Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians covered several topics that dealt with the distortion of his teaching about grace. Apparently, the Corinthian believers had interpreted God’s grace to mean they could do anything they wanted to and not be punished for it. Paul stated, “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much named amongst the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1). Fornication or porneia (por-ni’-ah) in the Greek was a general term that referred to all kinds of sexual sin including adultery and incest (G4202). Paul pointed out that these kinds of sin were not even considered acceptable behavior for unbelievers. Paul’s frustration with the situation seemed to be focused on the fact that the person that was committing incest was boasting about it in the church as if he was proud of the liberty he had to do such a thing. Paul instructed the Corinthians “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
Paul suggested a double standard was appropriate for judging Christian behavior. His comment “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:5) was probably meant as a stern warning against the acceptance of sinful behavior from a person that was born again. Paul explained that we shouldn’t expect unbelievers to act morally because they don’t have the means to do so, but Christians have the ability to overcome sin if they want to. He stated, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).
Paul concluded that the best way to handle bad behavior in the Corinthian church was to excommunicate the person that was saved who was continually practicing sin. Paul’s instruction “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” basically meant that this type of person shouldn’t have a spiritual support system. Outside the church, he would be open to satanic attack and demonic influence that might eventually drive him to a state of despair, and if he was truly saved, a point of repentance. Paul’s logic may have seemed unusually cruel or even barbaric, but it seems clear that he was extremely concerned about the negative influence this unrepentant believer was having on the Corinthian church. Paul stated plainly that believers should not associate with a person that calls himself a Christian, but habitually practices sin. He said, “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 a one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11).