1 Corinthians Chapter 5: Handling Sin in the Brotherhood

Nov 10th, 2009 | By | Category: 1 & 2 Corinthians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1 Corinthians Chapter 5: Handling Sin in the Brotherhood

1 Cor. 5:1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

Paul now, in chapter 5, began to talk about a specific problem in the Corinthian church: fornication. The epistle is subdivided into various topics. The sixth chapter begins with a question about how to resolve disputes among the saints: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?” And chapter 7 is Paul’s reply to a question about relations between a husband and a wife. Should the consecrated live a life of chastity, even though they are married? Paul had a list of about ten questions, and this first epistle consists of his reasoning on specific issues the Corinthians were wrestling with. The consciences of some brethren were unnecessarily troubled on matters that should not have been a problem. With others, their consciences were insensitive on matters that should have troubled them.

“It is reported commonly.” Paul used a similar expression in 1 Corinthians 1:11 about the house of Chloe: “For it hath been declared unto me … by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.” While it was reported to Paul that the brethren were saying, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos,” etc., he identified the source of his information. It is sometimes necessary to name the source of a report so that it can be either verified or disannulled. When a report is too fragmented, the source does not have to be revealed, but where sufficient specific information is reported, it can be important to reveal the source.

With regard to a blatant error in conduct, the scriptural advice or principle is that out of the mouth of two or three witnesses is a thing established (Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16). Since Paul was not in Corinth to witness the immorality firsthand, it was important for him to state that many witnesses could testify about the truthfulness of the report. Notice that here in chapter 5, Paul did not say that the information was reported by the house of Chloe but that the situation was commonly known. Hence it was not necessary for Paul to divulge the source because there were multiple sources.

“Such fornication … is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have [relations, or intercourse, with] his father’s wife.” The term “father’s wife” could refer to a stepmother or a mother-in-law relationship, as well as to one’s actual mother. Under the Law in the Old Testament, the term “father’s wife” covered all three possibilities, and in all three cases, the sin was equally atrocious (Lev. 18:8; 20:11,14). However, the assumption here is that the woman was a stepmother.

Corinth was known as a licentious city, as was Ephesus. The wording of verse 1 suggests there  were other sins in the ecclesia besides this particular incident, but this type of fornication exceeded them all. Paul zeroed in on this gross sin as being an indicator of the condition of the church at Corinth.

A question that might arise is, Was the father alive or deceased at the time of the fornication? A clue that the father was still alive is in the next epistle, where the incident was spoken of again a year or two later. “Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you” (2 Cor. 7:12). In other words, the shame that was incurred in the class fell also upon the father. With the father being alive, the sin of the son with his stepmother was even more horrendous. And the son was still in the ecclesia.

Comment: Since the account deals with the son, not the woman, she probably was not a Christian.

Reply: That is correct. She was not consecrated; otherwise, the advice would have applied to her as well. Also, Paul did not discuss whether one party was primarily responsible or whether both were equally responsible.

1 Cor. 5:2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

Verse 2 is almost as startling as verse 1. Not only was the individual who had done this deed still in the ecclesia attending meetings, but the brethren were not mourning over the situation.

In fact, not only were they not mourning, but they were doing the opposite—they were glorying in their magnanimity, their supposed love, for the fornicator (verse 6). By having the individual in their midst, they felt they were being very merciful, understanding, and forgiving, but they were being more loving than God.

With the dispute going on in the ecclesia about who was most effective as a teacher and instructor of the Word, this morality problem was being neglected. The dispute about teachers was more along doctrinal lines, and of course doctrine is very important. However, there are degrees of importance, and doctrinal differences can be tolerated if they are not fundamental and do not violate principle. To give in on principle erodes conscience and firmness of character. In summary, then, the Corinthians were having back-and-forth arguments about Paul, Apollos, and Cephas and ignoring the immorality. Doctrines, principles, and moral behavior need to be considered in order for us to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Not knowing the difference between right and wrong will affect our moral behavior and conduct, so that type of doctrine is of primary importance. The Bible is approximately one-third history, one-third prophecy, and one-third moral behavior. All are important in understanding the mind of God.

Comment: Ephesians 5:3 reads, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.”

Reply: Yes, and notice, “Let it [any of these sins] not be once named among you [from the standpoint of the public’s seeing a class tolerate the sin].” When a sin is publicly known, when it gets out into the public domain, a class is responsible for putting the transgressor out, at least for a time, from the presence of the brethren.

