II. Response to Reports from within the Church (1 Corinthians 1:10–6:20)
II. Response to Reports from within the Church (1:10–6:20)
A. Divisions in the Church (1:10–4:21)
1:10-12 The first problem Paul addresses is the discord that was widespread in the Corinthian church. He exhorts them to reject divisions among them and to pursue unity (1:10). They had set up illegitimate criteria for separating themselves from one another. Reports had reached Paul that rivalries existed among the church members based on allegiance to a favorite ministry leader (1:11). As he explains in 1:12, some followed Paul (probably those who’d been around since the church’s founding) or Apollos (likely those who preferred a more eloquent and sophisticated speaker; see Acts 18:24-28) or Cephas/Peter (probably Jewish believers who lamented the loss of their traditions)—or even Christ (likely the super spiritual ones!).
Perhaps you’ve seen factions rear their ugly heads in a local church as personal preferences took priority over unity, so let’s be clear. Unity does not equate with sameness or uniformity. Paul wasn’t urging the Corinthian believers to disregard their differences. Rather, he wanted this group of believers—consisting of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, and young and old from different walks of life—to be united in their understanding and conviction about Jesus (1:10). They had been called by God to a oneness of purpose in the midst of their diversity. Unity is critical because of God’s unified Trinitarian nature. While there is a legitimate form of disunity—that is, we are not to be unified in the endorsement of sin, illegitimate disunity can negate the active presence of God in our midst.
A football team is unified—not because everyone plays the same position—but because everyone is straining for the same goal line. An orchestra is unified—not because everyone performs on the same instrument—but because everyone harmoniously plays the same song under the direction of one conductor. Likewise, the church is to be unified—not because every Christian is exactly alike—but because we all pledge allegiance to the same Lord.
1:13-17 Paul asks some rhetorical questions to shame them over their divisive factions. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in Paul’s name? (1:13). The answer to all of these is a resounding “No!” Christ alone is the one to whom we owe our loyalty. Paul is grateful that his primary mission wasn’t to baptize so that no one could claim he’d been simply dunking personal supporters (thus, water baptism is not a requirement for salvation). Rather, Paul had been sent to preach the gospel—a message about Christ, not about himself (1:14-17). The apostle didn’t seek to impress people with his eloquent wisdom; rather, he wanted them to be overwhelmed by the cross of Christ (1:17). For Paul, gospel ministry wasn’t about winning a following for anyone but for Jesus.
1:18 The word (the message) of the cross is foolishness to unbelievers—to those who are perishing. But to Christians—those who are being saved—the cross’s message is the power of God. Notice that the latter group consists of those who are already saved. But having been delivered from hell, they’re now “being saved”—delivered from the power and effects of sin in history. How do Christians who are being saved access the power of God? Through the cross of Christ.
Some believers (like the Corinthians), short-circuit God’s power in their lives. They know the cross is the power of God for heaven, but by their actions they seem to consider the cross foolishness for daily living on earth. How? What do they do to disrupt God’s work in their lives? Paul continues.
1:19-25 He quotes from Isaiah 29:14, in which the Lord rejects worldly wisdom (1:19). Why? Because the world’s wisdom is foolish (1:20); it lacks the divine point of view and considers life from a merely human perspective. The Corinthians were aligning themselves with human teachers and against one another. As a result of their pursuing such a worldly way of thinking, sin was running rampant among them and they lacked God’s power. Human wisdom considers the word of the cross to be foolishness, but God uses this so-called foolishness to save people (1:21). Moreover, though Jews sought signs (power) and Greeks sought man’s wisdom, the “foolish” message of Christ crucified grants believers access to both the power and wisdom of God, which far exceed human wisdom and strength (1:22-25).
God’s wisdom enables us to see things from a divine perspective, make wise choices, and open ourselves to his intervention in our circumstances. God’s power enables us to identify sin problems in our lives and to be delivered from them. So why would anyone prefer human wisdom and strength, which are incapable of delivering results?
