1 Corinthians 5:1-6
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles…
From the subject of the party divisions at Corinth, the apostle passes on to consider other evils which had come to his knowledge. The first is a case of incest, in which a member of the Church had married, or was cohabiting with, his stepmother; and this incestuous person was permitted to remain in the Christian community. Such a case gives us a glimpse into the sad condition of Corinthian society. This heterogeneous population was exposed to three influences that were decidedly adverse to a high morality: extensive commerce, involving contact with the vices of foreigners and developing luxurious living; the Isthmian games celebrated in the neighbourhood; and the worship of Venus. The Church that was drawn from such a community could not escape the infection of its low moral tone. Many weeds were already in the soil into which the good seed was cast. We can thus understand how in such a society so gross a case as this might arise.
I. SPIRITUAL PRIDE AND GROSS SIN ARE OFTEN FOUND TOGETHER. The Corinthians were puffed up because of their fancied attainments (1 Corinthians 4:8), whilst this awful wickedness was tolerated among them. Spiritual pride is a distemper sure to beget other grosser evils, whether in individuals or Churches. It dims the spiritual eye and blunts the moral sense, and thereby leads to a fall. Perfectionism content to dwell with incest!
II. THE EXERCISE OF DISCIPLINE.
1. Its warrant. Every society has the right to reject members whose character is inconsistent with its constitution and ends. This is true of the state, as of private associations; and the same right is not to be denied to the Church. As a healthy body throws off disease which finds a lodgment in an unhealthy one, so a healthy Church will not tolerate in its bosom open transgressors. The true ideal of the Church is not collective, but selective - not embracing all men as such, but only those who have been called out from the world (ἐκκλησία). The dividing line is not absolute - there will always be tares among the wheat; but some line there must be. And this inherent right is confirmed by Divine injunction (Matthew 18:17).
2. Its form. In this case the Church is to assemble, Paul himself being present in spirit, and in the Name of the Lord Jesus "to deliver such a one unto Satan" (comp. 1 Timothy 1:20). This probably points to something more than simple excommunication, perhaps to bodily suffering or death, which the apostles in certain instances had the power of inflicting (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11; Elymas, Acts 13:11). Apart from the specialties of this case, it is plain that disciplinary dealing with scandalous members is to take the form of exclusion from the fellowship of the Christian society; and this is to be the solemn act of the Church, either collectively or by duly appointed representatives. Such a judicial sentence, pronounced in virtue of the power conferred by the Lord Jesus, should carry with it great weight; and that it may have its due effect on the mind of the offender, let there be joined with it brotherly dealing and prayer.
3. Its ends.
(1) As regards the individual, the censures of the Church have in view his true well being. The deliverance to Satan has for its object the destruction of the flesh and the ultimate saving of the spirit. How it brings this about may be learnt from the case of Peter ("Satan asked to have you," Luke 22:31); from Paul's thorn in the flesh ("a messenger of Satan," 2 Corinthians 12:7); and especially from the experience of Job (Job 1:12). The sifting of the adversary drives away the chaff; his buffeting makes us feel our need of heavenly grace; his infliction of loss and disease weans from the world and teaches submission to the will of God. Such discipline is not a pleasant thing for the erring one. The patient does not like the surgeon's knife; but if it cuts out a cancer or amputates a diseased limb, and thereby saves the whole body, it is endured for the sake of the good it effects. Better that the flesh be scorched by the fire of chastisement, if thereby the soul be saved in the day of Christ. We may gather from 2 Corinthians 7:8-12 that in this case the severe discipline produced the desired effect.
(2) As regards the Church, discipline is a protective measure. This one flagrant sinner, suffered to remain amongst them, would act as a corrupting leaven upon the rest. Others would be emboldened to pursue similar courses, until at length the disease would infect the whole body. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.