Comment: The word “mourned” is usually associated with death. And gross sin is sure death when a class does not act in the hope of saving the sinner’s life.

Reply: Yes, if the class fails to act, the transgresssor continues to enjoy the fellowship instead of repenting. And in this case, where a son had relations with his father’s wife, even the heathen, who did not profess Christianity, would have been appalled.

Incidentally, the term “puffed up” was used in the previous chapter to indicate overconfidence in understanding—in words, thinking, and doctrine (1 Cor. 4:18). Based on that overconfidence, the brethren were reigning as kings, affluent, satisfied, and at ease, and they did not believe in the doctrine of suffering. Here in chapter 5, they were “puffed up” in the sense of false generosity, love, and mercy, imagining that their reasoning was superior to the plain statements of Scripture.

Comment: “That he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.” The individual was to be put out of the class and not just deprived of the privilege of sitting at the same table to eat spiritual food with the brethren. Many incorrectly feel that such an individual should simply be denied the privilege of fellowshipping in the fullest sense but that he can continue to attend meetings.

Reply: There should be no association whatever. The context later on will show that the separation should be both spiritually and physically.

Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians prior to this epistle. Although there is no record of the earlier letter, we indirectly get the gist of the contents by reading this letter. Among other things, Paul had mentioned his intention to visit the class at Corinth. No doubt the brethren had in mind some of the things that had happened with the authority of Paul and Peter. For example, when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the brethren and to the apostles about the distribution of their goods, they dropped dead, first the one and then the other (Acts 5:1-11). In another incident, Elymas, a sorcerer on the isle of Paphos, was struck blind for trying to negate the preaching of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:6-11).

As a representative of Jesus Christ and a steward of God’s gifts, Paul felt a personal responsibility. He had promised to return to Corinth, but at the time of this epistle, he had not yet arrived. Therefore, the brethren might have thought they could continue in their ways. Also, they would have heard about some of his difficulties and persecutions, such as being stoned and being beaten with 39 stripes. And by this time, some may have thought Paul would not return at all.

Incidentally, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still given today but in such a subtle way that sometimes the recipient is unaware, yet others can discern the gift. An attitude of “esteem[ing] other[s] better than themselves” is helpful for the new creature (Phil. 2:3). By considering what other individuals have overcome and their uplifting qualities, we will see how an individual is superior to us in a certain direction. Mutual respect for one another and remembering that God has called all of the brethren help to keep us humble and level-minded.

1 Cor. 5:3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

Verse 3 is saying that the matter was not to be parleyed over, for it was a clear-cut case. Paul could judge without being physically present, for it was obvious how the matter should be handled. Concerned that the class had done nothing, Paul had determined already that the fornicator should be barred from fellowship.

Paul was “present in spirit”; that is, although he was physically separated from the Corinthians, he was very much concerned and involved as if he were present with them, for he had judged the matter already.

1 Cor. 5:4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

The matter was so urgent that Paul was telling them to immediately, at the first opportunity, remove the individual from their midst and not wait for the end-of-the-year business meeting, for example. Some brethren are so unreasonable in their ideas of decorum that they feel one  cannot resign as an elder until the end of the term, the next election. Paul was saying, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are next gathered together—that is, at the first opportunity—resolve this matter. You have to make a decision. You can use my letter and my thinking on this subject—you can use my endorsement—to put away the individual from your midst. And what I am saying harmonizes with Jesus’ instruction.” From a doctrinal standpoint, the Corinthians had to take a stand and thus act with finality. “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” indicates that Paul’s advice was a commandment to be obeyed.

Paul was telling the class to vocalize the excommunication by saying in effect, “In the name and power of the Lord Jesus Christ and with my consent.” The excommunication was not to be done in meekness and weakness. The same is true in rebuking Satan in a trial of, say, materialization. He should be rebuked with authority in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Comment: Rebuking in a group—when the ecclesia is gathered together—has more effect.

1 Cor. 5:5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

The fornicator was to be delivered “unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh,” so that, hopefully, if rightfully exercised, the individual would receive a resurrection. If he was banished and came to his senses, if he repented and had remorse, and then did a thorough about-face, there was a strong possibility he would be recovered and get a resurrection (probably in the Great Company) “in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Verse 5 harmonizes with the picture in Leviticus 16 of the scapegoat, which was not part of the sin offering. Therefore, Paul was saying that if such a one were saved, it would be to the Great Company class. Although individuals of the Great Company class have lived all down the Gospel Age, the scapegoat is a collective end-of-the-age dispensational picture. The Great Company will go into the great Time of Trouble to wash their robes white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). The same individual-versus-collective principle also applies to the Little Flock.

