Exposition of 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Drawing a line in the sand

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

9 I wrote to 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 to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

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 person from among you.”

Part of the problem with the arrogance and boasting by certain Corinthians was apparently related to their (deliberate?) misinterpretation of a previous letter Paul had written to them. In that previous letter he had told them not to associate with sexually immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9), yet they are tolerating a man in the church cohabiting with his stepmother. Paul now reiterates and clarifies his previous remarks.

Paul’s previous instruction was “not to mix indiscriminately with” (Anthony Thiselton, 409) sexually immoral people. But it should have been apparent that he was not referring to having casual contact with unbelieving people in society who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters (1 Cor. 5:10a). David Garland tells us, “Sexual immorality was ubiquitous in the Greco-Roman world. So too were greed and idolatry.”[1] To avoid all such people, “you would have to leave this world” (1 Cor. 5:10b) a phrase which can mean to die!

Instead, Paul’s letter actually meant and he now makes explicit not to associate with those who claim to be Christians yet are sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5:11). So far, so good, but for us today “greedy” is a harder standard. Gordon Fee explains, “The ancient world, both pagan and Judeo-Christian, had a special loathing for avarice that hundreds of years of legitimized greed in our culture have mitigated.”[2] Anthony Thiselton says concerning greedy people in Corinth, “This corresponds precisely with the social analysis of Corinthian society . . . that many at Corinth were obsessed the ambition to achieve, i.e., to gain more social status, power or wealth.”[3]

The meaning of “idolater” is plain enough. “Slanderer” is a bit harder; Thiselton says that in this context the Greek word “refers to people who cannot open their mouths without putting others down in a way which causes hurt and implies a scornful, superior attitude on the part of the speaker.”[4] I hope no one’s face springs to mind!

Since the word “drunkard” (1 Cor. 5:11) is used in a wine culture, we must take pains to see what it meant at that time and place. Fee says that in this context the word refers to “that kind of person who is regularly given to drunkenness and the various forms of carousing with which it is associated.”[5] Thiselton points out that drunkenness precludes the expression of love for others, which is a hallmark of Christian identity.

The term “swindler” (1 Cor. 5:10 and 5:11) is more subtle and interesting; it refers to those who exploit others in a way to gain disproportionate wealth. Imagine someone in a coastal city who knows a hurricane is coming and marks up the price of their plywood panels by 500%. Thiselton says, “This, once again, may reflect the entrepreneurial culture at Corinth, whereby to get rich quick and to knock others off the ladder was the name of the game. . . . Paul means someone who kicks others down the ladder in order to advance upward at any price.”[6]

Eating with others meant more than just friendship in ancient Corinth. The act created a social bond in the eyes of the community. For a Christian to be seen eating with someone actively involved with blatant immorality would undercut the witness of the church, so Paul rules that out (1 Cor. 5:11).

The discerning reader will realize that all these descriptions require making judgments about who falls into these categories. Someone might think this violates what Jesus says about judging others in Matthew 7:1-2, but that is not the case. Jesus was advocating that judgments be made with fairness and mercy, and, when that is done, some still turn out to be dogs (Matt. 7:6) and pigs (Matt. 7:6) or even false prophets and wolves (Matt. 7:15).

Though 1 Cor. 5:12 has two rhetorical questions, those actually amount to statements. These statements revolve around two similar Greek words: exo(outside) and eso(inside). God will judge those outside the church (1 Cor. 5:13), but each church is responsible to judge those inside the church. Thiselton pointedly says, “Against the laissez-faire [anything goes], consumerist culture of today, Paul asserts that to become part of the Christian community is explicitly to place oneself under the discipline of a Christian lifestyle.”[7] That being so, the wicked man cohabiting with his stepmother must be banished!

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 185.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 224.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 411.

[4] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 414.

[5] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 226.

[6] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 411, 414.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 417.

Exposition of Romans 2:21-23, Talk the talk; walk the walk

Whether true or not, one common charge made by non-Christians is that Christians are hypocrites those who say one thing and do another. While this charge is often a flimsy excuse for not dealing with God, there is, sad to say, some truth in it. How does our failure to match faith and practice reflect on God?

(ESV) Romans 2:21-23

you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.

The previous lesson (on Romans 2:17-20) looked at the positive advantages the Jews had received due to their possession of the Law of Moses and the covenants. In the Scripture for today, Paul shows how these advantages transform into a profound problem when the Jews are judged against the standards they so proudly proclaim.

