As we have seen, Paul’s forbidding the Christians in Corinth from taking fellow believers to secular courts over minor issues is not based on our having no rights that can be infringed. Instead, he gives his commands based on the principle that believers must be willing to surrender their rights for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 6:1–7). In commenting on these verses, John Calvin also notes how we must be careful in how we pursue legal redress, since going to the civil authorities “is almost invariably accompanied with corrupt dispositions; as, for example, violence, desire of revenge, enmities, obstinacy, and the like.”
The Corinthians who were seeking civil action when in disputes with other believers were a problem, but that did not mean they were the only ones at fault. Paul does say in verse 8 that those seeking redress were being wronged and defrauded by their fellow believers. This mention of sin enables Paul in today’s passage to begin shifting to his next topic, which is sexual immorality in the church. Before he gets there in verse 12, however, he moves from his mention of sin in verse 8 to list a host of sins in verses 9–10 that exclude people from the kingdom of God, including various forms of sexual immorality.
A couple of observations about Paul’s list are in order. First, it is not exhaustive. Revelation 20:8, for instance, tells us that murderers are also barred from the kingdom of the Lord, but Paul does not mention them in today’s passage. The Apostle is giving a representative list of transgressors who will not enter God’s kingdom, perhaps mentioning the kinds of sins that the Corinthian believers were particularly apt to commit.
Second, Paul does not mean that anyone who has ever engaged in the forbidden behaviors will be condemned to hell. As commentators recognize, the Apostle refers to people who are defined by their sins. Paul is talking about people who are impenitently sexually immoral, engage impenitently in homosexual acts, impenitently get drunk, and so forth. In fact, people can be defined in the ways Paul lists in verses 9–10 only if they are impenitent. For example, a thief is not one who at one point in his life stole something but one who continues to steal and does not turn away from thievery to faith in Christ. Forgiveness and eternal life belong to anyone who has committed the listed sins but has turned to Jesus in faith, renouncing transgressions (John 3:16; 1 John 1:8–10).