1 Corinthians chapter 5 - Sin Worse than the Worst - Dr J Stewart Gillespie 

The Report (v1) 
The Response (v2) 
The Recovery (v2-v8) 

The Report 

V1 -  "It is commonly reported"  

We notice the low spiritual and moral state of affairs at Corinth,  which was surely disappointing for the apostle Paul, having been used to plant the church at Corinth. 

This seems a basic issue,  basic moral issue to ere over. 

How can this transpire in a church? 

Corinth was such a: 

Popular church 
Progressive Church 
Prosperous church 

A church with a real buzz and a bit -  plenty of gifts and social liberalism (chp 8) 

Yet this church fails at the most basic level! 

How did this come to be?  

They marginalised Christ. 

Certain core truths regarding Christ were forgotten: 

Unity of His body (chp1) 
Power of His Cross (chp1) 
Simplicity of His Gospel (chp2) 
Dependence on Christ for feeding and growth (chp3) 
Lordship of Christ over all service (chp4) 
The Moral implications of the sacrifice of Christ (chp5) 

Their devotion to Christ could not be rightly judged by: 

The exercise of gifts 
The size of their gathering 

But rather in: 

Unity with one another (chp1) 
Preaching of the Gospel (chp1+2) 
Feeding on Christ (chp3) 
Obedience and service of Christ (chp4) 
Practical holiness (chp5) 

and yet paradoxically it is perhaps a source of encouragement for us: 

Christians do fall and fail 

These deep and difficult situations are not beyond recovery 

Failure is not of necessity final!  

Paul writes with a view to dealing with these situations and with the expectation of recovery and restoration (2 Co2:5ff) 

Notice the effect of sin upon the church as a whole. 

This may have been the sin of only one or two but it had ramifications for the whole church. 

It may only have been the sin of 1 or 2 but it was 1 or 2 who were "among you"  (5:1) and this had effects upon them all. 

The problem of testimony or reputation 

This was guilt by association and corruption by contamination. 

This has been a frequent problem over the years: 

Achan's sin 
Solomon's wives 
Moses wives 
Jonah on the boat 

There are those who are willing to sacrifice Christ and His Church on the altar of their own lust. 

Sadly at times Christians have been: 


In this 

Sometimes under the pretext of: 

Love -  for the person as a reason to ignore their sin 
Longsuffering -  as a virtue that tolerates sin 
Loyalty to the person 

John MacArthur replies to the oft sited objection to dealing in discipline with the sinning Christians of 1 Corinthians chapter 5; 'but it is at times like these they need the church'  with the rather blunt but painfully honest; 'well that may be so,  but we don' t need them. ' 

There is you see a hard core of people who are so self obsessed,  so fallen into sin and sometimes self pity that they are willing to to sacrifice: 

The Cause of Christ 
The Church of Christ 

On the altar of their own lusts,  with little or no concern or care for the consequences of their own actions. 

Beware that in: 


That we fall prey to the carnal believer. 

We hand the testimony into the hands of people who care little or nothing for it,  who refuse to see their responsibility to live up to that standard and who are quite willing for the whole work of God to be brought into disrepute and to be slandered,  just so they can continue to do what they are doing.  

V1 -  'fornication'  : 4202 : porneia : from 'porneuo'  to commit fornication or any sexual sin,  from a root word meaning to sell. 

 Merchandising morality -  the root issue is jettisoning what is right because of what we believe we stand to gain / profit.  

Not that our understanding of what is right and wrong fundamentally changes and not that we are genuinely blinded to the truth but we make merchandise of morality,  morality is compromised for money,  jettisoning right and wrong when it suits us. 

An appeal can be made to conscience in chapter  5 -  this has not been lost. 

V1 -  "should have"  -  note this is a present infinitive active indicating not a one off failure but a persistent and ongoing sin 

V1 -  "fathers wife" 

An act of incest under the terms of Lev 18:8 

This kind of sin was not new,  regrettably: 

Abraham and Sarah -  possibly,  although it would appear to have been accepted in the culture of Ur of the Chaldees from which they came and was  out in the open and above board.  

Judah and Tamar 
Lot and his 2 daughters 
Ruben and his father's concubine 
Tamar and David's son Amnon 
Absalom and his father David's concubines  
Herod and Herodias 

This sin is not new,  and in that sense the REALITY of it and the EXISTENCE of it,  or that we find it,  is not so shocking 

The Response (v2) 

What is truly showing and unique is the RESPONSE to it and Where we find it! 

Up until 1 Corinthians chapter 5, with the notable exception of Abraham and Sarah,  incestuous relationships had always been a source of embarrassment,  the object of judgement,  of condemnation and reproach.  

Here in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, they are the source of PRIDE (1 Co5:2). 

This is surprising,  shocking and unique!  