1:26-29 The Corinthians were looking at things from the wrong perspective. They were busy trying to identify with the right people (see 1:11-12). But Paul reminds them that notoriety was never part of God’s criteria for saving and using people. He didn’t go searching for impressive people to save either. The Corinthians, for example, hadn’t been wise or powerful or noble (1:26). Instead, God brought his saving message of the cross of Christ to ordinary sinners. He chose insignificant and despised people like fishermen and tax collectors to do his kingdom work so that those from the upper crust of society would be put to shame (1:27-28). That way, no one—no matter how esteemed in the world’s eyes—gets to boast in his presence (1:29).
If you have low self-esteem, come from humble beginnings, have experienced significant struggles, or are despised by the in crowd, then you’re a choice candidate to be used by God for his kingdom program. If you are a child of God through Jesus Christ, it’s not because of who you are but in spite of it.
1:30-31 As a believer, everything you need comes from Jesus Christ; he is your sufficiency. Aligning yourself with notable people will get you rivalries, divisions, and disappointment. But aligning yourself with King Jesus and his agenda will get you righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1:30). Therefore, let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1:31). Only one person deserves any credit—and all of it. Worldly wisdom gets you nothing in the end. But the so-called foolishness of God gives you access to all you need and more.
2:1-5 Paul emphasizes the futility of mere human wisdom by considering the example of his own ministry and preaching. As a result of the influence of Greek rhetoric in Paul’s day, a heavy emphasis was placed on a speaker’s mastery of philosophy and oratorical skills. However, when Paul preached to the Corinthians, it wasn’t with brilliance of speech or wisdom (2:1)—that is, he didn’t speak with eloquence because his goal wasn’t to impress people. On the contrary, he acknowledges that he actually preached in weakness and fear (2:3). More than his delivery, Paul was focused on the content of his message: Jesus Christ and him crucified (2:2). His confidence was not in his own intellect, training, abilities, or background. Rather, Paul was confident in the Spirit’s power that accompanied his message so that the Corinthians’ faith would be in God’s power and not human wisdom (2:4-5).
Paul placed his entire dependence on the message itself (which was from God) and the power of the Holy Spirit to make that message effective. Where do you place your confidence when you share Christ with others? Is it in your own rhetorical and persuasive abilities? Or does your confidence rest solely in the power of God to bring salvation and life transformation? No matter how brilliant the spokesperson, he or she cannot achieve what only divine sovereignty can accomplish.
2:6 To be sure, Paul wasn’t rejecting wisdom or suggesting that God despises it. After all, the Lord doesn’t celebrate ignorance! Instead, the issue has to do with one’s source of wisdom. Do we pursue divine wisdom, or do we pursue the wisdom of this age, which will come to nothing? Believers whose life perspectives have been nurtured by the Spirit of God are mature; on the other hand, the rulers of this age do not use divine truth as the reference point for their lives.
2:7-8 Paul’s message was based on God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery—that is, something that was previously unknown but which God had since revealed. God’s plan to bring salvation to humanity for our glory had been established before the world began (2:7) because he knew what would be needed in history to redeem sinners. But the rulers of this age didn’t comprehend God’s wisdom; otherwise, they would not have crucified Jesus Christ (2:8). In their attempt to destroy this Jewish rabbi, they were actually furthering God’s plan of redemption.
In his glorious sovereignty and providence, the Lord is able to use unbelievers to achieve his purposes. Don’t put God in a box. His infinite wisdom is more than we can grasp through our finite human logic and understanding.
2:9-10 Spiritual wisdom is made possible by means of the personalized work of God in our lives. Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Paul explains that for those who love God, he is able to make known things that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has conceived (2:9). This is not a reference to heaven but to God’s work in the life of the believer. It indicates that God can help believers understand things that they cannot learn through natural means. How does he do this? He reveals these things to us by the Spirit (2:10). This is called illumination.
