What does Paul mean when he refers to “deliver(ing) a man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh”?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 2 – A closer look at how God develops us as disciples

If you are still unpersuaded that God can, and does, discipline us severely, and that He sometimes even takes away the life of a real Christian, then consider some further passages. Here apostle Paul speaks of “deliver(ing) a man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh”.

1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment 4 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, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (RSV)

“……By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, 20among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

1 Timothy 1:19(b)-20 (RSV)

These are controversial passages and there are differing opinions as to exactly what Paul is speaking about. Some say that he merely means that such a person is put outside of the umbrella of protection of the Church. They then receive a buffeting of demonic attacks and eventually realize their error and stop behaving in a carnal way. It may well include all of that. However, my own belief is that it can go far beyond that and even include the loss of that carnal believer’s life.

In direct terms, such a death could be caused by the severity of the demonic onslaught against him. However, the indirect cause is that God has permitted it, by removing His shield of protection. Then the carnal man dies and his sin and rebellion cease, but he himself can still be saved. Conversely, if God had not intervened, then perhaps he may not have been saved in the end, i.e. if his life had continued and his sin had kept on increasing until it reached its full limits and he became apostate.

It is a little bit like where a football manager can see that the behaviour of one of his players on the pitch is seriously out of order. Perhaps he has already had a yellow card, but he is continuing to foul other players, make reckless tackles and show dissent to the referee. His own manager might look at that developing situation and be able to see that it is inevitably going to end with that player being sent off by the referee. If so, that would generate a further ban of one, or even three, whole games, in addition to the current match.

In that situation a sensible manager might choose to substitute that player right now, before he gets compulsorily sent off. That would be upsetting for that player, but it would save him from even worse consequences, which would have occurred if he had been allowed to stay on the pitch any longer. Plus, it could save other players from potentially serious injuries.

An example of this is the famous footballer, Paul Gascoigne (“Gazza”) and his bizarre behaviour during the 1991 FA Cup Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest. Gazza was in a strange mood that day and from the very first minute of the game he was lunging into wild tackles. One of those fouls nearly broke a Nottingham Forest player’s leg. That was in the first few minutes of the game. At that point his own manager could, and should, have substituted him. Sadly, he didn’t.

It was a shame because, later in the match, Gazza made yet another lunging tackle which caused him to tear his own cruciate ligaments very badly. He required surgery and had to miss a whole season to recover. All of that could have been avoided, if only he had been taken off the pitch by his own manager.

The point is that there are some Christians, even real ones, who get themselves into a severe mess. Their lives are sliding downwards so badly that they could cause harm to others, or even lose their own salvation, if they aren’t stopped. My own belief is that God may look at that situation and conclude that the only practical solution is to take that believer home early, by ending their lives. If so, that would actually be a mercy, because the alternative would be to allow that person to continue declining until they pass the point of no return and become fully apostate. In that case, they could lose their eternal life.

next page in book