Sat, 22 November 2008
1 Corinthians 5 reveals a distinct shift in the epistle, for here Paul begins to address the scandal of a Corinthian Christian living with his father's wife (v 1). Such an action is forbidden in Torah, prohibited in Roman law, and is in clear contradistinction with the call of Christ; it should have long been addressed by the Corinthian leaders, and Paul upbraids these leaders for their negligence. It is clear that this immoral person is adamantly persisting in his sin and shows no sign of leaving the church.
To this, Paul demands, "Let him who has done this be removed from among you" with all his apostolic authority, for "though absent in body I am present in spirit [when you are assembled together], and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing ... with the power of the Lord Jesus you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (v 2-3, 5). Thus a total excommunication removes him completely from the protective umbrella of God's Church until he bears the fruit of genuine repentance. One should note that men can regularly repent from sexual sin through grace; Paul's terrifying excommunication is a deliberate attempt to dissuade these sins.
Throughout the entire scandal, the Corinthians have been boasting of their spiritual acumen (cf v 6). He reminds them that as "a little leaven leavens the whole lump," unfettered evil quickly spreads throughout the Church. Referencing the festival of deliverance, the Passover, he writes "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" (v 8).
Paul knows that greed, robbery and idolatry are in the world, but demands that Christians not associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of egregious immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler (slanderer), drunkard or robber (v 11). His attempt is to raise the standards of holiness for Christians, never to execute vindication or to mete out punishment on non-Christians for immorality. When he says they are "not even to eat with such a one," he challenges the Corinthian Church to address grave sin for the good of the whole body, even if doing so painfully breaks the norms of social etiquette. Rather than tolerate evils that will poison the flock, Christians must "Drive out the wicked person from among you" (v 12). One will best do this through frequent examination of conscience and by speaking the truth in love.
Music: Avanti Il Quarto Brando from the album Italian Music of the 17th Century, performed by Altri Stromenti. www.magnatune.com