The Church, the body of Christ, is not yet complete, but individuals have made their calling and election sure all down the age, and the sleeping saints were raised in 1878. Then, at the end of the age, the feet members will die collectively, as a class, before the great Time of Trouble.

Of course the Corinthians would not have fully understood this verse, but Paul knew what he was saying. Later, when he explained in the next epistle, his statement here made sense. For now, he was just giving his advice up front. The purpose of his rebuke was really to shock the individual into a sense of the enormity of what had happened and the necessity for remorse, repentance, and a change of conduct. Merely saying, “I am sorry,” was not sufficient.

However, if the person who commits such grievous sin is crushed and the tears are streaming down, such an apology at least shows that the severity of the situation has registered. Then what has happened must be weighed. If the individual is properly motivated and he is excluded from fellowship with the brethren, the hope is that he will feel the loss so keenly in contrast with his experiences, in which the devil seems to be getting more and more power over him, that he will truly repent. Another factor leading to true repentance is that the doors may close when he goes to the Lord in prayer.

The purpose of excommunication is to bring the person to the recognition of what he has done and the need for reformation—not just to say, “I am sorry,” but to take corrective steps.

However, Paul did not give an explanation at this time but merely said to deliver the individual to Satan for the “destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved.” In other words, Paul had the right motive in not comforting and embracing the individual in the short term, for doing so would have jeopardized that person’s eternal future. No, the individual had to feel the loss. Long-term salvation is of extreme importance in considering the welfare of another individual.

1 Cor. 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?

“Your glorying [in being so magnanimous and forgiving] is not good.” Of course the Corinthians did not glory in the individual’s taking his father’s wife. Rather, the glorying was in their forgiving attitude, in having so much love in their hearts that they could forgive that individual. Thus they were glorying in themselves—not in the deed but in their tolerance of and spirit toward the deed. The Diaglott has “boasting” instead of “glorying.”

“A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” because it lowers the standard of the group. Since a little leaven leavens the whole lump, if a class does not want to be leavened, the brethren will have to remove the leaven from the lump, from their association. Compromise with evil adversely affects everyone in the ecclesia. Paul was trying to awaken the class to the sense that if leaven was put into the lump and they did not expect that lump to become leavened as a result, they were going contrary to all reasoning. Thus he was saying, “Your reasoning is not sound because a little leaven in a lump leavens the whole.” He used common sense with a simple truth and illustration to awaken the Corinthian brethren to see that with all of their philosophizing, their reasoning was wrong. Incidentally, it takes only a little leaven, or yeast, to make the dough rise. Thus the leaven has a far-reaching effect.

1 Cor. 5:7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

“Old leaven” is the sin of lust that Satan has always used as a tool. The Christian must keep the flesh under (1 Cor. 9:27). In different ages of past history, high levels of democracy and intellectuality were reached in various fields including music and art, but Satan has always been successful in the field of the flesh. The lust of the flesh is a weakness upon all people to a greater or lesser extent; it is an old temptation.

“Old leaven” can also be expressed as the old man, the old nature. Before one becomes a Christian, he has certain propensities that are catered to along various lines. Perhaps a hundred different paths that the old man takes are not profitable from the standpoint of spiritual (Christian) development.

“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump.” The Church is supposed to be pure, unleavened. The only way the Corinthian church could be pure was to purge out the individual who had committed fornication.

Paul was bringing in the Passover picture here. When he wrote this letter, he was at Ephesus, and he said he would stay there until Pentecost, which was seven weeks after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, Paul was talking about something that was about to happen: the Passover. Subsequently, down through history, Christians who had the proper understanding of the Passover remembered Jesus’ death annually, one day each year. For the Jews to keep the Passover satisfactorily, it was mandatory for them to purge out the leaven. Accordingly, near the end of Jesus’ ministry, the narrative mentions “the first day of unleavened bread” (Mark 14:12). Now Paul was drawing the lesson that just as the Jew back there, in order to keep the Passover satisfactorily, had to purge out the leaven, so the Christian, in order to keep the Memorial satisfactorily, the remembrance of Jesus’ death, had to purge out the antitypical leaven of uncleanness—malice, wickedness, etc. In other words, Paul was taking a convenient theme of the hour, as it were, and showing how it pertained to the very problem of the uncleanness of this individual in the class at Corinth.

