1 CORINTHIANS 5:9-6:11
9I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons - 10not 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.11But 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. 12For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13God will judge those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you."
1When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? 2Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3Do you not know that we are to judge angels - to say nothing of ordinary matters? 4If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? 5I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, 6but a believer goes to court against a believer - and before unbelievers at that?
7In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8But you yourselves wrong and defraud - and believers at that.
9Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers - none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
We must admit that there's a huge gap between what the Apostle Paul advocates in terms of how Christians should live and how in fact we live. Take, for instance, the first verse in this section, verse 9, "[do not] associate with sexually immoral persons." Paul clarifies his meaning: he's not talking about people outside the church, but people who call themselves Christians who also happen to lead sexually immoral lives. And it's not just sex. Greedy people, people who get drunk, people who steal, people who go after something other than God (that's the translation for "idolater"), and people who are speak badly of others ("revilers"). Such people, Paul says, stay away from! Don't even eat with them.
I cannot think of any church that I know of personally that actually practices this dis-association, this cutting off of communion with people who are sinful in these ways. Actually the very opposite is advocated -- among laypersons and clergy and seminaries that train future pastors. Go after these people! Get to know them. Have a meal with them. Minister to them. Some of them are broken. Many don't know what they're doing. Many are addicted to certain, destructive lifestyles. They need your help. That's the overwhelming, overall message. To practice what the Apostle Paul preaches in this passage goes completely counter to contemporary church practice and advice.
Why the discrepancy? I believe there are several reasons for the difference in policy and prescription. First, in Paul's day, to associate with a person carried the social message that you approve of that person (and indirectly, their lifestyle). You can see this in Jesus' day as well (which wasn't too far removed from the time of Paul). The Pharisees noted that Jesus ate with "sinners," thus proving that Jesus was a "sinner" himself. Especially breaking bread -- eating with people -- carried the cultural message that you and the people with whom you ate are mutually supportive of each other. Guilt by association. The other reason that's not explicitly stated in this particular passage is the common understanding that bad character corrupts. Paul actually says in 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character'." Rarely does it go the other way. Human propensity toward evil, like gravitational pull, tends to bring others down. It's the exception to the rule for someone to bring someone else up.
The third reason -- perhaps the strongest reason -- is the core understanding that Christians are called to live righteous lives. It's the "be holy as I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 20:26). Just as it is inconceivable to have an unholy God, it is unthinkable to have an unholy People of God. A logical contradiction. A theological contradiction. Unfortunately the way some people were living in Corinth, they were living out a contradiction to who they were called to be. A deep spiritual contradiction. The Apostle Paul makes this point very clear when he reminds them that believers will one day "judge the world," and even "judge angels" (1 Corinthians 6:1-2). How can we judge righteously when we are so compromised with unrighteousness? (And the last reason for the dis-association of grievous sinners from church that Paul advocates is for the sake of those sinners who might come to their senses better when there is a starker contrast. Close fellowship confuses them! When the righteous hang out with the unrepentant unrighteous, the unrepentant ones think they are doing OK! So for their sake, Paul says, don't hang with them.)
How far removed are we from the Apostle Paul! I mean, in terms of understanding righteousness and living righteously! This is not legalism, not spiritual elitism, not exclusivism. Our culture as a whole is not a puritanical culture. Actually we instinctively react against any kind of perceived separation. "Be ye separate" (1 Corinthians 6:17) is a foreign command for many modern churches. With very little understanding and, indeed, appreciation for living righteously before a holy God, we are apt to live confused and compromised lives. Heaven help us!
Let's pray: Father God, we pray for the church in America and around the world in big and small cities especially, where the unrighteous elements of the world cozily intermingle with the righteousness that you command for your people. Help us all to exercise discernment and wisdom, without judgmentalism but using sound judgment, without self-righteousness but embracing your righteousness. We confess our compromised and confused lives, not knowing what you desire and going after what our flesh and worldly eyes desire. Give us a new set of eyes! And a strong and tender heart, to love you with strength, humility, and integrity. And to love our neighbors from the place of your love and holiness, without which we will all be lost in this fallen world that you love. In Jesus' name, amen.
P.S. I will send the next devotional next Tuesday. I will be going out of town later today for a few days. Peace be with you.