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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
Preached At:Yarrow Canadian Reformed Church
 Yarrow, BC
Title:The church of Jesus Christ must hand over to satan any member who persists in sin.
Text:1 Corinthians 5:5a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Discipline

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 16:1 Yarrow, January 8, 2006
Hy 62:3
Ps 75:3,4,5,6
Ps 101:4,5,6
Ps 119:52,53

I Cor 5
Lev 14:33-53
Job 2:1-10
I Cor 5:5a
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The church of God consists of sinners, people inclined to evil and susceptible to temptation. Every one of those sinners lives in today’s world, a world shot through with sin and eager to place countless temptations on the path of the people of God. That a church member, then, collapses in the face of temptation and falls into sin can never be surprising. It’s a sad reality we need to expect. And not necessarily of persons in the next pew only; any of us, myself included, can stumble and fall into sin.

How, now, is the church to respond to a sinner’s fall? The Holy Spirit has preserved for us Paul’s inspired instruction to the church of Corinth about their response to a fallen brother. It’s a response we need to work with concretely in our church discipline.

What Paul’s inspired instruction to the Corinthians was? He was adamant as to what the church such do with that member who lived in sin: “hand this man over to Satan” (vs 5a).

I summarize the sermon with this theme:


  1. The background to Paul’s command

  2. The content of Paul’s command

  3. The reasons for Paul’s command

1. The background to Paul’s command.

The apostle Paul had written four chapters addressing a specific problem in the church of Corinth, the problem of their internal divisions and the arrogance that came with assuming that ‘my party’ is better than ‘yours’. After he’s addressed that problem, the apostle moves on in chapter 5 to lay a finger on a consequence of the divisions in the congregation, and that is that the congregation allowed an obvious sinner to live in their midst without penalty. I say it’s a consequence, for when you’re involved with fighting amongst yourselves (with one saying, “I am of Paul” and another “I am of Apollos” and a third “I am of Cephas”) there is neither time nor perspective to set straight a brother who has fallen into sin.

And in Corinth a brother had fallen into sin, gross sin. The city of Corinth, we need to know, was a center of immorality. To call somebody a “Corinthian girl” was to say that she was a prostitute. The name of the city was even made into a verb, to “corinthize”, and the verb meant as much as “to fornicate”.1 The immorality characterizing the Corinthian population used to characterize also those who now belonged to Christ’s church in Corinth. After all, Paul says in I Corinthians 6 that “neither the sexually immoral…, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders … will inherit the kingdom of God.” And he adds: “and that is what some of you were” (vss 9ff).

It appears, now, that the lifestyle that the believers of Corinth had before they came to faith followed them into their Christian lives. Old habits die hard, even for the regenerated. So there was a brother in the congregation who “has his father’s wife”. The woman concerned will not have been his own mother, but “his father’s wife”, that is, his stepmother.2 The relation between this brother and his stepmother was not a one-night stand either; the way the Greek is put together makes clear that this was an ongoing relationship. In fact, it was public knowledge, and that’s how Paul got to hear of it too (vs 1).

God’s Old Testament instruction on such a relationship was abundantly clear. In the tents of father Jacob, “Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah” (Gen 35:22). As a result Reuben lost his first-born position and the blessing that came with it (see Genesis 49:3,4). In fact, when the Lord God established His covenant with Israel at Mt Sinai, the Lord spelled out clearly what He thought of a man having a sexual relation with his father’s wife. I think of Lev 18, where the Lord emphatically prohibits having sexual relations with any close relative (vs 6).3 Vs 8: “Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.” The penalty for transgression is recorded in vs 29: “Everyone who does any of these detestable things – such persons must be cut off from their people.” Two chapters later the Lord is very specific in relation to a man having his father’s wife; Lev 20:11: “If a man sleeps with his father’s wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

Irrespective of God’s command in the Old Testament, this brother of the church in Corinth developed and maintained an affair with his stepmother. Here was the licentiousness of Corinth –and that’s this brother’s background– brought into the church.

In fact, to have one’s father’s wife was considered offensive even by the Gentiles – as Paul says in vs 1. The church is meant to be different from the world, holy, sanctified, the temple of the Holy Spirit. But in the church of Jesus Christ in Corinth was a brother not at all different from the people of town – except inasmuch as there was in her midst a Corinthian whose behavior was despicable even to fellow Corinthians! We realize: God’s good reputation in the community was at stake here!