Though God has revealed to us his inspired, written Word, believers need illumination to give us understanding. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, within the mind of a Christian that causes him to supernaturally learn, understand, and apply the things of God. It is the voice of God through the Word by means of the Holy Spirit becoming personalized to you. Illumination does not involve new revelation; rather, it involves God giving a believer understanding of the meaning and application of Scripture in the midst of his own experiences.
2:11 No one knows my thoughts better than I do; no one knows your thoughts better than you. In the same way, then, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit. Therefore, we are dependent on the Spirit to enable us to make a spiritual connection with God. When this happens, God illuminates his Word so that it becomes relevant to specific circumstances.
2:12-15 The spirit of the world can’t help you, for spiritual truth isn’t taught by human wisdom (2:12-13). Worldly thinking doesn’t have access to the things of God. Using it to discern them is like trying to connect your television to a signal when you don’t have the right equipment. All you get is static. Similarly, a person without the Spirit (an unbeliever) cannot receive what comes from God. It appears to be foolishness to him because it can only be evaluated spiritually (2:14).
The great news is that this divine insight is freely given to us who believe (2:12). God earnestly wants to personalize his revelation to you through his spiritual illumination. Yet it requires being a spiritual person so that you may evaluate everything from a spiritual perspective (2:15). Though all believers have received the Holy Spirit, not every believer operates as a “spiritual person” because it requires evaluating things in accordance with Scripture and with openness to the Spirit’s illuminating work. Such a person cannot be evaluated by anyone (2:15)—that is, it will be obvious to those who don’t know God that a spiritual person doesn’t approach life like everyone else does.
2:16 Paul poses a rhetorical question (quoting again from Isaiah): Who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct him? The answer is obvious: no one! God doesn’t need an education; he certainly doesn’t need human counsel. On the other hand, we definitely need his instruction and perspective. That’s why he’s given believers the mind of Christ, the capacity to think Christ’s thoughts after him, so that we will live life as we ought.
3:1-4 Unfortunately, the Corinthians hadn’t been operating like spiritual people but like people of the flesh (3:1). Rather than living from a spiritual perspective, they continued to live in accordance with their pre-salvation worldview. In a word, they were worldly (3:3; or, as the KJV translates it, “carnal”). They were saved, but not living in light of the spiritual realm into which they had been adopted.
They were like babies in Christ. They couldn’t eat the solid food—that is, acquire the spiritual discernment based on Scripture—that Paul wanted to give them. Instead they could only handle spiritual milk (3:1-2)—that is, the gospel message and the doctrinal ABCs of the faith (see Heb 5:11-14). Since there had been approximately a five-year gap between Paul’s visit to Corinth and this letter, we can conclude that a new believer can attain a basic level of spiritual maturity in five years, if he or she prioritizes spiritual development.
Babies need milk. However, if a five-year-old is still consuming nothing but milk, there’s a problem. Christian maturation is required to avoid stagnation. Without spiritual growth, believers will continue to live as they did before coming to Christ. They will operate from a worldly and earthly perspective and behave like mere humans (i.e., unbelievers), rather than spiritual people. How did Paul know that the Corinthians were acting this way? Because they were dividing themselves into factions behind various leaders (Paul, Apollos, etc.), causing nothing but envy and strife among themselves (2:3-4; see 1:10-13). This is worldliness at its worst!
A spiritual person seeks to think about a matter as Christ would think (see 2:16)—he or she is biblically informed and spiritually illumined—and then applies that perspective to life decisions. Without such an orientation, life will lead to chaos at the personal, family, and church levels.
3:5-9 Although the Corinthians were aligning themselves with personalities in the church, Paul explains the futility of such an outlook. Apollos and Paul and all the other teachers were mere servants, each exercising the role that the Lord [had] given him (3:5). Paul’s task had been to plant a spiritual seed, while Apollos’s job was to water. But God was the one who gave the growth (3:6). If believers were to align themselves with anyone, then, it should have been with the Lord—not with his servants. Paul and Apollos were coworkers with legitimate labor from God, but they were not the Corinthian church’s source (3:8-9). Their source of spiritual life and growth was God.
3:10-11 Living as a Christian is like constructing a building. Paul was a skilled master builder in his spiritual construction work among the Corinthians (3:10). By preaching the gospel to them, Paul had laid the necessary foundation—that is, Jesus Christ himself (3:11). But he warns the Corinthians (and us) that each must also be careful how he builds on that foundation (3:10).
A sturdy foundation is essential. And spiritually speaking, the only one you want to build on is Jesus because he paid top dollar, so to speak, to save you from your sins so that you might have eternal life and fellowship with God. If you have trusted in him, beware what you build. For God will call you to give an account for it.
3:12-15 Continuing his construction metaphor, Paul mentions two different kinds of building material. On the one hand, there are valuable and lasting materials: gold, silver, costly stones. On the other, there are inferior and feeble materials: wood, hay, or straw (3:12). Whichever a person decides to use, the results will become obvious (3:13). To seek to obey God’s Word and be faithful with what he has given you is to build wisely using precious metals and stones. But to disregard his Word and live for yourself is to build foolishly using worthless materials. Such work just won’t stand the test.
The day will disclose everyone’s work (3:13)—that is, “the day” when Christians stand before the judgment seat of Christ (see 2 Cor 5:10). Under the revealing gaze of the Lord Jesus, the quality of our work will be tested by fire to determine our level of loss or rewards (3:13). Those whose deeds and faithfulness withstand the flames will receive a reward (3:14). But anyone whose work is burned up . . . will experience loss before Christ. Though he himself will be saved . . . as through the fire of Christ’s judgment seat, he will receive nothing to show for a life that should have been lived for God. Don’t give God your leftovers; give him the best you’ve got to offer. This passage affirms the eternal security of unfaithful believers who enter heaven with little or nothing to show in terms of service to God and his kingdom.
3:16-17 Paul wants the Corinthians to take seriously what they were doing (the you here is plural in the original Greek text). They were not their own. As the church of Jesus Christ, they were in fact God’s temple, indwelt by the Spirit of God (3:16). To bring harm upon the church through illegitimate division or false doctrine would result in God’s temporal judgment because God manifests his holy presence among his people (3:17). It is no small thing in God’s eyes to bring destruction upon his church (see Acts 5:1-11).
3:18-20 Paul wants no one to deceive himself by operating according to mere human wisdom. Better to become a fool in the world’s eyes in order to become wise in God’s (3:18). The wisdom of the world, which considers everything from an earthly perspective and has no place for a supernatural view of reality, is foolishness with God (3:19). You can call it “wisdom,” if you like, but if a worldview disagrees with God’s view of things, it’s nothing but folly.
Paul points to Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11, which articulate the truth that our infinite Creator’s thoughts are far superior to the craftiness and reasonings of those whom the world considers wise (3:19-20). The Lord is able to turn their supposed wisdom on its head and use it against them. True wisdom is in God’s hands alone.
3:21-23 In light of these truths, Paul urges the Corinthians to cease boasting in human leaders (3:21). They shouldn’t exalt one leader over another because God had given all of these teachers to them for their good. They belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God (3:23). Therefore, as Paul says earlier, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1:31).
4:1-2 Paul encourages the church to think of these teachers as servants of Christ and managers of the mysteries of God (4:1) rather than placing them on pedestals. After all, they’re accountable to the Lord Jesus for all they do. If all managers must be found faithful (4:2), how much more true is it that managers of the gospel message must be faithful proclaimers of that message and representatives of their Master?
Regardless of whether or not you serve in full-time Christian ministry, if you have believed in Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for your sins, you are to live as a full-time Christian and, therefore, as a servant of Christ. You are called to operate under his authority, to be faithful to your King’s agenda.
