First Corinthians: Expel the Wicked Man

January 10, 2008

Having delivered a correction to the Corinthians for forming factions, Paul turned to another unfortunate report he had received. A man was having an immoral relationship with his father’s wife!

It is significant how Paul received this report. This topic was not one of the ones the church had asked about by letter. (1 Cor 7:1). Instead, he had received this report from another individual. Apparently the matter was well known and accepted, or at least tolerated, by the church. Yet such a relationship was considered evil not only by Jewish law but also by both the Greek and Roman cultures.

Paul’s instructions were:

1Co 5:4-5 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.


1Co 5:13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

They were to put the sinner out of the church. This action was to be taken, not privately, but in an assembly of the whole church. It was designed to correct and restore the sinner. It was also for the purpose of protecting the church:

1Co 5:6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?

Paul drew an analogy between the sin in Corinth and leaven in a lump of dough. He reminded them of the instructions about leaven associated with the Jewish Passover. The Israelites had been commanded to remove all leaven from their homes (Ex 12:14-15). That leaven represented the Egyptian practices that had infiltrated the Israelite community during their years in Egypt. As they left Egypt, they needed to eradicate these practices so they could be a pure people for God’s possession. They would then kill the Passover Lamb and partake of the Passover feast. Likewise, Christ (our Passover Lamb) has been sacrificed. So we need to get rid of the yeast of wickedness, and partipate in the church with sincerity and truth.

There were many sins in the Corinthian church, but we have only this one example of a member being disciplined in this manner. Not every sin warrants expulsion from the church. Paul identified six sins which rise to the level requiring this kind of action:

1Co 5:11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

There are a couple of sins on that list that might surprise some people.

How would one know if he were being greedy? One clue would be the things for which people go into debt. Greed is an addiction to accumulating money or material things. A person goes into debt to buy something because he cannot wait to possess it until he has earned the money to pay. Instead he should refrain from spending so that he can save for the unexpected. Unexpected expenses happen to everyone. Rather than spending every dime that comes in, a person should live below his means so he will have some reserves to cover the unexpected, and also so that he can have something to share with others in need. The person who cannot restrain himself from spending everything he has is addicted to material consumption. He is greedy. Paul instructed the church to expel greedy people.

It might also surprise someone to realize that slander (ESV-reviler, KJV-railer, NET-verbally abusive) rises to the level of this action. Albert Barnes says of this word:

A reproachful man; a man of coarse, harsh, and bitter words; a man whose characteristic it was to abuse others; to vilify their character, and wound their feelings. It is needless to say how much this is contrary to the spirit of Christianity, and to the example of the Master, “who when he was reviled, reviled not again.”

It is common in our culture for people casually to speak evil of others. It must not be accepted practice in the church. A person who is in the habit of abusive speech, if unrepentant, must be expelled from the church. The goal of that action is to bring the sinner to repentance so they can be restored, and to protect the overall health of the church.

Expelling a member of the church is an unpleasant business. It fills the church with grief (1 Cor 5:2). Expulsion is a severe remedy to be used in severe cases. But it is sometimes necessary. A wise and diligent leadership will apply this teaching carefully and sparingly, but will not shrink from it when it is called for.

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