To make matters still worse, the congregation tolerated this brother; they did nothing about him. Given their divisions and infighting, that’s so very understandable….

Now that Paul has addressed that infighting, he can address also other problems in the congregation of Corinth – including the congregation’s negligence in addressing the sinner. I put it this way on purpose; chapter 5 is not about the man who has his father’s wife (he’s mentioned directly only in vs 1), but is about the congregation’s need to do something about such a sinner. The focus lies here on the congregation’s responsibility.

What the congregation should do? Paul’s first instruction concerns humility; the congregation should be humble that such sin could occur in their midst. That’s vs 2: instead of being puffed up, the congregation should be “fill with grief.”

It’s an intriguing command. Why should the congregation as a whole be filled with grief in the face of sin in the life of one of its members? That, brothers and sisters, is because sin has no place amongst God’s people at all; God’s people are one body together, are together the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor 3:16). When sin finds a home in one of God’s children, sin has not received a place simply in an individual –say, in one brick of the building- but sin has found a place in the building, in the temple of the Holy Spirit.4 That makes each member culpable; each must grieve that sin has found a place in their midst, and each is responsible to do something about that sin. Specifically, the body together must expel this polluted stone. Vs 2: “shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?” That’s the instruction of God in the Old Testament, and it’s equally the example of God’s people in the Old Testament. Recall, for example, the reaction of the returned exiles once they understood that their act of taking heathen women into their homes was sin before the Lord. “The people,” we read, “wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1), and then proceeded to action: they sent the women away (10:3).

That’s the reaction there is supposed to be amongst the Christians of Corinth too. But the congregation has to date done nothing, they’ve tolerated sin in their midst, have become used to sin in their midst, and they’re quite proud of it too. So Paul takes the bull by the horns. As apostle of Jesus Christ he tells the congregation that, when they are assembled together, they are to “hand this man over to Satan”. That action is to be done both “in the name of our Lord Jesus”5 and with Paul’s presence, that is, his presence as apostle of Jesus Christ,6 one through whom God the Holy Spirit is pleased to speak. In a word: with the authority of none less than God Himself the congregation is to deliver the man to Satan.

That, congregation, brings us to our second point: what is this delivering to Satan all about? What is the content of Paul’s command to Christ’s church in Corinth?

2. The Content of Paul’s command.

The words “hand … over to Satan” are plain enough.7 This sinner is forthwith to be placed in Satan’s hands, Satan’s camp, Satan’s control.

We find the thought frightening, radical. We are thankful that the Lord has given His only Son to ransom us from Satan’s power, to ransom the saints of Corinth also from Satan’s clutches (cf LD 11). This brother in the congregation of Corinth has professed the faith, claimed that Jesus died for him. He’s joined with the congregation in the Lord’s Supper celebration, received the signs and seals that Christ died for him. Is he now to be handed back to Satan?? We cringe at the thought of one of our loved ones –let alone ourselves!– being delivered back to the Satan from whose cruel clutches we were delivered through Jesus Christ!

We need to realize, brothers and sisters, that the concept of being handed over to Satan appears elsewhere in Holy Scripture.8 Of importance to us is the Lord’s word concerning Job. When the devil appeared in God’s presence and challenged God about why Job serves the Lord, God responded to Satan like this: “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger” (Job 1:12). And again, when Job still did not curse God, the Lord gave Job’s person into Satan’s hand with these words: “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (2:6). That is to say: God delivered Job to Satan.9

We know what happened to Job. Satan was given free reign to do with Job whatever he wanted. As a result, Job lost all his abundant possessions, lost his ten children, lost his health (for he had “painful boils from the sole of his feet to the top of his head” so that he “took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it” (vs 7f), lost his wife also (for she told him to “curse God and die”, vs 9). Handed over to Satan Job was, and he felt it horribly.

Well now, the sinning brother of the Corinthian church was, said Paul, to be “handed over to Satan”. Satan, then, could do with this man what he wanted.