4:3-5 Since Paul was ultimately accountable to God, it mattered little to him how he was judged by the Corinthians or by some human court. God has higher standards than people do! Paul didn’t even attempt to judge himself (4:3). Although he did not detect any selfish motives on his own part, that fact was irrelevant because the Lord is the one who judges (4:4). At the judgment seat of Christ, he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness; he will reveal the intentions of the hearts. Therefore, premature judgment must be set aside (4:5). Sin-scarred human beings can’t perfectly assess the motives of others (or even their own!). Only God knows all of the facts and can render a perfect and righteous judgment.
4:6 Paul had spoken of himself and Apollos as “managers” and “servants” (4:1) so that the Corinthians could learn from them. He didn’t want them favoring one leader or minister over another as they had been doing. Instead, they were not to go beyond what is written—that is, everything they thought, said, and did was to be rooted in and derived from God’s authoritative, inerrant Word. Scripture is sufficient; worldly opinions are not.
4:7 The Corinthians had been acting arrogantly. But Paul confronts their attitude: Who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? Mere human wisdom had led them to exalt themselves over one another. But they had blinded themselves to the truth that everything they had was from God. So why would they boast as if they had achieved anything on their own? God’s stewards and managers must never think or act like owners. Kingdom stewards faithfully manage the time, talents, and treasures that God has given them to oversee on his behalf.
4:8 Believers in Jesus Christ are to be marked by humility; exaltation comes from the Lord when we humble ourselves (see Jas 4:10). But the Corinthians insisted on immediate exaltation—without humility, trials, or pain. They wanted to reign as kings who needed nothing, when actually they were behaving foolishly. Those who live in pride and self-sufficiency do not submit to the divine King who requires that we live in dependence on him to experience his blessing.
4:9-13 Paul contrasts himself and other apostles with the Corinthians. Though the apostles had lived in meekness and been treated shamefully, the Corinthians acted like they owned the world. They had forgotten what Jesus told his disciples: “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Jesus himself experienced suffering and rejection. Similarly, Paul and his coworkers were treated like the scum of the earth by the world (4:13). Yet the Corinthians expected nothing but the best for themselves.
Is your assessment of what it means to live as a disciple of Christ based on the Bible? Or is it based on worldly assumptions and viewpoints? Are you willing to be dishonored for Christ? Or do you expect to be distinguished and admired (4:10)? If you are reviled or slandered for your Christian faith, do you respond graciously (4:12-13), or do you repay evil with evil?
4:14-15 Although his words likely stung them, Paul wasn’t seeking to shame them. Rather, he had been motivated by love. As a father to his children, he wanted to warn the Corinthian Christians of the spiritual danger in which they had put themselves (4:14). Sometimes parents must speak hard and painful truth into their kids’ hearts to awaken them out of their lethargy and point them to wisdom. And Paul wasn’t merely pretending to be a father figure. He had actually served as their spiritual father, preaching the gospel to them so that they had experienced the new birth and eternal life through Jesus Christ (see Acts 18:1-11). So regardless of how many Christian instructors had taught them since, there was only one man who had brought the Corinthians to faith in Christ through his ministry, and he had their best interests and their spiritual development at heart (4:15).
4:16-17 Therefore, Paul urges them to imitate him (4:16). In him, they had a good model of what it looks like to submit to God’s kingdom agenda. It was for this reason that Paul had sent Timothy to the Corinthians (4:17). Like them, Timothy had Paul as a spiritual father (see commentary on Acts 16:1). So if anyone could serve as a visible reminder and validator of the humble life and ministry of Paul, it was Timothy.
Are you able to encourage others to imitate your Christian life? Do you place faithfulness to God above your personal satisfaction so that in essence you can say to others (perhaps to your children), “Follow me and, inasmuch as I follow Christ, do what I do”?
4:18-21 Paul recognizes that some individuals in the Corinthian church were arrogant and acting like Paul was all talk and no action (4:18-19). Yet he assured them that he would go to them, not merely for a chat, but to demonstrate the kingdom of God (4:20), which is accompanied by visible power and authority, not merely verbal declarations (see Matt 16:19). Paul understood that a loving father must correct his children. As the spiritual father of this church and an apostle of Jesus Christ, he was obliged to visit them with a rod of discipline if they refused to repent. However, he much preferred to go to them in a spirit of gentleness (4:21). He desired that they would be convinced by the truth of his words and the conviction of the Holy Spirit so that he didn’t have to resort to extreme measures.
B. Immorality and Settling Disputes in the Church (5:1–6:20)
5:1 The attitude of arrogance in the Corinthian church was unfounded. And Paul points to “exhibit A” to explain why: It was reported to him that there was sexual immorality among them. Moreover, it was a level of sexual sin that was not even tolerated among the Gentiles (that is, among unbelievers). So, even as depraved as the city of Corinth often was, the non-Christians there would at least draw the line at the kind of immorality taking place in the church! A man from their congregation was sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul doesn’t say that it was the man’s mother, so the implication is that she was his stepmother. We know that the woman was unsaved and not a part of the church because Paul only concerns himself with the actions of the man.
5:2 Not only was Paul shocked by the sin, but he was also shocked by the fact that the Corinthians were arrogant instead of grieved. The church was bragging about all its supposed greatness instead of mourning over its sin. They were like a person who goes to the doctor, learns that he has a malignant cancer, and then proceeds to boast about his good looks, personality, and bank balance. In view of such a diagnosis, what matters is removing the cancerous tumor from the body, and that’s what Paul urges: remove from your congregation the one who did this.
One of the marks of a true and spiritually healthy church is how it deals with sin—particularly, an ongoing pattern of rebellious behavior against God. When you hear about a fellow Christian entrapped in a web of sin, does it break your heart and cause you to seek to rescue them (see Jas 5:19-20)? Or does it prompt you to pick up your phone and gossip? As Paul explains later in the letter, members of the church are part of the body of Christ and should “have . . . concern for each other” (see 1 Cor 12:25).
5:3 Frequently, people quote Jesus’s words: “Do not judge” (Matt 7:1). But when Jesus said this, he wasn’t saying that his followers were never to judge. He was warning them not to use a self-imposed standard to judge others; such people will find that their hypocritical standard will be used against them (see Matt 7:2). Paul tells the Corinthians that he had already pronounced judgment on this particular man. Why? Because his was a serious and public sin that required public judgment. Not only did everyone in the church know about it, but also people outside the church. And while the believers weren’t called to judge anyone’s motives, they were to judge this man’s actions.
Some people might say, “What a man does is his own business.” No, what a professing believer does is God’s business because it’s his church. And it’s the church’s business because we are a family. If a member of your family is physically sick or injured, you wouldn’t simply say, “That’s his business.” Rather, the problem is family business.
5:4-5 What was the Corinthian church to do? They were to gather in the name of our Lord Jesus and with the power of our Lord Jesus (5:4). That means they were to act on Jesus’s behalf, under his authority, to exercise his kingdom power. Then they were to hand over this man to Satan—that is, excommunicate him from the church, so that God’s covenant protection was removed from his life. With that umbrella gone, the man would have no defense against the devil’s schemes. But the goal of this move was not punitive. Rather, the goal was for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (5:5). In other words, Paul wants the man to be driven to repentance and even allows the devil to be used as the instrument to accomplish this so that the man could be delivered from this sin before facing Christ’s judgment seat.
5:6 Paul uses a baking metaphor to explain the consequences of not dealing with serious sin in the church: Don’t you know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough? To put it another way, one bad apple will spoil the whole barrelful. Or, to use another analogy, you need to treat cancer before it metastasizes and spreads throughout the body. Paul was telling them that sin, left unchecked, would harm the entire congregation. Consider the account of Israel at the battle of Ai (see Josh 7:1-26). The sin of one man (Achan), who lived among God’s people, cost other men their lives and resulted in the temporary loss of victory for the entire congregation.
5:7-8 The mention of leaven leads Paul to point to Israel’s exodus experience as an illustration. The Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on their doorframes so that the angel of death would pass over them when the Lord brought judgment on Egypt’s firstborn. In addition, the Israelites were to remove leaven from their homes and eat unleavened bread for seven days as a reminder of their hurried departure from Egypt (see Exod 12:1-28).
Paul tells the Corinthians that Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover lamb. He was sacrificed to protect them from judgment. Furthermore, leaven is symbolic of sin. So just as the Israelites were to rid their homes of all leaven, so the Corinthians must clean out the old leaven so that they might be a new unleavened batch (5:7). In other words, sin—the old way of life—must be left behind so that the church can live as the new people we are in Christ and not as the old people we were. One person’s sin (leaven) can hinder or stop God’s blessing for everyone. Therefore, we must discard the leaven of malice and evil so that we may live with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (5:8).
5:9-11 The Corinthians should have known better than to ignore this church member’s sexual immorality (5:1). For Paul reminds them of a previous letter he had written in which he told them not to associate with sexually immoral people (5:9). By this he did not mean the immoral people of this world—that is, unbelievers. After all, we all have to together live in the world. We will inevitably encounter sinners—those who are greedy and swindlers or idolaters. We can’t leave the world (5:10). Rather, Paul says, Christians are not to associate with an unrepentant person engaged in these sins who claims to be a Christian brother or sister (5:11).
Unbelievers are expected to live as unbelievers. But those who consider themselves part of God’s people are expected to live as God’s people. This doesn’t mean that Christians never sin. Instead, it means that clear patterns of sin are not acceptable and must be confronted. To call oneself a child of God and live like a child of the devil is a contradiction.
If a so-called brother refuses to repent of such actions, Paul insists that the church must put him out (excommunication; 5:4-5) and not associate with him—that is, engage in intimate social fellowship with him. They’re not even to eat with him (5:11). This doesn’t mean you can’t speak to the person, or that you are to treat him cruelly. Instead, it means you are not to treat him like a fellow Christian when he is showing contempt for God and for his people by ignoring the divinely prescribed process of church discipline (see Matt 18:15-18). In other words, we must not treat someone who is sick as if he is well. To do so is unloving.
5:12-13 It is not the church’s business to judge outsiders—unbelievers (5:12). God will deal with them (5:13). But the church is called to judge its own, to judge those who are inside (5:12; see 1 Pet 4:17), for the good of the sinning member, the purity of the church, and the glory of God. Churches that refuse to lovingly and clearly address unrepentant sin are not functioning as biblically centered, New Testament churches. Therefore, they are limiting or negating God’s powerful presence in their midst.
The local church is to be a hospital for the sick, a place where sinners can come to be healed. Indeed, we must welcome the sick and never keep them away. But what the church must not do is allow the sick to be content with being sick. When we do that, we cease to be a hospital and devolve into a hospice that simply makes people comfortable in their sin.
6:1-3 Paul next addresses the issue of how Christians should handle disputes with one another. The Corinthians were taking their disputes to the local courts to be tried before the unrighteous rather than before the saints in the church (6:1). But Paul insists that such problems should be settled among the church family; after all, Christians are not to live as adversaries. He reminds them that believers will one day judge the world when they reign with Christ (see Rev 20:4-6). If Christians will participate in worldwide judgment—including judging (fallen) angels—then surely they can handle trivial cases among themselves (6:2-3).
6:4-6 Rather than Christian brothers taking one another to a secular court before unbelievers with no standing in the church (6:4, 6), every local church should have a church court of sorts. Wise, spiritual church leaders should arbitrate between fellow believers (6:5). This enables a body of believers to bring God’s point of view to bear on specific situations in order to settle disputes between members and provide resolution. To do otherwise brings shame on God’s people (6:5). To call on unbelievers to arbitrate disputes between Christians—those who have been reconciled to God and to one another—hinders the proclamation of the gospel and reputation of the church before the world.
