1 CORINTHIANS - CHAPTER 5
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“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
spiritual counterpart of literal fornication is the turning away from God to give to
persons or things the love that belongs to Him, and it is clear from what we have
seen already that this case of gross immorality was simply the outward evidence of
the deplorable spiritual state of the Corinthian assembly.
Their indifference to the moral evil in their midst declared more eloquently
than words that they had ceased to care about God’s honor.
Levitical and Roman law both forbade this sin, and the fact that it shocked
even the unbelievers is a terrible indictment of the guilty man, and reminds us of
the depths to which a disobedient saint may sink.
That the offender was a believer is made clear in 2 Co 2:6-8; while the
absence of any reference to the woman involved indicates that she was an unbeliever.
regard to the divisions among them, resulting from their willingness to follow human
leaders, the lesson to be learnt is that disregard of God, in what might be
considered minor points, eventually leads to greater evil.
It is by this very process that apostasy has developed in the professing
church, so that she has become Laodicean in character, as abhorrent to God as was
that early assembly which so accurately foreshadowed her fallen state.
He who is careless in the little details of obedience, is simply preparing the
way for total rebellion, for as he who is faithful in that which is least, fits
himself for greater honor, so does he who is unfaithful in that which is least, fit
himself for dishonor (Lk 16:10-12).
wretched state is further emphasized in that the sin to which they were indifferent
was “not so much as named among the Gentiles.”
That was a terrible indictment having regard to the fact that the city of
Corinth was itself so decadent that the name Corinthian was synonymous with
total moral depravity. The
Corinthian assembly was indifferent to that which shocked even the degenerate
are little different in the professing church today. For example, the “ordination” of homosexuals shocks a world
that is itself depraved, and the activities of some television evangelists,
so-called, have also shocked a public, which while it expects sin in the world,
expects better things from those professing the name of Christ.
there is one lesson to be learnt from this it is that there is great need for care as
to how we live, lest our conduct mar, not only our own personal testimony, but that
also of the assembly.
“And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done
this deed might be taken away from you.”
contrast could be greater than that which existed between their actual and their
ideal state. They were arrogant and
proud when they ought to have been repentant and ashamed.
We too may be guilty of similar blindness, the only safeguard against it being
to examine ourselves daily in the light of Scripture, and not the opinions of men.
need to expel the offender from the fellowship assures us that known evil is not to
be tolerated in the local assembly, and where the offender refuses to repent and
forsake his sin, it is God, not man, Who declares that that man or woman must be
expelled. It is necessary to note,
however, that expulsion from a local church does not extend to the Church which is
the Body of Christ. Nothing can ever
take a true believer out of that Church, and it is
failure to note this distinction, that has resulted in the erroneous teaching
that every believer is to be received into the local assembly.
Scripture makes it clear that fellowship in the local assembly is contingent
on obedience to God’s Word.
“For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged
already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,”
refutes another common error resulting from failure to rightly divide the word of
truth, that we are not to judge one another. While certainly we are forbidden to judge the motives of others in
their service for the Lord (Ro 14:10,13), there are things we are to judge,
see e.g., Mt 7:15-23; 1 Co 5:12; 6:2-5; 10:15; 11:13,31.
The Corinthians ought to have judged the offender’s conduct, and following
his refusal to repent and forsake his sin, to have expelled him from their
fellowship. Similar obligation rests
upon our shoulders. That which mars the collective testimony of the assembly must not
be tolerated, otherwise God will judge the whole assembly, see 11:30.
“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my
spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,”
repeated use of the term Lord Jesus Christ was to remind them, and us, that
Jesus Christ is Lord. He must be obeyed.
The unity that binds the Lord and His people together is also emphasized in
Paul’s linking together the Lord Jesus Christ, the Corinthian saints, and himself,
even though he was present only in spirit.
teaches truth which isn’t always discerned. That
which excludes a man from one assembly, excludes him from every assembly, for the
same Lord Jesus Christ rules all of them. This
points up the necessity of adhering to a practice that has largely fallen into disuse
- that of using letters of commendation. Believers
moving permanently, or just visiting, should carry such a letter so as to remove any
question as to their right to enjoy the fellowship of God’s people.