And yet: there is a limit to what Satan can do. It is true that Jesus has called the devil “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 16:11). In 2 Cor 4 Paul describes Satan as “the god of this age” (vs 4). Elsewhere he is moved by the Holy Spirit to describe Satan as “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). Terms like that lead us to think that Satan really can do with this sinning brother in Corinth whatever he wants, and so we shudder. But: there are limits to what Satan can do. For the Scriptures proclaim that Christ on the cross of Calvary did more than deliver a people from Satan; He also defeated Satan himself. The Scriptures would have us know that the devil is bound, cannot do whatever he would like (cf Rev 20; see Jn 12:31). Satan, in fact, cannot do a thing unless the sovereign God of heaven and earth permit. When this brother from the congregation, then, is handed over to Satan, we are not to understand that he will invariably go to hell, that he is condemned eternally to Satan’s evil clutches. We are instead to understand that God Himself continues to work on this sinner, and God uses as tool for his operations on the man none else than the devil. As Job’s afflictions at the devil’s hand served ultimately to draw out God’s greatness and majesty (see Job 38ff), so this sinning brother of the congregation should be handed over to Satan so that God’s goodness and severity (Rom 11:22) might in some way be pointed up.

Please remember, congregation, that within the church of Jesus Christ there is a far greater protection from the attacks of the devil than there is outside. In the church is the preaching of the gospel, in the church is the use of the sacraments, in the church is the communion of saints, in the church is the oversight of the office bearers. All of that serves as a wall of protection, a shield around the children of God so that they are both equipped to resist Satan’s attacks and protected from Satan’s attacks (cf Eph 6:10ff). But outside the church of Jesus Christ there is not the preaching of the gospel, and there is not the use of the sacraments, and there is not the functioning of the communion of saints, and there is not the oversight of the office bearers. So there’s no protection from Satan’s attacks; it is to be “handed over to Satan”. But as God is sovereign also outside the church,10 so the ‘delivering to Satan’ does not mean that God washes His hands of the sinner; it means instead that God uses not the church but the devil as His tool to do for the expelled sinner what He in wisdom has ordained should become of the sinner.

That, then, is the concrete action the church of Corinth was to undertake. They need to “expel this offender from the fellowship of the church.”11 As the apostle also says in vs 13: “expel the wicked man from among you.”

Again I say: this cutting off from the congregation is not meant to state that the expelled person is now definitely going to hell. The apostle says in the second half of vs 5 that this delivering to Satan is to result in the destruction of “the sinful nature”, in order that12 “his spirit [may be] saved on the day of the Lord.” That’s the goal: the sinner’s salvation. Meanwhile, his membership within the Church of Jesus Christ in Corinth did not at all assure his salvation, for he lived in the sin of sexual immorality, and –as Paul says in 6:9f– “the sexually immoral…will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.” To leave him unrepentant in the church was to fool him, to mislead him, to let him think that Yes, he was saved, whereas in fact he would end up in hell. For his salvation’s sake, then, the sinner is to be expelled from Christ’s church, delivered to Satan, given to the devil so that the devil –with God’s permission– may do with him whatever he wants – so that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

3. The Reasons for Paul’s command.

It’s not an easy command for the Church of Corinth to carry out; who knows what sort of emotional bonds the members of the congregation had with the sinner. Paul, therefore, proceeds to explain why the Church in Corinth must expel, excommunicate this member. That’s our last point this morning: the reason for Paul’s command to the Corinthians to deliver this brother of the congregation to Satan.

The reason for Paul’s instruction is recorded in the vss 6-11. The apostle comes back to the Corinthians’ sense of self-sufficiency, their high thoughts of themselves. He tells them that their “boasting is not good” (vs 6), that they should not feel content with themselves for letting this sinner carry on in their midst. Paul explains why: “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” That’s common knowledge: place some yeast in a batch of dough, and in due time the entire batch is permeated with the yeast. We would say: “a bad apple spoils the whole barrel.” The illustration makes clear to the congregation how dangerous it was for them to keep this sinner in their midst. Here was no place for boasting; here was need for action. So: “get rid of the old yeast.” That is: put away this sinner. Cut him out of the body of Jesus Christ in Corinth, lest the whole body be infected. The result of purging out this yeast would be this: “that you may be a new batch without yeast,” that is, people without the decay of sin in their midst.13

No, the apostle does not want the Corinthians to think that at the moment they are only yeast, only evil. So he adds the last words of vs 7: “as you really are.” That’s what the Corinthians, by God’s grace, had been made through the work of Jesus Christ. After all, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The lamb sacrificed in the Old Testament to stop the angel of death from killing the first-born of the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 12:29ff) foreshadowed the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Well now, says Paul, that Lamb has been sacrificed –Christ died on Calvary– and so the Corinthians are acceptable to God, holy. Since that’s the way it is, be rid of sin, be rid of yeast, be what God in Christ has made you to be. “Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (vs 8).