6:7-8 As far as Paul was concerned, when believers engage in legal disputes against one another before the world, they’ve already lost. Better to be wronged than to experience spiritual loss by engaging in such shameful behavior (6:7). Instead, they were wronging and cheating their brothers and sisters (6:8). Their actions did not bring God glory in the eyes of unbelievers but brought division to the church.
6:9-11 Paul reminds them that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom, as he lists various sinful lifestyles (6:9-10). To inherit God’s kingdom is more than entering it, the latter being by faith alone in Christ alone. Inheritance has to do with the kingdom rewards and blessings to be received or lost by believers at the judgment seat of Christ based on our obedience and faithfulness (see 2 Tim 2:12; Heb 12:16-17). Paul further reminds the Corinthians that some of them once practiced these things (some of you used to be like this). But, by the grace of God, they had been washed (cleansed of guilt by the blood of Jesus), sanctified (spiritually set apart to God), and justified (declared righteous before God) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (6:11). Thus, they were called to live in a way reflecting the reality of what God had done for them.
6:12 Everything is permissible for me was a slogan spoken by the Corinthians that they used to justify and rationalize their immorality. Paul counters it by telling them that “permissible” things aren’t necessarily beneficial. Christian freedom should never be used to sin or harm fellow believers. Moreover, there’s a danger of being mastered by such things—that is, becoming slaves to them. Liberty becomes detrimental when it negates the law of love—whether to another person or to yourself by bringing you into bondage.
6:13-17 Like the statement in 6:12, this one was probably also a Corinthian slogan: Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food. It conveys the idea, “I’ve got a bodily appetite, so I need to satisfy it.” The problem was that the Corinthians extended this argument beyond just eating. Some were arguing that sexual cravings also needed to be satisfied—even by visiting pagan temple prostitutes (6:15)! However, Paul would have none of that kind of thinking: The body is not for sexual immorality. God created sex for procreation and intimacy between a husband and wife within the covenant bond of marriage. Our bodies are not our own to do with as we please but are for the Lord (6:13). What we do with them, then, is not irrelevant and is to be determined by the Lord. After all, God raised up the body of the Lord Jesus and will one day raise the bodies of believers by his power (6:14).
Furthermore, our bodies are a part of Christ’s body—that is, the church is in spiritual union with him. To sexually unite with a prostitute is to be illegitimately one body with her. According to Genesis 2:24, when a man and woman are joined sexually in marriage, they legitimately become one flesh (6:16). Thus, to engage in prostitution or any other sexually immoral relationship is to make Christ and his body (the church) part of an illegitimate union (6:15). And that’s exactly what happens when a person is both joined to a prostitute and joined to the Lord (6:16-17). We should never make our Savior part of such an unrighteous union!
6:18 Paul’s exhortation is brief and to the point: Flee sexual immorality! Sexual sin is unique because by joining sexually to someone other than one’s spouse, a person enters into an illegitimate one-flesh union (see 6:16) and sins against his own body. This, in fact, is why people experience emotional, psychological, and spiritual scars as a result of sexual sin.
6:19-20 Then Paul comes to the capstone of his argument: Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? (6:19). A Christian’s body is a house of worship; therefore, sexual immorality brings such sin directly into God’s presence! When you have sex, you are going to church. The Lord is present when a husband and wife experience physical intimacy too (see commentary on Songs 5:1), but sexual pleasure within marriage brings God glory because it honors his design for sex. Sexual immorality, in whatever form it takes (adultery, fornication, homosexuality, pornography, etc.), makes a mockery of God’s design.
Since, then, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, you are not your own, but Jesus Christ bought you with his own blood. We are not owners but stewards of our bodies. God will call everyone to account for how they manage their sexuality. So, glorify God with your body (6:20).