For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

5:1.  “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.”

The 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.

Having 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).

Their 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 Corinthians.

Things 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.

If 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.

5:2.  “And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from you.”

No 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.

The 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.

5:3.  “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,”

This 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.

5:4.  “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,”

The 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.

This 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.

The 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. 

5:5.  “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.”

Expulsion 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.

The 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.

This 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.

5:6.  “Your glorying is not good.  Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?”

“Glorying” 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.

Leaven 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.

The 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 whole lump.”

5:7.  “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:”

The 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 4:1).

We 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.

5:8.  “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 truth.”

Here 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.

Paul 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. 

Three 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.

Malice 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.

5:9.  “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:”

Scholars 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.

5:10.  “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.”

Paul 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).

5:11.  “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 eat.”

The 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.

5:12.  “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are with-in­?”

It 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.

5:13.  “But them that are without God judgeth.  Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”

Here 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.

[1 Corinthians 6]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough