As we continue past the previous chapters of 1 Corinthians, that of leadership in the church and the nature of true apostleship, we enter a new section that is initially and seemingly unrelated to the current mood of Paul’s letter. It feels kind of awkward to talk about certain sins and topics, today’s being incest, because it is so obviously horrendous that it almost feels like a waste of breath to talk about. However, this negligence is precisely why we need to discuss such things, so that they do not become the normative culture. (As is seen with a plethora of “hot-button” issues the modern church has just accepted due to ignorant doctrine.) Additionally, as we’ll see with what Paul wrote, these topics are also excellent gateways for further understanding other applications of the word: true faith in action.
Paul begins by calling out the sin of incest between two members of the Corinthian church, fixating the blame on the man responsible, and seems to be most uproarious about how proud the offenders are in their sin. Verse 2 reads, “And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” It appears as though, while the act of incest itself is an egregious sin, being boastful in it simply exacerbates its severity. This claim is supported by the next six verses and subsequent pseudo-parable. Verses 6-7 read, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” A little yeast, the parabolic equivalence of humility (i.e., the absence of excessive boasting), is sufficient to make useful bread. Old yeast is to be thrown out, as it makes bad bread and is useful for nothing; just as we need not boast at all, Jesus is our supplement for humility. We are called not to boast in our accomplishment or our sins, but to attribute all that we have done that is good to God.
Returning to Paul’s initial command to extradite the man from the church, does that not seem antithetical to the accepting nature of faith? Perhaps upon an initial reading it may, but Paul acknowledges this and says in verses 9-11, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” Paul is entirely aware that man is a sinful being, and that there was only one man to walk the earth who was blameless: Christ. Instead, in this passage, he makes the clarification that the people we are to not associate ourselves with are those who claim to be brothers and sisters in the faith, and STILL are boastful in their sin, unapologetic about their openly sinful life, perhaps even going as far as claiming that their actions are biblically justifiable. These are the people we are to lovingly rebuke, as they claim to live by the word and yet blatantly do not. So often, Christians are seen as judgmental toward outsiders. Unfortunately, this is not wholly unreasonable. Our issue is that we judge those who do not live by the law for not living by the law, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to those who CLAIM to live by the law and openly do not. Paul writes in verses 12 and 13, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you’.” Our responsibility is to spread the good news to those who do not have it, and to lovingly keep ourselves accountable.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Sin is sin. Why is there a difference between how we view, judge or treat various sinners?
- Are you personally more apt to spread more judgment to those outside the church or load on the mercy to those inside than Paul would recommend? What is the danger in each of these?
- What is the purpose of expelling a brother in sin?