First Corinthians 5:1–13 . . .

Church Discipline

In the first four chapters of First Corinthians, Paul introduces a shameful problem in the church furthered by a lack of discipline. The Corinthians proudly attach themselves to certain leaders, whose teaching seems to disclose a "wisdom" not known or taught by other teachers, and certainly not by Paul or his fellow-apostles. Cliques and factions are undermining the unity of the church and are a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In chapter 5 (as well as 6), Paul calls attention to two other problems plaguing the church: immorality and lawsuits.

It's bad enough that Paul hears of immorality in the Corinthian church; but what Paul has yet to say is even more disturbing. While it's possible, even likely, that immorality is commonplace in the church, Paul turns to a specific instance (see v. 1 below) where a son has taken and continues to live immorally with his father's wife. But while Paul is distressed by the sin of this one man, he's even more disturbed by the sinful response of the church, "becoming arrogant" and, at the same time, virtually doing nothing to correct this immoral matter.

Although Paul is far removed from Corinth with its immoral ways facilitated by little or no discipline, he's never spiritually absent. Many of the Corinthians are Paul's spiritual children (4:14–16). He not only writes to them, but makes every effort to obtain reports of how they're coming along, while iterating the following seven essentials of discipline.

1)  Church discipline is a process. In this short chapter, Paul speaks of the final step of discipline. Matthew 18 spells out the full process of church discipline. Paul deals only with the last step of this process here because the willful rebellion of the sinner is evident; his sin has already become public knowledge. Discipline must be as public as the sin.

2)  Church discipline is the obligation of the whole church. Paul speaks of the discipline process taking place "when you are assembled." Our Lord instructed that the matter be told "to the church" (Matthew 18:17). In the case of the immoral man in the church at Corinth, the matter has already become a matter of public knowledge. Consequently, the correction must be as public as the sin. We see in Matthew 18:19–20 that the final step of discipline is taken by the entire church, when they have assembled. The Lord promises his special presence when such a gathering is assembled for discipline.

3)  Church discipline involves all of the local church, having implications for the church at large. Paul calls for the whole Corinthian church to become involved. This is a most difficult assignment, for the Corinthian church is divided into various factions that seem unable to work together on anything. Because church discipline should be exercised in unity, Paul not only requires the whole church to participate in this act of discipline, he strongly implies that church discipline should be exercised more generally, by all the churches.

4)  Church discipline is to be done in the name and in the power of our Lord. The church acts on behalf of the Lord in carrying out discipline. This is why the Lord's presence is promised in discipline, and why Paul speaks of acting "in the name of the Lord Jesus" and in "the power of the Lord Jesus" (v. 4). We act on God's behalf; when we act, God acts as well (Matthew 18:18–19).

5)  Church discipline delivers the sinner into the power of Satan the destroyer. The church expels the wayward and unrepentant saint, preventing him (and her) from participating in its worship (i.e., taking Holy Communion) and separates the saint from fellowship with individuals or small groups of believers. In so doing, the sinning saint not only loses the positive benefits of being a part of the church body, but is placed in the very dangerous position of being vulnerable to Satan's attacks.

6)  Church discipline is only for those who are saints or for those who profess to be saints. Paul makes it very clear (vv. 12, 13) that church discipline is for only those who are inside the church.

7)  Church discipline is not a final judgment which condemns one to eternal hell, but one which has the goal of the sinner's repentance and final salvation. Church discipline is to be exercised for the highest good of the sinning saint. Consequently, Paul makes it very clear that "hand this man over to Satan" in church discipline is not a final act of condemnation, but an action taken with a view to the wayward saint's repentance from sin in this life, or at least his spiritual salvation in the next.

Paul's understanding of the church's next steps regarding becoming disciplined can be summarized with two titles:
(1) a Biblical Mandate for Church Discipline (vv. 6–8) and (2) a Clarification on Separation (vv. 9–13).


Paul's words in chapter 5 are sobering, yet they're meant to be. He's already written, "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are" (4:17). Now, the Corinthians are reminded of their duty to become disciplined by removing the wayward and willful sinner from their midst.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  Why does Paul react so strongly about the immoral brother in the Corinthian church? What does he tell them to do? (See below.)
  • Q. 2  What wrong attitude toward the problem in their church did the Corinthians have?
  • Q. 3  How could handing "this man over to Satan" (v. 5) actually be for his good?

This Week’s Passage
1 Corinthians 5:1–13

New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to this chapter.]

Dealing With a Case of Incest

1It 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. 2And 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? 3For 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. 4So 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.

6Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7Get 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. 8Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — 10not 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. 11But 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.

12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked person from among you."