Clearly, if a man’s conduct has warranted his expulsion from one assembly,
it excludes him from the fellowship of every such company.
Lord’s authority is further emphasized by Paul’s reference to “the power
of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The
Lord’s patience must never be mistaken for weakness.
“To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that
the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
from the assembly would cut the offender off, not only from all fellowship with the
Corinthian saints, but with believers everywhere, so that he would be confined
exclusively to the fellowship of the world, a world, it is to be remembered, of which
Satan is the prince (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). That
being so, the individual could expect little mercy from the evil master of the realm
into which his sin had now brought him, for Satan’s attitude to Christ and those
who are His, is one of malignant hatred. Unable
to touch the man’s soul, Satan could be expected to use every artifice to afflict
him physically. Note for example his
treatment of Job.
believer’s body is the only part Satan can touch, and God’s purpose in thus
handing the offender over to Satan’s power was with a view to the man’s
restoration, but failing that, to take him home to heaven instead of permitting him
to continue on earth to the detriment of the cause of Christ.
See Ac 5:1 and 1 Tim 1:20.
that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
The sequel reveals that the man was a believer, who as a result of the
discipline imposed by the assembly, was restored.
This reminds us that only God, Who discerns the thoughts and intents of the
heart, can rightly assess a man’s spiritual state, for as in the instance being
considered, the carnal backslidden state had produced a lifestyle, which to the eye
of man, was indistinguishable from that of the unconverted.
is not a question of the man’s having lost his salvation, and then having been
converted a second time. The true
believer can never lose his salvation.
in the day of the Lord Jesus” appears to refer to that day when we shall all stand
before Him at His judgment seat to receive the wages proportionate to the
faithfulness of our stewardship here on earth. It
is not to be confused with the day of the Lord which refers to the long period
of time that will begin following the Rapture of the Church and will culminate with
the bringing in of the new heavens and new earth following the Millennium.
It will be a time of judgment and blessing, for in it no rebellion will be
tolerated (except for the brief and final permitted rebellion in the interval between
the end of the Millennium and the destruction of the present earth preceding the
establishment of the new). There is
blessing only when there is obedience, hence the blessedness of the Millennial age.
“Your glorying is not good. Know
ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?”
is literally boasting. They were
boasting proudly when they ought to have been weeping over the evil in their midst.
Proud of the spiritual gifts that had been bestowed upon them, proud of their
false teachers and leaders, proud of their own worldly knowledge, proud of their
oratorical and debating skills, they were blind to fact that the evil they tolerated
dishonored God. Many a church today is
equally blind to the dishonor brought to God by the sin tolerated in its midst.
is one of the Biblical symbols of sin - not only of moral impurity, malice and
wickedness, but of false doctrine, and as a very small quantity of leaven is
sufficient to ferment a large lump of dough, so is a little spiritual “leaven”
able to corrupt a whole life or a whole assembly. Three forms of spiritual leaven are warned against in the NT, that
of the Pharisees, which was the preservation of an outward empty ritual; that of the
Sadducees, which was disbelieve of
Scripture and of the supernatural; and that of the Herodians, which was worldliness.
apostate harlot system masquerading as the true church, is an example of a “lump”
almost completely “leavened.” Nor is
any assembly impervious to the baneful influence of this evil, as is evident by the
condition of even the best company of believers.
Sadly, Christians have largely forgotten that “a little leaven leaveneth the
“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are
unleavened. For even Christ our passover
is sacrificed for us:”
reference is to the ritual Israel was commanded to follow on the night of the
Passover in Egypt (Ex 12:11). All leaven
was to be put out of their houses during the seven days of the feast of Passover and
Unleavened Bread, for the killing of the Passover lamb ended their old state, and
introduced them to a new, that new state to be marked by what was represented in
the absence of leaven: they were to be a holy people because they belonged to a holy
God. The deliverance Israel experienced
on the night of Passover corresponds to the deliverance the believer experiences at
conversion, while the seven day feast of Unleavened Bread points symbolically to the
holiness that is to mark the believer’s whole life.
as ye are unleavened.” This refers,
not to their actual state, but to their standing in God’s sight as men in Christ,
His precious blood having blotted out all the sin which the leaven represents.
