Paul confronts the Corinthian church about their attitude toward a man having an affair with his stepmother. Paul is concerned with the blatant disregard of God’s law by the man in question, and even more concerned with the church’s attitude toward his behavior.
1Corinthians 4:17-21 is the transition from Paul’s first major topic of the letter to his second. He is still responding to issues reported to him verbally. In 1Corinthians 1-4, he addressed the issue of factions in the Corinthian church and the worldly theology that led to those divisions.
4:16Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. 17For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. 18Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. 20For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.
21What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness? – 1Corinthians 4:16-21
- Timothy may be the one carrying this letter to Corinth.
- Paul is sending Timothy to remind and instruct them on how to imitate Paul.
- Their arrogance springs from the fact that they see themselves as superior to Paul such that they can judge him and find him lacking.
- Some theologians use the language of 1Corinthians 4:20 to claim those who speak in tongues (power) are better than those who only teach with words. I don’t think the context supports this view.
- By power and words, I think Paul is saying God credentialed his apostolic authority with power (signs) — unlike the views of the Corinthians.
- Paul’s words do not imply that we should only listen to teachers today who are credentialed with signs. We don’t have teachers today with apostolic authority.
- Rather we evaluate teachers today by how well their teaching conforms to Scripture (i.e. how well they build on the foundation).
5:1It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. – 1Corinthians 5:1-5
- Leviticus 18 prohibits several kinds of sexual relationships. Leviticus 18:7 prohibits a sexual relationship with your mother. Leviticus 18:8 prohibits a sexual relationship with your father’s wife.
- Since the context implies these are different people, “your father’s wife” is your stepmother, both in 1Corinthians and Leviticus.
- The man in question appears to be having an affair with his stepmother while his father is still alive.
- Alternately, the offender may be having an affair with his father’s widow, but the gentile community would not find that as overtly offensive as the an affair while his father lives. Paul says this situation is offensive to both pagans as well as Jews/Christians.
- Immorality is a universal affliction. The problem is not that this man’s sin has become obvious. The problem is that he is openly defying God’s moral requirements while claiming to be a believer and the church finds no problem with that stance.
- Paul says the church ought to mourn over his situation, not boast about it.
- Paul’s advice is to stop treating this man as a believer and stop encouraging his self-deception. His open defiance of God’s values contradicts his claim to faith and they are to stop treating him as one who has faith.
- The goal is that this man would repent and turn back to God.
- Paul is concerned that the church is ignoring blatant immorality. Paul wants them to confront the immorality for that person’s sake to accomplish the man’s redemption.
- Paul does not speak to the women involved, probably because she is not a believer and there is no hypocrisy on her part.
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