The Corinthians appear to have had little scruples over what they they would and would not accept,  this is perhaps an important observation to bear in mind as we consider later on ministry that Paul would give regarding marriage in chapter 7 And some ministry interestingly which he did not give! 

They were "puffed up"  : phubioo : 5448: from 'phusao' -  to breath,  inflate,  blow, or puff up,  spoke figuratively of pride or self conceit. 

They not only tolerated sin,  they were proud that they tolerated the sin! 

It is part of our fallen humanity that in spite of our sin we continue to think well of ourselves,  we attempt to hold on at least to our self esteem and dignitu; so we become proud in our boasting.  

Corinth was the popular and all Inclusive church.  

What was the cause of this unique response? 

Why we're they "puffed up"  (5:2)? 

They were compromised morally -  consider the compromise of some with prostitution in 6:12ff. 
They were confused Doctrinally -  consider the possible / probable influence at Corinth of a teaching like that of Romans 6:1; "shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" 
They were corrupted spiritually -  cf.  Chapter 8; 10:7-8 -  the spiritual impact upon them of compromise with idols and fornication.  

If we compromise with a sin a small way you will find it difficult / unattractive to take a firm / bold / assertive / convincing stand against the practice of sin in a bigger way. 

One small compromise opens the flood gates to a bigger and broader compromise with sin.   

Very hard to take a consistent stand against sin if we have compromised with sin.  

Therein lies the root and the rot of the permissive society. 

Here is Paul and the permissive society.  

'who am I to say... ' 

Who are you to say?  

You are: 

A child of God 

Accountable to Christ 

Part of the body of Christ 

Have a responsibility to ensure that the name of Christ is not dragged through the mud! 

That is who you are 

The Road to Recovery 

Mourning -  Repentance (5:2) 

To move from: 

Self satisfaction to sorrow 

Rejoicing to regret 

High self esteem to reproach 

'mourned': 3996: pentheo: to mourn,  to lament -  used in Matt 5:4 

This is not simply mourning: 

Consequences of sin -  not just regret over the effect of this on the testimony (5:1) 
Condition of sin that prevails 
Conviction and commitment to see things really change -  to see the problems dealt with 

Judgement and discernment (5:3) 
Decisive Action (5:5) 
Destruction of the Flesh (5:5) -  we cannot hold on to selective bits of the flesh 

V5 - ' For the destruction of the flesh' 

Most commentators take this to refer to the physical destruction of the believers body,  citing for example: 


Pauls thorn in the flesh 

I was pleased to discover however that  at least 3 commentators get it right: 

FW Grosheide 

GD Fee 

John Heading 

Why isn't this the physical destruction of the person?  

I am not a gnostic nor a platoist -  'what's Mickey Mouse got to do with this?'  -  not Pluto -  but Plato.  I don't believe that matter is evil!  I'm a Christian.  I do not believe that evil lies within the material universe,  such that if I could get rid of all that was material and physical then I could rid myself of evil.  I'm a Christian and appreciate the truth of the words of Christ,  that it is that which comes out of a man that defiles a man,  not that which is external and physical. You see you can mortifying the physical body as much as you like,  but that of itself will not make you anymore spiritual than you are.  I often will tell people you need to loose a bit of weight.  I have been known to tell folks,  lose a stone in weight and that will help your diabetes,  lose a stone in weight and that will prevent you developing diabetes,  lose a stone in weight and that will help your knees,  but I have never told anyone,  lose a stone in weight and that will make you more spiritual; because it won't.  It is not our physical form that is the source of our sin,  it is our fallen nature that is the source of our sin. Physical mortification is not a means to spiritual growth (1 Co 13:2; Gal 6:12; Col 2:20-23). 
The expectation of verse 5 is that of the salvation of the fallen believer and thus not their destruction.  From 2 Co2:5ff we see that Paul also is looking for present restoration and repentance from them,  something that is difficult for a destroyed believer!  

Biblical president -  When God gives people over to chastening their is a consistent pattern,  a kind of spiritual homeopathy,  'like curing like' - Israel and idolatry in Babylon,  Naomi sent to Moab.  The inevitable consequence of the fulfilled desires of the flesh is that of destruction. 


Note the distinctions in the section: v3 -  body vs Spirit and them in verse 5 -  flesh vs spirit,  what is the difference?  

Grammar -  cf.  GD Fee -  for the relationship between 'For destruction'  and 'may be saved' – that whilst the 'destruction of the flesh' is the anticipated result of the mans being put back out into Satan's domain, while the express purpose of the action is his redemption.


Notes from a sermon preached  as part of our systematic bible study series on 1 Corinthians. 

Free audio, mp3 downloads  available above, of these messages as we expound verse by verse through the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. 

Yours by Grace in Christ 

Dr J Stewart Gillespie