In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul addresses an issue of sin being overlooked by believers in Corinth. An incestuous relationship was occurring in the full knowledge of the believers, yet nothing was being done (vs. 1). The Corinthian church was a wide mixture of individuals with a broad religious background that constantly threatened the virtuous lifestyle modeled by Jesus (Phillip 2015, p. 47). Paul’s instruction to the believers of Corinth was to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (vs. 5). Such a strong statement would at first seem uncaring and even harsh, possibly in conflict with the gracious approach by Jesus toward others. Such a command brings into question the proper way to motivate believers to live virtuous lives, including the role consequences and punishment play.
Wright argues that forcing people to keep rules and do good works are not sufficient motivators to pursue virtuous living (Wright, 2012), which would seem to point to Paul’s command as a counterproductive approach to his own instructions to the Galatians regarding living out the virtues of the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 5 does not show Paul motivating towards virtuous living, however, instead it is an example of Paul teaching about discipline as a part of the pursuit of holiness and covenant living with God and his people (Phillip, 2015, p. 56). Being a part of the community of believers is a sign of righteousness considered to be a privilege, not a right, which can be revoked if one is not living a righteous lifestyle (Phillip, 2015, p. 54). According to Paul, it is proper to remove anything that threatens the holiness of the community, such as someone consciously choosing to continue to engage in an incestuous relationship (Phillip, 2015, p. 54). Such a situation would have moved beyond calling an individual to a virtuous lifestyle, and become about preserving the community of believers as a whole.
Phillip, M. (2015). Delivery into the hands of Satan–a church in apostasy and not knowing it: an exegetical analysis of 1 Corinthians 5:5. Evangelical Review of Theology, 39(1), 45–60.
Wright, N. T. (2012). After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. New York, NY: HarperOne.