Among the writings of Paul, 1 Corinthians is the letter which teaches the church what it means to be a Christian community.
The opening verses (ch1 vv1-9) have the effect of defining where the church comes from and what it’s based on, and I will want to show how the rest
of the teaching follows on from that.
I was drawing out a definition of the church in the attached thread;
Defining the church
Part of the definition was that the church is a “gathered assembly”, an EKKLESIA, which has been “sanctified”, set apart for God.
So the next concern is the relation between the assembly and those members who fall away from holiness (ch5)
vv9-11 It seems that in one of his earlier letters Paul had been urging the Corinthians to separate themselves from “immoral men”.
They must have objected that the advice was not practical.
So now he’s obliged to explain what he meant.
It wasn’t his intention to tell them to avoid such people altogether.
As he admits, this could only be achieved by “going out of the world”.
“Which would be absurd” must be understood. Even if it were feasible, leaving the social world outright would not have been Paul’s idea of the
best answer to the problem.
What he meant, instead, was that they should cease to treat immoral people, such as robbers, idolaters, and drunkards, as fellow-members of the
Not to stop any kind of contact with such people, but to stop associating with them as brothers
vv1-2 He had already criticised them about a particular case which illustrates what he meant
One of their number had “taken”, as wife or mistress, his father’s widow or divorced wife.
This was behaviour which was unknown “even among the Gentiles”, since the relationship was forbidden in Roman law as well as in Leviticus.
The patriarch Reuben had been degraded from first place for a similar offence (Genesis ch49 v4).
They were boastfully self-confident of their own spiritual advancement, and yet they were ignoring a major blot on the community.
“Let the man who has done this be removed from among you”.
vv3-5 Paul instructs them to expel the man from the community, something they should have done already,
Even though Paul cannot be present “in body”, they are to understand him as being present “in spirit” to preside over the proceedings.
Meeting in the power of the Lord Jesus and acting in the name of the Lord Jesus (or possibly the other way round), they are to “hand this man over
This is another way of saying “let him be removed from among you”.
For if Paul understands the world as divided into two camps, the camp of God and the camp of Satan, then a man who leaves the first camp is
automatically returning to the second.
Commentators disagree on what is meant by “destruction of the flesh”.
Does Paul believe that a man deprived of the spiritual protection of God’s camp will be at least more vulnerable to sickness?
Is he expecting to bring about the man’s physical death?
But then there is the problem of explaining what that would do towards “saving his spirit” in the day of our Lord Jesus.
A less dramatic, but possibly more straightforward, interpretation is that “the flesh” refers to “the fleshly appetites”, and “ the
destruction of the flesh” means the curbing of the man’s immoral desires.
If the shock of expulsion moves him to begin changing his life, and if he repents to the point that he can be received back into the community, then
THAT will have the effect of “saving his spirit” in the day of the Lord.
vv6-8 They need to understand how dangerous their indulgence has been.
For the influence of such a man’s example could spread through the church in the same way that a small piece of leaven can work through a lump of
(We would say, like a rotten apple spoiling the whole barrel)
He reminds them of the Jewish custom of tracking down and removing every particle of leaven that can be found in a household, as part of the
preparation for Passover.
Of course Christ is the Christian equivalent of the paschal lamb.
In which case, the paschal lamb has already been sacrificed (at the death of Christ)- which brings home the need for urgency, since there would be
little time left between the sacrifice of the lamb and the beginning of the Passover proper.
The moral of the Jewish Passover ritual is the need for the people to be spiritually clean before presenting themselves before God at the Passover.
Paul is urging the Corinthians to apply that moral to themselves.
In the not-too distant future, they will be presenting themselves before God.
They are already “unleavened” (AZUMOI), in Christ.
Therefore they should live up to that status, and keep the whole community free from the “leaven of wickedness”.
In other words, they need to “drive out the wicked person from among you” (v13).
Since their calling has called them away from the world, as a body, the separation needs to be maintained.