The Sins Paul Warns the Church About in 1 Corinthians 6

Shifting his focus back from our response to sin within the body (and how we should not bring these matters for judgment before the unbelievers), Paul now returns to the matter of sin itself. He lists out certain behaviors that, like treating the courts as though they are the highest authority, are inconsistent with the life to which Christ has called us.

Paul has already met head on the issues of divisions, jealousy, and strife in the church. Also, the issue that everyone has reported to him of a man sleeping with his father’s wife has been addressed. Now in chapter six he presents a longer lists of sins.

It comes after a stern warning, “Do not be deceived.” We all have a great ability–great in its scope, not great in benefit–to deceive ourselves. It is an awful power that we have. We are skilled at rationalizing behaviors and thoughts, causing ourselves to believe what we do is right and appropriate. The world and its values can set the tone for what we come to think is right. There are even those in the church, in Paul’s day and in ours, that come along teaching something very different from what we see in Scripture. Paul often in his books is having to counter false teaching and warn them of its presence. So here he warns them not to be deceived and then reminds them of what is unrighteous behavior.

Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9–10)

Make no mistake about the type of town Corinth was. Paul indicates the Corinthians took part in this behavior as he follows this line by saying bluntly, “such were some of you.” These would be just the types of behaviors many were familiar with and had taken part in, and now they were likely to be tempted to fall back into old patterns. But also take note that Pauls says, “such were some of you,” indicating that old patterns were broken and healing was manifest in this community. All this because of what we read in the end of verse 11, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

This list is not unlike the sins that Paul lays out in Colossians 3:5,8.[1] In both places the list breaks down into two sections of five.[2] The first five in both places seem to relate to sexual sins, even with idolatry as “idolatrous worship in Corinth involved sacred prostitution with the priestesses of Aphrodite/Venus.”[3] The emphasis on sexual sin, both heterosexual sin and homosexual sin, clearly stems from the problems that are damaging the community of faith in Corinth that have come up in the previous chapter.

In both 1 Corinthians and Colossians the lists continue with another set of five. In 1 Corinthians 6 they are: thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers. This is a list tailored to this church as we have already read of their defrauding each other in the courts–a form of the first and last sins in the list. We haven’t read yet, but will in a later chapter, about their issues surrounding the communion table. In chapter 11 Paul mentions that some are getting drunk at the meal while others go hungry because other greedily take all the food. We can safely assume that a church that is already factious will most likely give way to insults (revilers) when excessive drinking is thrown into the mix. Ken Bailey summarizes how this list is so well-suited for this church:

Behind this list of ten sins lie aspects of three problems in the Corinthian church: stealing and their misuse of the courts, their sexual misconduct, and irregularities at their Eucharistic meals.[4]

Again Paul wants to remind them not of their sins, but of their former sins. He wants them to remember these as their past ways and focus on who has accomplished this work in them. If we are washed, sanctified, and justified, then we can be free from this sin.


  1. Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes. 176-77. ↩

  2. In many translations of 1 Corinthians 6 the the first five sins listed appear as four since two items in the list are often combined into one: homosexuality. The Greek reads, oute malakoi and oute arsenokoitai, which refers to two partners in a homosexual relationship.  ↩

  3. Bailey, 178. ↩

  4. Ibid, 179. ↩

Coming back to something familiar

Back in the winter our church began a church-wide small group which had as one of its theme verses Colossians 3:16. If you were a part of that study, did you notice it when you came back around to it? It’s only taken us a little over 6 months to stumble upon it again.

The segment that we memorized (can you still recall it?) was: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. The entire verse is: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Here is a snippet on this verse taken from a sermon that kicked off Year in the Bible back in March, focusing on what it means for God’s word to dwell richly:

If you dwell richly in your home, how is that different from dwelling poorly? To dwell richly would mean having the best. You wouldn’t live in a closet, but in the finest room. To dwell richly wouldn’t mean to spend an afternoon there. To dwell richly would mean to abide, to live into the space, to make it your own permanently.

The word of Christ dwelling richly in us is not too different. It is too be firmly established in us, given the best of our time. Christ’s words are to be a favored guest in us, not an unwelcome visitor. Christ’s words are to be a centerpiece of our lives, like the big fish hanging over your fireplace. Christ’s words are to be given your favorite chair, the place of honor at your dinner table. To let the word dwell is not so different from truly delighting in it, like in Psalm 1. We are pleased to spend time with God in his Word. We enjoy him in it, we seek him there. We ask him to dwell with us and we never show him the door.

I hope having spent these times with God in the Bible, you are learning more and more what these passage means. I hope your experience of dwelling in God’s word continues to bear fruit, and may it lead to our being clothed in the character of Christ, which we read in the verses just before 3:16.

More on Colossians 1

I put up the picture inspired by Colossians 1 on Monday, but I did so without explanation. So I thought today I’d talk more about what I see going on in the opening of the chapter. Paul writes beginning in verse three:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

You may have noticed by now that Paul likes to use long sentences. This is one good reason to slow down and make sure you’re understanding what he writes. The picture from Monday centers in on ‘hope’ and I did this because although it comes later in the passage, we hear that it is a cause for the faith and love about which Paul has heard. Their hope–their goal, their promise–spurs them on to have greater faith in Christ and to spread his love to others. Christians who journey toward the goal, who are bound to the hope we have in Christ, should exhibit in that journey the characteristics that arise from that hope: love and faith.

Later in verse five Paul tells of where this hope is found, that is in the word of truth, the gospel. These words have power as they have not only taken hold in these Colossian believers, but in the whole world. Where the gospel is sown it bears fruit and this fruit is faith, hope, and love.

The Colossians know what their end will be, they have their hope, and they are exhibiting the marks of followers of Christ, faith and love. But Paul then goes on to pray for them so that they may know best how to live. They are already trusting Christ and loving the saints, but he wants them to excel in it. Paul wants them to know what faith and love will continue to look like, so he writes:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

Christians surely know we should have faith, hope, and love. What can be difficult is having the wisdom to know not only the what but the how. This is Paul’s prayer. He wants them to know God’s will for them and to have the wisdom to discern how to follow his will. This is not an endeavor to begin alone so we need the strength of God’s power to endure this life, and to do so with patience and joy.

Even though Paul gives thanks to God when he thinks of his fellow Christians, for their love and faith, he reminds his reader that this is not something we’ve achieved on our own, rather it is the Father who has qualified us to receive all we have.

Keep reading Colossians and you’ll see a beautiful picture of Christ and what he has done for us, and how what he has done is sufficient for all we’ll ever need.