I am in the midst of writing a book on 1 & 2 Corinthians which serves as a study book for a Diploma Biblical Studies program. As I am writing, thought I will share a little about Apostle Paul’s almost incredulous instruction of discipline to “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 Cor 5:5) for a man who is in an incest relationship with his stepmother.
Apostle Paul’s instruction of handing over this man to Satan is a very specific and strong instruction. If he only intends to excommunicate him so that the church is kept holy, there is no need to mention Satan. Moreover, it seems contradictory that handing someone over to Satan can eventually save his spirit. Paul mentions a similar disciplinary action in 1 Timothy 1:20 where he delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan for discipline. It should be noted that this act of handing a person over to Satan for discipline is more than just a physical excommunication where Paul specifically prays for the power of our Lord Jesus to be present. Another passage written by Paul in 2 Cor 12 where he refers to the thorn in his flesh as a messenger of Satan that is present in his body to keep him humble and also for the glory of Christ. In these instances, Satan becomes God’s rod of discipline. The person is handed over to Satan “with the power of the Lord Jesus” signifies that God is still in full control of the situation with the end purpose to save the person’s spirit. God is sovereign over the life of the person handed over to Satan as Satan has to submit to God even in his rebellion.
Another record of a man being handed over to Satan in the Old Testament is Job (Job 2:6). Although Job is a blameless man and the reason for him being in the hand of Satan is the wager between God and Satan, the catastrophes meted out to Job drives him to declare “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6). There is a process of maturity and growth in God that brings Job to such repentance. In examination of Job’s story, the delivery of a man to Satan is a pathway of discipline for maturity and growth and not for destruction. Another Biblical story that bears such similarity will be that of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) where the father has no choice but to allow his son to go into the world, which can parallel to that of handing him over to Satan as he is the prince of the world. It is when the prodigal son experiences the harshness and bitterness of the world that he will turn and appreciate the goodness of the father. This turning back is salvation for the spirit even though the physical, emotional and mental are battered by the battles in the world.
This is probably best typified by what we call tough love now. The wilderness of willful sin can either kill a person or drive him back to repentance.