The Problem of Immoral Church Members, Page 1 of 11 (series: Lessons on 1 st Cor.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson 3.0: The Problem With Immoral Church Members
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 5.1-5.13

1 Cor 5.1-13 (KJV)
Section 3.0-A: The incestuous person among them (vv. 1-6)

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.
2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
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,
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,
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.
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

Section 3.0-B: The Christian church must be purged of the contamination of sinners, and separated from pagan influences (vv.7-13)

Part 1: Celebration

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:
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.

Part 2: Isolation

9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
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.
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.


This chapter is divided into two sections, 3.0-A and 3.0-B, and section 3.0-B is split into two parts; Celebration and Isolation.

Section 3.0-A

Separation (1–6). The background of the chapter is the Passover Feast (Exod. 12). The presence of the immoral man should have turned the feast into a funeral (v. 2), but the church was boasting about the sinner instead of weeping over him. Tolerating known sin in the church is like putting leaven into the Passover Feast: it does not belong.

Section 3.0-B

Celebration (7 & 8). Paul saw the Christian life as “keeping the feast” (v. 8), that is, feeding on Christ, and being sure we are not defiled by sin (leaven, yeast). The Lamb has set us free, and we are on our way to our promised inheritance!

Isolation (9–13). Sin in the life of the believer is far worse than sin in the life of an unbeliever. We cannot isolate ourselves from the world, but we can separate ourselves from disobedient believers so that God can discipline them.

Section 3.0-A: The incestuous person among them (vv. 1-6)

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.

It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you
The apostle had taken them to task over the divisions within the Church due to the members aligning themselves with certain ministers, and now he proceeds to accuse them of immoral acts within the ranks of the membership; one of these was notorious, since the offender was not just a hearer, but was a member of the Church. What made it so aggravating to the apostle was that the people talked about the affair, but they did not do anything about it—it was still going on. Now it was a full blown scandal, people outside the church were aware of the goings on, and it was damaging the reputation of the Church.

“It is reported commonly…” or, “It is actually reported.” This particular sin that existed in the church seemed to be known by everyone; and

is “commonly reported”—that is, several people reported it to him. The Greek wording suggests that it was not only reported to Paul, but that the whole assembly was buzzing with the story, particularly those who loved to gossip. At any rate, it was well known that fornication by one of the members was taking place in the church at Corinth, and it was the subject of conversation among the believers. This type of activity should not be allowed in the Church. “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints” (Eph 5:3; KJV). Not only fornication but everything of the same nature, or whatever leads to it, should be avoided—and not only avoided, but it should not even be mentioned by believers. These types of sins, in fact, all sins, are inconsistent with the character of Christians, who as saints, people selected out of the world and consecrated to God, should forbid the very mention of them in Christian society.

and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife;
This appears to be a case where a man had sexual relations with his father’s wife; which was an unnatural act practiced by Indians, Moors, Bactrians, Ethiopians, Medes, and Persians, as reported by various writers; and among the Arabians, before it was prohibited by Mohammad; but such actions and relationships were not allowed among the Greeks and Romans, whose nations were more civil and cultivated. And where it was not permitted, it was detested and a disgrace to mention it: and if this man was a Jew, his sin was even worse, since he was not only guilty of a crime condemned by the Gentiles, but it was also a violation of a known law of God given to the Jews in Leviticus 18:7, 8—“The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness.” What is forbidden in verse 7 is marriage to one’s mother, but it shames the honor of the father because of the one flesh relationship he has had with that wife. A stepmother is in view in verse 8, because it mentions the father’s wife, not the mother. According to the Jewish writers, a man that lies with his father’s wife was doubly guilty, on account of her being his father's wife, and on account of her being another man's wife, whether in his father's life time, or after his death, and whether engaged or married; and such a one was to be stoned. This was a crime charged to a man; he had sex with his father's wife, not his own mother, but his stepmother; because a distinction is made between a mother and a father's wife. Both are to be stoned, he that lies with his mother, or with his father's wife.

This was the case that was up before the church. This was not gossip. It could be translated: “It is reported actually and factually.” This was not just a rumor that was going around. This case was common knowledge. It was fornication, a sin that was not even mentioned by the Gentiles. It was the sordid story of a man who had sex with his father’s wife, his own stepmother. Whether this man had married his father's wife, or kept her as his concubine, continuing in an incestuous cohabitation with her, is not certain, and whether his father was dead or living; which the latter seems to be the case from 2 Corinthians 7:12—“Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you”—his sin was detestable and intolerable, and by no means should it have been winked at in the church of Christ.

The fact that the word fornication is used here, instead of adultery suggests that there had been a separation or divorce. Paul does not mention the woman involved; he speaks only of the man. Evidently the woman was not a member of the congregation, but was one of “those without, whom God judgeth” (v. 13). Note, the scandalous sins of professed Christians are quickly taken notice of and noised abroad. We should walk circumspectly, for many eyes are upon us, and many mouths will be opened against us if we fall into any scandalous practice.

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