From 1 Corinthians 5-8
Today’s statements might shock some people who have never seen them before. Check your bible, yes Paul is the author. A careful reader of the passage will note Paul said, ‘with anyone who bears the name of brother ‘. A brother in name only. Paul is implying that people who call themselves believers yet who behave in this way are actually false. If one sees sin like this in someone at church or elsewhere it is right to question if they truly believe or not.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
Paul uttered the following passage after condemning the man who slept with his fathers wife. Incest? Adultery? Sexual immorality. His response reveals some of Paul’s doctrine of sin.
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor 5.6-8)
Paul does not simply assume believers will continue to live in sin. His expectation is that when people believe Jesus is the Christ and accept him as Lord, their lifestyles should reflect this. Paul instructs the Corinthians to ‘cleanse out the old leaven’. He means remove the unclean thoughts and actions, the sin. Paul thinks of them as they really are ‘unleavened’, without malice and evil. So they should be like this. He continues.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of; sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5:9–13)
These statements might shock some people who have never seen them before. Check your bible, yes Paul is the author. A careful reader of the passage will note Paul said, ‘with anyone who bears the name of brother ‘. A brother in name only. Paul is implying that people who call themselves believers yet who behave in this way are actually false. If one sees sin like this in someone at church or elsewhere it is right to question if they truly believe or not.
This statement isn’t a one off either. Paul says similar things in other locations of 1 Corinthians,
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9–11)
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19–21)
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Eph 5.3-5)
Is Paul being legalistic? Legalism is an excessive adherence to law or formula. Since Paul keeps saying this it must be quite important to him. I would have to say yes, Paul is being legalistic here, but the reason is important. Those who continue in these behaviours will not inherit the kingdom of God.
What does this say about grace and forgiveness? Paul does not talk about grace and forgiveness in 1 Cor 5-6. His statements are about removing negative influences. Paul has not lapsed into a ‘were all sinners’ statement exhorting his audience to put their trust in Jesus for forgiveness. Why do you think he hasn’t? There is forgiveness, provided they turn away from the sin and repent. But for now it seems Paul thinks they should remove the negative influence.
What does this say about the final judgment? Paul is suggesting there are at least two kinds of people. Those who continue in these behaviours and those who dont. His doctrine of sin divides up people into sinners and the righteous. In Paul’s mind sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God. The righteous will.
Who are ‘the righteous’? When people come to believe the gospel. That Jesus who died and rose again is the risen Lord and then follow him as Lord – in Paul’s mind they become ‘unleavened’ (1 Cor 5.7) or righteous. 1 Jn 3.7 gives a simple biblical definition of what it means to be righteous. To be righteous means making a regular practice of ‘righteousness’ and not keeping on sinning. In Paul’s mind believers have a new identity in Christ and it should influence the way they live (Rom 6). If they dont, Paul rightly questions if they are truly brothers or sisters of Christ.
Its possible we can adopt a pessimistic view of believers attitude and behaviour. Sometimes its appropriate. All people are subject to temptation. Its always possible believers will succomb to it and sin in the thought or deed. That is why believers are exhorted to resist (1 Cor 10.13; Heb 4.15-16). However I think we can push this pessimism too far and start rejecting the way the apostles see things. The apostles seem to expect believers to live changed lives. They refer to them in ways which reinforce this new identity and expectation of how believers are expected to live. And that is what Paul is doing here.
Words for believers
I think we all face a battle over knowing who we are in Christ and the way we are expected to live in response.
In a sense then Paul is actually kinder in his treatment of believers than this pessimistic view. He doesn’t assume they are always sinning. But if he does catch them in sin, he makes an issue of it quickly because he believes Christians should not live that way. In Paul’s mind ‘Christians’ don’t deserve assurance of salvation if they continue in sin.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Eph 5.6-10)
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