Associating with Non-Believers and Unrepentant Believers (5:9-10)Paul mentions a previous letter (which we do not have today), in which he explained how they should relate to unrepentant Christians. Now he reiterates his teaching, since they didn't seem to get it the first time.
"9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat." (5:9-11)
The topic here is who believers should associate with. "Associate with" (NIV), "keep company" (KJV) is synanamignymi, originally "to mix up together," here "to mingle, associate with,"142 "to keep company with, be intimate with."143 Western slang uses the expression "hang out with." We have dealings with all sorts of people during the day, but the people we spend our leisure time with -- that's what Paul is talking about. The same word is used in Paul's instruction to the Thessalonians.
"If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)
Paul gives two lists of sins -- one for unbelievers and a similar, but slightly longer one for believers. These aren't the only sins one should be concerned about, but they were the ones that characterized worldly life in Corinth. (I'm also including in this list the sins mentioned in 6:9-10, since many of them are the same as those listed here.)
Sins of Unbelievers (5:10)Sins of Believers (5:11)Sins in 6:9-10Sexually immoral144Sexually immoralSexually immoral Adulterers145 Male prostitutes Homosexual offendersGreedy146GreedyGreedySwindlers147SwindlersSwindlers ThievesIdolaters148Idolaters Slanderer149Slanderers Drunkard150DrunkardsPaul is saying that sincere Christians shouldn't "hang out" with Christians who don't practice their faith. To do so is to show approval of their lifestyle.
We Christians have a problem with Paul's teaching. We've been taught that Jesus went to parties of tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners, and when criticized for it, responded:
"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:31-32)
We've been told, "Judge not, that you not be judged" (Matthew 7:1). We've been told "not to cast the first stone" (John 8:7).
On the other hand, Jesus told his disciples that a person who refuses to repent when his sin is confirmed by the congregation is to be excluded. "Treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector" (Matthew 18:17). So which is it?
Does this mean we are to shun such a person in private dealings as well as in the church community? Perhaps not. 1 Thessalonians 2:15 says, "Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." But it is clear that such a brother isn't welcome at the church community gatherings.
"With such a man do not even eat." (5:11b)
Perhaps the idea here is the congregation's fellowship meals and partaking of the Lord's Supper together, as expressed by Jude:
"These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm -- shepherds who feed only themselves." (Jude 12a).
Later in this letter Paul comes back to the same issue:
"Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.' Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God -- I say this to your shame." (15:33-34)
It's not always easy to discern what God wants us to do. But here are some guidelines:
1. Love and restoration. We are to love people, even lapsed Christians. We are to seek to restore Christians who have sinned or fallen away.151
2. Spending time to minister. Sometimes, restoring those who have fallen away (or the lost) means spending time with them, enjoying their company. Jesus did this, but only with those who were open to his teaching (and their friends), not those who were hostile to his teaching. Jesus didn't join with them in their sin (Luke 5:29-32; 19:5-10). He also ate at the homes of proud Pharisees, but in each instance he took this as an opportunity to teach them (Luke 11:37-50; 14:1-14).
3. Not fellowshipping. When believers are so hardened that they reject appeals to repent from both fellow Christians and from the church body, then you are not to spend time with them -- except for regular business dealings that might be necessary.
Paul makes it clear that Christians are not to shun unbelievers.
"9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- 10 not at all meaning the people of this world.... In that case you would have to leave this world.... 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked man from among you.'" (5:9-10, 12-13)
We aren't called to judge unbelievers -- and tell them what bad sinners they are. However, preaching the gospel does include the good news of how a person can be transformed when he repents. The world has seen way too much judgmentalism from Christians!
So we must be careful as we live in this world. Love must be our guide -- with wisdom. Many Christians, with family members who are addicts, have had to learn what "tough love" means. In one sense, it can be similar to disfellowshipping an unrepentant member of the Christian family community. Jesus said,
"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd152 as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16)
Fee concludes (on the basis of reference to 1 Thessalonians 2:15) that,
"Paul's concern throughout does not seem to be that the church as individual members disassociate from the incestuous man, but that he be excluded from the community as it gathers for worship and instruction."153
However, Fee notes that this situation in Corinth and the one in Thessalonica may not be exactly parallel, and this situation might call for sterner discipline.
Finding the appropriate balance of remaining open, but no longer in close fellowship, may be difficult to find, but it is important to help the offending brother to take seriously that he has been excluded from the Christian community -- but still loved.
Q4. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) According to this passage, with which sinners should we be willing to associate? Why make a distinction between unbelievers and believers? What are the dangers of associating with unbelievers? What are the dangers of associating with unrepentant believers?
Available as a book in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats.This lesson has looked at the difficult questions of sexual immorality and the church's response to it. Dear friends, as we struggle with these issues, we must do so with compassion and humility. Our churches have absorbed from the world an unhealthy tolerance of sin. To get back to biblical standards and practices will take some careful teaching and change. And love, much love. What we don't want to become in our churches are a bunch of cold, uncaring Pharisees who are more concerned with external righteousness than the salvation of men and women who have been captured by sin.