SIN WHICH CANNOT BE NAMED
Sovereign and generous God, I praise you in astonishment for who you are and what you have done for me.
Read 1 Corinthians 5
Dealing With a Case of Incest
5 It 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. 2 And 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? 3 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. 4 So 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,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 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. 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.
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not 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. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”[d]
- 1 Corinthians 5:5 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit.
- 1 Corinthians 5:5 Or of his body
- 1 Corinthians 5:11 The Greek word for brother or sister (adelphos) refers here to a believer, whether man or woman, as part of God’s family; also in 8:11, 13.
- 1 Corinthians 5:13 Deut. 13:5; 17:7; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21,24; 24:7
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; / speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, / O still small voice of calm.’1
Paul is horrified. The Corinthian Christians have not expelled the man flaunting his forbidden sexual relationship,2 a deviant liaison even in sexually loose Corinthian society (v 1). English Bible translators felt that the meaning demanded an extra word and suggest ‘not even found’, or ‘not existing’, or ‘not tolerated’. I remember a Bible study at a youth camp 65 years ago. Our KJV Bibles said that this sin was ‘not so much as named among the Gentiles’. This could mean ‘unmentionable’ but our leader suggested it could mean there was not even a word for it. Some actions are so morally wrong that human society should never have needed a word or phrase to discuss them.
Today, new words are being coined to label the diversity of sexual preferences and acts which are now considered within the range of normal human sexuality. It is not, however, the role of the church to judge the morality of non-Christians (v 12). Secular society is proud of its liberated thinking and this is what Paul meant when he described the Corinthian church’s attitude to incest as arrogance (v 6). The church must be counter-cultural, but the church must never condone blatant immorality, let alone be proud of tolerating it.
There are sexual practices which society should never have needed to name. Child sexual abuse should be unspeakable, but it is not. We need to name it. Like the incest which outraged Paul, child abuse is also present in the church. Perpetrators should have been handed ‘over to Satan’ (v 5), that is, banished to society beyond the church, where Satan, ‘the prince of this world,, rules.3 Through such severity, they may sense their sin, repent and be saved. Sadly, the church has often acted otherwise, ignoring this grievous sin and even protecting the perpetrators.
‘Question: Dost thou renounce the devil and all his works … and the carnal desires of the flesh … Answer: I renounce them all.’4
Lord, it is not easy living in a sex-saturated society. The temptation to sin is powerful. Today I put on your full armor so I can resist sin and live for your glory.
1 John G Whittier, 1807–92, ‘Dear Lord and father of mankind’ 2 Lev 18:8; Deut 22:30 3 John 16:11 4 Adult Baptism, Book of Common Prayer
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