The Problem of Immoral Church Members, Page 2 of 11 (series: Lessons on 1 st Cor.)
by John Lowe
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.
And ye are puffed up,
The church at Corinth was in a sad spiritual state. They were complacent and proud, they were wise in their own eyes, headstrong and conceited; and these factors had created such carnality in their thinking that the scandal in their midst had not only caused terrible damage among outsiders, but it had also damaged the entire assembly. But it was apparent that it did not bother them. They were “puffed up,” they were not bothered by the scandal, their consciences were calloused and scorched and they could not comprehend the seriousness of the sin that was going on in their midst; but it had the effect of destroying God’s glory in the church. They were “puffed up” either with the gifts, learning, and eloquence of their preachers, and particularly of this man, who, is thought by some to be one of their teachers; and though he was guilty of such a disgusting crime, yet they still respected him, and bragged that he was a wonderful preacher—or the other parties were puffed up against the party that this man belonged to, boasting that they were free from the scandal that was exposed—or the party of this man was puffed up with their own leniency and tolerance, boasting of it as an act of humanity and an example of charity, showing that they were not harsh with one another, for mistakes they make—or else they were puffed up over the thing itself, saying it was an instance of Christian liberty, and their freedom from the law—or it was a sad mistake, but one by which they might be strengthened, according to a notion by the Jews, that it was lawful for proselyte Gentiles to do such things. Maimonides says, “The sentence of the law is, that it is free for a Gentile, ‘to marry his mother’, or his sister that are made proselytes; but the wise men forbid this thing, that they may not say we are come from a holiness that is heavy, to one that is light.” I have concluded that a proselyte might marry his father's brother's wife, and his father's wife; this was the opinion of R. Akiba, who was a Rabbi contemporary with the Apostle Paul: so this notion must have prevailed in his days, and does in some measure account for the commission of such a sin by a church member, and the church's negligence about it.
When this type of sin is discovered, but not condemned and corrected, it is apparent that the Holy Ghost is either ignored or forgotten; because a believer will not deliberately say that he approves of and is a partner to sin; however, this must be the case if wickedness is known and uncondemned in the church where the Lord abides.
At that time the Corinthians had the same spirit of self-satisfaction that was prevalent in the church at Laodicea—“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev 3.17; KJV). On the spiritual side of the ledger, the Laodicean church is “the wretched one.” It is worse off than any of the seven churches. It should be pitied because of its spiritual poverty. In this church, there is no study of the Word, no love of Christ, and no witnessing of His saving grace; yet it is blind to its own true condition. It lacks the covering of the robe of righteousness.
and have not rather mourned,
This phrase is aimed at the entire body of believers, and not just the one who committed the infraction, because Paul has not detected either outrage or sadness over the affair; personally or as a body; they should have met together as a church, and humbled themselves before God for this scandalous sin perpetrated in the midst of them. We ought to mourn over the transgressions of others, and repent of our own—“And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed” (2 Cor 12:21; KJV).
that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
The sin in question was a form of incest: a professed Christian (and a member of the church) was living with his stepmother in a permanent alliance (marriage). Since Paul does not pass judgment on the woman (see vv. 9-13), we assume the woman was not a member of the church, and probably not even a Christian. This kind of sin was condemned by the Old Testament Law—“None of you shall approach to any that is near of
kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD. 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” (Lev 18:6-8; KJV). Also, “And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Lev 20:11; KJV)—as well as the laws of the Gentile nations.
It is suggested here that if the assembly had judged this evil as they should have done, if they had mourned as they should have and had the proper attitude toward this sin, the person perpetrating this evil might have been removed by divine judgment; by the immediate hand of God, inflicting some visible punishment, and taking him away by an untimely death, which the Jews call (tyrk) , "cutting off", by the hand of God; and they say, this crime deserved such a punishment;—and if not by divine judgment, then they themselves would certainly have removed him from among their congregation. But because of the laxity of their attitude in this matter, the Corinthians did nothing to end the affair, and seemed to ignore it entirely, except for the gossip that erupted within the church and in the community outside the church. According to the Jews, there were thirty-six cuttings off in the law, or there were thirty-six things which deserved death by the hand of God; and the first two mentioned are these; he that lies with his mother or he that lies with his father's wife.
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,
For I verily, as absent in body,
The best manuscripts read, "being absent." The apostle mentions that he is not with them, though he wishes he was. When he wrote this epistle he was at Ephesus, but by the time the letter reached the believers at Corinth he may have gone on to Philippi; however, whether he was at Ephesus or Philippi, it is certain he was not at Corinth. Paul was deeply concerned about the “goings on” within the Corinthian church, but he could not be there bodily, but in the next clause he informs them that he was present in spirit. Neither was Paul's capacity to judge, his authority to judge, or his power to execute his judgment, dependent on his bodily presence. “Since I am not personally present with you, I express my opinion in this manner—with the epistle he wrote to them. I am absent in body from you, and cannot, therefore, take those steps in regard to it which I could were I present.”
but present in spirit,
By this he means that he was with them in his affection for them, in the burden he carried for them, and in the concern he had for their well-being, and the glory of God in that church. When we put the parts of this verse together, we can hear the apostle say “My heart is with you; my feelings are with you; I have a deep and tender interest in the case of this one who is living in sin; and I judge this case as if I were personally present.” Many suppose that Paul is referring to a power which was given to the apostles, that made it possible for them, though they might be a great distance away, to discern the real circumstances of a case by the awesome power of the Holy Spirit—“For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ” (Col 2:5; KJV). He was either present in spirit by having them in mind, being fully informed of their state by Epaphras, or he was enabled by divine power to see them and observe them. The latter is the view of most commentators. I agree with this interpretation since Jesus certainly demonstrated this ability and the apostles also, on occasion. But the phrase does not demand this interpretation. Paul may have meant, that though he was absent, yet his mind and attention had been given to this subject; he felt as deeply as though he were present, and he would act in the same way. He had, in some way, been fully apprized of all the circumstances of the case, and he felt it was his duty to express his views on the subject.
Certainly the situation should have been dealt with in the very beginning. Any minister who knowingly covers up and condones sin in his congregation is not doing what the Lord would have him do, as spelled out in the Word of God.