Judging those in the church (I Corinthians 5:9-13)
To introduce a slight change in topic, Paul refers back to his letter. There is some debate as to whether the letter was an earlier letter to the Corinthians which we don’t have or he is talking about the letter he is currently writing. A reference to a former letter is the more natural reading and is supported by the fact that very similar wording is used in II Corinthians 7:8 to refer back to the I Corinthian letter. This view does leave us with the quandary of whether a letter from an inspired apostle was not preserved and why. However, a reference to the current letter is a proper translation of the phrase, though more unusual, and could be referring back to Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 5:2. The latter would mean that Paul is now ready to explain why they should have withdrawn from this man. The latter is more sensible to me. If Paul had written to them before about not keeping company with immoral people, it leaves us wondering why the Corinthians had ignored his command in this particular case. But if we understand that the Corinthians were reluctant to make moral judgments concerning their fellow Christians, as many continue to do today, then the remaining discussion of why it was important becomes clear.
Paul wants to make it clear that withdrawal from sexually immoral people does not mean all fornicators. A large number of people in the world are involved in fornication. To avoid contact with them would require leaving the world. And fornication isn’t the only sin under consideration, it just happened to be the one currently being discussed. The world is heavily involved in sin and while in this world we will come in contact with people caught up in some type of sin. But when a fellow Christian is involved in a sin, matters are different. We are not to have an association with someone claiming to be a Christian who is at the same time living a life of sin.
Withdrawal must be complete. Christians are not even to eat with someone claiming to be Christian while living in sin (Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17; II Thessalonians 3:6, 14; II John 9-11).
- Why can’t Christians withdraw from the immoral people of the world?
- What does this say about those who advocate a monistic style of life?
- Why is it different with fellow Christians?
- Does this mean we can’t make judgments about the actions of people in the world?
- Why is it important not even to eat with a sinning brother?
- What happens when other contacts, such as business or family obligations, put you in association with a sinning brother?
Those outside the church do not accept the authority of those within. Withdrawing social contact from people outside the church will not make any impact on their behavior. Thus, the reality is that Christians have no jurisdiction over people in the world. Such is different with members of the church. Because they claim to be Christians and desire the association with fellow Christians, removing contact with such people will make a significant impact. It is not that those in the world will be getting away with their sins. God will judge them. Thus, Christians only need to focus on sinners within their own midst.
To prove his point, Paul quotes a phrase found a number of times in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 13:5; 17:7; 21:22; 22:21-22, 24; 24:7). Israel was commanded on numerous occasions to put workers of evil out of their society. What was important back then for the nation of Israel remains important for Christians in the kingdom of God.
- Why is it important for workers of evil to be removed from the church?
- What might happen if they are not removed?
Judging disputes between Christians (I Corinthians 6:1-8)
Paul moves on to a related topic of judgment. It appears that the Corinthians were taking their personal disputes before government courts. He had just stated earlier that Christians had no jurisdiction over non-believer, but they were required to judge believers. Thus, their settling disputes in civil courts show that they were failing in this requirement as well.
Christians are quite capable of making judgments between brethren. After all, Paul points out that Christians will be called upon to judge the world (Psalm 149:5-9; Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; Jude 14-15) and angels in the end. Compared to these, settling disputes between Christians is a minor thing. Likely Paul is referring to condemnation in the sense of what Noah did against the world (Hebrews 11:7). Noah’s entrance onto the ark proved that God was not asking the impossible of men. In the same way, if men in this corrupt world can manage to be saved, then those angels who fell, having far greater advantages, have no excuse. Nor can other men in the world claim that salvation wasn’t possible for them. If Christians can be such a powerful statement for righteousness in the future, surely they should be able to determine right and wrong in disagreements.
Instead, the Corinthians had been taking matters before men who will eventually be condemned by them. Men of this world do not hold to the standards of Christ, thus one would not expect a fair judgment from their hands. The fact that they have resorted to worldly courts is a matter of shame in the eyes of Paul. Surely, Paul argues, they have at least one member wise enough to trust in settling disputes. Instead, they hold men of the world in higher esteem than all the brethren in the church. It would have been much preferable to have suffered wrongly at the hands of a brother than to take disputes between two Christians before unbelievers to be settled.
To do a wrong action to settle a wrong action doesn’t make the results turn outright. This is not to say that Christians should treat other Christians badly with no consequences (I Thessalonians 4:6). Rather Paul is pointing out that since two wrongs don’t make a right, it would have been preferable to have allowed the personal injustice than creating a travesty of justice.
Concept Study: Earthly, Flesh, Worldly, Immoral
- Make a list of all the verses in I Corinthians where some form of the listed words or their synonyms are used.
- Jot beside each reference what you learn from the verse about the concept.
- Organize those ideas. Which verses address the ideas of who, what, where, when, why, and how?
- Write a paragraph about what the concept means, addressing who, what, where, when, why, and how.