7 September 20101 Corinthians 6:1-11
"Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And 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." (v.9-11)
The previous chapter of this letter dealt with the importance of
the Church judging those within its fellowship, and excluding those
with sinful patterns of life. The Corinthian church's failure to
act in anotorious case is now contrasted with
their equally blameworthy (in Paul's view) eagerness to go to court
against each other. One believer has apparently defrauded another,
who in response sued in the public court, bringing the church into
disrepute. Many of the early Christians were slaves, so the two
characters concerned were probably among the better off and
therefore prominent members of the church.
Paul doesn't argue that Christians ought not to behave like this, but merely mixes exclamations of horror, rhetorical questions and threat! This results in some doubts about how to punctuate the passage, since the original Greek offers no way of telling the difference between a statement and a question. But the gist is clear enough.
Underlying Paul's position is his view of the Church as an 'eschatological community', that is to say God's people who belong to the future age (or 'saints' for short), in which he expects them to share in judging people and angels (compare Daniel 7:22). In this sense, life in this world is relatively trivial and time should not be wasted on its institutions. The Church should resolve its own disputes.
Both the fraud and the response of the victim to it are wrongs. And in verses 9 to 10 Paul issues a strong warning against a wide range of sinful practices which have no place in the kingdom of God, so no room for those who persist in them. But - as always with the Christian gospel (the good news of Jesus) - the warning is then balanced with the hope-inspiring reminder that the work of Christ and the continuing work of the Spirit have freed believers from such lifestyles.
Most of the behaviours in the list are self-explanatory and need to be interpreted broadly: so, for example, "fornicators" covers every kind of sexual immorality, and "idolaters" all those who place anything before God in their affections. But the words translated "male prostitutes, sodomites" have been subject to much speculation, though probably the best meaning in modern terms is "rent boys, paedophiles". This passage, therefore, is not one from which we can deduce Paul's view of homosexual relationships between consenting adults.
We now realise the age of the kingdom of God was not as close as Paul thought when he advised churches to construct a life that avoided 'this-worldly' institutions. To what extent should Christians today sit lightly to worldly politics, and to what extent ought they be committed to the effectiveness of its institutions?
What signs are there that we may have become too wedded to the values of this age rather than the age to come?
In what instances is it indeed better to suffer wrong from a fellow-Christian than to wash dirty linen in public? When might going to court be the right thing to do?