1 Corinthians 5–6: Immorality & Greed

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 11: Sunday

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people; I did not at all mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the greedy and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or greedy, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler⁠—not even to eat with such a one.
1 Corinthians 5:9–10 LSB

In Sunday’s Bible reading of 1 Corinthians 5–6, Paul turns from dealing with jealousy and strife amongst the Corinthian Christians, to rebuking the immorality and tolerance of blatant, open sin in the church. As with their prideful behavior, in their sexuality and greed the Corinthians were living their lives according to the culture that surrounded them.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and sexual immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. And you have become puffed up and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
1 Corinthians 5:1–2 LSB

In 1 Corinthians 3–4: Jealousy & Strife, I looked at being puffed up and its companions of envy and jealousy. The Discovery Bible says the Greek word for puffed up is derived,

“from physa, “air-bellows”…properly, inflate by blowing; (figuratively) swelled up, like an egotistical person spuing out their arrogant (“puffed-up”) thoughts…graphically describes someone filled with himself, exuding unhealthy levels of self-importance.”1

Being puffed up causes problems between individuals, within a church group, and in the church at large. Paul uses the phrase six times in his letters, and five of the times he uses it are in this letter to the church at Corinth.

I am convinced this attitude was at the root of all the problems of the Corinthians: boasting about who baptized them (chapter 1), causing jealousy and strife (chapter 3), accepting immorality in their midst (chapter 6), bringing lawsuits against each other (chapter 6), being stumbling blocks to each other (chapter 8), and having divisions and factions (chapter 11). Paul’s lengthy discussion of conduct in worship and the use of gifts (chapters 11–14), with his chapter on love (chapter 13) in the middle, indicates his concerns that they leave old behavior behind and learn to love one another.

In 1 Corinthians 5–6 Paul first addresses immorality and their attitude towards it. The influence of the Corinthian culture on the church is clearly seen. Norman Hillyer writes,

“the pagan world blankets the whole of life in Corinth, and Paul has to deal extensively with the practical problems the Corinthian Christians were meeting every day. Purity was an odd novelty in the pagan world, and even more so in Corinth…

“The instability of the Corinthians is not surprising in view of the moral tensions in which their utterly anti-Christian religious and moral environment exposed them…Paul rarely suggests, however, that the divisions were doctrinal. It was rather that the Corinthians were behaving ‘just like men of the world’ (1 Cor. 3:3, Phillips).”2

Anthony Thiselton describes the cults and temples of Corinth: the world in which the Corinthian church lived.

“The…context is that of the influence of the cults of Aphrodite, Dionysus/Bacchus, Apollo, Isis and Serapis, and Poseidon at Corinth. Archaeological evidence not only establishes, but brings to life, the reality and impact of these cults, many with implications for sexual license for Corinth in its civic, cultural, and everyday life. Those who cite the visual impact of the hilltop of Acrocorinth, e.g., long associated with Aphrodite as the protector of the city, often allude to excesses in the earlier pre-Roman period. Nevertheless, the Roman period is far from innocent of this aspect, and archaeology offers abundance evidence of Graeco-Roman cults and images at every turn.”3

Temple of Apollo, Ancient Corinth, Greece.
Acrocorinth in the background.

Think for a moment about living as a Christian in the shadow of that mountain. It would be a reminder of the sin and death you had been delivered from by the Lord Jesus. It would underscore the importance of living a new life in obedience to Christ and being a light in the darkness to others. It could also bring back memories and temptations. Thiselton goes on to say:

“Six pagan temples dating from around the first century BC line the west side of the Agora, not far from the series for worship on the northern side, where Paul may have plied his trade as a leather worker during his eighteen months in the city…Yeo (following Williams and Engels) observes that “In Corinth [Aphrodite] was a god of sailors and sacred prostitution and the protectress of the city.” Hence business interests and trade were bound up in the welfare of the cult…

“As we have noted, the competitiveness and status-seeking at Corinth suggest parallels with early twentieth-first-century modern/post-modern cultures. Similarly, the cults of Aphrodite, Apollo, and Dionysus invited a “freedom” to dispense with moral restraint and to tolerate everything except any transcontextual truth claim which might interfere with an individual’s “rights” to instant self-gratification. All of this resonates with a postmodern ethic which is founded only on where society is at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”4

Hillyer writes that Corinth had a “notorious reputation for sexual license, which had spawned a new word, to “Corinthianize.”5 This sounds remarkably like today, doesn’t it?

