it had come to Paul more than once. He had written them about it previously. But the particular problem he mentions first was sexual immorality of such a kind that is not tolerated/as does not exist even among pagans/the Gentiles, for a man has his father’s wife. God created and creates humans as sexual beings, but as sexual opposites, as male and female. That sexuality is to find expression within the covenant ‘boundary’ of a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman in marriage. All other expressions of sexuality are called porneia, whether pre-marital intercourse, post-marital unfaithfulness, incest, same sex relationships, necrophilia, or bestiality. Part of God’s ‘Holiness Code’ sets out various sexual practices in which God’s redeemed people must not engage (Lev. 18:6–30) (Barnett, P. (2000). 1 Corinthians: Holiness and Hope of a Rescued People (p. 78). Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.).