I Corinthians 4–5. Paul Tackles the Next Big Problem: Sexuality. Pt. I

Key Notes: Judging Paul? Incest. Church discipline then and now. Hope for small groups.

Chapter 4 is a climax of the first four chapters. Paul began slowly, in chapters 1, 2 expressing concern for their preference for Greek wisdom and their factions based on the personalities of Christian leaders. In Chapter 3 he warned them to do their building on Christ and not to harm God’s temple, God’s building. He described the final judgment as a fire which they would survive, but work that might or might not survive. In Chapter 4 he tells us that the Corinthians have sat in judgment of him and rebelled against his ministry. He increases the intensity greatly in chapter 4,  challenging the Corinthians’ rebellion and pride and throwing them further on the defensive. The Corinthians are judging Paul! He cannot sit still for that. Then in Chapter 5 he attacks a gross social sin in the church—incest. There are really two problems: the sexual sin and the process of judging it.

4:1–5 First he focuses the spotlight of judgment on himself and Apollos. They are custodians of the mysteries of God, and must be trustworthy stewards. Where will he stand in God’s judgment? He does not know. They should not judge him until the Lord comes and gives out the commendations.
The implication is that they have indeed judged him. Some of their complaints were known to Paul and he could recite them back.

Paul vacillates. Is he coming or isn’t he? IICor.1:17
He is humble in person but bold when away. IICor.10:1
His letters are heavy. His bodily presence is weak. IICor.10:10
His speech is of no account. IICor.10:10

These criticisms seem minor. They do not deal with theological issues. But they indicate their lack of loyalty to Paul and that enables them to refuse to listen.

4:6–13 He has been talking about himself, using Apollos and himself as examples. He is now saying that it is also the Corinthians that will have their deeds exposed to the light and their motivations disclosed. They should not go beyond what is written (?about the Judgment). They should not be inflated by their connection with some religious leader.

Now how do they look? Do they have a right to be proud? Whatever strength any of us has is a gift—intelligence, drive, good looks, social skills or physical power. They are riding high, feeling like rulers, strong, honorable and wise--although Paul had said they had few of these qualities in reality. (ICor.1:26). In contrast the apostles were treated like dirt. The apostles were taking the world’s abuse as well the Corinthians’ judgment.

4:14–21 Paul asserts his authority. He is their spiritual father. He is reminding them that  he led them to Christ. They should copy him as he copies Christ. (11:1). Timothy, his faithful child, will be sent to them to recite his teachings. (A child coming to teach children.)  Then Paul will follow up to test the power of the arrogant. He offers them a carrot and a stick—the loving embrace of fellowship or a rod of punishment.

5;1–5 Meanwhile, there is a major scandal to be taken care of. A man is living with his step-mother and bringing her to church. It was a form of incest forbidden in the Law of Moses.
“Cursed be he who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered her who is his father’s." (Deut.27:20; also Deut.22:30, Lev.18:8).

It was also a scandal to the Romans. Cicero referred to a marriage between a son-in-law and mother-in-law as ”incredible, and apart from this one instance, unheard of.”
(The New Century Bible Commentary; I, 2 Corinthians. FF Bruce; Eerdmans,’71; p.53)

Were the Corinthians arrogant about this outstanding scandal, or just arrogant in general? In any event, they should be grieving. The remedy is simple. Remove him (and her). Paul, present in spirit with the Corinthians, has pronounced judgment. When they gather together, they are to turn this man over to Satan for injury to his body, so that he might be saved in the judgment day. The intent is to expose him to remedial physical and spiritual distress, presumably sickness.

5:6–8 Paul illustrates the principle of isolating the offender with the practice of cleaning any yeasty material out of the house in preparation for the Passover festival.
“No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days….” (Deut.16:4;  Ex.13:6–7)
Paul says that the leaven is a symbolic of malice and evil. We celebrate with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Leaven is a potent symbol because it is invisible, and affects the whole batch. A modern saying is “a rotten apple spoils the barrel.”  The bad person (leaven) must be removed otherwise he will corrupt the whole community (dough). He may be referring to the Lord's Supper, as a time when community purity should have been established.

