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1 Corinthians 5:9–10

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.”

As Paul continues his guidance to the Corinthian church for dealing with the member who was in an incestuous relationship with his stepmother (1 Cor. 5:1–8), we come today to a passage that gives us more background for this letter. It also clarifies what it means for Christians to live properly in this world.

The Apostle tells the Corinthians that he told them something “in my letter” (v. 9). This can refer only to a letter that he sent previously to the Corinthian church, meaning the book of 1 Corinthians is not the first epistle that Paul ever wrote to the church at Corinth. It is the first of two divinely inspired letters to the Corinthians. We know that the Scriptures do not tell us everything that the Apostles ever said and did; rather, they contain only what is both divinely inspired and necessary for the church in the post-Apostolic age.

What did Paul tell them in the previous letter? “Not to associate with sexually immoral people” (v. 9). Here, in the qualification of this phrase, we find the clarification for what it means for believers to live properly in this fallen world. To “associate” means to have a close relationship with someone and to treat that person as a part of the community. Paul clarifies that this forbidden association pertains only to professing believers and not to the people of the world. In other words, we are not to have close, affirming relationships with people who profess to be Christian and yet live in heinous sin. However, we are not to withdraw from the world. We may have relationships with non-Christians engaged in serious sin. As John Calvin states, Paul “prohibits the Corinthians from holding Christian fellowship with those who, while professing to be believers, do, nevertheless, live wickedly and to the dishonor of God.”

Practically speaking, this does not mean we are to adopt worldly ways through our friendships with non-Christians. It also does not entail that we treat excommunicated believers as the dregs of society. Instead, we are to treat excommunicated believers as those who have not been converted, as those who need the gospel. We are to remind them, lovingly, that their way of life gives us no good reason to believe that they are Christians. But we are to love them just as we might love a relative who does not know the Lord (2 Thess. 3:13–15). We are to be ever open to them if they repent. At the same time, we are not to withdraw from the world entirely but to go to non-Christian sinners with the gospel.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Today’s passage illustrates the principle that we are to be in the world, not of the world. God does not expect us to withdraw into a Christian bubble but calls us to reach out to unbelieving friends and neighbors. This can be hard to do without adopting the ways of the world, so let us pray daily for God to preserve us from doing that. Let us also strive for purity in the church so that the world can see that Christians are distinct though they live in the world.


For Further Study
  • Leviticus 20:26
  • Deuteronomy 4:1–6
  • John 17:14–19
  • 1 John 2:15

Celebrating the New Passover

Purging Evil from the Church

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From the February 2021 Issue
Feb 2021 Issue