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Expel the Immoral Brother! July 9, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 5.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that in general, sexual immorality is prevalent in the Corinthian church; in particular, one of the church members has married his step-mother – even the Gentiles abhorred this act. Now the Corinthians are puffed up regarding their spiritual condition even though they tolerated this offense in their church body; Paul then states that instead, they should have been humbled and saddened by this event. Although Paul is not physically present in Corinth, his knowledge, authority and power are with them – allowing him to resolve to act on Christ’s behalf and deliver the offender over to Satan without waiting for their decision in this matter. Thus, when the church is convened (Paul will be spiritually present at that time), and the power of Christ is with them, they must allow Satan to inflict bodily evils on their incestuous brother so that his soul will be saved at the second coming of Christ. Now the Corinthians should not be puffed up regarding their spiritual condition, as the tolerance of a single evil will eventually ruin their moral fabric. Paul exhorts them to be pure and without sin, and he appeals to the Old Testament example of the Passover – and its connection with Christ – to drive home the necessity of heeding his commands. In fact, Paul wants them to devote their entire lives to God – not by living in order to delight in evil and persist in committing it, but to live in order to delight in purity and conform to God’s moral law. Now in a previous letter, he has told them not to have church communion with those who are sexually immoral. By no means is he stating that they cannot associate with non-believers who

  • are immoral
  • make gain the primary object of their lives
  • take what is not rightfully theirs
  • essentially worship false gods

as heeding that command would force them to leave this world. Instead, he commands them to not recognize as believers those who commit the above-mentioned sins; if those people claim to be believers, they should not be acknowledged as believers by the Corinthians. It is not their prerogative to judge non-believers, yet they are to discipline any wicked member of their church body. It is actually God’s prerogative to judge non-believers; the Corinthians must exercise their prerogative and judge their incestuous brother as directed by Paul in this passage.

Thoughts: In verse 1, we see that the offense that is the focus of this passage is “of a kind that does not occur even among pagans.” Hodge weighs in as follows:

Such a marriage, Paul says, was unheard of among the Gentiles – that is, it was regarded by them with abhorrence. Cicero speaks of such a connection as an incredible crime and as, with one exception, unheard of. It is probable from 2 Corinthians 7:12 that the father of the offender was still alive. The crime, however, was not adultery, but incest; otherwise the apostle would not have spoken of it as an unheard of offense and made the atrocity of it to arise out of the relationship between the woman and the offender’s father.

Given what we know about the moral depravity and licentiousness that reigned in Corinth at the time of the writing of this letter, this act of incest in the church must have been a major news item in the entire city. Not only was incest uncommon among the Gentiles at that time, it had actually occurred in the church – the last place that one would expect to hear of such an offense. My thought is that this act of incest must have hindered the spread of the Gospel message in Corinth – leading Paul to nip it in the bud.

In verse 11, Paul commands the Corinthians, “with such a man do not even eat” regarding their immoral brother. Hodge offers some insights on this command:

It is not the act of eating with such persons that is forbidden. Our Lord ate with tax collectors and “sinners,” but he did not thereby recognize them as his followers. So we may eat with people of the sort described here, provided we do not thereby recognize their Christian character. This is not a command to enforce the sentence of excommunication pronounced by the church by a denial of all social relations with the excommunicated. The command is simply that we are not in any way to recognize openly wicked people as Christians.

I thought about this command, wondering if the act of not recognizing the immoral brother as a Christian would have the desired effect of bringing him back to Christ – as opposed to having the Corinthians cut off all social contact with him. Eventually I figured that ostracizing the immoral brother would probably have made him more defiant and entrenched in his sin, driving him further from restoration to the church body and peace with God. On the other hand, not recognizing the immoral brother as a believer would probably have put him to shame, softening his heart and helping him ask for forgiveness.

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