16 March 2017

1 Corinthians 5:1-8

“Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? … Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (vv. 6, 8)

Psalm: Psalm 119:145-160


In this passage, Paul confronts the Corinthian church about the quality of ethical relationships they were nurturing in the Christian community. In verse 1 he notes that they were tolerating an incestuous sexual relationship.

A Christian community that wishes to make visible an alternative way of living, needs a way of maintaining a discipline that will deal with unacceptable behaviour. Otherwise, the church is rightly charged with hypocrisy.

Paul's focus was not so much on the individual who had done wrong, but on the whole community that was colluding and not dealing with the situation.

This collusive attitude was like a leaven, an almost invisible ingredient which was corroding the life of the whole community.

They needed to wake up to some tough love.

Paul's language is hard and uncompromising. He told the Corinthians to assemble, in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, with Paul's spirit with them and cast the man out of the community (verses 4-5).

Paul's reasoning was that in casting him out, and so refusing communal relationship with him, he was abandoned to the wiles of Satan in the world. However, this experience might very well bring him to his senses and save his soul.

For destruction of the flesh, read not 'the body' but universal human egoic operating systems that allow us to resist acting through God's loving.

And in doing so, this passage can make us uncomfortable.

We are left pondering on how we get the right balance between appropriate discipline and compassion, particularly in sexual relationships today.

A characteristic of contemporary culture is to mind our own business and to prefer not to notice. But, at the same time, sections of society have woken up to the prevalence of sexual and domestic abuse and the Christian Church is committed to bringing what has been hidden into the open.

A challenge for us, then, is how we resolve the tensions between a Godly imperative for justice with an equally strong Godly imperative for compassion.

In John's Gospel (John 8:1-11) Jesus was confronted by the Jewish elders wishing to stone the woman caught in adultery. But he neither condoned nor condemned the woman; or her accusers. He merely suggested that the person without sin cast the first stone.

One can sense the tension between judgement, discipline and compassion.

To Ponder

  • What stories do you have of how discipline has been wisely and compassionately used in your church community?
  • What situations can you think of in which the tension between justice and compassion has been an issue? How was it resolved or not?

Bible notes author

The Revd Jenny Ellis

Jenny is a Methodist minister and this year has permission to study, as well as work alongside a rural chapel to help it find a new physical presence and sense of mission in its village. She is leading a number of quiet and study days.