“For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” This last part of verse 7 should really be  incorporated with verse 8 to complete the thought: “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” This text is usually studied in conjunction with the annual observance of the Memorial. The brotherhood are urged to make preparation for the Memorial by purging out the old leaven so that they can partake of the emblems in the proper fashion. However, Paul’s main point here pertained to something that is necessary to observe throughout the entire year. Prior to Pentecost, Christ laid down his life as a Ransom for all (Christ our passover was sacrificed for us—past tense). What Jesus did for us is already accomplished. Paul was emphasizing that the slaying and eating of the Passover lamb in the type preceded the seven-day observance of eating unleavened bread. In antitype, the seven days correspond to the seven periods, or epochs, of the development of the Church in the Gospel Age. Therefore, from Pentecost through the present time is represented by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In other words, the purging out of the old leaven so that the lump will be holy occurs throughout the whole Gospel Age. When Paul said, “Let us keep the feast,” he was not talking about the literal slaying of the Passover lamb but about the seven-day feast that followed—the Gospel Age.

1 Cor. 5:8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

“Therefore let us keep the feast, not with [1] old leaven, neither with [2] the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of [1] sincerity and [2] truth.” In other words, Paul gave two aspects of “leavened bread” and two aspects of “unleavened bread,” as follows:

Leavened Bread                                                  Unleavened Bread

1. Old leaven (lust, impure intentions)            1. Sincerity (of motives)

2. Malice and wickedness                                  2. Truth (in deeds and conduct)

Paul was contrasting “old leaven” (impurity of intention) with “sincerity” (honesty, purity of intention, being without hypocrisy). And he was contrasting the spirit of “malice and wickedness” with “truth” (being without malice). When we see the shortcomings of others, we should make scriptural allowances for their weaknesses. Stated another way, the Corinthians were to develop brotherly kindness, gentleness, and the other fruits of the Spirit, but they were not to treat the fornicator with mercy, forgiveness, and tolerance, for the nature of the deed demanded more radical treatment. The Christian is to purge out the spirit of malice and wickedness against another and to have the spirit of hoping for his eternal salvation.

“Therefore let us keep the feast.” In referring back to the Feast of Passover in the type, Paul was telling the Christian to keep the antitypical “feast,” that is, the Gospel Age, in sincerity and truth. Just as the Feast of Passover lasted for seven days in the type, so the antitypical feast has seven stages of development (Rev. 1:20).

In the next letter, Paul said that the disfellowshipped individual had repented and suffered enough, so the Corinthians were to receive him back into their fellowship. If they had retained indefinitely the spirit of separateness (or even malice) under those conditions, the individual would never have been recovered. That man sorrowed over his banishment; in fact, he sorrowed so much that Paul said he was in danger of giving up everything, perhaps even committing suicide (2 Cor. 2:7). After he repented, Paul said in effect, “He has suffered enough. Receive him back into your company.”

Therefore, having not the spirit of malice and wickedness means that we hold in reservation a hope of recovery for an individual. That hope should be in our hearts at all times lest we ourselves become tainted with a character flaw. Purity is first, but scriptural forgiveness is second. The Corinthians had to purge out the leavened individual from the ecclesia, but they were not to retain a spirit of bitterness toward him. Otherwise, the individual would have no recovery, and the Corinthians themselves would be lacking in true love. If they did not have malice and wickedness in their hearts, they were in a position to later forgive the individual based on scriptural truth. This connected reasoning explains why Paul introduced the statements “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with … malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” The “old leaven” pertained to the individual’s sins of sensuality, which required him to be purged out, but there was hope for recovery. We must guard against becoming so puritanical in our dealings with others that we have no forgiveness. We should have a spirit of readiness to receive back based on repentance.

Comment: 1 John 5:16 tells us that after a certain point, we should no longer pray for an individual: “There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” Nevertheless, our hearts should always hope for recovery. There is a fine balance in keeping our hearts right.

Q: What should be our attitude toward those brethren who tolerate the leaven and do not purge out the individual?

A: If the class will not act properly and purge out the leaven, then we, as individuals, have to leave the class. There is an individual responsibility to leave lest we become leavened.

Q: What, then, should be our attitude toward brethren who are disobedient to God’s Word and remain in the class with the leaven? How should we treat them at a convention, for example?

