Exposition of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Drawing a line in the sand

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

Part of the problem with the arrogance and boasting by certain Corinthians was apparently related to their (deliberate?) misinterpretation of a previous letter Paul had written to them. In that previous letter he had told them not to associate with sexually immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9), yet they are tolerating a man in the church cohabiting with his stepmother. Paul now reiterates and clarifies his previous remarks.

Pauls previous instruction was not to mix indiscriminately with (Anthony Thiselton, 409) sexually immoral people. But it should have been apparent that he was not referring to having casual contact with unbelieving people in society who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters (1 Cor. 5:10a). David Garland tells us, Sexual immorality was ubiquitous in the Greco-Roman world. So too were greed and idolatry.[1] To avoid all such people, you would have to leave this world (1 Cor. 5:10b) a phrase which can mean to die!

Instead, Pauls letter actually meant and he now makes explicit not to associate with those who claim to be Christians yet are sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5:11). So far, so good, but for us today greedy is a harder standard. Gordon Fee explains, The ancient world, both pagan and Judeo-Christian, had a special loathing for avarice that hundreds of years of legitimized greed in our culture have mitigated.[2] Anthony Thiselton says concerning greedy people in Corinth, This corresponds precisely with the social analysis of Corinthian society . . . that many at Corinth were obsessed the ambition to achieve, i.e., to gain more social status, power or wealth.[3]

The meaning of idolater is plain enough. Slanderer is a bit harder; Thiselton says that in this context the Greek word refers to people who cannot open their mouths without putting others down in a way which causes hurt and implies a scornful, superior attitude on the part of the speaker.[4] We hope no ones face springs to mind!

Since the word drunkard (1 Cor. 5:11) is used in a wine culture, we must take pains to see what it meant at that time and place. Fee says that in this context the word refers to that kind of person who is regularly given to drunkenness and the various forms of carousing with which it is associated.[5] Thiselton points out that drunkenness precludes the expression of love for others, which is a hallmark of Christian identity.

The term swindler (1 Cor. 5:10 and 5:11) is more subtle and interesting; it refers to those who exploit others in a way to gain disproportionate wealth. Imagine someone in a coastal city who knows a hurricane is coming and marks up the price of their plywood panels by 500%. Thiselton says, This, once again, may reflect the entrepreneurial culture at Corinth, whereby to get rich quick and to knock others off the ladder was the name of the game. . . . Paul means someone who kicks others down the ladder in order to advance upward at any price.[6]

Eating with others meant more than just friendship in ancient Corinth. The act created a social bond in the eyes of the community. For a Christian to be seen eating with someone actively involved with blatant immorality would undercut the witness of the church, so Paul rules that out (1 Cor. 5:11).

The discerning reader will realize that all these descriptions require making judgments about who falls into these categories. Someone might think this violates what Jesus says about judging others in Matthew 7:1-2, but that is not the case. Jesus was advocating that judgments be made with fairness and mercy, and, when that is done, some still turn out to be dogs (Matt. 7:6) and pigs (Matt. 7:6) or even false prophets and wolves (Matt. 7:15).

Though 1 Cor. 5:12 has two rhetorical questions, those actually amount to statements. These statements revolve around two similar Greek words: ex? (outside) and es? (inside). God will judge those outside the church (1 Cor. 5:13), but each church is responsible to judge those inside the church. Thiselton pointedly says, Against the laissez-faire [anything goes], consumerist culture of today, Paul asserts that to become part of the Christian community is explicitly to place oneself under the discipline of a Christian lifestyle.[7] That being so, the wicked man cohabiting with his stepmother must be banished!

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 185.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 224.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 411.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 414.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 226.

[6] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 411-414.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 417.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 5:4–8 Live “as you really are”!

1 Corinthians 5:4–8

4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch — as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The first two verses (v. 4–5) of our lesson have challenged many interpreters. Verse 4 speaks of the assembled church with whom Paul is spiritually present along with “the power of our Lord Jesus.” Note carefully that while Paul orders the expulsion of the man guilty of incest, it is the entire church that must carry out that action. Remember that in 1 Cor. 3:16–17, Paul said: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” The church’s toleration of blatant incest — along with their spiritual complacency — is destroying the church in Corinth!

The most convincing analysis of 1 Cor. 5:5 arises from demonstrating that Paul, drawing on his familiarity with the Old Testament prophets, uses a literary structure with certain verses being parallel to others. If, for example, we could show an A-B-A literary structure was present, this would mean that the two verses labeled with the letter “A” were similar and thus could be used to clarify each other. In our case, such a pattern does exist[1] and 1 Cor. 5:2b is parallel to 1 Cor. 5:5a. Let’s put those two verses together and see what we learn.

1 Cor. 5:2b = “put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this”

1 Cor. 5:5a = “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh”

What does the comparison of these two verses tell us? Many have puzzled over the meaning of 1 Cor. 5:5a, wondering what “hand . . . over to Satan” might mean. The Greek verb for “hand over” has an ominous history; it is used in the Gospels for handing over Jesus for trial by the Jews and later Pontius Pilate, so it means here to give into the custody of Satan. Similar language occurs in 1 Tim. 1:20 in relation to two men guilty of blasphemy.

Anthony Thiselton further explains, “Consigning to Satan means ‘putting him outside the sphere of God’s protection within the church, and leaving him exposed to the satanic forces of evil in hope that the experience would cause him to repent and return to the fellowship of the church.’”[2] The last part of that quotation might seem confusing to those who thought “the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:5a) meant physical death, but the interpretation affirmed here is that the word “destruction” has metaphorical force.

