Unit 6 Expel the Wicked Person
Unit 6 – Expel the Wicked Person
1 Corinthians 4:18-5:13
□ What is the best party you ever attended?
1. Why is it important for the church to take a strong stand against blatant sin among its members? What will be the consequences if it does not do so?
2. What sins does Paul specifically identify as requiring such a response by the church? (vv. 11)
3. What action does Paul indicate is required? (vv. 2, 7, 13)
4. How should this action be taken? (v. 4)
5. What possible reasons can you think of to explain why the church hadn’t take action already? Do churches today face the same issues?
6. What sins should the church not judge? (vv. 9-10, 12-13) Why not?
7. What does the metaphor of yeast indicate about sin? (vv. 6-8; see Matthew 16:5-12)
8. What does it mean to abandon someone to Satan? What is the desired outcome? (vv. 4-5)
Why would Satan cooperate in accomplishing God’s purposes?
□ Isn’t sin a private matter between the individual and God? Isn’t it a violation of privacy for the church to openly condemn sins in this way?
□ Are there any risks the church must consider when seeking to carry out Paul’s instructions in this passage? How can they be addressed?
Paul now transitions from the issue of divisions in the church (1:10-4:17) and turns his attention to the problem of gross immorality among professing believers at Corinth. This section contains two parts: the first, 4:18-6:20, consists of a denunciation of immorality and greed; the second, 7:1- 40, presents a contrasting, positive model of the Christian life.
v. 18 “Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you.” Those who do not expect that they will be called to account for their actions, either by man or God, tend to become arrogant. They indulge and exalt themselves, and they mistreat others (see Ps. 14:1-3; Mt. 24:45-51; Lk. 12:42-46; 2 Pet. 3:3-4). Such were some at Corinth: rejecting Paul’s apostolic authority, they set themselves up as independent arbiters of spirituality and morality, and presumed to judge him instead of submitting to his judgment (1 Cor. 4:3; 10:29; 2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10).
vv. 19-20 Upon his arrival, Paul intends to conduct an investigation. Ignoring the Corinthians’ words, he will search out whether the power of Christ is working in and through them. This “power” is the power of the Spirit and the gospel to transform lives, consistent with Paul’s use of the term throughout the letters to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:17-18; 2 Cor. 4:6-7; 6:6-8; 10:4-5; 12:9-10; 13:4). As for the kind of power which was manifested in “signs, wonders, and miracles”, these had value in attesting to the genuineness of Paul’s apostolic calling (2 Cor. 12:12). However, they could also be performed by “false christs and false prophets” (Mt. 24:24; Mk. 13:22; see Mt. 7:21-23; Rev. 13:11-14). Thus they were not conclusive proof of godliness, but required the confirming evidence of true doctrine and holiness of life (Rom. 16:17; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Thess. 3:6; 1 Tim. 6:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:10; Tit. 1:7-9; 2:7-8).
v. 1 Paul does not provide the specifics of the situation he addresses here, as it was already well known to his readers. Concerning the woman’s identity, it seems likely that she was the man’s stepmother, for if she were his biological mother, we would expect Paul to have stated this explicitly, rather than referring to her as “his father’s wife”. And so we conclude that this is the case of a man who has married his stepmother or is living with her out of wedlock, she having been divorced from his father. It is also possible that the man in question is conducting an illicit affair with his stepmother while she remains married to his father; we cannot be certain. What we do know is that Paul was outraged by this blatant flouting of God’s moral law, and even more so by the fact that the Corinthians had taken no action in response. He underscores the severity of the offense by noting that even pagan unbelievers regarded this kind of sexual relationship to be unacceptable. However, for Paul, the judgment that this kind of relationship is immoral did not come from the prevailing Roman or Greek culture, but from the teaching of the Old Testament concerning family and sexual relationships (see Lev. 18:7-8; 20:11; Deut. 22:30; 27:20).
v. 2 Now Paul focuses his condemnation on the church’s shocking response, or rather their lack of a response. What they ought to have done was to repent and grieve over this heinous sin, and to have expelled from their fellowship the man who was guilty of it (see 2 Cor. 12:21). Why? Because God does not regard sin as merely an individual matter. He holds the whole community responsible for how they respond to it. And so by doing nothing, the church had become complicit in the sin, and subject to God’s judgment as a result.For an example of a corporate response to the sins of individuals, see Josh. 7:1-26, in which the Lord tells Joshua that “Israel has sinned” (v. 11) because one man had committed theft, bringing God’s judgment on the people. In this case, God’s wrath was turned away only after Achan and his family had been executed, and thus removed from Israel. See also Ezra 10:1-6 and Neh. 1:1-7.
vv. 3-4 Paul’s statement that he is with them “in spirit” is likely an indication of the intensity of his personal concern for them; i.e., that his focus and attention on their circumstances is as great as if he were standing right in their midst (see Col. 2:5). Thus, he is able to pass judgment as if he were physically among them. And he has done so, with the authority he possesses as an apostle commissioned by Christ. Paul’s judgment was to be ratified by the entire church gathered together, so that the decision would represent a repudiation of the sin by the body as a whole. Note that in the case of such flagrant, egregious sin, there is no intermediate step between discovery and expulsion.