Paul gives instructions to the Corinthians on expelling the man mentioned in 5:1, from the church. Many churches today are unused to the idea of church discipline. Too many consider that it is harsh and intolerant. Hillyer writes,

“Paul’s intention is clearly disciplinary and remedial, and ultimately for the man’s spiritual good.”6

Paul explains why it is important in his analogy of how a small amount of leaven can change an entire lump of dough.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, also was sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:6–8 LSB

For Christ, our Passover lamb, also was sacrificed. The Christians in Corinth had turned to Christ in repentance and belief. They have been forgiven their sins. Into the darkness of Corinth, the light of the gospel had come. They cannot go back to the malice and wickedness in which they previously lived. This is why Paul tells them:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or greedy, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler⁠—not even to eat with such a one.
1 Corinthians 5:11 LSB

This has nothing to do with self-righteousness or being unloving. Remember in the previous chapter Paul said,

I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.
1 Corinthians 4:14–16 LSB

Paul loves the people in this church. He lived among them, bringing many to Christ and teaching and working with them. Paul’s follow up in 2 Corinthians 2:1–13 indicates this.

The church at Corinth not only tolerated immorality, but they had brought lawsuits against each other, and wronged and defrauded their fellow believers. Paul warns them:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:9–10 LSB

Thistelton labels this list as “sexual” sins and “greed, grasping” sins.7

Paul reminds the Corinthians of who they are now because of their belief in the Lord Jesus:

And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:11 LSB

And such were some of you… but you were washed… but you were sanctified… but you were justified…That’s who you once were, but that’s not who you are now. Their identity is not in who they were. We are not to find our identity in our sins or label ourselves as such. We are not drunk Christians or greedy Christians or gay Christians. We are Christians. We are in Christ. As Paul later wrote the Corinthians, we are new creations in Christ. The old has passed away.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
2 Corinthians 5:17 LSB

That’s not to say we don’t struggle with sin, but that is not who we are (go back to Romans). We each have our own struggles and weaknesses. We are to love each other, and be a part of each other’s lives. We are vulnerable to sin when we feel isolated and unloved. This is especially true for those who are the only Christians in their family. We have a new family—God’s family—with brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to help and watch out for each other, speaking to one another when needed. Constant and true fellowship and support within the church helps keep us from sin. Paul wrote to the Galatians:

Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each of you looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:1–2 LSB

Love, as Paul will say in a few more chapters, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.

Paul has already said they are a sanctuary of God.

Do you not know that you are a sanctuary of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:16 LSB

He now repeats this as he closes chapter six with this warning:

Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:18–20 LSB

Remember those words: You are not your own; you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. We as Christians need to remember this and live accordingly.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Temple of Apollo, Ancient Corinth, Greece: Acrocorinth in the background. Public Domain.
1physióō, HELPS Lexicon, The Discovery Bible. Retrieved 05 March 2023.
2,5,6Norman Hillyer, “1 Corinthians,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 1049, 1049, 1058.
3,4,7Anthony C. Thistelton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapid MI: 2000) 738, 738–739, 451.

For more on the Bible and homosexuality, I recommend Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon’s site. Dr. Gagnon is Professor of New Testament Theology at Houston Baptist University and the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001; 520 pgs.) as well as other books and articles. As a service to the church, he provides a large amount of free material on the web dealing with Scripture and homosexuality. Background and general information are here. Online articles, and video and audio presentations are here.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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