In this chapter Paul deals with another issue the immature Corinthian Christians are dealing with, sexual immorality. We’re familiar with the English word that comes from the Greek for sexual immorality, porneia-πορνεία, from which of course we get the word pornography. In biblical terms the word refers to any extramarital sex, which would obviously include pornography. We think our secular Western culture is obsessed with sex, but it was much worse in ancient pagan cultures because there was no Jewish-Christian cultural influence to keep a check on the most base of human lusts. Especially in a city like Corinth, which was a cosmopolitan port city where sex was a cheap commodity, and one of the reasons Paul’s letter deals with it so extensively. Archaeology has also revealed that much of the “art” work of the ancient Roman empire was pornographic images.
Getting to the point Paul says he can hardly believe it, that there is a sexual immorality among them “that does not even occur among the pagans: A man has his father’s wife.” So this man’s mother is obviously out of the picture, dad gets remarried, and the son starts having sex with his step-mother. We’re not told that the step-mother is part of the church, but the son definitely is. What’s even more shocking and strange, it seems that the Corinthians are proud of it. Paul tells them the proper response, rather, is that they should have gone into mourning and have put out of their fellowship the man who is doing such a thing. In effect, treat it as a death. What this calls for is church discipline, something all too rare in today’s church. Paul says he is with them in spirit, and that he has already passed judgment on this person, so when they are together and the power of Jesus is present they are to
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.
Paul is exercising Apostolic authority, even as he still does in his words left to us in our Bibles. This seems kind of harsh, but what exactly is Paul saying. The flesh as Paul uses it, sarx-σάρξ, is our bodies infected by sin. Paul is telling them to put this man outside of the Church, and give him up to his sin, which in biblical terms is often God’s judgment for sin. Notice, though, it isn’t to destroy him, but that he might be saved, and come to a realization of the depth of his sin. Such church discipline isn’t very common nowadays, but maybe boasting about sin in the church isn’t as common either, as some Corinthians were obviously doing.
Paul uses the analogy of yeast leavening a whole batch of dough, and says something very interesting in light of that boasting:
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.
In other words, they need to act like those for whom the Messiah died! The indicative, what has already been accomplished (Christ our righteousness, scanctification, redemption-1:30), drives the imperative, the ought. Leaven (yeast) going back to the Passover symbolizes sin and corruption, and just a little makes its way through a whole batch of dough, or in this case, a church. The point Paul is making is that obedience is imperative if God is going to “pass over” their house, and rescue them from slavery (sin and death). We look to Christ who has taken the punishment of death for us, and we want to obey. As he adds:
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.
Paul uses the rest of the chapter to clarify exactly what he meant from a previous letter (which we don’t have) when he told them “not to associate with sexually immoral people.” It seems they got the impression that they were not to associate with non-Christians, but that’s silly because then they would have to “leave this world.” No, they are not to associate with people that call themselves Christians, and yet are sexually immoral or greedy, idolaters or slanderers, drunkards or swindlers. In fact, they are to “not even eat with such people.” We don’t judge people outside the church, but those inside it. If someone claims to be a Christian and yet lives an obviously non-Christian life, let them go practive their non-Christian life somewhere else. He ends the chapter with the command, taken from numerous Old Testament texts, “Expel the wicked person from among you.”