A: If we apply the principle Paul used here—that the individual had to manifest repentance in order to be reclaimed—then the class, those who were less directly involved, would have to do the same thing. A measure of reserve should continue to be exercised indefinitely, until the principle is recognized. Otherwise, the prior reserve would be forgotten, and the brethren would think we had made a mistake in our earlier judgment. To go through such an experience is a very hard trial. In this case, the class at Corinth took the Apostle Paul’s advice, but he certainly had to threaten them. If Paul had just tried to reason doctrinally and softly, it is unlikely that the Corinthians would have obeyed. But Paul’s using his authority to speak sternly and to command them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ worked effectively. And of course even sterner attitudes should be directed toward those who actually commit the grievous sin.

Incidentally, sometimes God’s providence causes certain things to happen in a relatively harsh way in order to preserve the ultimate hope of the individual.

It is a fact that a person cannot properly judge things that are higher than his own level.

Therefore, if we do not reason on certain principles and truths, we will not be able to make proper decisions. We must see God’s reasoning in any matter.

1 Cor. 5:9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

Verse 9 shows that Paul wrote an earlier letter to the church at Corinth. We have no record of that letter except to know that he had given advice on the subject of not “to company” with fornicators. With Corinth being a sin city, such a warning was necessary. Just to live and earn a living in that city meant fraternization to a certain extent with others and consequent contamination unless the brethren were very careful in their conduct. Obviously, however, Paul’s advice was not followed, so now he spoke strongly and commanded obedience in not keeping fornicators in the class. The fact that the first letter was not preserved shows that the Lord put his stamp of approval on this stronger advice. Evidently, Paul first treated the subject in a genteel manner, giving the Corinthians the benefit of his knowledge and experience, but that approach did not work. Now he bluntly told them what to do.

Paul wrote the earlier letter because he could see the danger of contamination with so much gross sin in Corinth. Not only did he have a lot of savvy to anticipate this situation, but also he had high spiritual perception. But, alas, how easily Christians can forget scriptural advice they are given! Even though Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the advice did not sink in.

And there is another point. When Paul’s earlier letter arrived in Corinth, how was it presented to the class? Probably an elder read it, but suppose he did not have a powerful voice or brethren were not paying close attention. If that letter was like this First Epistle to the Corinthians, which consists of 16 chapters, the comprehension of those listening was affected by the manner of the reading—for example, if it was read without the proper emphasis. And if the letter was passed around, some of the brethren might have held it too long, and the weeks kept elapsing. Thus there may have been some carelessness in the way Paul’s instruction was given to the brethren. In any event, all we know is that the Apostle Paul wrote an earlier letter warning the Corinthians not to keep company with fornicators.

Verse 9 applies both inside and outside the ecclesia arrangement. One is not to company with a “brother” who is a fornicator—period. If we were close to a brother or sister, it would be very logical to invite the individual to dinner outside the ecclesia, but that was not to be done in this case. Certainly if we took such a drastic action outside the ecclesia, we could not eat with the individual at an ecclesia meeting or at a convention, for it would be inconsistent to reverse the rule.

Comment: The action is to be taken with the express purpose of helping the sinner to recognize his sin and repent so that he can be received back. If the sinner is constantly included in fellowship and studies, he will not come to the understanding that the sin he has committed will bar him from fellowship with Christ. In fact, he may go into Second Death. To not disfellowship such a one, and thus encourage him in a wrong path, deprives him of an opportunity for a spiritual life.

Reply: While the disfellowshipping applies outside the class as well, Paul was showing that the disfellowshipping comes right into the class: “that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you” (1 Cor. 5:2). When the sin is this serious, the ecclesia becomes responsible for taking a drastic action.

1 Cor. 5:10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

When Paul advised the church at Corinth not to company with fornicators, etc., he meant those who were Spirit-begotten. Of course we do not seek such company in the world, but sometimes the association is unavoidable. For example, a merchant or a worker in a large company may be forced into such a situation. If we draw the line too finely with regard to the unconsecrated, we might as well live in a monastery or in the desert. It is impossible to go through life without being confronted with this problem.

Paul was contrasting fornication in the ecclesia with that on the outside, among those who were not Christians. In the former case, action had to be taken. It was incumbent upon the class to purge out the leaven. The sinning individual may have had good intentions, but he needed correction—like a parent guiding a child. If a parent does not properly instruct a child, the child may end up as a criminal, and the parent would be responsible because of laxity.

1 Cor. 5:11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

In verse 11, Paul stated the matter of grievous sin from the standpoint of the Church. The brethren are not to keep company with anyone who is “called a brother” if the individual is a fornicator, covetous, an idolater, a railer, a drunkard, or an extortioner.

