Up to this point in the chapter, Paul explains that adultery far from being an act of love (whose ground is God not man) is actually an act of hate, rooted in arrogance it is the—“wisdom” of this world vs. the “foolishness” of God. This circumstance like all others must be handled with loving discipline, not indifferent neglect, because of the eternal peril it presents to the community God has redeemed by Christ’s cross.
Now Paul turns his gaze on what it means to be God’s people in this present evil age as those who await final redemption (i.e., in theology this is referred to as “the now and the not yet”):
“9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges.”
Here Paul explains that association with non-believers is unavoidable. Contextually and as modeled by Jesus (a friend of tax collectors and sinners), association is not discouraged but assumed as a means of being salt and light in the world. Thus, as Christ influenced those around him with righteousness, we too his people are to follow suit.
Thus, the command to not associate (share our lives with the person) was not with those outside Christ, but with those professing to love God with their lips (“so-called brother”) whose heart (revealed through lifestyle) is far from Him. Paul, like Christ, refused to tolerate hypocrisy and thus God’s people must do likewise.
Paul concludes the command to not associate with the “so-called brother” to “not even to eat with such a one” which probably includes the table fellowship (i.e., the communion table) of the Lord. Thus, to prohibit communion serves to tangibly illustrate the persons’ broken fellowship with God, the need for self-examination, and the need for repentance so that the fractured relationship between God and this man may mended.
Paul by this command for church discipline is commanding that righteous judgment be practiced. This must be done humbly and lovingly before the God who is there. Thus, the duty of believers is to judge their own ranks, not outsiders (i.e., those outside Christ, nonbelievers). But why do this, it seems so “unloving” and “antiquated” and “intolerant”. Far from God being a “kill-joy”, He delights in our joy and that is why He invites His people to share in his holiness—the fountain of everlasting joy. Paul is commanding and entreating the Corinthians to fight for each other’s joy in God, rather than not love one another by letting sin pollute their assembly.
Paul reminds the church that it’s God’s job to judge outsiders, and their job to judge insiders. The command from verse two to remove the wicked man from their midst is rooted in the holiness principle found in the Old Testament.
This is where the covenant people of God who have been redeemed from the slavery of Egypt (which included the false worship of many gods) are to safeguard their ranks from being enslaved once again by removing the false prophets who encouraged Israel to revert to the bondage of worshipping other gods. At times, even stoning was commanded. That seems extremely harsh to us “enlightened” people, but could it be that said action is only a shadow of the reality when God judges a people?
Could it be that we have it all wrong when judging non-believers? Too often we don’t gaze at our own iniquity, but instead target those outside our ranks and are the worse off for it.
Paul is not prohibiting on occasion the need to speak up within the culture and humbly but firmly challenge it’s presuppositions by exposing their false ideas of what is good, beautiful, and true through reason (as clearly the Old Testament prophets demonstrate).
Paul is not stating that there will be times (as in his own life before Felix) where believers will stand before rulers and give an account of righteousness. It seems that Paul is rather in this instance, saying that the church needs to clean house when the occasion calls for it. When the uncomfortable reprimand is warranted, for loves sake, the church, not just its leaders, must act.
In the Corinthian situation like in our day, the cultural voice of “wisdom” had to be corrected with the “foolishness” of God’s Word. It had to be corrected with the orthodox voice of Scripture, and while it may be increasingly uncomfortable, it’s absolutely necessary for the LORD’s sake and our joy in Him.