Sex, Sin and the Wealthy in the Church (1 Corinthians 5)

Paul states clearly the sin in the church at Corinth is so bad even the Romans would consider it wrong. Why is the immoral man committing a sin like this? Most scholars thinks money is the main issue. Perhaps the wife was from a wealthy and prestigious family and she is trying to divorce his father. The younger man is attempting to keep any money or property in the family as long as possible.

A second more remote possibility is the man is exercising his freedom in Christ. It appears some early Christians believed they were free from the Law, so in order to demonstrate that freedom, they “sinned that grace may abound.” It is possible the young man was trying to demonstrate his freedom from the Law by breaking a very strong taboo and engaging in an ongoing affair with this step-mother.

Carol and GregSo why has the man not been arrested and charged with the crime everyone seems to know about? The problem may be that in order to prosecute, the husband would have to sue for divorce. If this was an arranged marriage between wealthy families, there would have been complications in setting the marriage aside.

Bruce Winter points out only the husband has the right to prosecute in this case, although there is a sixty-day period for him to do this, after which someone else could potentially bring charges. Perhaps the exclusive period has not expired when Paul is writing, or maybe there is no one that is “wronged” by the relationship and it is being passed over because of the man’s position and power.

Additionally, if the husband was not a believer the church didn’t have any sway with him to get him to press charges and exile his son. Because the penalty included loss of property, perhaps the man was not willing to prosecute and possibly forfeit some of his own property.

If this suggestion is correct, then there are two strands of culture that the church is struggling with here, the sexual sin and the favoring of the rich in the courts. Paul wants to deal with the sinful man within the church itself. This has the potential to create an unfortunate principle that Christians who have grave sins ought to be tried in an church-court and not by the government, making it possible for some crimes to be covered up by the church. This was not Paul’s intent at all! Ironically he is not trying to cover up the sin but deal with it in a public and open way.

How does this idea of dealing with sin “in house” work in a contemporary context? I am not advocating ecclesiastical courts, and people who have broken the Law should not find refuge in the church. How do we draw some connections between the first and twenty-first century with respect to church discipline?

6 thoughts on “Sex, Sin and the Wealthy in the Church (1 Corinthians 5)

  1. One thing that comes to mind when asking the question of addressing “in house” issues for me is coaching. Coaching is oddly Biblical, in that it does not advocate for a strong kind of advice-giving confrontation, but rather questioning which leads others in the right direction for themselves. I think this is how we choose to address the problem without publicly shaming the wrong-doer or scaring them off. I often think to Romans “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” This is an obvious cliche in Christian circles because secular culture read this verse as if it were the anthem of the entirety of scripture. Looking to the second half, however it is saying the converse of this “judging” is to instead avoid creating ways for them to “trip.” Like you were saying “This has the potential to create an unfortunate principle that Christians who have grave sins ought to be tried in an church-court and not by the government, making it possible for some crimes to be covered up by the church. This was not Paul’s intent at all! Ironically he is not trying to cover up the sin but deal with it in a public and open way.” I think this public and open way came more in the form of coaching rather than chastising (when making sense of Paul’s often overlooked cognitive dissonance.) So, in this way we should always help and coach others without being self-righteous or rude.

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  2. I think that to have the corrections made in an “in house” setting it should be done in community. “He (Paul) is compelled to serve God by setting up communities whose moral ethos runs contrary to the honor codes of the world (5:11-15)” (TTP 156). Maybe correction should happen in groups. Set up accountability groups or groups like AA. Its non judgmental, it helps more than one person, and brings people closer. Although these groups only work if a person attends, and if a person can be caught in sin why not just move churches or stop going.

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  3. When I think of “in house”, I think of something that is trying to be done so that no one else will see it. Essentially trying to cover something up. Something that can be done in house though is helping the person figure out what brought them to do the acts that they have done, that were not appropriate. By doing this they would be able to, not just identify what made them do it, but also fix it. This is what I feel like Paul is trying to accomplish. He does not want to cover up and sins that have been committed, but instead he wants to help them. There should always be a support system for people struggling with a sin, and they should feel comfortable in that system and the people helping them. TTP tells us that Paul is compelled to serve God by setting up communities whose moral ethos runs contrary to the honor code of the world. This is what should happen now. People helping people break the norms to the world.

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  4. Luke, I definitely find myself agreeing with you. When I think of the idea of in house, I definitely also think of the sin being covered up. Perhaps sins committed by church leader are the ones which are covered up so the leader can keep their jobs. Paul reminds the people in Corinth that those who commit sexual sin should have their membership terminated. Paul feels really strong about how the sin should be dealt with. Paul once again reminds us that we should stay faithful and not let pain make us turn to darkness. 1 Corinthias 4:5 “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God”.

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