What about misconduct by one who is “called a brother”? In addition to an actual brother, one who has made a consecration, an individual might attend meetings for a long time—perhaps a couple of years—but never consecrate and thus not really be a brother in Christ. However, the public cannot see the difference between one who is consecrated and one who simply attends with regularity. In the latter case, if a person is flagrantly living in misconduct, the class cannot wink the eye.

Comment: Where one is “called a brother,” the degree of consecration is not to be debated.

Reply: Yes, and generally speaking, the sin is habitual. Practiced sin, habit of action, is being referred to in the various categories. With fornication, however, one act is sufficient to require excommunication.

Let us consider the categories of sin listed in verse 11. Of all these categories listed by Paul as being detrimental to Christian character and as having to be dealt with in a firm manner, the most prominent category is fornication because it is mentioned several times and is first in the listings (verses 9, 10, and 11; 1 Cor. 6:9). “With such an one no not to eat.” These categories are not just tendencies or inclinations in the mind or disposition but manifestations.

“Fornication” usually means an unmarried person having unlawful relations with the opposite or the same sex, but usage of the term in this setting refers to an illicit relationship of either a married or an unmarried person with either the same or the opposite sex. Stated another way, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and lesbianism are all included.

An example of being “covetous” is one who excessively desires money, goods, property, fame, position, honor, authority, etc., at the expense of others. A blatant example would be a loan shark or a habitual borrower of money from various individuals who does not repay the loans. Another example would be an insurance agent who comes into the class to get leads for selling more insurance policies. In other words, there are ulterior motives. An additional example would be a brother in the banking business who habitually makes money by foreclosing on mortgages, taking advantage of the destitute and widows. Still another type of covetousness would be to desire someone else’s wife. Thus “covetousness” in this context would be outwardly manifested to such a degree that the brethren should not even eat at the same table with the individual. A covetous person has an inordinate desire to appropriate to himself something animate or inanimate that another person has. “Fornication” pertains to sex, whereas “covetousness” is not limited to sex but can manifest itself in many ways.

In order for an ecclesia to cut off fellowship under this category, the sin has to be outwardly manifested; that is, it cannot be based on imagination. For instance, the sin of fornication was based on an act that was “reported commonly.” An example would be actually taking to oneself the possessions of another by an act of dishonesty and/or injustice.

Comment: We must guard against evil surmising or judging heart intention.

Reply: Yes, an outward deed that leaves no doubt as to what has happened would be the basis of disfellowship.

Covetousness is equated with idolatry in Colossians 3:5, although idolatry is along a particular  line. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Actually, these are subjects with quite a lot of depth that require more than a dictionary definition. As one grows in his understanding of the Word and in character development, he can perceive these traits more readily. The principle is that one who leaves the milk of the Word and assimilates strong meat can discern between good and evil. “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:13,14).

Q: In Paul’s day, there were literal idols and hence literal idolaters. Therefore, can the term, as used in verse 11, pertain to literal idols?

A: That is possible. For instance, in the Pergamos and Thyatira stages of the Church, pagan ideas were introduced into Christianity. Jesus said in the message to Pergamos, “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” (Rev. 2:14). The doctrines and teachings of pagan philosophy were mixed in with the traditional doctrines of Jesus. Rosary beads, scapulas, and images should have been met with strong opposition. In fact, the introduction of these practices and the worship of saints was so dangerous that one should have left the class, for it was only a matter of time until they developed into Roman Catholicism. If John’s advice had been followed, those who left would not have been contaminated by such practices. When the brethren meeting back there did not see eye to eye on this subject, the obedient ones had to leave in order to not have fellowship or eat at the table with those who were either practicing or sympathizing with grievous sin.

Today idolatry is harder to see, although we can recognize tendencies toward idolatry, such as undue reverence or respect for Pastor Russell, where his teachings are viewed almost on a par with God’s Word. We should be alert to tendencies toward inordinate respect above and beyond that which belongs to the seventh messenger, relegating him to the role of an apostle, but such tendencies do not require disfellowshipping unless he is actually called an apostle.

Nevertheless, we should voice displeasure when we see tendencies toward idolatry. The term could also mean the worshipping of Paul, Apollos, or another personality, even a close family member. Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword, to divide a son from the father, a wife from the husband, etc. (Matt. 10:34-36). Of course Jesus was not deliberately separating family members, but when the truth comes to an individual, he has certain responsibilities in order to be faithful to his consecration.

