Church Discipline - Part Four


Church Discipline
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
Theme: Righteousness and restoration.
This week’s lessons remind us of the dangers of sin and the blessings of repentance.
Why does Paul insist that the Corinthian church expel this unrepentant person? The first reason is for the good of the individual involved. We find that hard to understand because our ideas of discipline are so lax. We think the worst possible thing we could do to somebody is embarrass them, or put them on the spot, or make a judgment that perhaps they are doing something wrong. But Paul says that isn’t true. Where there is open and flagrant sin, the sin must be confronted, and this must be done for the good of the individual involved. That is why he says, "I want you to hand this man over to Satan so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord."
There is some difference of interpretation among commentators as to what that means. I think the New International Version has chosen the right interpretation. The word, as I mentioned before, is "flesh," which is translated here as "the sinful nature." Some think that when Paul said, "Hand him over to Satan so the flesh may be destroyed," he meant, at the very least, that some horrible disease might come upon him, or perhaps even physical death. There is some justification for that because in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, we know the judgment was death. There are other examples that might be cited. Yet, here he does not say "body"; he says "flesh," and "flesh" often refers to the sinful nature. I think that is what Paul has in mind. He is not talking about inflicting some kind of physical judgment on the man, but rather, in giving him over to the outworking of sin in his life, he might, by the grace of God, be convicted of his sin, turn from it, and be saved.
It is a hard thing to see believers given over to sin and its consequences so that they might actually find, lived out in their flesh, the results of their transgressions. But, by the grace of God, that has been done in the lives of countless people to turn them back once again from sin to Jesus Christ. If you overlook the sin, if you say it is all right to be a Christian and still do sinful things, it is a denial of the Gospel. So here Paul is saying, don’t cover up. Don’t pretend that it is all right to profess the name of Christ and live sinfully. It is not. The ultimate, eternal good of the person demands it.
The second reason for expelling an unrepentant person is for the good of the church, and in the context we are looking at, this is what Paul is most concerned about. He does not want the church in Corinth to go in the way of the flesh, something they are in great danger of doing. They already have the mentality of the world so far as wisdom is concerned. They think the way to get ahead is to be smart in the philosophical sense and not to seek out the wisdom of the Gospel found in Christ. That is bad enough. But now they are in danger of doing the same thing morally. That is the particular error Paul is dealing with here.
He wants the believers at Corinth to be purified for God and separated for Christ. He refers to the leaven, and to Christ as the Passover lamb, bringing in the imagery any Jew would understand. On the Passover, the yeast, which symbolizes sin, was put out of the house. So, what he is saying is that if you are going to serve Christ, you must make every effort to get rid of the sin that contaminates. Of course, as you do this, you begin to grow in grace.
Study Questions
  • What are the two reasons Paul exhorts the Corinthians to expel this immoral man?
  • What does "hand this man over to Satan" most likely mean?
Further Study
The world considers tolerance to be one of the highest virtues, and yet tolerance is not always good. Read Christ’s letter to the church in Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29). What does Christ have to say about tolerating sin?
Pray that God would make you intolerant of sin in your own life.