We saw in our first study that Corinth was a bustling, commercially successful, maritime city. But like many large cities it was a centre of immorality. One of its twelve temples was dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It has been suggested that in service to Aphrodite, each woman had to attend the temple once in her life as a prostitute. Corinth was so well known for sexual immorality that a Greek verb ‘to Corinthianise’ was used for this behaviour.


The Romans had captured the city in 146bc, killing or driving out the Greek inhabitants. In 44bc Julius Caesar re-established Corinth as a Roman colony and it was a favourite place for army veterans to live. The population was mixed; with Romans, Greeks and Jews – whose numbers had been swelled by those forced out of Rome (Acts18:2). There were also many other nationalities drawn there by trade, and there were very many slaves.  

Jews living in Corinth had their own synagogue and ‘religious’ Jews would have understood the biblical requirements for holiness, but for others, and the Greek converts, they still had a lot of custom and behaviour to unlearn. Look at 1 Corinthians 6;9-10, then 11a:: ‘and that is what some of you were’. This background led to many on-going problems in the church.

It appears that a wrong attitude existed where the church believed that they were showing love to fellow Christians by allowing them to continue in open sin – even boasting in their tolerance of these things.

1 Corinthians 5:6-13

6 Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast— as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

What do we make of verse 6?

Yeast is used in the bible as a metaphor for Sin. It is a fungus that breaks down sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. It multiplies quickly and affects everything it comes in contact with.

For the Passover feast, the house had to be scoured from top to bottom to ensure that all yeast had been removed. Where sin is discovered, it must be removed completely.

Paul started this letter (1 Corinthians 1:2) reminding the Corinthians that they were sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy

What exactly does being sanctified and being holy mean?

Discuss. (1 Peter 1:13-25) Being a saint – Sanctification (The Pope only makes saints of dead people – Jesus says you must be born again)

Here in Chapter 5 Paul has to tackle the problem of our attitude towards sin. Not just sin in the world, but obvious sin within the church; and not only our attitude towards it, but how we should deal with the sinner. I say obvious sin, because we have to accept that we are all sinners and are quite capable of committing sins ourselves, and we are skilled at hiding our sins from others.

Firstly our response to what will follow may well be ‘That’s a bit harsh’. But that merely shows us how our attitude towards sin has become lax. Things which we actually find acceptable today would not stand up to the standard of holiness required by Jesus. And for the early church there was to be no compromise.


1 Corinthians 5:1-5

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife.

2 And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?

3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.  

4 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,

5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

(v1) For Paul to have heard about this it must have been common knowledge in (and probably outside) the church. It could not be allowed to continue, and it therefore had to be dealt with. The church themselves had failed to act (v2), so now Paul gave instructions: 4 So 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,

5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

First look at v3:

3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.  

We know that generally we are not to judge others but we must also accept that there are times, among Christians, within the church, for the Glory of God, that it will be necessary; and we will be expected to pass judgement on other Christians too. In these cases we have to be careful that at all times we are led by the Spirit of Christ.

This is difficult, and our passage is difficult too! Let’s look at it carefully – tell me what you understand by:

4 So when you are assembled  .  .  .

It will be for the leaders to act, but the congregation must witness the results of sin. The whole church must share in the responsibility of dealing with Church Discipline.

and I am with you in spirit  .  .  .  

Paul would share responsibility for this with the Church.

and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,  .  .  .

This was not to be a simple matter of expelling the man from the congregation: it would require the miraculous power of Jesus for what was to come, and until the church recognised the presence of Jesus they would be powerless to act.

5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

Paul has been confronted with an intolerable situation in the young church that he had planted. It appears from v9 that this is not the first time Paul had written to the church on this subject, but by now conspicuous sin had somehow become acceptable, and having been allowed a foothold, Satan would surely destroy this young church, and possibly others.

Luke 17:1-3a  Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied round his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves."

For the sake of the church and ultimately the Glory of God, sin had to be dealt with. Paul had not only been given the authority by God, as an apostle, but now also by the Holy Spirit he had been given the power to act.

Are there any other instances where we read in the New Testament of such things?

Yes, I can think of four:

1) Later on in this letter where Paul states that unconfessed sin could result in sickness and death:

Read 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 

2) In Acts we have a record of Peter taking immediate action in the face of deliberate sin in the church:

Read Acts 5:1-11

3) Also in acts we have a record of Paul confronting evil:

Read Acts 13:8-12

3) and in Paul’s letter to Timothy:

1 Tim 1:19b, 20 Some have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

So it appears that Paul had the unusual authority and power to deal with persistent sinners in the church in a dramatic way. Paul now delegates his authority and power to the local church leaders and commands them to act.

