With You in Spirit – What Does That Mean?
I recently received this question by email:
When I am reading in 1 Cor. 5:3, Paul says he’s with them in “spirit”, which is a term I’ve heard my whole life during illness, weddings, funerals, etc. What’s the real meaning of this idea?
Here’s how I responded and I would welcome any additional insight.
These comments are from the ESV Study Bible:
1 Cor. 5:3–4 ‘my spirit is present.’ A difficult phrase that probably means that the disciplinary power of the Holy Spirit, which Paul knew to be present in his own ministry, would also be manifested in their meeting, because of the Corinthian church’s connection with Paul.Deliver this man to Satan probably refers to removing him from the church, since those outside of the church are in Satan’s realm (Luke 4:5–6; Eph. 2:2; 1 John 5:19). destruction of the flesh. Although it is certainly not always the case (cf. John 9:1–3), personal sin sometimes has grave physical consequences (Acts 5:1–11; 1 Cor. 11:29–30). spirit may be saved. The purpose of the discipline was not to punish the man for punishment’s sake but to effect his restoration to the church and eventual salvation (see 1 Tim. 1:20).
Walter Bauer’s Greek and English Lexicon (BAGD) says that “spirit” means: “a part of a human personality” There is the body and the spirit (or soul).
If you read 1 Corinthians 5, you will notice that the context (1 Cor. 5:3) is speaking of someone who is willfully and publicly sinning in such a way that it tarnishes the image of Christ’s body, the local church (1 Cor. 5:1-5). Paul is instructing them on what to do and that if they make a decision to discipline the unrepentant man, then he will agree with them as though he were there with them. His presence is not necessary for them to make a decision. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus is talking about the discipline of dealing with sin and says in v. 20, that He is with the disciples as they make decisions about confronting sin, even to the point of affirming the decision to put an unrepentant man out of the local gathering or church.
I am convinced it means that the truth of what he has taught them and the way that he has instructed them to deal with this situation, shows that he is there in the spirit of his teaching them how to handle the situation. So we might say that Paul is with them in that he is agreeing with them wherever he is, as they act on the truth of scripture as the Spirit gives them wisdom to do what he has taught them.
Applied to illness, weddings, funerals, etc., we might say that a person is there in the spirit of wanting to be there to encourage in the truth for whatever the moment calls for. In other words, Paul is at least saying: “You know what I taught. You know what is right and you know what to do. Do it as though I were actually with you. My spirit is with you in what I taught in our time together when I was actually there.” The truth of Paul’s teaching in Christ is there and should be guiding them, even if he is not there physically.