Scandal - Under the Rug

Pastor Samuel Sutter - 3/1/2020

Scandals don't fit under rugs for long. Every week we all see new headlines that teach us the dangers of trying to sweep up sexual sin under the rugs. In 1 Corinthians 5, God lifts up the rug, and deals with it. Our world would be far better off if we had listened to what God has to say about scandal. 

Sermon Helps

1 Corinthians 5:1–13 (NIV) 1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote 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 claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 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 person from among you.”

A report has reached Paul about a situation of “sexual immorality” on the part of a member of the church at Corinth. In classical Greek the meaning of porneia was generally restricted to prostitution (which was accepted as part of that culture), but in the world of Hellenistic Judaism the meaning of this word was broadened to cover virtually any sexual sin that took place outside the bounds of marriage. What was unique about this particular situation in Corinth was that it shocked even secular society—a man was cohabiting with his father’s wife. Apparently even the immorality rampant in Corinth had its unwritten restrictions, and the standards of the church should never be lower than those of the world. The word “has” in this context implies sexual relations, just as it does in 7:2 (cf. also its use in the LXX of Ex 2:1; Dt 28:30; Isa 16:13). In other words, the man in question is not merely living in the same house as “his father’s wife,” but is cohabiting with her. The expression “his father’s wife” indicates that she is not his mother but a stepmother (cf. Lev 18:7–8, which prohibits incest with one’s mother and stepmother, i.e., “your father’s wife”). – Tremper Longman & David Garland

The church’s reaction to this affair was as bad or worse than the affair itself. Instead of grieving over sin in their midst, they were actually smug over their newfound, “enlightened” tolerance as Christians (v. 2). Paul recoils in horror. They must rather remove this man from their midst (“fellowship”). That no mention is made of removing the woman suggests she was not a church member to begin with. Verses 6–8 appeal to the Jews’ practice of purifying their homes and their temple from all leavened bread prior to the Passover feast (Ex. 12:15). Paul applies this imagery to the moral purity God requires of his new house/temple—the church.8 Citing in verse 6 what may have been a popular proverb (cf. Gal. 5:9), he makes it clear that serious sin can infect the whole congregation. Thinking of Passover reminds him of Christ as our perfect sacrifice (v. 7), imagery which the writer to the Hebrews will later elaborate. Jesus’ atonement was not intended to free us to sin but to liberate us from sin. As he likes to do in many of his letters, Paul thus calls his audience to “become what they are”—to act according to the way God has already chosen to consider them in Christ (cf. esp. Rom. 6–8). This means putting away all forms of evil (“malice” and “wickedness” are both general terms covering the waterfront of sin) and behaving in ways that genuinely conform to God’s true standards (v. 8). Craig Bloomberg

Paul doesn’t trouble to argue that the particular behaviour in this case is wrong. He knows well enough that most of the Christians will still be sufficiently uncomfortable about it for him only to need to mention it. He moves straight into action. They should, he says, have removed from their midst someone who does that kind of thing; he assumes, in other words, that the community is not simply a free-for-all gathering, but has some coherence about its membership, some lines which it is possible to step over, some control over who comes to worship, who belongs to the community. This has nothing to do with going back on ‘justification by faith’. As will become clear over the next two chapters, Paul knows that the fellowship of all who believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord can be badly damaged by behaviour which does not acknowledge him as such. In the present case, the offender will still be saved, but, like the person who has ‘built’ with the wrong material in 3:10–15, this ‘salvation’, which will be given ‘on the day of the Lord’, will only be accomplished the other side of judgment on the present behaviour. And, since this behaviour is threatening the very life and witness of the church, this judgment must be exercised through appropriate discipline, namely, ejection from the community. - N.T. Wright

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