Summary: First Corinthians chapters 5-7 speak about purity, especially sexual purity in the Church, the world, and in the home.
Purity in the Church, the World, and the Home
Today we’ll spend some time looking at chapters 5 – 7 of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. On first read, these chapters may seem unrelated. Chapters 5 & 6 deal with guidelines for church discipline. Chapter 7 talks about Marriage. But Paul was not just jumping, willy-nilly, from one topic to another. There is a logical connection within this portion of his letter.
All three chapters deal with a topic that is as essential to us in 21st century America as it was to the early Christians in the first century. The topic is sexual purity. Paul talks about how to maintain purity in the church, in the world, and in the home. Corinth was a city filled with sexual sin. They didn’t have the technology we have … no pornography on the internet or on TV …, but they had the first century equivalent in their pagan temples and amphitheaters. Corinth was a city where almost anything goes. ALMOST anything … even in Corinth, what was going on the church was taboo.
1. Purity in the Church (Chapter 5)
Here’s how Paul started Chapter 5 - It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. (vs.1)
Paul goes on in chapter 5 to lay out instructions for how the church must deal with this kind of sin within the congregation. But we need to understand that Paul is not singling out this immoral situation because of the specific sin. Every congregation is filled with nothing BUT sinners. The church welcomes sinners, just as Christ welcomes sinners. Verse 2 explains why this sin could not be tolerated. Paul exclaims, And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? (vs. 2)
This man was not repentant. In fact, he was proud of his incestuous relationship. And evidently the congregation was proud right along with him. We don’t know why they accepted this. Maybe it was a misunderstanding of “freedom in Christ” that they were boasting about. “Look at us, we accept everyone here – Christ has set us free!” Maybe it was just that this man was well liked or maybe he was wealthy and powerful in the community.
Whatever the reason, Paul knew that the church had to deal with anyone who is sinning openly and declaring that sin is NOT sin. Congregations today face this same situation … and we can receive guidance from the solution Paul outlined in this letter. He advised them to put the man out of their fellowship.
This was not the same as what we know of as excommunication. It was meant to be temporary. Hopefully the man’s eyes would be opened to the truth and he would be able to repent of his sin and be reunited with the congregation. (In fact, we find out in 2 Corinthians chapter 2: this is exactly what happened in this case!)
Paul gives the reason that this extreme measure is sometimes necessary in verse 6: Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Sometimes a godless culture will say that right is wrong and that wrong is right --- but if the church agrees with the culture then they lose their very identity as followers of Christ. The whole church will become infected with the idea that we can willingly live sinful lives while boasting that we are following Jesus.
It’s important that we keep in mind, that Paul did not say sinners were unwelcome in the church. Paul makes it clear that the church welcomes sinners of every kind in chapter 6, vs. 9-11: Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
In chapter 5, Paul is addressing a situation of an unrepentant sinner within the congregation … someone who openly boasts that something God declares as sin is NOT really wrong. A congregation must address this kind of situation head-on.
2. Purity in the World (Chapter 6)
In this part of his letter, Paul also addresses how and why Christians must maintain personal purity in the World. He first makes it clear that --- even though he advised the congregation not to associate with the unrepentant sinner in their church --- he is NOT telling them to stay away from sinners in the community around them.