“So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 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.” 1 Corinthians 5:4-5
I stared at this passage for a while. The words didn’t make sense to me. Right next to this particular passage of scripture I drew a question mark. Paul wrote we should hand a fellow believer over to Satan? In my mind, understanding and discernment split into unequal halves, burst into flame, and were incinerated. We should not hand anyone over to Satan. Is that even possible? What was Paul trying to say?
CONTEXT. I have bothered my friend, Pond that we need to make a meme using this word. It truthfully holds great importance. So let me just explain some things.
If you read the text before the verse I provided you will find that Paul was writing this letter to the people of Corinth. He was upset in this particular section of writing because a man in the family of believers had taken his mother to be his wife. There’s a word for that, oh yes, incest. Paul was distressed to see sexual immorality among his fellow believers.
He weighed heavily in his words saying that he was not physically present with the Corinthians, but that he was with them in spirit. He said that he’d already passed judgment on this man. I need to pause right here because it is woefully misunderstood about Christians and “judgment.”
Here’s the deal: everyone will be judged by Jesus Christ. This is regardless of who is a believer and who is not. After all, we’ve all done such evil things that no one is going to escape that day. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10
There is no favoritism with God (Romans 2:11). No one can buy His affections or get a pass on punishment. That is a sealed deal from the moment you were born. Sin is a sickness, after all. Not too difficult to comprehend, eh? Christians have God’s judgment, in this case meaning his wrath, removed from them. This is possible because they have accepted Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we get a free pass. Christians have sinned just as much as anybody else, the only difference between Christians and non-believers is that Christians won’t receive the spiritual punishment for sin after death. We have forgiveness.
Let’s move on to the HUGE RIDICULOUS PART. Believers should judge one another (Matthew 18:15 and on). What this means is that we must identify sin in each other’s lives and support each other. It’s about exposing darkness and seeking God for forgiveness and aid. This is important as Christians help each other to grow in Christ. So you see “judge” is the word that people stumble over.
In 1 Corinthians 5:11 Paul makes himself clear. Everyone will always sin, yes, but when Christians sin they have to ask Jesus for forgiveness. They must confess their iniquities before God. When a believer is continuously sinning in a specific way (for example, promiscuity) and refuses to ask for forgiveness, now we’ve got a problem. This is a refusal to repent. Repentance is acknowledging sin, confessing it, asking for forgiveness and then turning away from the sin. Perfection is not the goal here. It’s only stopping what isn’t good for us to do. We should want to be more like Jesus, but we will always fail. Everything’s fine as long as we keep in communication with God, ask forgiveness and seek his strength in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Paul commands that Christians should not even eat with someone who claims to be a Christian, but is openly living a wrong lifestyle. For example, if I said I am a Christian, would you hold me to that title if I also got drunk often, had casual sex frequently and cursed others without any regard for my behaviors? Now we’re getting double sidetracked into identifying real Christians versus false Christians.
It’s not hard. Observe a person’s lifestyle. His words, his actions. If he belongs to Christ we’re going to be able to see it. What’s that stupid quote I’m thinking of? If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck…yeah, that stupid quote. That’s part of it, but there’s also more scripture to it.
“We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” 1 John 4:6
“Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17
That one quote above says that a person cannot declare Jesus is Lord unless he has the Holy Spirit in him. The presence of the Holy Spirit in a person marks him as a Christian. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal of ownership on us (2 Corinthians 5:5).
Recognizing sin is not wrong. It’s exactly right! People confuse this bit by saying, “Don’t judge me. Doesn’t the Bible say don’t judge people?” This is the verse they’re thinking of, most likely: “‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’” Luke 6:37-38, Matthew 7:1-2
Jesus is not saying to disregard sin in our lives or anybody else’s. The Holy Spirit discerns for us what is wrong and right. It is a conscious spirit. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” John 16:13
Now, what Jesus meant in the Luke/Matthew quotes above is that we should not think someone else is a more evil person than we are. We must not look at someone else and judge his sins to be more disgusting or worse than our own sins. For example, if I sin through conceitedness and yet I look at another person who sins through lying, am I better than her? Is she worse than I? No, we are both sheep due to the slaughter for our wicked actions.
Darkness can have many shades, it can look like many different things, but darkness is always the same. It causes damage.
Go on and read further. Jesus makes it obvious that he is speaking about hypocrisy. He’s telling us not to compare each other. All of us have fallen short, who among us can say he’s better off? No one. Jesus is the only one who walked this earth and was not seduced by the Devil.
Judgment is also wrong in that it can mean thinking the worst of someone. It’s like seeing a person act rudely one time and then presuming him to be a complete asshole. That’s evil judgment in its finest form because once again we come back to the same conclusion: all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are all abysmal people. Let’s not kid ourselves here.
Perhaps, dear reader, you may be gnashing your teeth and muttering that I have explained “judgment” only in terms of convenience. I’m deceitfully supporting my Christian bias while neglecting the translation for the word “judgment.” Hmmm, can’t let you have that one. There’s a beautiful word that will save me: CONTEXT. Like I said before, go and read the scripture with the context of what is being talking about. You’ll be able to make sense of it that way or maybe you won’t…
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’…For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe… But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:18-19, 1:21, 1:27
Anyway, spiraling all the way back up to the original quote from Paul…handing over a believer to Satan. I was driving home from college and was having a music debacle. My iPod refused to sync and then the radio bore no interest to me. I hit the skip track button and low and behold a preacher man was on the station. I don’t normally listen to such things on the radio as I am an avid music listener, but this time around I actually listened.
A man explained to me this verse. He said that God will do whatever it takes to bring a wandering person to Jesus whether he’d known Jesus before or had never known him. Ever heard of the good Shepherd? If one of his sheep goes astray he will leave the other ninety-nine to go and seek the one who is lost (Matthew 18:12-14).
Paul said a man should be handed over to Satan meaning that he should be allowed to continue in his sin. The man on the radio said he prays for this to happen. He prays for people to get what they want and to see how terrible it is. He prays for the worst to happen because when people are brought low then they are humbled (Psalm 25:9) and then they might turn to God for help. Here’s a sad thought: if people think they don’t need God’s help then they will not seek Him.
Awful things do have to happen. We sin. We suffer. That’s what makes God so critical because he forgives us, helps us and comforts us. The healthy don’t need a doctor the sick people need a doctor (Mark 2:17, Matthew 9:12 and Luke 5:31). If you think you’re getting through life just fine, why would you need Jesus? Who the heck is Jesus?
You may at this point be wondering about the title of this post: Attenuation. I tell you, that preacher man’s voice was being ripped apart by the competing signal of another station as I drove. I was traveling through coverage contours and my satellite was struggling between which signal it was picking up and which to focus on.
My heart sighed as his voice drifted in and out of snow. I sincerely hoped I’d hear the rest of his message. Several times a pop song became dominant and his voice drifted off into attenuation. He’d quickly come back and the pop tune would dull and offer a raspy bed to his voice.
I was so elated to hear him. He spoke about the power of prayer. How our words are so important to God. Prayer moves the Lord’s hand on earth.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16
Pray for those who are wandering. The implausible can happen, the man on the radio had said: we can remember all sorts of memories and scripture while in prayer. It’s supernaturally accurate and timely. How can a crystal clear experience from a decade ago suddenly make sense to us now? Such things happen all the time. Pray to remember, friends.
As a parting thought I wanted to offer one other thing the man on the radio had said: Satan tries to distract us during prayer. Keep that in mind because he’ll try to steal it away.