1 Corinthians 5 – Devotional & Commentary: Church Discipline

Devotional Sharing, Submitted by Pastor William Kang, Gracepoint Berkeley

1 Corinthians 5:4-5

“‘Hand this man over to Satan’ referred to excommunication, not eternal destruction. Paul recommended excommunication with the aim that the man, desperate not to be shut out of the vital church community, would be shocked back to his senses.”[1]

What does the course of action Apostle Paul instructs the Corinthians to take reveal about what is ultimately most important? According to the text, what is most important is for this man’s sinful nature to be destroyed and for his spirit to be saved.  What is the extent of the measures necessary to attain this end? According to the text the measure necessary to do this is excommunication from the church (according to the commentary, that is what “handing a man over to Satan” means).

What can we learn about what it takes to bring ourselves to repentance and what it takes to bring someone else to repentance? What I can learn is that in order for repentance to happen I need to be brought back to my senses.  Being brought back is easier said than done.  As a sinner, I don’t want to be reminded of my sinfulness, and I don’t want to acknowledge that what I’ve done is wrong.  And so, I’ve mastered the art of defensiveness, not saying the whole truth, blaming others and rationalization whenever my sins are confronted.  If I put up these defenses then I’m never going to truly repent.  I may say I’m sorry and I may alter my behavior for a while, but I won’t change.  In order for change to happen, I need to come to my senses and embrace the reality and responsibility over what I’ve done. As a sinner I don’t have a tendency to do that, and so I need others to minister to me, to do whatever it takes, as Paul told the Corinthians to do, so that I can come to my senses and repent.

Notice that the church had the authority, and the responsibility to excommunicate this man who was unrepentant in this sin.  How does this square with people’s view of the proper extent of spiritual authority in the church today? I don’t think this squares well with people today.  One of the mantras of today’s culture is universal acceptance, and for any organization, especially the church, to excommunicate anyone, even for legitimate grounds, is taboo.  Many in the church do not understand the spirit or the heart behind such measures.  They think that the church is exclusive and it is out to harm them.  On the contrary, like Paul said, the church wants to save everyone’s spirit.  How is that done though?  I wish it could be done by cajoling people with nice words.  But let’s be real.  We’re not ministering to angels.  And I ain’t no angel myself.  We’re ministering to sinners.  And that’s why the Bible endorses drastic measures, even excommunication, to help a sinner come to repentance.


[1] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1636.

Devotional Questions:

1 Corinthians 5:1-3

  • Why might the Corinthians have felt proud about themselves despite the sin that had been exposed in their midst?
  • Are there ways in which my pride is out of place with the reality of my sinfulness?  If so, why would this be the case?

1 Corinthians 5:4-5

“‘Hand this man over to Satan’ referred to excommunication, not eternal destruction. Paul recommended excommunication with the aim that the man, desperate not to be shut out of the vital church community, would be shocked back to his senses.”[1]

  • What does the course of action Apostle Paul instructs the Corinthians to take reveal about what is ultimately most important?  What is the extent of the measures necessary to attain this end?
  • What can we learn about what it takes to bring ourselves to repentance and what it takes to bring someone else to repentance?
  • Notice that the church had the authority, and the responsibility to excommunicate this man who was unrepentant in this sin.  How does this square with people’s view of the proper extent of spiritual authority in the church today?

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

  • Note the distinction made in this passage between “people of this world” and the one “who calls himself a brother.”  What is the responsibility of Christian leaders with respect to someone who calls himself a Christian but is “sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler?”
  • Is it too harsh to say, “with such a man do not even eat?”  What values are being upheld by this instruction from Apostle Paul, and what are some results that flow from failing to uphold these values under the banner of tolerance or kindness?

Additional Questions:

1 Corinthians 5:6-8

  • How is sin like yeast?
  • What are some ways in which the old yeast of “malice and wickedness” manifest in my life?
  • The emphasis of sincerity and truth “is not on our perfection and sinlessness, but our openness and honesty….”[2] What are the ways I need to uphold sincerity and truth in my battle against sin?  What would a church look like that upholds sincerity and truth?

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

  • In v.11, what is the key point of the phrase “calls himself a brother but…?”  What damage and negative effects are caused by those who call themselves Christian but do not live according to the teachings of God’s Word?  Are there these kinds of hypocrisies in my life?

[1] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1636.

[2] John R.W. Stott, The Message of 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1985) 77.

Commentary:

vv.1-2 “‘Sexual im­morality’ translates the Greek porneia, the most general of all terms for sex­ual sin. In this context, however, it is clear that the sin is a matter of incest. If the man involved were one of the faction leaders or patrons in the church, one might well understand why people were reluctant to take action against him, and why Paul was so upset.

