It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.– 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 ESV
Paul has threatened to come to Corinth, wielding a rod of discipline like a father to his disobedient children. And there is more going on within the congregation there than simply their prideful bickering over who is following which leader. While they were busy arguing over whether Paul was better than Apollos or Cephas was a better leader than Paul, a other sins had crept into the congregation. They had been so busy boasting over their spiritual superiority, that they had failed to recognize what happening right under their noses. In fact, according to Paul, it didn’t even bother them.
Paul had received word that there was a man in the church who was having sexual relations with his father’s wife. It seems that this involved the man’s stepmother, not his biological birth mother. And their is some indication that the man’s father was no longer alive. But Paul still referred to what was going on as “sexual immorality.” The Greek word he used is πορνεία (porneia). The Greeks primarily used the word to refer to prostitution or the act of going to a prostitute and paying for sexual pleasure. But the Jews had adapted the word and given it a much more robust meaning. For them, it covered “adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.” (“G4202 – porneia – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Paul seems to be using the word with its Hebrew meaning in mind. He describes what is going on as a form of porneia “that is not tolerated even among pagans” (1 Corinthians 5:1 ESV). The unbelieving Corinthians would never have condoned a man sleeping with his father’s wife, even if she was a widow. And yet the church was not only tolerating it, they were evidently proud about it.
“It is this lack of a sense of sin, and therefore of any ethical consequences to their life in the Spirit, that marks the Corinthian brand of spirituality as radically different from that which flows out of the gospel of Christ crucified. And it is precisely this failure to recognize the depth of their corporate sinfulness due to their arrogance that causes Paul to take such strong action as is described in the next sentence.” – Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 203
They displayed no remorse, regret or repentance as a fellowship. Their understanding of Christianity was missing any ethical or moral dimension. It seems that they had allowed their faith in Christ to become nothing more than a pursuit of knowledge, but without any ramifications on their behavior. Paul calls them proud and arrogant. It is as if they believed that their moral tolerance was somehow a badge of honor. They were distorting the concept of grace by turning a blind eye to sin in their midst. They had become accepting and tolerant of anything and everyone. They had somehow rationalized the man’s behavior, deeming it not only acceptable, but normal. But Paul had a radically different view. He demanded that they “throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 5:5 NLT). Paul practiced a zero-tolerance policy when it came to sexual sin. It seems clear that this man showed no repentance or even remorse. He had not divulged his sin to the congregation asking for forgiveness and pledging a change in his behavior. He was arrogantly practicing his immorality right in front of them and they were readily accepting of it.
Paul’s recommendation that they turn this man over to Satan simply means that they were to cast him out of their fellowship and allow him to suffer the consequences of his immoral decision. Paul firmly believed in the truth that you reap what you sow. He told the Galatian believers: “Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8 NLT). He also told the believers in Rome: “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death” (Romans 6:21 ESV). Just two verses later, he wrote, “the wages of sin is death.” While sin ultimately leads to physical death, it can also bring about a death to our life here on earth, even while we still draw breath. Paul was suggesting that they remove this man from their midst and allow him to reap the full consequences of his immoral choices. The English Standard Version translates verse 5 as “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” There are certain commentators who believe Paul is referring to the man’s physical death. The Greek word Paul uses is σάρξ (sarx) and while it can refer to the physical body, it was also commonly used to refer to “the sensuous nature of man, ‘the animal nature’” or “the animal nature with cravings which incite to sin” (“G4561 – sarx – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It would seem that Paul was interested in seeing this man suffer the consequences of his immoral lifestyle. In a sense, it recalls the words of Paul in his letter to the Romans, when he spoke about the sinfulness of mankind: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” (Romans 1:24 ESV).
For Paul, the issue was the moral state of the church. This man’s sin was like yeast that, if tolerated, was going to spread through the entire congregation. Undisciplined sin in the body of Christ is like a cancer that will eventually permeate its way, leaving a path of destruction. The prideful permissiveness of sin in the body of Christ is dangerous. Our willingness to tolerate unacceptable behavior among fellow believers usually has little to do with the practice of grace. But it has everything to do with complacency and a lack of understanding about the corporate culpability of sin. The church is an organism and, like the human body, every part has an influence on every other part. There really is no such thing as individual sin. And Christ’s call for us to love one another includes the kind of love that cares about the spiritual well-being of one another. To think that the sin of a brother or sister in Christ will not eventually impact the body is naive at best. The overall health of the body of Christ is completely dependent upon the health of its members. When we tolerate sin, we allow the enemy to have a foothold in our midst. Which is why Paul so boldly demanded, “Get rid of the old ‘yeast’ by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are” (1 Corinthians 5:7 NLT).