20 Feb 2010

The Immoral Man

Submitted by theshovel
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It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2

What possible reason could have stirred up arrogance among the believers regarding this situation? And what if this whole ordeal, as addressed by Paul, focused not upon the man in question, but rather on the cause of the arrogance? Though I used to wish that the Corinthian letters could have sounded more like the expose of Christ as presented to the Romans, I slowly began to understand Paul’s determination of Christ that ties the whole thing together. If Paul had simply written a letter similar to what he wrote to the Romans, it would not have connected to their specific needs. And isn’t this what a letter is supposed to do? When you connect the two Corinthian letters together, you get a much fuller picture that reveals Paul’s heart in writing so harshly to his beloved brothers.

Don’t equate the justifying of one’s behavior with moral laxness. After all, some very rigid people have been considered lax compared to another’s system of behavior. I hear the justification of one’s behavior more often in the context of law and self-righteousness. Some of the things Paul addressed with the Corinthians might be considered lax, but most had to do with their fleshly assessments of life and of each other. There was much that seemed to be wisdom among them, at least according to each other. In a religious context, they had their levels of comparison, so that some were considered very spiritual.

I am sorry, I am not following you here. Was the issue in I Cor. 5 not about a man experiencing moral laxness…a justifying of wanting to make his behavior ok? I understand that I need to be careful judging other’s “moral laxness” based on my own fleshly categories of spirituality. I am just not following you here. Help me on this please. Tim B

Regarding the immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5, we may assume that the whole matter could be described as moral laxness, but I think we then miss the significance by which some were puffed up by it. The Corinthian religious and moral structure was built upon their goddess, Aphrodite and her temple, which has been said to house 1000 temple prostitutes. That seems to have been connected to their spiritual service of worship. I have to wonder how this might have played into the situation among the believers Paul addressed, so that it could have influenced the insanity that fueled their arrogance. It was certainly not as simple as that I-don’t-care attitude we may assume, for this situation gave a whole group of folks reason to feel they were above others. Remember, they saw themselves in competition with one another. They were striving amongst themselves to appear more spiritual, which might indicate that the extreme sexual immorality of the man in question may have given them a reason to believe it improved their standing among the community. Paul did not choose this situation simply to comment on sexual looseness among them, he chose it because it was somehow central to their competitive insanity. I suspect that the identities of the man’s father as well as his father’s wife may have played a big part in their arrogance. After all, which immoral people in our own society catch the real attention of the news? Rarely do common folks rate much, but let a celebrity, a high-profile religious figure or a politician be caught with his or her pants down and the public starts in with its defenses or accusations. I have little doubt that the Corinthian situation was of similar significance in its own viewpoint. Realize that Paul was not judging the man as much as he was forcing the community to recognize the insanity they were caught up in. The aftermath of that situation, as revealed in the second letter, definitely centers in on the whole group way more than on the man.

I am still not clear on this one. So do you think the issue had more to do with the boasting in position than it did on the immorality? I had it taught to me that the issue was an over-realized eschatology…that is, that the Corinthians (some of them) felt that they had already passed from death to life and that it did not matter what one did in the body (license to sin) and so they felt that they could pick the grossest of sins to “prove” how spiritual they were…hence, the guy in question was doing something even the Gentiles don’t do (as Paul said), to make this point. Again, I suppose the real issue mistakenly understands Christianity as a totem pole religion where some are “higher” than others. What do you think? Tim B

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:33-34

I am not saying that the immorality was not a key factor in the Corinthians’ situation as addressed by Paul, for it surely played a significant role. However, it was one among other issues that affected how they recognized Christ among themselves. The oft-used license-to-sin explanation you learned probably left out the real stimulus behind the fleshly desire to push the boundaries in an effort to prove the depth of their freedom.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 1 Corinthians 15:56

You see, it is not having too much confidence in grace that stimulates believers to push the limits of their freedom, rather it is the law. After all, how did this group ever become so fractured, except by that which divides rather than unifies? And what would push a believer to even consider a need to prove his own spirituality above another? It is not the confidence that comes from full assurance in Christ, that’s for sure. This crucial element is almost always absent in license-to-sin teachings. However, the fact was that they HAD been ensnared in the insanity of comparison.