The apostle’s reasoning, beloved, comes down to this: the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross means that there is no place for sin in the midst of the Christian congregation of Corinth. Since Christ died for sin, His people are to drive the sinner out from their midst.

This same point is drawn out in the last number of verses of the chapter. In a previous letter Paul had written to Corinth (it’s lost, we haven’t got it), he had given instruction to stay away from sexually immoral people (vs 9). The point of that letter was somehow lost on the Corinthians, and so the apostle explains his point: do not “associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” (vs 11). The focus of Paul’s point is not the Christian’s relation to the world as such;14 the focus of Paul’s point is how the congregation is to interact with one who claims to be a Christian but lives in sin. Since Christ has died, there is no room for the leaven of sin in the church of Christ, and so, says Paul, you cannot act toward a sinful member as if everything is normal. So: drive him out, “expel the wicked man from among you” (vs 13).

You see, brothers and sisters: that’s Paul’s argument for his instruction to deliver this brother to Satan. The congregation’s identity as God’s people means that there is no room for sin amongst the membership; the sinner is to be driven out, “handed over to Satan”. This, we understand, is the point of the chapter that we need to take home with ourselves. If the Canadian Reformed Church of Yarrow may rightly be called Christ’s church, there is simply no room in this congregation for the member who lives in sin. Christ’s people are on their way to heaven. But one who lives in sin –irrespective of what his sin might be- is on his way to hell. So he has no place in the Church of Jesus Christ; to keep him as a member is to deceive him. Far better it is, for his salvation’s sake, to be honest, straight forward. Drive him out, hand him over to Satan; then he knows what he’s up to.

Then Yes, we may have all kinds of understanding for why somebody lives in sin, but, beloved, it is all human reasoning; in the church of Jesus Christ there is no room for sin at all. God in Jesus Christ has made His people a new batch of dough, free of the infectious yeast of sin. It is for us to appreciate His work, and so make sure we remain what God has made us to be.

1 DA Carson, et al, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), pg 263.

2 See GD Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), pg 200.

3 Literally, the command is that none in Israel was to “uncover the nakedness” of a close relative, and so we’re given to understand that more was forbidden than actual intercourse itself. “Uncovering the nakedness” includes looking upon, touching, even letting oneself be stirred by the other’s body.

4 See here the instruction of Leviticus 14:33ff, esp 43ff.

5 “name” refers to power. See Acts 3:6. VanHartingsveld, De Sleutels van het Koninkrijk der Hemelen (Kok: Kampen, n.d.), pg 53.

6 Much has been written on the meaning of vs 3b. See Fee, pg 204f; Wiles, Paul’s Intercessory Prayers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), pg 145. My conclusion from the research is as is formulated above.

7 For a list of possible interpretations of the phrase (with supporters), see Barth Campbell, “Flesh and Spirit in I Cor 5:5: an Exercise in Rhetorical Criticism of the New Testament” in JETS 36/3 (September 1993), pg 331f.

8 Literally, and in a parallel context, in I Tim 1:20: Hymenaeus and Alexander are “delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

9 In fact, the LXX translation of Job 2:6 uses the same word as Paul ends up using in 1 Corinthians 5:5, translated for us as ‘hand over’.

10 Contra Calvin on this passage. He writes: “as Christ reigns in the Church, so Satan reigns out of the Church,” pg 185. It is true that Satan is acknowledge as ‘prince’ and even ‘god’ by the unbelieving, but that is not to say that he in fact is ‘god of this world’. God remains the almighty.

11 Robert H Stein, Difficult Passages in the Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), pg 101. See also M Brauch, Hard Sayings of Paul (Downers Grove: IVP, 1989), pg 99ff.

12 As the text literally says; there is no justification for the NIV rendering this ‘statement of purpose’ with the connective ‘and’.

13 For Old Testament references to the yeast, see Exodus 12:15; 13:6f.

14 Fee goes too far when he deduces from this passage that “the Pauline principle is simple: Free association outside the church, precisely because God, not the church, judges those on the outside…” (pg 227).

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2006, Rev. C. Bouwman

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