It 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. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (verses 1-2)
This is a severe chapter. Not one you would typically choose for “devotional” material. But this is the goodness of progressing chapter by chapter through the scriptures: we’re pressing into the whole counsel of God, without backing away.
Here we’re confronted with the sin of individuals and with that of a whole community. The sin of this man and woman is sexual (outside the bonds of marriage) and egregious (the man is sleeping with his own step-mother). Corinth is a city full of all kinds of sexual expression outside marriage, sanctioned without the blink of an eye. But Roman society drew the line at any degree of incest. The sin of these individuals is off-side by anyone’s standard.
But there is also the sin of the community. It’s not even that they have turned a blind eye to the sin. Rather, they’ve looked it square in the face and revelled in it. What were they thinking? Likely they had grabbed hold of one portion of the Gospel and missed the rest. Having just read through Romans my mind is filled with the freedom that comes with God’s pronouncement of justification in Jesus’ name, that we are not under law but grace, that there is now no condemnation. I imagine the Corinthians embraced these wholeheartedly, with eager passion, thinking they could possibly magnify these truths by blatantly disregarding any boundaries and allowing sin to flourish. Paul, confronting such thinking in Rome, asked, “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?” He immediately answered, “By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2)
So Paul commands them to deal with the offense. First, their own. They are to put aside unseemly boasting and instead be filled with grief for this sin which is infecting the whole church, like yeast in a batch of dough. Ouch. Get back in line with the Lord, Paul is urging. Have your minds shaped by his mind. Grieve over the things that grieve his heart. Repent. Turn back. Start again.
Then, they are to deal with the offender himself, putting him outside the circle of fellowship, not so much as punishment, but rather that he may truly experience the reality and consequence of sin. More strongly yet, they are to “hand him over to Satan.” Ouch. Talk about consequence. Talk about experiencing sin’s reality.
Extreme measures. But note that the point is two-fold: (i) “that the sinful nature may be destroyed,” and (ii) that “his spirit (may be) saved on the day of the Lord” (5:5). The view is fully focused on restoration and redemption. Though the immediate circumstance will be filled with pain, the ultimate goal is the eternal good of the offender.
All of this is a wake-up call, requiring repentance and severe action. Pain will result. But also hope.
Oh, that the church may be a community of purity. Oh, that we may be focused on restoration and redemption, even in the midst of pain. Oh, that hope might always undergird any necessity of strong action.
Dear Lord, this chapter awakens us to the necessity of dealing with sin. That necessity cost you dearly. At every step, you were motivated by grace. May we have your perspective at every step, not turning a blind eye, not minimizing sin’s cost, not forgetting that hope is always based in your sacrifice, once for all.
Reflect: Someone has said: “Deal severely with sin or it will deal severely with you.” What does that mean for you, right where you are? What steps do you need to take?