His removal will have two effects: it will protect the community from being further demoralized, and it will offer shock treatment to the sinner in the hope that it will lead to his repentance and restoration. This may be the person referred to in IICor.2:5–11. If so, the treatment worked and the man was restored.

Paul also notes that Christ is our Passover Lamb. Passover is God’s salvation demonstrated in the Old Testament. (Ex.12–13). It is a sermon based on an historical event, just as the death and resurrection of Christ is history used for our instruction and salvation.

5:9–13. Paul then takes up the question of whom they should rightly associate with. He wants them to avoid association with any so-called brother if guilty of sexual immorality, greed, idol-worship, vile talk, alcoholism or theft. But they do not break contact with outsiders who are guilty of the same wrongs. Christians are to be salt and light to them.
God will judge them. The Church is to judge its own.

Judgment is a big issue. We all do it to varying degrees depending on our temperaments and occupations. Since we are exposed to innumerable choices every day, we are making judgments all the time. The relentless advertising on the media tend to make us weary; should we go for an F150 or a  Silverado? At the same time, we are in a society where tolerance is demanded, so that we are constantly reminded to “judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt.7:1). Being judgmental is bad; accepting everyone on their own terms is good. But discriminating in the market place is required. We are allowed to judge products, just not moral behavior.

  1. Jesus did not so much warn against making moral judgments  (“Judge not”) as to teach us the risks.
    1. We usually find our own weaknesses in other people. (Matt.7:1–5). People who have eye diseases see eye diseases more quickly than others. We judge other people’s faults based on our own. Paul says the same thing in Rom.2:1. Our pet peeve is too often our besetting sin. It is very hard to criticize outside the sphere of our own experience.
    2. Jesus said “Let him who is without sin... cast the first stone.” (Jn.8:7). We must examine ourselves before we cast judgment.
    3. We may not judge a weak brother’s conscience about trivial matters like food and drink.
  2. We are required to use discernment. In fact, two situations requiring judgment are found in this same chapter. Matt.7
    1. We must chose the people we confide in with care. Matt.7:6.
    2. We can tell  false prophets by their fruits. Matt.7:14–20
    3. Self-judgment is protection against God’s judgment .ICor.11:31 D.
    4. We are always in danger of discriminating based on status such as wealth and power. James 2:1–13
      Wrangling and complaining, are endemic problems..“Malcontents, following their own passions…” (Jude 16),  “….those who set up divisions,  worldly people, devoid of the Spirit…” (Jude19). There should be no grumbling or questioning (Phil.2:14), no anger or quarreling. ITim.2:8
      The ABCD’s of professional life are “Accuse, Blame, Criticize, Deny.”
  3. Judging is part of the Church’s duty. It must exert discipline and settle disputes among members. ICor.6:1-Jesus set the rules. Matt.18:15–20
    1. Go to the offender by yourself.
    2. If the conflict is not resolved, go back with two or three others.
    3. If the offender still refuses, take him/her to the whole assembly.
    4. If there is still a grievous offense, the guilty may be excommunicated.

Attitude is important for a spiritual disciplinarian.“If anyone is overtaken in any trespass, you that are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Gal.6:1)

The modern church has great difficulty with judgment and discipline for several reasons.

  1. We are a litigious society so that the threat of suit restrains leaders from doing the right thing.
  2. Large churches are fluid and lack cohesiveness. People come and go. Loyalty to the group is minimal. If a person or couple is threatened in any way, there is always another group to escape to.
  3. The social pressure to be tolerant is so strong as to constrain leaders from even teaching correct doctrine. Purging out the leaven is all but impossible.

Only in small groups is accountability and discipline practical. Since small groups are the hope of the church, we should concentrate our efforts there, not just our discipline but the majority of our work.