A “railer” is a slanderer. Railers are likened to briar bushes, brambles, and thorns (Matt. 7:16; Luke 6:44; Heb. 6:8). Such individuals are constantly finding fault and reviling; nothing constructive proceeds from their lips. Habitual conduct of this type is not to be tolerated indefinitely. Railing is having a contentious spirit, an example being where a person’s whole ministry is condemning the nominal Church, a particular individual, a group, etc.

Q: Would “railing” also include someone who is disenchanted with the truth and begins to attack fundamental doctrines?

A: Yes. In addition, if a brother repeatedly and constantly denigrates the character of another person in the class—if that is his habit of thinking—he should be excommunicated, for his  words would be detrimental to the class and fellowship. Such an individual should not be allowed to dominate the thinking of the group. If he persists, he should be disfellowshipped. If a brother (not an elder) shows the tendency to rail outside the class but not in the class, the brethren are not responsible for what they do not know. However, an individual who knows of the railing is responsible to disfellowship him, and if the railing on the outside is strong enough that it needs to be brought to the attention of the class, then the class is responsible to act if there are at least two witnesses.

Q: What would be the responsibility if the railing individual were an elder?

A: If an elder is doing the railing, the first responsibility is to go to that elder. If he does not hearken, then two or three witnesses should be taken. In a case where an individual knows the elder is railing, but the elder denies it to the class and there are no other witnesses, the class is not responsible. The individual should show disapproval by not sitting at the table with the elder, although he would not have to withdraw from the class. The class should then begin to realize there is a wrong and not deny the individual his right. Incidentally, in an actual case a number of years ago, a brother instituted a mail campaign against another brother.

Q: Would wife-beating be considered railing? Would the wife be responsible for bringing the matter to the class?

A: Yes, it would be a case of railing. If the wife were the only witness, it would be her responsibility to report the matter to the class. If there were other witnesses, any of them could report the matter, for that individual, plus the wife, would constitute two witnesses.

A “drunkard” is one habitually given to excess in imbibing alcoholic beverages. Inebriation is obvious.

Q: What should one do if he knows a brother habitually drinks privately at home but does not come to the meeting in that condition?

A: If the drinking is done at home and the brother does not come to the meeting with liquor on his breath, we would not have to withdraw from the class, especially if a lecture format is used.

But in a study situation where the brother is allowed to participate, the first responsibility is for an individual to tell that brother what he is aware of so that the brother’s conscience will be stirred up. Of course any manifestation of drinking in the class should not be tolerated.

Unfortunately, as the nominal Church developed down through history, drinking was not considered to be so terrible.

An elder can drink wine at the Memorial and to a very limited degree at other times. Of course he must not habitually drink wine for pleasure (1 Tim. 3:3). A deacon should not be “given to much [excessive] wine” (1 Tim. 3:8). If one is liberal in partaking of alcoholic beverages, even though he does not become intoxicated, he should not be a deacon in the Church, let alone an elder. The degrees of responsibility in imbibing liquor are elder, deacon, and brotherhood. There are mitigating circumstances as to the degree of culpability and attitude in treating an individual. There is far more responsibility and unpleasantness when an elder is involved because he is a dominant factor in the thinking of the class.

Comment: Some of these situations might be known only among consecrated family members. A mother would have to bring the matter to the class with regard to a son, for example. A wife would have to charge a husband and vice versa.

Reply: Especially if the husband were nominated for eldership, the wife would be required to say, “I cannot vote for my husband because of such and such.”

Comment: From the standpoint of his whole spiritual life being in danger, the wife would be required to report drunkenness on the part of her husband.

An “extortioner” acquires that which is not properly his, obtaining it through pressure, force, or threat, for example, blackmail. Another example might be foreclosing on a mortgage to acquire property. Also, it is wrong to solicit votes or sympathy from others in order to get their support and backing. For example, extortion might be used in an ecclesia with regard to soliciting votes for election to an office or even with regard to excommunication or improperly barring the demotion of one from eldership. Extortion would be the wresting of another’s property, good name, etc., not on a scriptural basis, through pressure of some kind. An example of extortion is how control of the Watchtower was acquired illegally after the Pastor’s death. The point is that extortion is definite aggression—an incontestable act. If the party does not repent and change his ways, the class must take drastic action.

Comment: The Diaglott and the Revised Standard Version end verse 11 with “not even to eat,” which is more emphatic than the King James.

