In 5:1-13 Paul turns to the matter of dealing with an evil brother. The first problem, dealt with in chapters one through four, is the matter of division, which is mainly related to the natural life of the soul. The second problem, dealt with in chapter five, the second section of the book, is the sin of fornication, which is related to the lust of the flesh. Morally speaking, this problem, involving incest between a brother and his stepmother, is more gross than the former. The former pertains to the strife that comes from pride. The latter is a gross sin that comes from lust.
Chapter five of 1 Corinthians has certain special characteristics. First, this chapter shows that even a genuine believer can commit a gross sin. Many who read the New Testament may think that, because of the grace of God, believers are not able to do evil things, especially certain evil things recorded in the Old Testament. But in this chapter we read of a brother in the church at Corinth who had committed the sin of incest with his stepmother. Paul’s intention, of course, was to help the church to deal with this evil brother. By reading this chapter we see that it is definitely possible for a truly saved one, a real brother in the Lord, to commit such a sin. If we did not have this record in the New Testament, it probably would be very difficult for us to believe that a saved person could commit this kind of sin. Instead, we may think that after a person has been saved he could never be this sinful.
This chapter also shows us that once a church is diverted from the central vision of God’s economy and gets into the soul, the door will be open for the lust of the flesh to come in. This will open the way not only for jealousy and strife, but even for gross sins. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous for us to remain in the soul. In this Epistle Paul first deals with the soul and then with the lusts of the flesh. The dealing with the soul is primarily a dealing with division. The first four chapters of this book deal with the problem of division, which comes from the soul. Division is a soulish matter, mainly a matter of the mind. It is the result of opinion, and opinion issues from the mind. This is clearly indicated in the first four chapters. From reading these chapters we see that there were divisions among the Corinthians because they were very much in the natural mind. They turned from the spirit and exercised the soul. They departed from the central vision, and this opened the gate for the lust of the flesh to come in.
In the church life the soul should not be prevailing. Instead, we all must learn to deny the soul and renounce it and to live in the spirit. We should remain in our spirit and exercise our spirit in every situation. This will close the door to the lust of the flesh.
In 5:1 Paul says, “It is actually reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication which is not even among the nations, that someone has his father’s wife.” Here we see that a brother committed incest with his father’s wife, with his stepmother. No sin is worse or more damaging to humanity than incest. As we shall see, although this chapter deals with such a terrible sin, it also speaks of keeping the feast.
Paul was a person who was full of Christ. He knew Christ experientially and not merely in a doctrinal way. Even as he deals with a gross sin, he still has the enjoyment of Christ within him.
In verse 2 Paul says, “And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that the one who has done this deed might be removed from your midst.” Instead of mourning that such a gross sin was found among them, the Corinthians were proud and puffed up. No doubt, verse 2 is a word of rebuke. In this verse Paul also indicates that the one who has committed this sinful deed should be removed from their midst; that is, he should be excommunicated from the fellowship of the church.
To remove someone from the fellowship of the church can be compared to removing a decayed or rotten piece of wood from a building. Suppose some wood in a house becomes rotten. This rotten part should be removed. Likewise, the evil brother mentioned in verse 1 should be removed from the fellowship of the church. The Corinthians, however, did not have this realization, for they were still proud and puffed up. For this reason, Paul lets them know that he was deeply concerned about the situation there.
In this chapter dealing with an evil brother there are two matters which are very positive and marvelous. The first concerns Paul’s exercise of his human spirit, and the second concerns the feast. In verses 3 through 5 Paul says, “For I, being absent in the body, but present in the spirit, have already judged as being present him who so did this, in the name of the Lord Jesus, when you and my spirit are assembled, with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one to Satan for destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” In verse 3 Paul says that although he was absent in the body, he was present in the spirit. The apostle, as a spiritual person, behaved in his spirit, in contrast to the Corinthians, who behaved either in the soul or in the flesh. Although Paul was absent from them in the body, he was still present with them in the spirit and exercised his spirit to judge the evil person among them. In verse 4 Paul even says that his spirit was assembled with them. The apostle’s spirit was so strong that it attended the Corinthian believers’ meeting. His spirit was assembled with them to carry out his judgment upon the evil person.
In verses 3 and 4 Paul seems to be saying, “You did not remove the evil person from among you. But through the exercise of my spirit I have already judged him. Although I am absent from you physically, I am present with you in my spirit. I even attend your meetings in my spirit. Thus, by my spirit I have already judged this one.”
In verse 4 Paul clearly says, “When you and my spirit are assembled.” By this we know that Paul’s spirit attended the meeting in Corinth. This does not mean, however, that his spirit actually traveled to Corinth. This has absolutely nothing in common with witchcraft, which claims that a person’s soul can leave his body and visit other people. According to this verse, Paul’s spirit was so strong that he could somehow attend the meeting in Corinth. When they were gathered together, his spirit was with them to deliver the evil one to Satan. This is altogether a spiritual matter, something wholly in the spirit.
We should never think that Paul’s spirit actually went to Corinth and attended the meeting. Nevertheless, as the Corinthian believers were meeting together, Paul exercised his spirit to be with them and to judge the evil one and to remove him. We also may learn to visit a brother by our spirit. While we remain at home, it is possible for our spirit to visit a brother. This is what Paul’s spirit did regarding the situation at Corinth.
In verse 4 Paul refers to the name of the Lord Jesus and the power of the Lord Jesus. Both in the name of the Lord and with the power of our Lord Jesus modify deliver in verse 5. The apostle, in his spirit, applied the mighty name of the Lord and exercised His power to deliver the evil person to Satan for destruction of the flesh. I definitely believe that this actually transpired and that the evil one was delivered to Satan.
To deliver a sinful person to Satan is for discipline. The destruction mentioned in verse 5 mainly refers to the affliction with a certain disease (2 Cor. 12:7; Luke 13:11, 16). The flesh refers to the lustful body, which should be destroyed. Certain diseases come from Satan. Such a disease could bring about the destruction of the flesh so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. This indicates that the sinful one among the Corinthian believers was a brother who had been saved once for eternity (John 10:28-29). He could never perish because of any sin. However, because of his sinfulness, he needed to be disciplined by the destruction of his sinful flesh so that he may be kept in the condition to be saved in the day of the Lord. Hence, the destruction of the flesh is a necessary preparation for the saving of the spirit.
As we consider these verses, we see that Paul dealt with the church not only by writing and by sending Timothy to them but also by exercising his spirit. This proves that he was a person who lived in the spirit. It also reveals how strong his spirit was. Paul’s spirit was so strong that it could even attend a church meeting far away. He exercised his spirit to condemn the evil one and deliver him to Satan. This delivering was the removing of that one from God’s holy temple.
We all must learn from Paul to do everything with our spirit. Many things we do are not done with the spirit. Paul, however, dealt with the situation described in chapter five wholly with his spirit. By his spirit he condemned, and by his spirit he delivered the evil one to Satan.
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