1 Corinthians 5:5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

What does he mean by that? (Not simply that he should be expelled from the church – we will look at that later)

Ultimately this person is a Christian and so will never finally be lost from God’s Kingdom. Satan’s power only extends as far as the grave. Jesus demonstrated this at Calvary. But sickness and death are things that Satan can and does use. Remember Job 2:6 The LORD said to Satan, Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life. (Job: Job 2:4-7, Peter: Luke 22:31, Paul: 2Co 12:7)

So it seems that Paul is able to delegate his apostolic authority to the church. He had a power which goes beyond that of the other church leaders and which apparently is not available today. The church was able to expel members from their gathering (as any modern-day church can) but here we have a specific ability to hand a person over to Satan, specifically to inflict disease or death in punishment for sin. Quite a terrifying prospect for us today, but vital for the early church if it was to stamp out sin before its casual acceptance destroyed them.

Moving on from this specific case, Paul now addresses the whole question of sin in the church.

1 Corinthians 5:9 I have written to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—10 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. 11 But now I am writing to 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. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you.

It is a contradiction for the Christian church to have in it those who are blatant unrepentant sinners. So what should we do if we are faced with this in our church? Yes that is the responsibility of the leaders, but it is actually the responsibility of us all. Again this raises the problem of making judgements and we can’t just sweep things under the carpet because they are difficult.

How much sin is acceptable?

Doing nothing is not an option, so how can we guard the integrity of our church without conducting a witch hunt?

Often a church constitution document will say something like this:-

8.1.2 When there are differences that lead to difficulties between members of the Church (and it is recognised that sometimes misunderstandings will arise) each member should try to resolve the situation with gentleness and humility following Christian and Biblical principles. It is a matter of great sadness when problems arise and it may be necessary for another wise and experienced member of this Church (or if invited a member of a neighbouring Church) to act as mediator or friend to those seeking to achieve reconciliation.

8.2.6 In exceptional circumstances where the conduct of a member is considered to be contrary to the Purpose and Beliefs of the Church and/or disruptive to the relationships between members in the Church then the Church Meeting may, after considering the facts, terminate the membership of that person. The Church Member should be allowed to hear what is said at the Church Meeting, to correct any errors of fact and offer any explanation of the circumstances or reasons for their actions before the Church Meeting prayerfully and carefully considers whether that person's name should be removed from the list of members.

NOTE: Clause 8.2.6 is only a framework within which church discipline may be exercised. The clause should be read and acted upon only after the procedures mentioned in clause 8.1.2 have been exhausted. Action under this Clause would be a matter of great sadness to the whole Church and an action of last resort after all means of resolving disagreements by dialogue have failed.

Let’s move on into Chapter 6 where Paul continues his theme:

Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-20

Let’s just start by reminding ourselves that we are all sinners saved by grace v11: that is what some of you were.

But the blood of Jesus is able to cleanse us from all sin, and there are no limits to his saving grace: all can be saved.

It is not necessary to study this passage line by line, but we will look at some important teachings. 

Firstly to remember that (v9) the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God. An obvious fact but some were trying to suggest that now they were saved, they could return to their wickedness and continue without fear of judgement. The argument was that surely as Christians we are no longer bound by the law. And our new freedom is unlimited.

Is this wrong? If Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin, can a Christian go on sinning? (1 John 3:1-10, Romans 7:14-8:2)

Look at these next two passages:

11 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.

19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;

20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.

Paul reminds Christians what they had been, and what they now are: Holy and Righteous in the sight of God, through the cleansing blood of Jesus, shed at great cost on Calvary. Because of this they are to regard their bodies no longer as their own, but now as Temples of the Holy Spirit.

One of the ways the Holy Spirit works is to alert our consciences each time we sin. We can ignore these promptings, but they won’t go away. However much we theorise about our freedom, sin is in direct opposition to a holy God and will never be acceptable to him.

Some people try to make a distinction between body and soul (or spirit) saying that the body (the ‘flesh’) will always be sinful. Paul counters that argument in verses 12-20 by saying that when we gave our lives to Jesus, we gave him our bodies too. He lives in us by his Holy Spirit and we are being callous if we treat the price he paid for our salvation as of no account.

Moving on from deliberately committing actual sin, how do we understand verse 12? Everything is permissible for me— but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me— but I will not be mastered by anything.

Is it possible to engage in activities which, though not sinful in themselves, are not beneficial to my spiritual life, and may even affect my witness to others?

(Hobbies? Interests? Leisure activities? When does an interest become an obsession, or an addiction?)

Note that verse 12 suggests that some activities may master us, but we have asked Jesus to be our Master and Lord, and he will not share that position with another.

(If ‘Judgement’ is still a problem, see the study notes on this subject in John 5d)

1 Corinthians 6

Study 7    1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 6:9-20 Corinth. Judging (2).  Dealing with sin in the church

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