v. 5 One possible interpretation of this verse is that Paul, acting on his authority as an apostle, is consigning this man to physical decay or illness, ultimately resulting in death. This would be consistent with the use of the term “destruction” (Gr. olethron) elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:9) and in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament in use in Paul’s day. However, it is difficult to see how physical death could be spoken of as resulting in the man’s salvation “on the day of the Lord”. Only the death of Christ can accomplish this (Rom. 5:10; 6:4; 8:10; Phil. 3:10-11). Another interpretation is that the term “flesh” (Gr. sarx) refers here, not merely to the man’s physical body, but to his whole being, as corrupted by sin and rebellion against God. This would be consistent with passages in Paul’s letters which speak of the flesh as needing to be “crucified” (Gal. 5:24), and exhorting that the deeds of the “earthly nature” be “put to death” (Col. 3:5; see Rom. 8:5-17; Gal. 5:16-24). In this view, Paul’s intent is that the man’s exclusion from the community of believers, and the resulting exposure to Satan’s attacks, would produce sorrow and grief, resulting in his repentance and salvation. We see that Satan is being used here to accomplish God’s purposes. Many people erroneously think of Satan as an independent being, outside of God’s control. But in fact Satan can do only what God permits him to do; see, for example, Satan’s dialogue with God concerning Job (Job 1:12; 2:6-7; also Lk. 4:1-2; 22:31; Jn. 6:70-71; 13:27; 2 Cor. 12:7; 1 Tim. 1:20). In the same way, God uses ungodly rulers both to discipline and bless his people (e.g., Pharaoh, Ex. 4:21; 14:8; Nebuchadnezzar, Jer. 25:8-9; 27:6; 43:10; 51:12; Cyrus, 2 Chron. 36:22- 23; Ezra 1:1-3; Isa. 45:13; see also Lev. 26:14-17; Prov. 21:1). In fact, even the death of Christ, which was carried out by “wicked men”, was according to “God’s set purpose” (Acts 2:23; see Isa. 43:10; Acts 4:27-28). Note, however, that Satan, ungodly rulers, and wicked people are still responsible for their actions and will be punished for their sins against the people of God (see Isa. 10:5-12, 24-25; Jer. 25:12; Mt. 26:24; Mk. 14:21; Rev. 20:10).
v. 6 Not only must the man be removed from their fellowship for his own sake, he must be removed in order to prevent his example from corrupting the whole body, even as a small amount of yeast works its way through an entire batch of dough. The insidious nature of sin and falsehood, and their tendency, if not addressed, to spread and permeate the whole, is likened to the action of “leaven” throughout the Scriptures. This comparison is implied in the Old Testament laws which required the use of unleavened bread, and is made more explicit in the New Testament (Mt. 16:5-12; Mk. 8:15; Lk. 12:1; Gal. 5:7-9; 1 Cor. 5:8).
vv. 7-8 Under Old Testament law, for the duration of Passover week no bread prepared with leaven could be eaten, and all leaven had to be removed from the Israelites’ homes. For this reason Passover is also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:1-27; 13:3-8). In the same way, the church and the individual believer should rid themselves of the sin that so easily spreads and corrupts, so that they may observe the Festival in purity and wholehearted faith. The “Festival” which we celebrate is not the Old Covenant Passover, which commemorated the Israelites’ protection from the angel of death and their escape from oppression under Pharaoh. Rather, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, which commemorates the sacrifice of our Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:6-14; 12:11; 13:8), and our freedom from the tyranny of sin and death (Rom. 6:18, 22; 8:2; Heb. 2:15).
vv. 9-11 This is not actually Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. He wrote an earlier letter, now lost to us, in which he instructed them “not to associate with sexually immoral people”. Here he clarifies that he was not referring to the immoral people “of this world”, as that would be require them to have no dealings with unbelievers whatsoever (see Jn. 17:11, 15-18). Rather he is speaking of any person who claims to be a Christian, but who is “sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler”. He commands that they not extend to such people even the most basic sign of fellowship and hospitality, that of sharing a meal with them. This prohibition would have had three effects: (1) it helped to separate the faithful believer from a corrupt influence, (2) it shamed the transgressor, with the goal being their repentance, (3) it signaled to the watching world that these sins are not accepted and tolerated in the Christian community. Paul does not state that a person who is guilty of such conduct cannot be a Christian; however, his use of the phrase “who claims to be a brother or sister” indicates that their behavior has put their spiritual condition in serious doubt.
vv. 12-13 These verses contradict those who object to any form of church discipline on the grounds that we are not to judge one another. Paul explicitly states that at in matters of gross sin, the church is in fact required “to judge those inside”, i.e., those within the church, by putting them out of the fellowship. However, this requirement does not extend to unbelievers; Paul indicates that we have no business attempting to compel them to behave in a moral fashion, or subjecting them to sanctions when they transgress the commands of Scripture. God himself will judge them at the appropriate time (see Rom. 1:18-27; 2:8-9, 12). In other words, the church, as the church, has no right or responsibility to impose Christian morality on the wider culture. It is the responsibility of the state, not the church, to maintain civil order and promote right conduct in society at large (Rom. 13:1-5). On the other hand, under a democratic form of government, the obligation to “do good to all people” (Gal. 6:10) may well involve working to bring about the passage and enforcement of laws through which the state can effectively fulfill its responsibility