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1 Corinthians chapter 5

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What does 1 Corinthians chapter 5 mean?

To this point, Paul has criticized the Corinthian church for issues such as pride and self-sufficiency. As one might expect, this has led to other problems and mistakes. At the end of chapter 4, Paul noted that the believers in Corinth were behaving as if they were unaccountable—as if there was no chance they would be confronted for their behavior. In this chapter, Paul applies his serious remark about discipline (1 Corinthians 4:21) to a heinous real-life example of sin among the Corinthians.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul confronts the church for ignoring an ongoing case of incest by a member of the church. Instead of feeling sad about the sin in which this man was openly indulging, the Corinthians continued to be proud of themselves and judgmental of others. Two groups from Corinth had visited Paul in Ephesus. One or both reported to him that a man in the Corinthian church was engaged in a sexual affair with his father's wife. Though the woman was not the man's biological mother, this qualified as incest under both Jewish law and even the moral standards of that era's pagan culture. It was a clear and indisputable case of open sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1–2).

Paul commands the church to remove the man from among them. By this, Paul means that this person is to be treated as a non-believer, and one not welcome in the congregation; he will explain this in more detail later. Most likely, the woman in question was an outsider, rather than a self-identified Christian. Paul declared the man guilty and told the Corinthians to consider Paul as being present with them in spirit at their next meeting. Then they were to deliver the man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh to make it possible for his spirit to be saved from the Lord's judgment. His purpose for this church discipline is mostly for the sake of helping the sinner—seeking his repentance—but also for the good of the church (1 Peter 2:12; 2 Peter 2:1–2). The church ought to have already dealt with such a serious issue (1 Corinthians 5:3–5).

Why had the Corinthians not taken action in this matter already? Paul again calls out their boasting. Their pride kept them from removing a sin from among them that threatened to spread, like bad leaven in good dough, to the whole community. Leavening agents were passed from old, fermented dough into new dough. A small bit would eventually grow as it was mixed into clean, fresh material. Paul's point is that sin is contagious—they must treat this man and his sin as the Jewish people would treat leaven during the Passover celebration, removing it completely from their homes. Paul reminds these believers that they have already been saved by the blood of Christ, the ultimate Passover lamb. Now they must celebrate that salvation by removing malice and evil from their lives and replacing it with truth and sincerity (1 Corinthians 5:6–8).

Paul reminds them, as well, that he has commanded them before not to associate with sexually immoral people. The principle he discusses here applies to all unrepentant sins, and to any self-professed believer who stubbornly practices sins like greed, swindling, idol worship, regular drunkenness, and angrily insulting others. Despite this need for reasonable discipline, Paul clarifies that this does not apply to those outside the church. To entirely avoid all contact, with all sinners, in all ways, would require believers to leave the earth! Rather, Christians are responsible to judge anyone among them who claims to be a Christian. Those who act in blatantly un-Christian ways should be excluded from that community of believers (1 Corinthians 5:9–13).
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