you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:5)
Church discipline is one of the marks of a healthy church. Yet church discipline is sorely lacking in American churches today. There are many reasons for this that I won’t get into here, but I do want to discuss the purpose of church discipline as revealed to us in 1 Corinthians. Perhaps if we understood why the bible tells us to practice it, we would grasp its importance and actually obey the scriptures.
There are two reasons for church discipline given in 1 Corinthians 5. The first one is found here in verse 5 and we’ll cover the second one in my next post. But first let’s get some background from the context and then look at the shape of the discipline as it is described here.
The first few verses of the chapter explain that a man in the church is having sexual relations with his step-mother. And the church has done nothing about it except to boast. Perhaps they are boasting in their showing the man “grace” in the face of such a flagrant offense. We don’t know. Either way, the Apostle tells the church that the person who has committed this offense should be removed from the fellowship.
Let him who has done this be removed from among you. (v2)
So the first thing to say about what this discipline looked like is that it involved removing the person from fellowship. It seems clear from the text that the offender is unrepentant of his actions, which is the cause for discipline.
So a man, and a woman, are committing grievous sin, and are unrepentant of the sin, so the Apostle tells the church they should remove the person from fellowship.
Then he says this should be done in a specific way. The church should be assembled together, their authority rests on Jesus’ name and power, as he has commissioned the church as his agent on earth. And then he says,
you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,
That’s not a pretty picture! When a person is put out of the church, they are removed from the shelter of it’s authority and protection, and subjected to the authority of Satan in the world. As was the case with Job, Satan’s authority extends to the destruction of the flesh.
As if being handed over to Satan for him to destroy your body were not enough, the verse continues.
so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
Even more serious than Satan’s authority to destroy the body, is the threat of being destroyed body and soul in hell. This is the realm of God’s authority. So what the scripture is saying is that being under Satan’s destructive authority for a time on earth is preferable to spending eternity in hell.
And the purpose of removing the unrepentant person from under the protection of the church and exposing them to Satan’s attacks, even the destruction of their body, is to move them to repentance so they may be saved from hell.
The bible is quite clear that those who live a lifestyle of unrepentant rebellion against God will not see heaven, so this man’s eternal salvation is at stake! The motive behind church discipline is the salvation of the sinner. It is not to be arrogant and judgmental, but rather to love the person enough to take hard action that may result in their final salvation!
If we could see the seriousness of unrepentant sin as putting a person in danger of eternal damnation, perhaps we would not be so lax in our exercise of church discipline. Overlooking unrepentant sin is not loving, it’s damning! The loving thing to do is to, as a congregation, in the name of, and by the power of Jesus, remove the unrepentant sinner from the fellowship and protection of the church for the sake of his eternal salvation.