What does 1 Corinthians 5:5 mean where it says “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord”?
Paul commanded the church in Corinth to “hand this man over to Satan”. The reason for this is that the man indulged in sexual immorality: he has the wife of his father, which might be his mother or his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1). Paul is very shocked by this immorality; it does not even take place among the pagans, among those who do not know God. The church should be an example when it comes to moral purity!
‘Handing this man over to Satan’ involves discipline executed by the leadership of the church. This discipline is needed because the church needs to be holy: it needs to be cleansed from leaven that permeates the whole dough (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). The discipline involves the excommunication of this person from the church, which is clear from verse 2: “Let him who has done this be removed from among you” and verse 12: “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Destruction of the flesh
When this person who persists in leading a life that is not in accordance with biblical teaching, is removed from the church, they will be on their own to experience the consequences of their sin fully. These consequences could even be sickness brought about by their sinful behavior. They might contract a disease as a result of their sinful actions. This is probably what is meant by the phrase ‘destruction of the flesh’. It will be awful and painful, but if it leads to the salvation of someone’s spirit, it is certainly worth it! Better suffer temporary sickness than eternal hell.
Excommunicating a person
Excommunicating a person from the church is not something one can do in his own power. In verse 4 it says that it needs to be done “with the power of the Lord Jesus“. It is under the authority of Jesus that a person is handed over to Satan. Therefore, this can result in the salvation of his spirit (1 Corinthians 5:5). So Satan is under the sovereign control of our Lord Jesus – Satan would never want a person to be saved, but God can even use our archenemy to bring about repentance. Paul was harassed by a messenger of Satan to keep him from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). It is important to note that Paul did not plead with Satan to leave him. Instead he pleaded with the Lord, that it should leave him (2 Corinthians 12:8); he knew that the Lord was in control.
Spirit of humility
Exercising discipline is one of the hardest things for church leadership to do. It needs a spirit of humility; of realizing that they themselves are also vulnerable people who need God’s grace. But to shrink back from it by saying ‘who am I to discipline others’ is disobedience to God’s Word. He clearly commands us to be very concerned with the holiness of the church, because the church is the body of Christ. May discipline always be carried out prayerfully by people who know they are dependent on Him in everything.
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