When you read these Forbidden Bible Verses, you will understand why they are excluded from the Lectionary. This letter from St Paul is a short but powerful one.
Today’s reading comes from the New International Version.
Expel the Immoral Brother!
1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature[a] may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
St Paul devotes the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians to mending divisions in their church. In chapter 5, he tackles the immorality and indifference among church members.
Were you startled to read the first verse discussing incest? (In the Bible this act would have been called incestuous whether the woman in question were his mother or his stepmother.) If you were taken aback, it shows that, even in today’s world, sin still has shock value. We react to it atavistically, instinctively. It wouldn’t be out of place on some of the lowbrow talk shows which many people watch precisely for that reason.
In some translations, the word ‘fornication’ appears instead of ‘immorality’. John MacArthur says that the Greeks would use the word porneia. It was a catch-all word to describe:
… any kind of sexual involvement. The word adultery means sex outside of the marriage, a married person having sex outside his marriage. That’s the particular sin of adultery. Fornication is a general term that would include adultery, incest, lesbianism, homosexuality, any kind of perversion, beastiality, sexual relations with animals; anything would be included in the term porneia. Pornography is our word today. The root word, porne, means a harlot for hire. The masculine form, pornos, means a male prostitute. But it started out to mean that and the Greeks just filled it out so that it meant every vice and they were really big on them. In fact, in Corinth and Athens, you have the seat of most of the immorality. They, according to historians, were the two most immoral cities.
Paul rebukes the church members in verse 2 not only for their nonchalance and indifference over the matter but because they glory in it! Matthew Henry says this is because the man was prominent in their eyes, through intellect, profession or social status. Yet, Paul says, ‘Even pagans won’t stoop that low.’ Yes, some did but, because of an innate sense of right and wrong, other pagans wasted no time in condemning them. But the Christians of Corinth did nothing and took pride in this sin. Paul asks how they could not have felt shame and distress, how they could not expel this man from their midst. Apparently, this man’s sin is the talk of the city. And he professes to being a Christian. What does that say about the Church and its members in Corinth?
Paul, on the other hand, says that even though he is far away, he has already passed judgment on this man (verse 3). He doesn’t need to be there in person to know the man has committed a serious sin. Note that Paul says he is with the Corinthians ‘in spirit’ twice (verses 3 and 4). Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that when they are together, Christ is also present in spirit and authority (Matthew 18:20). In verse 5, when Paul says to ‘hand this man over to Satan’, he means ‘excommunicate him as a church member’ — remove his body and his carnal urges from the assembly of Christians – so that when the man dies, his soul will be saved. Matthew Henry says that Paul intends for the man to be handed over when the congregation has gathered together. It must be a corporate act. MacArthur says:
So you turn him over, his flesh will be destroyed by Satan, but his spirit will be delivered. Why? Because Satan can’t touch the inner man. That’s already redeemed forever. Right? And in the day of the Lord Jesus, when that day comes, that man will stand there with the redeemed, but he’ll pay a price in this life. And, of course, remember this. The idea of this discipline is not to just wipe the guy out, but to change him. Wouldn’t you agree? … You say, will he be in Heaven? Yes, he will, because Satan was given his flesh but not his…what?…not his spirit. That belongs to the Lord and in the day of the Lord Jesus, he will be there with the redeemed. But I like to think that he didn’t die in this destruction. I kind of like to think that he got straightened out. Wouldn’t you like to think that? That’s just a good guess. But in II Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 5, there is the story of a man that Paul told them to chastise. And the man repented. He was thrown out and the man repented and Paul says to them, now, you confirm your love and take him back. I like to think that the man of II Corinthians 2:5-11 is the man of I Corinthians 5 and that he got it together and got straightened out.
This passage indicates the importance of church discipline. Wrongdoing must be dealt with quickly, otherwise the rest of the congregation is affected, directly or indirectly. Some denominations take church discipline more seriously than others. What this passage intimates is that one sin leads to another. Failure to condemn another member’s sin leaves the congregation vulnerable to more sins, of the same or other kinds. A church is duty-bound to pass judgment where serious sin is concerned. This is why, in some churches, someone guilty of a serious sin is decried before the entire congregation. In others, the pastor and elders will meet with the guilty party in private. In the Catholic Church, the parish priest will make the judgement call, e.g. whether to give Communion to someone who publicly advocates abortion. Onlookers may find these judgments harsh, yet Christ mandates them for the health of His bride, the Church. He tells us to point out one another’s sins:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. — Matthew 18:15
MacArthur explains (emphases mine):
I really think that when the church gets to the place where it doesn’t mourn over sin, it’s on the way out. You’re right on the edge of the disaster. When we cease to be shocked by sin, then we’ve really lost our defense. Then we just don’t care anymore. It was sin that killed Jesus. Did you know that? And you can’t take it lightly. The church cannot tolerate sin…any kind. We’re not just here to get up on Sunday morning and give sermonettes for Christianettes and little platitudes to make you feel better. This isn’t just a Sunday morning/Sunday night operation. We’re here to get involved in your lives, to make sure that the church is what God intended it to be and that involves purity. And if we find out about sexual immorality, we have in the past done something about it, we are in the present doing some things about some we know of, and we will continue to in the future because that’s what God has called us to do to keep His church pure. In fact, you know, wherever there is immorality in the church, there should be discipline. And that’s one good thing to do in the church because it tends to keep the tares out. You know, unbelievers don’t flock to a church where they discipline people. Like Ananias and Sapphira, they sinned and they dropped dead and the word went around town, don’t join that church, one false move and, whoo, it’s curtains, see (laughter). That’s one way to keep the church pure.
In Revelation, our Lord wrote the letters to the churches. And in Revelation 2:18 He wrote to the church of Thyatira. And He says, I know your works. You got a lot of things going. You got the big operation there, your love, your service, your faith, your patience, your works and the last are even better than the first … But I want to tell you; I have something against you. You allow that woman … she ‘calls herself a prophetess and she teaches and seduces servants to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her space to repent of her fornication…she repented not…I will cast her into a bed and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they repent … I will kill her children with death and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts and I’ll give unto every one of you according to your works.’
… There is no place for the toleration of evil, immorality in the church. The church must be pure. And the job and the responsibility of the church is not just to go and attend and sit there and watch what happens, but to seek out the purity of the church. In Ephesians, chapter 5, it says you are to have ‘no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them’. That means correct them, rebuke them, speak against them. If you know somebody in immorality, it’s your responsibility as a Christian before God to go to that individual and if they don’t hear you, to take a witness, and if they don’t hear them, to bring it to the church leaders. That’s for the purity of the church. That responsibility belongs to you. You should mourn.