Tag Archives: Satan

1 Corinthians 5

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (NRSV) – It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

There is a man in the Corinthian church living in an incestuous relationship. Paul takes this extremely seriously and urges the church to do so as well. But what really are the circumstances with this man?

Suppose that this man believes that Christ died and rose from the dead to set him free from sin and make him a new creation. Suppose that this man believes in God’s calling to him, and believes that God is working with him toward a future in which he will accomplish great things through righteousness. But at the moment, he is in a sinful relationship. Suppose God has finally had enough of it and tells Paul and the church to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” What would this accomplish? In my view, it would accomplish nothing except to end his life prematurely. Under that scenario, this man would have a vision for his life that would last until he’s dead, and would never come to true fulfillment.

To the contrary, I believe that what we are dealing with here is a man who is building his whole identity and vision for life around this immoral relationship. For him, this relationship is what life is about. This contradicts the Gospel message, which should remind us that there is more to life than our passion at the present moment. God has made us new creations and set us on a new path in life as part of his working of all things according to His will (Eph. 1:11). The Christian life is about living in appreciation of this. I believe that the point of this man in Corinth being handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh is to get him to think about God rather than the sexual relationship. If he gets sick and fears that his life is coming to an end, he may seek knowledge of something that transcends this life and recognize that God’s sovereign purpose and the power of grace that comes through Christ are what really give meaning to life. Through this recognition, his spirit would be saved. If anything else were required, salvation would be of his own works or effort at holiness rather than by God’s grace through faith.

Paul strongly urges the Corinthians to recognize the serious of this man being in their gatherings. He calls for the man to be excommunicated. He criticizes the church for being arrogant, yet in all their supposed wisdom, failing to recognize that a person in fellowship with them held an attitude about his life that contradicted the vision of the Gospel message. By maintaining fellowship with this person, the church was legitimizing his attitude and compromising the entire church’s sense of vision for a righteous future. In order to preserve the integrity of the church’s vision, that man had to be removed.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 – I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one.

Again, we are dealing with people who claim to be believers but whose vision for life revolves around these immoral behaviors. Paul wants true believers to have no association with such people. Notice that Paul explicitly says that he does not apply the same standards for association with nonbelievers. There are cases in which you might know a nonbeliever who, despite having built his life on some wrong things, still has some common interests with you on other matters. In this case, Paul is not exhorting us to cut off communication.

It is really important that we view this chapter in light of the previous four chapters, which were all about unity in the church on the basis of respecting God’s calling to each other. If we utilize principles of this current chapter to cut off interaction with other believers simply because they have some issues in their lives, we are discarding the message of unity in the prior chapters, and exhibiting a lack of faith in God’s ability to work things out in others’ lives according to His will. What we are dealing with in this chapter are people with an attitude that is toxic to the vision for life that God instills in believers.

How much influence does the devil really have?

Before I address this subject, I want to talk a bit about my personal background and how it leads to this topic. I grew up reading a lot of writing from the Word-of-Faith branch of Pentecostalism, which places heavy emphasis on spiritual warfare. The devil was portrayed as a major agent behind humans’ immorality. A lot of emphasis was placed on the need for Christians to exercise their authority over the devil to be freed from sin.

As I entered my early adult years, my faith started going through a major overhaul. It was not a rejection of everything I had known before. Rather, it was a diversification into doctrines of other types of Christianity. Interestingly, my background in the Word-of-Faith movement helped me understand some of the things I later came to believe.

But one thing I noticed was that, as my theological overhaul unfolded, I thought about the devil less and less. I wondered whether that was a good or bad development. On one hand, I thought it may be a good thing in the sense that, the less you think about something, the less you give it a sphere of influence. But on the other hand, I wondered if I was failing to recognize a serious threat to myself or others, thus yielding to complacency. However, I believe I have come to see why my attention on the devil has declined so sharply, and that, at least in my own situation, it is not a bad development at all.

