“Many people don’t know that the human eye has a blind spot in its field of vision. There’s a part of the world that we are literally blind to. The problem is that sometimes, our blind spots shield us from things that really shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes, our blind spots keep our lives bright and shiny. When it comes to our blind spots, maybe our brains aren’t compensating. Maybe they’re protecting us” (Grey’s Anatomy).
The intensity of Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians is suggested by the fact he wrote more letters to them than to any other church. The letter to them in First Corinthians is interesting for a number of reasons. For one, it is part of a series of letters between Paul and the Corinthian believers. The New Testament contains only two of these letters (i.e. First and Second Corinthians), but these two contain references to two others: the “Previous Letter” (1 Cor. 5: 9) and the “Painful Letter” (2 Cor. 2: 4). There appears, then, to have been a total of four. Thus, First Corinthians is likely the second letter in that series and 2 Corinthians is likely the fourth. The first and third are lost to history except for the references to them.
Another interesting aspect of this letter is that it is based upon a series of questions posed by the Corinthian believers to Paul. Oddly enough, however, we only have the answers. We don’t possess the actual questions, because they were contained in that “Previous Letter”, which we do not have. As such, we have only half the conversation. Students of 1 Corinthians have to read the answers given by Paul to determine the questions. Great stuff for a Bible study!
Chapter 5 begins a second major section of this letter (5:1-6:20), where Paul addresses several problems that were asked by ‘Chloe’s people’ (see 1:11) – a group within the church that wanted some real answers to some troubling questions. It is impossible to know who Chloe is. However, it is clear that she is a member of the Corinthian church and is speaking for this group and their concerns. As important as their concerns were, however, they had failed to address or even notice some glaring weaknesses that Paul had heard about ‘through the grapevine’. One of those weaknesses had to do with the sexual sin of one of their own church members and how the church was simply ignoring it. The issue is identified in 5:1-2: the Corinthians failed to discipline a man who was sleeping with his stepmother (5:1-13). Paul tells them in no uncertain terms such activity is out of bounds and the attitude of the church toward it is arrogant. Apparently, the church was proud of their ability to tolerate it and failed to do anything to correct it. Essentially, their theology was lacking. They possessed a complete misunderstanding of God’s grace.
As we read Paul’s response, we may feel that he is being overly harsh and lacking in love. But, Paul speaks as he does because he is able to see how sexual sin defiles not just a person, but in fact, the whole church. We think that God will overlook such things. In reality, by looking the other way, we have lost a real sense of God’s holiness. Or, we might think that personal sins like this are personal and so, are someone else’s problem. Paul makes it clear that nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, “None of us lives to himself” (Romans 14:7). None of us sins in isolation. Like yeast that works through a batch of bread dough, so unchecked sin works its way through a church. Because we are the body of Christ, every believer that is part of the church body is affected by the life of every other believer. We need to recapture Paul’s mind and heart here.
As I write this, I am wondering if the church today would think Paul’s words to be out-of-sync with our times and out-of-touch with reality. In our 21st century ‘live and let live’ world, even the church seems to have trouble seeing. We often pick up the world’s values and standards and lose sight of God’s. This passage should cause us all to reevaluate the call to the holiness of God and our cavalier attitude regarding our own sanctification. We are called to learn and to seek to emulate the character of God in our daily life. We are not to copy the world. We are to be positively different.
The Corinthian church was as guilty of overlooking the sin in their fellowship as the man in their midst was in living such a lifestyle. This is why Paul says in verses 6 through 8:
“… Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:6-8).
“Do you not know…” is really to be taken as “Surely you know! or “You should know!” By regularly exposing our lives to God’s Word, we CAN know and address our blindspots. And, while we don’t need to take over the Holy Spirit’s job of trying to convict others of their sin, we are never to ignore it. God doesn’t. Challenging such issues in the church is never easy, but it is absolutely essential if we desire the power and presence of God in our midst.