For that matter, “flesh” is also metaphorical. Gordon Fee explains, “’Flesh’ means the whole person as oriented away from God.”[3] David Garland similarly says that ‘flesh’ is “the sin-bent self characterized by self-sufficiency that wages war against God.”[4]

How do we know that “destruction” does not mean death? Consider the purpose stated for putting the man out of the church: “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5b). Thiselton says, “What is to be destroyed is the ‘self-glorying or self-satisfaction of the offended and perhaps also of the community.”[5] Of course, Paul does attribute some deaths in the Corinthian church to abuse of the communion table (1 Cor. 11:30).

In 1 Cor. 5:6, we begin a section in which Paul uses three metaphors about leaven and Passover. To unravel its meaning requires some background.

Modern Bible translations sometimes fail to distinguish between leaven and yeast. Unlike today, yeast was generally unavailable in the ancient world. C.L. Mitton explains: “In ancient times, instead of yeast, a piece of dough [called ‘leaven’] was held over from one week’s baking to the next. By then it was fermenting, and so could cause fermentation in the new lot of dough, causing it to rise in the heat.”[6] This was handy but not safe because dirt and disease could be passed from week to week. The Jewish feast of Passover broke the leaven cycle and was followed by eating unleavened bread for seven days (Lev. 23:6). That information will help.

Consider the following A–B–A literary structure in 1 Cor. 5:6–8 (ESV):

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? OLD LEAVEN A
7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. New Dough
For Christ, our Passover lamb, CHRIST/LAMB B
has been sacrificed. Sacrificed
8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, Feast
not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, OLD LEAVEN A
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Unleavened Bread

(adapted from Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 166).

The sin they are tolerating (“leaven”) affects everyone (v. 6). They must expel the man committing incest (“the old leaven” v. 7a) to demonstrate their renewal in Christ and their true identity as a people no longer dominated (“unleavened”) by the sin of their former lives. Christ died and enabled us to live each day (present tense “celebrate the festival” v. 7b) not as the people we used to be (“the old leaven . . . of malice and evil” v. 8) but as those whose lives show the presence of the Spirit (“the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” v. 8b).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2011) 163.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 397, quoting J.T. South, Disciplinary Practices in Pauline Texts (New York: Mellen Press, 1992) 43.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 212.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 175.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 396.

[6] C.L. Mitton, The Gospel according to St. Mark (London: Epworth, 1957) 61.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 4:14–21 A father’s concern for his spiritual children

1 Corinthians 4:14–21

14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

Paul once again changes metaphors, moving this time to depict himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthian believers. This metaphor allows him certain advantages.

In spite of the criticism Paul has received from some of the Corinthians, he seeks to communicate that he is on their team — or, better yet, with them on Christ’s team — rather than tearing them down (1 Cor. 4:14). The Corinthian church was growing within a society that assigned status on the basis of honor and shame. Anthony Thiselton says, “Paul does not wish simply to remove all status, but to redefine what counts as status in terms of glorying in the cross, glorying in the Lord and perceiving . . . the honor of being accounted worthy to suffer hardships in the service of their Lord.”[1]

By calling the Corinthian believers “my dear children” (1 Cor. 4:14), Paul prepares the way to take the role of “your father through the gospel” (verse 15) while casting the faction leaders in the role of “guardians.” The guardian was usually a trusted slave that Greek plays portrayed with a rod in hand for correction of the children in his care. David Garland says: “The humorous picture of ten thousand custodians brandishing rods at their stubborn charges may soften the affront. . . . Who these caretakers are, Paul does not say. . . . They are likely to be the local leaders of the competitive factions.”[2]

Paul is well aware that these first Christian converts had no precedents to teach them how to live for Christ. So, Paul says to them, “Take your cue from me” (Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 4:16). By looking at Paul’s way of life, the Corinthians should know how to conduct their own lives in Christ. In his absence from them — Paul writes from Ephesus — he sends Timothy to remind them by example of the way of life Paul teaches in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17).

By mentioning “all the churches,” it is likely that Paul wants to put the Corinthians in a different competition for status. By taking their cue from his pattern of life, the Corinthian believers will take their rightful place among all the churches striving to live for Christ crucified and turn away from the pointless rivalries of Roman Corinth.

Thiselton says, “Being blown up with air was a more familiar metaphor for arrogant self-importance in the first century than today,”[3] and that is a colorful image for the faction leaders. They are behaving as if Paul will never return, but they get a rude shock by his announcement that he will come to Corinth “soon,” assuming the Lord wants him to (1 Cor. 4:19a). He makes it clear that he will not be testing the talk of the faction leaders but rather their power. When Paul came the first time, his preaching was accompanied by a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor. 2:3).

Paul knows that the kingdom of God can once again show its power over mere talk (1 Cor. 4:20). As he writes to the Corinthian church, Paul knows that others are also making decisions. The Greek verb thel? ties together verse 19 (Is God willing to allow Paul’s journey to Corinth?) and verse 21 (What type of visit do the Corinthians want?).

Thiselton relates a fascinating aspect of Roman culture affecting Roman Corinth: “The figures of the emperor and the father of the family were expected to admonish the communities for which they were responsible. The Corinthians would well understand the question: In which of these two ways am I to come as a father?”[4] That was the worldly viewpoint. As Christians we know that the spiritual oversight of Corinth lay with God the Father and his apostle, Paul, the spiritual father of the Corinthian church.

The moral issues which Paul addresses in chapter 5 made the rod more likely than the love and gentleness.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 369.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 146.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 376.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 378.