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory on account of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 2 Corinthians 3:5-12

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 2 Corinthians 4:5

You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. For even if I should boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I shall not be put to shame, for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible.” Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present. For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. 2 Corinthians 10:7-12

Notice how Paul presented the difference between the ministry of life in the new covenant versus the ministry of death of the old in conjunction with the comparison factor. His statement “we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord” is pitted against the truth that those who preach law are, in fact, preaching themselves. A comparing of standards and principles creates the competition Paul addressed all throughout his letter to the Corinthian group. The preaching of the ministry of death within the group established the basis upon which the Corinthians felt the need to bolster their own sense of spiritual superiority. After all, a common confidence of full assurance in Christ by which each regarded the other as more important would diffuse any false need to become arrogant against the other. It is imperative to recognize how the preaching of law among the Corinthians by those who claimed spiritual superiority over Paul influenced everything related to how they came to view all things according to the flesh. And yes, the men who came to be highly respected among them definitely turned the gospel into a totem pole religion with divisions where each tried to gain the higher standing.

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you. 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

Do you hear Paul connecting the dots for these Corinthian believers so that they might recognize the obviousness behind the divisions among them? However we understand the reasoning behind their toleration of immorality, it must include the influence of those who were regarded so highly among them. After all, according to Paul, those deemed important among them would never have found a place of respect had they not become so divided. It is no stretch to suggest that these same men had stirred up the divisions in order to gain a foothold in the first place.

But what I am doing, I will continue to do, that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds. 2 Corinthians 11:12-15

If ever it seemed that Paul only meant to say that these men were merely misguided believers, this should clear it up. He took it easy on the Corinthians from the beginning of the first letter, as he knew that any hope he had of salvaging their unity as a group was in the balances, but he slowly made his point more obvious as he continued. The basis of the divisions among them came from those who disguised themselves as servants of righteousness in vying for the position that Paul occupied among them. The irony in trying to gain such a position is that Paul treated the people as more important than himself, and the simple act of trying to take it from him by setting themselves up as super-apostles (or most-eminent apostles) above Paul destroys the very relationship he had with the Corinthians. There never was any such position as imagined by those men nor by those who were influenced by them. It’s just like the story of King Midas, who discovered that the gift of turning anything he touched into gold was actually a curse after he touched his daughter.

The Corinthians’ tolerance of the immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5 was one of the most striking symptoms of the fleshly divisions which were brought on by those who gloried in themselves by preaching the ministry of death, which is the preaching of law. Had they not been divided into factions with one group striving for prominence above the other, the situation would have never been tolerated. Consider the following:

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:33-34

“For some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” Why shame? Because they had been so caught up in trying to impress each other that they let their one distinction, who is Christ, take back seat. The ones who had no knowledge of God were the very ones who were calling all the shots among them. They stopped viewing themselves as the unleavened bread, and they gave in to the ministry of condemnation, and yes, some considered themselves more spiritual than the others because they were deceived into imagining that only the most free could tolerate such outrageous deeds among them. They probably chalked it up to their capacity to forgive and be gracious. Had they been of sound mind they would not have been so blinded to fact that they were being played and taken advantage of, and they would have reacted toward the situation with a view of restoring him and those involved with him.

Ok, I think I finally have a clearer picture of the situation in Corinth. Seriously I feel like a dunce, because I had put so much confidence in my “education” that I thought I had Corinthians “down.” LOL. I had been focusing in on the man who was living the immoral lifestyle, as if it was all one big church, and that it was just a case of Christians misunderstanding grace. I see what you are saying I think. So in other words, yes there was a problem with boasting about grace and living in immorality, but the underlying issue is law–i.e. again, building structures of judgement among themselves (what Jesus called the “lording it over” worldly system of thinking), so as to make some “more spiritual” than others, and more importantly, to replace Paul with their “authority.” They may have chalked it up to superior understanding of grace, or of being more spiritual, but all in all, it was just going to living by worldly principles of law–hence division as division is a natural outflow of law. And I see what you mean where Paul probably doubted as to whether these people were even saved, because of the evidence of their actions. So when Paul talks about putting the man out for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit might be saved, is that Paul doubting that his spirit is currently saved? If it is, I have never thought of it that way before. What are your thoughts? And again, and I on point with what you have been saying? Tim B

A dunce, you say? Well, I sat in that same corner for years. LOL!! I think you are seeing things quite clearly now, for you are seeing Christ in all things, especially in regards to this letter.

…are to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 5:5 WEB

Regarding this verse, a few versions (notably the “literal” ones) translate it as “the spirit” rather than “his spirit”. Now I think that Paul realized that the whole experience could bring the man around to Christ, but I suspect he may possibly have been referring to the spirit of their unity. After all, that is what he was fighting for among them from the beginning of the letter. Reading through the beginning of 2 Corinthians, I see that Paul did specifically address the man in question, asking them to forgive him, but the overwhelming sense of his heart was toward the fellowship as a whole: “for their comfort and salvation (or deliverance)”.


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