Abruptly! “There’s crass sexual immorality going on among you! Even Gentiles know better!” That’s his tone, or something very like it. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13
It might be significant that he doesn’t say “adultery” or “incest”. The word he uses was in common use to cover sexual sin in general. The unholy relationship Paul has in mind in 5:1 might have been with his father’s wife, the sinner’s step-mother; it might even have been with his mother. Commentator’s offer various suggestions.
When he says Gentiles know better he has to be expressing the level of his shock rather than offering the result of a statistical survey. It isn’t hard to find some Greco-Roman writers who oppose sexual immortality but it was a sad bad world they lived in (see 6:9-10).
The sinner’s behavior certainly led Paul to blunt speech (5:5, 13 with Deuteronomy 13:5; 17:5; 19:19; 21:21 as a background) but it isn’t the sinner that gets the heaviest blows. He saves those for the Church that encourages and in a way defends him.
Paul wants him saved (5:5). Certain elements in the congregation glory in what he is doing and so further endanger him because not only are they doing nothing against the behavior they are encouraging him it. (It’s not easy to pin down why they were “glorying” or “puffed up” in the face of it but then there’s 6:12-20 where porneia is immediately linked to demonic worship and defended on the grounds that sex and eating were both God-given drives.)
Of course, they loved themselves and gloried in their gifts and their wisdom (4:7-8) and swaggered if they thought they had the showiest gifts and the smartest answers (12:12-31and then chapter 13). They were obviously too wise, too gifted (1:5-7) and fell in love with themselves rather than the God from whom everything came (1:4, 8-9; 5:18). Despite all that they still acted like non-spiritual people (3:3) who needed to be reconciled with God (5:20, with a present imperative).
You can imagine that element in the church that defended the sexual immorality of this man and then demonic worship attendance (6:12-20). See their smiles at the ignorance of the other brothers and sisters who were still bound by “the rules.” Yes, those who didn’t know what freedom was; they were so ignorant that they couldn’t eat meat that had a link to temple worship. Ah, the marvelous sense of “freedom”. Those ‘wise” fools never noticed that Jesus was sitting there with the ignorant—and not eating! The Lord didn’t side with the ones with “the newly-found knowledge of freedom”.
“FREEDOM!” Mackintosh said this, “Freedom is good and Christ gives it abundantly; but freedom without Christ, is evil through and through. Freedom is sweet, but what are all its joys if to taste them we must take leave of our best Friend ? Whatever we must renounce or deny to ourselves is nothing to what we have found in Him.”
The puffed up group is damaging more than the sexually immoral man; they’re endangering the entire congregation. “A little leaven leavens the entire lump.” And they’re doing more than that—they’re building a reputation for the entire People of God. Their great double wrong is the fruit of their having lost sight of who they are (5:6-7) and how as a congregational manifestation of Jesus Christ they should respond to such public sexual behavior and relationships.
With the Exodus as the background Paul speaks to them as “Passover People.” In preparation for the sacrificial meal of liberation they were to cleanse the house entirely of leaven and Paul reminds them that in light of the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, who had already been offered, they should have already purged this corruption. We’re to imagine the wise and glorious ones sitting at a meal of celebration with a festering dead body in their presence. Rather than being puffed up about it he said, you should be mourning as for a dead man (5:2).
For all their wisdom, for all their knowledge, for all their giftedness they were “fleshly” and conducted themselves according to human standards (3:3-4). What society thought, the way society thought, the arguments society made are all operating here in the absence of love as it is seen in GOD (8:1-3). They were “carnal” because they not only followed preachers they followed a Christ-denying society. So now they sit with this decaying corpse in their presence and glorying in it. Glorying in it because they are carnal! This section of the church was claiming life for themselves and for this unrepentant member of the Church of God. “They were self-centered, self-contained and self-directed.” (Barrett)
Paul calls on the church to stand together, with his apostolic authority and the powerful presence of the Lord Jesus in delivering this man over to Satan. That is to acknowledge that that is who he chooses to belong to and the “wise ones” support and glory in his choice.
The aim is not his destruction but his salvation! It was this wise and swaggering segment of the congregation that was damning this man but which of them would have believed it? “How unkind! How unloving! How narrow-minded!” We hear that kind of talk now and you can be sure that it was said then. And “harsh, narrow, legalistic and wrong.” Paul takes another beating but that was no surprise to him, see what he says in 4:8-13.
5:9-13. Finally for now. He had written that they were to have no fellowship or company with people whose life’s choice was open immorality. Some obviously thought he was talking about non-Christians. He said, “I didn’t mean that at all!” And then he makes himself crystal clear. There are those who are “outside” and those that are “inside”. (And we can hear again the whimpering tone, “Oh that is so narrow-minded and self-righteous and unkind.” That isn’t Paul! There is no kindness so cruel as the kindness that will leave people who are food of devouring parasites to be devoured. And sometimes it isn’t kindness at all—it’s gutlessness and a fear to speak up due to a fear of being thought small-minded.)
The outsiders who choose a lifestyle of unrepentant immorality in any of its forms are not to be confused with those who have been baptized into a Lord Jesus who lived, died and rose again to redeem us (Romans 6:1-11; Titus 2:11—3:11). “We judge those that are within,” he said! His gospel, he said, was all tied up with the glory of the blessed God and sexual immorality was contrary to it. (2 Timothy 1:11) Contrary to the gospel! For him every question was, “How does this fit in with or rise out of or embody the gospel of the blessed and glorious God?” (2 Timothy 1:11; Galatians 5:16-21)
Let God judge those who choose not to become part of the congregations of Jesus Christ. But those who wish to be included within the called out People of God, those who claim to be are part of the blood bought Church of God (Acts 20:28), who claim to be parts of Christ and one spirit with Him must commit to live in light of that commitment and relationship (1 Corinthians 6:9-20). Those who do not wish to be part of the Community of Jesus Christ have been allowed that choice (Acts 14:16; Romans 1:24, 26). What they’re not allowed to do is to say, “I refuse to place myself under the Headship of Jesus as part of His Body but I want to be regarded as part of it. I will count myself in but I will not be judged by it.”
Those who justify that spirit will answer to God! They dishonor the Lord and hurt the world!