In relation to the four questions posed by 2:21-22, Douglas Moo observes: “They expose the Jew who has made the lofty claims of vv. 17-20 as inconsistent and hypocritical, as failing to practice what he preaches. . . . All the privileges, distinctions, and gifts that the Jew may claim are meaningless if they are not responded to with a sincere and consistent obedience.”[1] This is exactly what Jesus said as well: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you — but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matt. 23:2-3).

Those who consider themselves teachers of the law must first learn from the law themselves (2:21a). But Paul alleges they fail in three areas, of which the first is stealing (2:21b). These sentences are constructed in a jarring Greek word order: “preach not to steal [you-singular] steal.” The two verbs meaning steal are placed side-by-side in Greek for rhetorical punch.

In effect, Paul says there should be a difference between those who possess the law of God and those who do not. Yet when he looks among the Jews he sees the same types of sins he sees among the Gentiles. These same accusations against the Jews were also being made by Jewish teachers in Paul’s time.

Paul wraps up his point in 2:23 by saying that those Jews who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking it. The italicized word is the same one Paul used in 1:24 for those who dishonored their bodies when driven by various lusts.

Humility is warranted!

For every Christian who shielded a Jew from the Nazis, there was another who handed a Jew over for death. We who claim to love the living God through Jesus Christ must remember to do so humbly in light of our failings. While Paul is dealing with the Jews in this lesson’s Bible passage, he could just as well have spoken about us!

1. In speaking of the failings of others, we must always show grace and mercy in light of our own failings (Matt. 7:15). Can you recall recent examples when you did not show mercy in this way? What might you do to better honor the Lord? Personal judgments are regularly required (e.g. discipline of children, choosing a babysitter or doctor), and Jesus did not forbid those (Matt. 7:6 includes some). What experience do you have at getting it right?

2. If you took a searching look at yourself  similar to what Paul did with the Jews  what would you find about how your behavior honors God?

Making judgments is never easy, but the only way we can make sure that our lives honor Jesus Christ is to examine ourselves in relation to biblical teaching and listen to counsel from mature believers. Then we can walk the walk and talk the talk — all for Jesus!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 163.

Exposition of Romans 2:14-16, Conscience-judged behavior sometimes pleases God

The fact that all people are sinners does not mean they are as bad as they could possibly be. Sometimes conscience — given by God in creation — may guide even the unsaved to meet God’s requirements in limited situations.

It is a mistake to elevate ourselves by demonizing others. Sometimes they get it right and we do not.

(ESV) Romans 2:14-16

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:14 clearly says one thing: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires. What is less clear is how to position the phrase “by nature.” English translations all agree with ESV that by nature modifies the verb “do.” Other authorities think Paul is saying that Gentiles “do not have the law by nature,” letting by nature modify the verb “have.” While the former view seems more likely, the real point is not lost either way: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires.

Douglas Moo correctly summarizes: “Paul pursues his policy of putting the Jews and Gentiles on the same footing. The Jew does not have in the law a decisive advantage when it comes to knowing and doing the will of God, Paul suggests; for Gentiles have some of the same benefits.”[1]

Looking at the Gentiles, Paul says (2:15) that the work of the law, the conscience and the thoughts mix in a complex way that often accuses and sometimes excuses them. Grant Osborne says, “Their minds form a type of law court in which actions are judged.”[2] But it is vital to realize that even within the court of their own minds the Gentiles are not exonerated; so, they will certainly stand guilty before a holy God.

C.E.B. Cranfield discusses the concept of conscience by saying, “The basic idea conveyed is that of knowledge shared with oneself.”[3] Sometimes this information is shared after the behavior and sometimes before; the verdict reached is by no means guaranteed to be the same that God would reach!

In Romans 2:16, Osborne correctly points out that Paul elsewhere uses “the day” to refer to the Day of the Lord at the end of history (e.g., Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6, 10).[4] No matter what Jews and Gentiles think about their own behavior, God has set a day when he will judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (2:16).

Romans 2:16b closely resembles Paul’s speech in Athens: “he [God] has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31, NET).

Humanity’s good is not good enough

The Jews have been busy justifying their own righteousness by wrongly relying on their possession of the law. The Gentiles have sometimes managed to meet God’s requirements as evaluated by their own conscience, but they too fall short.

1. Why do you think people spend so much effort justifying themselves and their group by comparison with other groups, races, classes, genders or ethnicities? How do people try the same thing with God?

2. If you were convinced that self-justification was futile, what would you do next to become acceptable to God?

Perhaps these questions seem contrived, but they are not. Various cultures have spent millennia trying to figure out how human works relate to acceptance before God. The sad thing is that our culture does not even want to know. By God’s grace, you can prove to be an exception!

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas). Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 151.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 70.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 159-160.

[4] Osborne, Romans, 70.