Because they have been thus redeemed and cleansed, believers are to “walk
worthy of the vocation (invitation or calling) wherewith ye (they) are called” (Ep
should note in passing that this is another confirmation of the fact that the Bible,
particularly the OT, is studded with types, and we rob ourselves of much valuable
teaching by rejecting typology as a legitimate area of Bible study.
“Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the
leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and
we learn that from the moment of conversion, the believer’s life is to be the NT
counterpart of what is symbolically portrayed in the OT feast of Unleavened Bread.
During the seven days of that feast, they were neither to eat anything
leavened, nor was leaven to be seen in their houses; but since leaven is the symbol
of sin, the lesson is that sin is not to be allowed any place in the believer’s
life. The duration of that feast was seven days (number of perfection or
completeness), and the lesson being taught is that holiness is to mark the
believer’s life from conversion until the day he enters heaven.
here clearly distinguishes between two kinds of leaven: the old and that of malice
and wickedness, raising the question of what is meant by the old.
kinds of leaven are warned against in the NT: hypocrisy, which was that of the
Pharisees; skepticism, which was that of the Sadducees; and worldliness, which was
that of the Herodians (a Herod party amongst the Jews), and it is very possible that
all three were in Paul’s mind when he wrote. It
is to be noted, however that all of these related to the Jews, but since these
Corinthians were Gentiles, the admonition may perhaps relate to the need to abandon
their former dissolute life styles.
seems to refer to the thought life; wickedness, to the deeds.
Regarding the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,” sincerity
appears to relate to the thought life, especially the motive behind our words and
actions, while truth seems to relate to the words and deeds themselves.
“I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:”
are disagreed as to whether the reference is to Paul’s present letter or to an
earlier one, but the question is of little importance.
The point being emphasized is that believers are not to maintain familiar
relationships with such a person. Holiness
must be preserved in the midst of God’s people.
“Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with covetous, or
extortioners, or with idolaters, for then must ye needs go out of the world.”
makes it clear that the admonition relates only to their relationships with offenders
within the assembly, otherwise believers would have to go out of the world
altogether, but it is axiomatic that involvement with those outside the assembly is
not to go beyond what is absolutely necessary. Our
primary concern with unbelievers is to bring them the Gospel, and the current popular
teaching that if we make friends with them we’ll have a better chance of winning
them to Christ, is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.
There is only one way to win souls: from a separated position preach the
Gospel. The unconverted give little heed
to the preaching of those who join them in their worldly activities, the outstanding
example being Lot. When he sought to
warn the Sodomites of impending judgment, they mocked him; but when Abraham was
dealing with the Canaanites relative to the purchase of a burying place for Sarah,
they confessed, “Thou art a mighty prince among us” (Ge 23:6).
“But now I have written unto you not to keep company,
if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an
idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to
proscription is wide ranging. There is
to be no social familiarity with one claiming to be a believer, but whose life
style contradicts his profession, and clearly, the reference to eating includes
ordinary meals as well as the Lord’s supper. This
refutes the teaching that love is the blanket that must be thrown over everything,
and that forbids any judgment of the lives of those claiming to be believers.
“For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge
them that are with-in?”
is not our business to pass judgment on the unconverted.
Our responsibility to them is to try to win them to the Savior; but it is
our responsibility to judge those in the assembly, so that holiness is preserved in
God’s house. This is an imperative for
blessing, and to refuse to exercise such judgment is to incur chastisement.
We must not forget however, that judgment must begin with ourselves, nor are
we to forget that that judgment of our own lives, and of the lives of other believers
must be according to God’s Word.
“But them that are without God judgeth.
Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
Paul explains why they weren’t to judge the unconverted.
God will judge them. But in
regard to the professed believer in their midst, they were not only to make a
judgment, they were responsible to take action in keeping with that judgment.
The offender was to be expelled from their fellowship, just as the leper was
to be expelled from the camp of Israel, and as the leaven was to be put out of the
houses of the Israelites during the seven days of the feast of Unleavened Bread.
We are responsible to make the same judgment, and to take the same action.