Today: [1 Corinthians 5:] Sexual Scandal and Church Leadership: 1 Corinthians 5 is one of the most scandalous chapters of the bible. The church at Corinth has adopted a posture of leniency and tolerance toward the sexual practices of its members and Paul comes out swinging. Is there anything in this chapter that is relevant to church culture, or perhaps your own personal life? Or may we safely disregard this particular chapter altogether?
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[1Co 5:1-13 KJV] 1 It is reported commonly [that there is] fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, [concerning] him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your glorying [is] not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
We now come to the primary reason why Paul is writing to the Corinthians. It has come to his attention through various sources that one of their number is living in a conjugal relationship with his father’s wife. Does this mean that this was a man with his step-mother, or worse? We can only conjecture but either way, this is scandalous in the extreme, not only that it is taking place, but the leadership of the church is aware and going to great lengths to tolerate the situation.
In verse two Paul laments the situation and chastizes the leadership because they are actually priding themselves on their tolerance of this intolerable matter in the midst. Paul says that rather than being puffed up they should be mourning that the person in question might be taken away from among them. What does this mean? It means that the fellowship is already broken because there is no communion between darkness and light. The greater tragedy for Paul that compounds this problem is the lack of discernment in the Corinthian leaders. They don’t sense anything wrong. They are proud of themselves rather than discerning of the brokenness of the people involved. What about in church culture today? It is a statistical truth that professing Christians have a higher divorce rate than acknowledged atheists or the LGBT crowd who now are allowed the protections of legal marriage covenants. Standards of sexual conduct, illegitimate birth, and other related issues in church culture match precisely the same pattern of behavior among the unchurched. This is egregious, yes but the deeper heartache is that church leadership, for the most part, is entirely silent on these matters. Even if they spoke up, however, how many offending couples or individuals would be willing to receive their correction? If you were approached by a church leader and questioned regarding your marital status or sexual practices or activity what would be your response? Church culture as we know it has much in common with the Corinthian church and for the same reasons.
Paul makes a statement in v. three that expresses his sense of discernment toward this congregation and on what basis. He says though he is absent in body he is present with them in spirit. What if a Christian leader spoke to you in this way? What if a pastor said to you “I wasn’t there when this happened, but in my spirit, I have judged already…” Would you accept his or her authority or would you reject them out of hand? This is a very delicate and uncomfortable subject that is difficult to consider but nonetheless entirely relevant and illuminating of the condition of church culture as we know it today. Paul looked down through time by the Spirit and made this observation in 2 Timothy:
[2Ti 3:1-9 KJV] 1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. 6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, 7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. 9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all [men], as theirs also was.
There was a time this was an often quoted passage but no more – it is too descriptive of church culture as we know it. What is the answer? When Judaism as the prevailing religious system reached this level of declension, it was rejected altogether. Is Christianity too big to fail? Is Christian culture so vital to the purposes of God that He will never deal with it as he did first century Judaism?
What is Paul’s solution? In verse 4-5 he commands the church to come together and deliver the person to Satan for the destruction of their flesh that their spirit might be saved. Did the church obey in this matter? We know by studying 2 Corinthians that they not only obeyed but they went to great extremes to inflict judgment and punishment upon this person to the point that the entire letter of 2 Corinthians was written to clean up the mess!
It is also interesting that after Paul instructs this person to be handled this way that he himself (2 Cor. 2:7) experienced having a messenger from Satan sent to buffet and torment him in some way. It is also telling that there is no record in scripture of any of Paul’s peers or proteges to follow in his example of such extreme discipline. Does this mean that the matter should have been ignored? No, because v. 6-7 tells us that sin, like leaven in dough spreads and infects all it touches. Whether it is a church matter or something going on under your own roof – you cannot allow open sin to go unchecked. However, be careful and aware as to how you deal with such things lest in acting in an overzealous manner your bring upon yourself your own set of difficulties. Shouldn’t people repent? Yes, they should. Remember Romans 2:5 tells us that it is the goodness of God and not the badness of the devil that produces the repentance that God is looking for.
In verse 9 Paul gives more instruction. If there is unchecked sexual sin in the church, we are to exclude them from our company. What is fornication? It comes from the same word from which “pornography” is derived. Do you think in the company of Christians that represent your personal circle men or woman are engaging in pornography? In reality, all you have to do is look at your phone, your computer or prime time television to find things that you can only define as pornographic. The word pornea means to sell. Even in worship culture in the church only the most attractive and eye appealing men and women are allowed to be on the platform. Why? Because sex sells. If you have a 400-pound woman with a grotesque face leading worship people will leave and not come back no matter how anointed she might be. We live in a very sexualized society, and the church is no different. When we read 1 Corinthians 5, we must do so sincerely and thoughtfully, considering ourselves and the church culture we are a part of. We don’t hold the moral high ground over these people.
Paul goes on to clarify what he is saying. When he instructs that the church should not keep company with fornicators, the covetous, extortioners, or idolators – he wasn’t speaking of people outside the church but people inside the church. If a brother or sister is a fornicator, covetous, engaged in the cult of celebrity (idolatry), or a railer, or an extortioner we are not even to eat a meal with such people. If we took everyone matching these offenses out of church culture how many would be left? If we put away from ourselves either in our personal lives or our churches all those, who profess Christ yet openly engage in such behaviors what would the church look like?
What is the answer? The working hypothesis in church culture is that this only applied to the Corinthian church in that particular setting and has no relevance to church as we know it. How convenient for us! We have successfully used modern pastoral theology to exclude ourselves from dealing with some of the most delicate issues of our day. Pastors today exult in their tolerance of same-sex unions, and many other things as though somehow they are more spiritual than God Himself (if you accept the fact that the New Testament portrays for us the heart of God). Whatever your take is on this chapter you have to find out what your accountability is in reading the last verse: “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person…” Is there a name that comes to mind? What about your own? What would you do differently in your life if you took this chapter as instructions from heaven for your life right now?
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