Summary: Handling sin in the church has become very difficult from both angles - in our PC world much bad behavior is actually celebrated, but Christians are also wounding each other over weakness instead of supporting and helping. We'll try to walk the fine line
In Chapter 5 we move from pride of surface appearance over internal substance to pride over major sin in the body. It's issue two on Paul's mind as he writes to the Corinthians. It's a tough subject—sin in the church. This chapter can easily be misconstrued in several ways and I want to try to help us understand 1) who we are in Christ 2) how are we to act in Christ 3) how are we to treat sin and 4) how are we to treat sinners. It would be easy to move to extremes in two directions here, so I'll try to walk a tight rope, or is it walking the plank?
Possible questions you may have in reading this chapter:
• Aren't we supposed to hate the sin and love the sinner?
• Should we go around identifying sin in each other and cast out those who do wrong?
• Was the man in chapter 5 actually handed over to Lucifer to be punished?
• Does Paul's exhortation in verses 9 – 13 contradict verses 1 – 8?
The way I'd like to look at it is the difference between going to doctor as a sick patient to get well and going to the hospital as a carrier to spread disease.
"It is widely reported" – there really is no hiding sin, certainly not from God and sin doesn't stay secret for long even among humans. So pretending there isn't a problem will only cause people on the outside to wonder why we are so daft or, worse yet, they might conclude that the sin must be okay if we aren't doing anything about it.
The second thing Paul points out is the character of the sin. The man was apparently sleeping with his step mother. This was not only against Jewish law (Lev 18:8 ) but the Romans also had laws against it. As awful and sexually perverse as the Corinthian culture was, not even they would condone this. It's really the elephant in the room. I'm sure when this letter was read many faces turned red, and especially the man who was doing it and his followers. Why? Because of pride.
There are least three reasons why pride would keep the Corinthians from dealing with the situation. 1. They may have been too proud of how "mature" they were to admit that there was a problem 2. They were proud of the man's accomplishments or place in the body and didn't want to call attention to a fault (because that would mean admitting their "guy" wasn't so perfect after all and thus they weren't as perfect as they would like to think). 3. The Corinthians may have been puffed up due to their tolerance. This is a big problem today. We either become overly judgmental or overly tolerant—Paul will explain how to maneuver the difference a little later.
Their response should have been grief. God is grieved at rebellion (Isaiah 63:10 ) which is what this is—not a brother caught in sin, but a brother openly rebelling against God—and there is the huge difference.
Grief over sin itself is sometimes all it takes. Our human flesh is always wanting to reassert itself. If the discovery of a sin is met with a yawn or worse a smile, it will grow. But if there is shock and concern, even grief—it can wake a person up from the deceitfulness of that sin. The Corinthians experienced this later, where they learned the "godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted." (2 Corinthians 7:9 ).
In this case, Paul calls for much more definite action. This situation has gone beyond "working it out" and must be dealt with strongly or the fabric of the church could unravel.
3 – 5
Paul is demanding action. This is very different than a similar situation in Galatia.
Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you won't be tempted also.
This was like gangrene or sepsis. If not addressed it would kill the patient. It was too late for medicine; surgery had become necessary to save the church!
Three things had to be in place: the entire church must be present and take responsibility; they had the authority of an apostle; and the presence of the Lord Jesus (I think both in terms of His ultimate headship of the church but also His ultimate redemptive purposes).
"Handing over to Satan" was not literally having Lucifer there at the door to receive him. It probably simply meant he was dis-fellowshiped. This would leave him at the mercy of Satan, who owns the world. Paul did something similar with two men who Timothy had to deal with: