For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (1 Corinthians 5:12 ESV)
We get so caught up with the word on judgement, we must not judge others, we must not be judgemental, don’t judge me…..the passage in 1 Corinthians seems to be quite clear, there are not any unusual words or phrases, it is not in a peculiar context where an idiom expressed must be understood in the culture eg, by loving a brother you are putting burning coals on his head ( sounds harsh but in context it is a good thing – look it up!). No, we have a clear passage. Just to back up a bit and show the context.
Paul is talking to the Corinthian church, they have a member in the church who is sleeping with his fathers wife, not his natural mother. So incessed on paper but not physically, yet that is not to lighten the sin for paul says that it is even something that is tolerated among pagans! There is a natural order that even the pagans know is wrong yet in the church of the living God it was happening (Romans 1:20). Yet the Corinthians had become arrogant and proud. Arrogance and pride will blind you to sin, you will excuse it and allow it. They should have been grieved and mourned over such a thing. It does make you ask the question, when did I last mourn over sin? When was I troubled so that I grieved. Not that we look for sin to test our hearts but I know in life you encounter it. It stirs me to pray ‘ God make me more sensitive to you Spirit, let me not grieve you, let my heart not be so proud that I am blind to what is happening around me’.
In verses 3,4 & 5 Paul goes into describing how we was with them in Spirit and when they met to hand him over to Satan.
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. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 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. (1 Corinthians 5:3-5 NIV)
Ok – this seems strange…Paul was with them in Spirit. Now I don’t think this means, as we do in the uk, that I am not physically able to be with you but if I could I would and I am thinking of you and supporting you. It has more to it than that. I read one commentary and they referred to Paul being with them in Spirit as his letter being with them, like the letter was able to judge what was happening as it had authority from Paul. Though the letter does have authority it seems to be an argument ( a rather far fetched one ) to get out of the problem. So what was happening? Somehow in his spirit he knew what was going on. I have been with people and known the thoughts of their hearts, why could this not be the case but over long distance? I once had a phone call from a pastor who said he was disturbed in his spirit about me. At the time I was in a massive dilemma over what I should do when I left university. He was right and the Spirit of God had revealed it to him. I think somehow Paul knew, by the Holy Spirit what was happening.
To think outside of the box a little. Could he have been projected into their midst? Yes possibly, the enemy only can counterfeit that which God has already designed. I don’t believe we are to wilfully project ourselves, as the astral guys would. But, if the Spirit is doing something then we must work with Him. Philip was caught up in the Spirit and transported to another place, couldn’t there be an awareness Paul had in his spirit of what was happening in the Corinthian church? It does not seem that far fetched that paul might be with them in Spirit, not projecting himself but by the Holy Spirit is with them. I can hear all the questions, how dos this work? is it right? Why would he do it? I don’t know! But I do believe it is more than Paul’s letter that was in his midst. Paul had some kind of revelation of what was happening and it was initiated by the Holy Spirit. His discernment was God revealed, the hows and whys we may not be able to explain, but let’s not explain them away because it does not fit our modus operandum.
Paul discerns what is happening among them and has passed judgment. When they have assembled, and the power of the Lord is present ( seems reasonable so far) and Paul is with them in Spirit (a discernment given to him by the lord – the details we don’t know) you are to hand him over to Satan. Now this conjures up images in my mind of Satan turning up at the meeting and the man being handed over to Satan…..now that does sound strange. I never want to be handed over to Satan. Now this does require a little context to understand. The understanding in the churches was that the pagan world was satan’s domain, therefore to be handed over to him was to be removed from the church. The idea was that the harshness of the world would purge him of sin and his lack of fellowship would cause repentance to do its work and for him to turn and come back into fellowship, making amends for his wrong, i.e. asking for forgiveness and repenting of his sin. His time in the world, was aligned with time with Satan and a destruction of the things in the flesh.
The next few verses add weight to what Paul is referring to. He begins to talk of yeast, and comparing it to their boasting about the sin of the man. If they are to leave this man without any judgement the sin he has committed will act like yeast and infect the whole body. As yeast makes the whole dough rise, so this mans sin if left will affect and infect the whole body, there is only one thing to do. He reminds them that the Passover lamb has already been sacrificed, it was at the Passover they would have the unleavened bread, a sign of purity, a sign of being separate from Egypt (Egypt being like the world and it’s standards and coming out of it representing the bing in Christ – think about where the Passover originally came from). They were to be a pure people and he encourages them that they at the core are a people chosen by God.
After giving instructions about what to do with the man, Paul gives ongoing advice on what to do in the current situation and in the future. You are not to associate with immoral people in the church. However the teaching that is shared in most churhces, not overt, but implied, is that we must not associate with immoral people in the world. I know there are scriptures, particularly in Jude that we to hate even the clothes stained by sinful flesh. But we don’t seem to ever emphasise the aspect highlighted here.
I have seen when someone is in sin that the people in the body will naturally draw away. They can’t understand it, and then there are complaints that they are not being looked after – actually what is happening, to a degree, is what is described here.
In my local church there was a couple where the wife left the husband and asked for a divorce. She complained that after she did it people were not loving her, people had drawn away. It turned out she was having an affair. The people in their hearts had known something and pulled back. She wasn’t asked to leave the church, she just never came back. Though we try and love people through all situations, loving the sinner and hating the sin, this passage highlights something else. Sin is a poison and we need to remove it, we cannot tolerate it or take it lightly, and sometimes that means stepping back from relationships where people are in sin. The Holy Spirit in us will lead us and guide us more than we realise.
There is a judgement that we are to exercise within the body that we are to exercise, and we are to learn the difference between being judgemental and judging as it talks about here – oh Lord give us grace!