Reply: Paul was referring to physical eating at a material table, not to spiritual feeding. With such a one, we should not even so much as eat at the table with him, let alone study or fellowship at a meeting. Paul said, “I wrote unto you … not to company with fornicators, yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world … for then must ye needs go out of the world” (verses 10 and 11). In other words, we can sit at a food table with worldly people who may be idolaters, etc., and not incur responsibility. Otherwise, we would have to go out of the world and enter a monastic form of life. We judge the actions of those “within,” not the actions of those “without.” Since we do not delve into the lifestyles of the unconsecrated, we can eat at such a table without asking undue questions. But if one “called a brother” has committed any of these grievous sins, we should not eat at the table with him.

1 Cor. 5:12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

The Revised Standard is preferable: “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” It is not our responsibility to judge the world, but there is a degree of responsibility to judge actions in the Church. God will judge the world, but He expects us to judge certain things in the Church. We are not to judge motives and inclinations, for they may be based on suppositions, of which we may or may not be unduly prejudiced or sensitive in our thinking. However, actions, which are like facts and thus are more substantial, are to be judged. Paul felt the weight of the responsibility of ministering to the various ecclesias he was serving.

1 Cor. 5:13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

In this instance, “that wicked person” was the fornicator in the church at Corinth. While this deed required action, Paul was using the occasion as an opportunity to show that other categories of disobedience required similar action (as listed in verse 11).

God judges those outside the ecclesia, the unconsecrated, but the class had the responsibility of “put[ting] away” from among themselves “that wicked person.” Paul’s instruction pertained to blatant, obvious, habitual misconduct that was unbecoming to a professed Christian. He was not talking about a slight or a small matter. For example, a drunkard has repeated misconduct, whereas Paul advised a little wine for Timothy’s stomach ailment (1 Tim. 5:23). Also, Jesus drank wine with moderation. Especially in the days of the apostles, who traveled from place to place, wine in moderation was a permissible form of liquid. Today the situation is different with sanitary drinking water or at least bottled water in questionable countries. Even elders can have a little wine, but they should not be “given to wine”; that is, they should not have a second glass (1 Tim. 3:3).

In matters of judgment, it is important to keep our emotions out of the way so that we can follow principles without respect of persons and see things in the proper light (Deut. 1:17).

These are hard tests.

Incidentally, if one is excommunicated at a class trial, right away we know there was more than one witness. The Scriptures tell us that we are not so much as to eat with one “called a brother [or a sister]” who is involved in fornication. Of all brethren, certainly an elder, who is a teacher, should follow Paul’s advice and not eat and fellowship with the fornicator at a table in his home, even if the brother is his own son or the sister his own daughter. Such an impropriety of disobedience would have a leavening effect upon the elder, his wife, the rest of the family, and the brethren who support him. If we apply these Scriptures to only a spiritual table, we become responsible because we are interpreting God’s Word and giving it an application thoroughly out of harmony with the apostle’s reasoning. Some erroneously claim that we can eat at a physical table with a fornicator but not study the Bible with him, whereas actually neither is allowed by the Scriptures. Furthermore, carelessly teaching others the wrong application—and thus undoing what the Apostle Paul took a whole chapter to explain—brings accountability that will have to be acknowledged as a mistake sooner or later. Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). And Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 5 is a commandment, as shown by verse 4. To a large extent, a brother’s or a sister’s place in the Kingdom has to do with teaching. For example, a sister can “teach” in fellowship and promote the wrong thought. We must be careful how we interpret principles and commandments, whereas hard-to-understand prophetic utterances are a completely different category. It is better to say, “I do not know” or “I would like to know,” than to give a wrong interpretation of a principle.

Q: Suppose a brother or a sister has unwittingly supported a wrong principle. What should be the step to undo the error?

A: Acknowledgment would be the first step—public acknowledgment if the wrong principle was said publicly, semipublic acknowledgment if the wrong principle was said semipublicly, and private acknowledgment if the wrong principle was said privately.

In this chapter, the Apostle Paul commanded Christians not to fellowship with fornicators, those who are covetous, idolaters, railers, drunkards, and extortioners who are “called a brother.” While not all of these terms apply to modern history, this advice was helpful down through the Gospel Age, especially when the nominal Church began to develop. A Christian was forced to separate if he found that the majority disagreed with Paul’s advice. To be faithful, the true Christian disassociated himself from the nominal Church, even though he had no place to go. Particularly with certain developments in history, verses 10 and 11 applied, as well as part of chapter 6.

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