“‘Has’ suggests an ongoing sexual relationship; ‘father’s wife,’ that the woman is not the man’s mother but his stepmother. She may have been con­siderably younger than her husband and hence attractive to his son […].  The church’s reaction to this affair was as bad or worse than the affair it­self. Instead of grieving over sin in their midst, they were actually smug over their newfound, ‘enlightened’ tolerance as Christians (v.2). Paul recoils in horror. They must rather remove this man from their midst (‘fellowship’). That no mention is made of removing the woman suggests she was not a church member to begin with.”[1]

v.2 “It is diffi­cult to say whether Paul means that the Corinthians are boasting in spite of the immoral man’s conduct or because of it… In the former case, on the other hand, they would be heedlessly boasting in their own spirituality and wisdom while tolerantly ignoring a flagrant moral violation in their midst. Either way, Paul insists that the community has moral respon­sibility for the conduct of its members and that the conduct of the individual members (even private conduct between ‘consenting adults’) affects the life of the whole community.”[2]

v.5 “Church discipline was always originally intended (though never guaran­teed) to be remedial, and not merely or even primarily punitive. Contact, therefore, cannot be entirely broken with the offending individuals, even if ‘business as usual’ cannot continue either.”[3]

vv.6-8 “Paul does not expect anyone to be sinless—all believers struggle with sin daily. Instead, he is speaking against those who deliberately sin, feel no guilt, and refuse to repent.  This kind of sin cannot be tolerated in the church because it affects others. We have a responsibility to other believers. Yeast makes bread dough rise. A little bit affects the whole batch. Blatant sin, left uncorrected, confuse and divide the congregation. While believers should encourage, pray for, and build up one another, they must also be intolerant of sin that jeopardizes the spiritual health of the church.”[4]

vv.10-11 “Paul makes it clear that we should not disassociate ourselves from unbelievers… But we are to distance ourselves from the person who claims to be a Christian, yet indulges in sins explicitly forbidden in Scripture and then rationalizes his or her actions. By rationalizing sin, a person harms others for whom Christ died and dims the image of God in himself or herself. A church that includes such people is hardly fit to be the light of the world. To do so would distort the picture of Christ it presents to the world.”[5]

“Paul is talking about five areas of behavior—sex, money, posses­sions, drink and the tongue—in which consistent transgression of Christian standards calls for discipline. It is obvious that the Christian church today is under a powerful obligation to be utterly distinctive in sexual behavior.

a. Greed […]. The Greek word pleonexia, normally translated ‘covetousness,’ has the connotation of grasping more and more, being totally unsatisfied with what we already have.

b. Idolatry […]. Today, the idols which enslave men are the idols of the consumer society. For example, the cult of increased production through the irreparable sacking of nature, blind faith in technology, private property seen as an inalienable right, ostentation, fashion, results, success. These are the idols of the consumer society.

c. Reviling. Disrespect for those entrusted with responsibility for others… It is mainly violence with the tongue, and it is also directed at those entrusted with oversight in God’s church. Such people are constantly critical, running down everything and everyone in the Christian community. They reveal a deeply-seated rebellious­ness against all authority and refuse to come into line over such behavior.

d. Drunkenness […]. Such people need to be disciplined as much as those who persist in sexual immorality, in rampant covetousness, or in abusive contempt of authority.

e. Violence. The word translated robber (harpax) has the clear connota­tion of violence. In the first list covetousness and robbery (the greedy and robbers) are linked together.”[6]

vv.11-13 “…We must avoid a cheap grace that refuses to force profess­ing believers to face up to the destructive consequences of grossly immoral behavior. They are not only damaging themselves by allowing sin to go unchecked but also destroying the church.

“A chain of quotations from William Barclay rings true in almost every society and captures the balance of Paul’s teaching in this chapter: ‘To shut our eyes to offenses is not always a kind thing to do; it may be damag­ing,’ ‘it has been said that our one security against sin lies in our being shocked at it;’ yet ‘discipline should never be exercised for the satisfaction of the person who exercises it, but always for the mending of the person who has sinned and for the sake of the Church.’”[7]

v.13 “Following Christ’s guidelines in Matthew 18:15-19, unrepentant members should be put out of the church in the hope that they will repent, leading to their restoration. The desire to avoid conflict and unpleasantness is perhaps the main reason leaders fail to expel unrepentant members. This is a violation of what God intends for his church.”[8]


[1] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) 104-105.

[2] Richard B. Hays, “1 Corinthians,” Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1997) 82.

[3] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) 109.

[4] Life Application Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, Inc; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991) 2068.

[5] Life Application Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL:  Tyndale House Publishers, Inc; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991) 2068.

[6] John R.W. Stott, The Message of 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985) 82.

[7] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) 110.

[8] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1637.

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