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. In both places the list breaks down into two sections of five. 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.” 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.
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.
Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes. 176-77. ↩
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. ↩
Bailey, 178. ↩
Ibid, 179. ↩