I have put a lot of emphasis on Book of Romans in this blog. By doing so, I am not encouraging people to only read Romans and ignore the rest of the Bible. Rather, I am highlighting Romans because there are themes which cannot be found anywhere else in the New Testament, and I really feel that this should be appreciated. Most of the unique teachings in Romans have to do with human nature, and how Christ’s death and resurrection are related to human nature. This is significant because in other parts of the New Testament, Christ’s death is emphasized primarily as a substitutionary atonement for sin or a fulfillment of prophesy.

So, while we’re comparing different parts of the New Testament, let’s look at how many times the devil is referenced in each book. I have obtained the reference counts from Biblegateway.com, searching the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

Occurrences of the word “devil”:
Matthew (6)
Luke (7)
John (3)
Acts (2)
Ephesians (2)
1 Timothy (2)
2 Timothy (1)
Hebrews (1)
James (2)
1 Peter (1)
1 John (2)
Jude (1)
Revelation (5)

Notice that there are zero references in Romans.

Now, here are occurrences of the term “Satan”:
Matthew (3)
Mark (5)
Luke (5)
John (1)
Acts (2)
Romans (1)
1 Corinthians (2)
2 Corinthians (3)
1 Thessalonians (1)
2 Thessalonians (1)
1 Timothy (2)
Revelation (7)

Just one reference in Romans. We’ll talk about that one reference later.

Now, here are occurrences of the word “demon”
Matthew (18)
Mark (16)
Luke (25)
John (6)
1 Corinthians (3)
Galatians (1)
1 Timothy (1)
James (1)
Revelation (3)

No references in Romans.

This is rather astounding in my opinion, because Romans deals with very heavy and serious subjects involving sin, spiritual death, addiction, and rebellion against righteousness. If you talk to most fundamentalist Christians about these same subjects, they will mention the devil very often, speaking of the devil’s grip on humanity, demons that need to be cast out, how the devil is laughing at us, and so forth. But Paul managed to address these same subjects without dragging the devil into them. Given that Romans has the deepest perspective on human nature that I have found in the Bible, I think that the devil is much less involved with humanity than what Christian Fundamentalism leads you to think. Most of the personal problems that people encounter are due to inherent issues embedded in human nature, not the direct influence of the devil.

The only reference to the devil in Romans comes in the final chapter:

Romans 16:20 – “The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

This single reference to Satan in Romans speaks of his ultimate defeat, not his dominion.

Some of the more liberal types of Christianity have criticized what they see as excessive focus on the devil in fundamentalist teaching. In response, some progressive Christians have proposed that the devil is not an actual entity, but rather just a personification of evil. I still think that conclusion is too much of a stretch. There are extremes of evil which I do not believe come from human nature alone. I think the New Testament identifies some situations that indicate involvement from an evil supernatural entity.

One such situation is demon possession, which is described in Luke 8:26-29,

“Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he [Jesus] stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)”

As described in this passage, demon possession involves extremely erratic behavior, not everyday problems.

Another situation where the Bible suggests involvement of the devil is when a person makes a deliberate rejection of Christ, knowing in their heart that Christ’s message is true but refusing to accept it.

John Chapter 8 records a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees,

“’[Jesus stated] You are indeed doing what your father does.’ They said to him, ‘We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires” (John 8:41-44).

The Pharisees were not skeptics of religion or people raised in another religion. Instead, they believed in the God of the Old Testament, and they knew the prophetic writings that spoke of Christ, but they refused to accept Christ because He criticized their hypocritical lifestyles. These are the people whom Jesus said were children of the devil.

So, in summary, I do believe there are situations where there is demonic influence, but I think it is less pervasive than what Fundamentalists have depicted. Earlier I mentioned the Pentecostal writing on spiritual warfare that I read growing up; I still believe that knowledge about our authority in Christ is important because one day we could find ourselves in a situation where there’s a demonic presence. However, I do not recommend looking for the devil everywhere as that can lead to unnecessary anxiety or an obsessive-compulsive approach to spiritual warfare.