Yesterday we started looking at the shameful sin that was occuring in the Corinthian church. As we continue to examine this situation in today’s lesson, the second thing we notice is the fact that this sinful relationship was public. It wasn’t even something that had happened in a quiet way, which perhaps, therefore, could be dealt with in a quiet way. There is a good principle here. If a wrong can be made right quietly without broadcasting it abroad, that is certainly the procedure to be followed. But, in this case, that was not possible. This was something that apparently was well known in Corinth. But not only was this situation known in Corinth, apparently it had spread throughout the Roman world, because Paul, writing this letter from Ephesus, had heard about it there.
So, this was a major offense, a clear violation of the moral law of God, and it was public in nature. Moreover, as Paul begins to analyze it, it was an offense that was having an evil impact upon the church. Paul seems to be more concerned with that than with the offender. After all, he is writing here to the church. He is dealing with problems in the church. He is saying, “The problem is that this public scandal exists and not only do you refuse to mourn for this gross imperfection and sin in your midst, but you are proud about it. You actually boast about it.” When you read about this matter you wonder how in the world they could boast. Paul doesn’t explain that, but I suppose it means that they were proud of their tolerance where moral matters were concerned.
When we look at it, we realize that we are describing a lot of what goes on in the Christian church today. It may not be this particular offense. But certainly there are clear, public, significant violations of the moral law of God. In many churches there is a tendency to say, “Well, you mustn’t be judgmental. After all, you mustn’t hang out the dirty laundry for everybody to see. Isn’t the most important thing to be loving?” So no action is taken, the holiness of the church is called into question, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is slandered.
Paul expresses his concern about this using an illustration from the concept of leaven, an agent such as yeast that makes bread rise. Leaven is frequently used as a symbol of evil in the Bible. Once yeast is added to bread dough, it spreads quickly throughout the entire batch. The whole thing is affected. Paul is saying, “I believe this is what is happening, or, if it hasn’t happened yet, it is likely to, because you are tolerating this offense. A spirit that tolerates something clearly sinful will soon begin to tolerate something else, and quite soon, there will be nothing unique about the church in Corinth at all. It will have the same values, the same morality, the same standards, the same priorities as the culture at large.” Paul says that would be a terrible thing indeed.
Paul goes on to say in verse 3 that even though he was not physically present there in Corinth, he was there in spirit, and he had already passed judgment on the unrepentant believer, just as if he had been present. He instructed the Corinthian church to hand this man over to Satan so that the sinful nature may be destroyed, and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. Those are strong words.
Then, lest we misunderstand what he is saying, at the very end of the chapter he brings his judgment again and makes quite clear what he is talking about. He says, “Expel the wicked man from among you.” Now, he has a purpose in this. He is talking about some form of excommunication. It may have operated in a slightly different way in Paul’s time than it does today because he is not spelling out all the details. But he is saying very clearly that Christians must not associate with someone who calls himself or herself a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, but who, nevertheless, lives in open contradiction to Christ’s commandments. Tomorrow we will look at two reasons Paul gives as to why such a thing is a scandal and a denial of the Gospel.