Question #158

What does 1 Corinthians 5:11 mean?

I was wondering what your organization's interpretation of 1 Corinthians 5:11 was.

The Answer:

I am not sure what you mean by "your organization," but I will be happy to give you my own interpretation of that verse. The following discussion is from Lesson 8 of our series of lessons on 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 5:11-13 state: "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."

In the culture of that day and in many cultures today, eating with someone was an expression of friendship and partnership. In some cultures, if a man ate at your table, you were bound to treat him as a friend and partner.

To not offer food to a guest could be interpreted as a declaration of war. The parable of the friend at midnight in Luke 11:5-8 shows a host who was willing to incur the wrath of his neighbor to obtain food for his guest. It was an incredible reversal of established norms for Jesus to eat with tax collectors and sinners.

That eating in our culture does not carry the same weight does not mean that we can eat and socialize with the one being disciplined. In fact, it means just the opposite. In our culture we may have to do even more than just not eating to show the world that we do not accept the person's sinful lifestyle.

But again, if we never ate with the person or kept company with the person before he or she sinned, then our not doing it now is hardly going to tell the world anything about how we feel and it is hardly going to have much of an affect on leading the sinner to repent. Telling a person who doesn't much feel like he is part of the group that he is not part of the group is hardly going to shock him into repenting! The real shock might come if we made him part of the group before he sinned in the first place. It is not very effective when we have to preface the notice of our "withdrawal" by first introducing ourselves! We should pray that our congregation will have such a loving spirit that exclusion from our body would be viewed as a punishment able to lead someone to repentance.

Paul wants the Corinthians to know that fornication is not the only sin that the church must condemn, and it is not the only sin that might require church discipline. This is a lesson that many congregations today need to hear. We may be quick to withdraw from an openly unrepentant adulterer, but are we as quick to withdraw from an openly unrepentant character assassin or an openly unrepentant coveter?

The six sins in verse 11 encompass five areas of behavior -- sex, money, possessions, drink, and the tongue.

The church of Christ must be utterly distinctive in our behavior in these six areas. If any among us do not seek to remain distinctive in any of these areas, then Paul's command is clear -- they must be put away from among ourselves.

The world is watching us. The world loves nothing better than to shout "hypocrite" at a Christian. The world assumes that, if the truth were known, all Christians secretly lead lives exactly like their own. The world hopes that we live such lives, and the world is constantly looking for evidence that we do. Paul knew that if the world saw nothing distinctive about the church, then no one would obey the gospel -- and the same is true today.

Paul tells us that when it comes to judging we should be concerned with those inside the body, while leaving those outside the body for God to judge. Many it seems are busy judging those outside the church (which is God's job) while neglecting purity within the church.

The saints will get their chance to participate in the judgment of the world, but that will not happen until the last day. (6:2)

Paul's statement that we do not judge the world certainly did not keep Paul from condemning the sin out in the world. He did so frequently. (See Romans 1, for example.)

Does the verse say that God judges those outside or that God will judge those who are outside? The tense of the Greek verb depends on an accent mark, and the ancient manuscripts lacked accent marks. Translators are divided on the matter, but the difference is not significant. Whether judged today or judged at the last day, the judgment will be the same if they are apart from Jesus Christ.

The final instruction in verse 13 is a quotation from the book of Deuteronomy: "Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."

That phrase occurs in connection with six sins in Deuteronomy: (1) a false prophets who leads people astray (13:5), (2) a man or woman who begins to serve other gods (17:7), (3) a man caught stealing (24:7), (4) a woman given in marriage under the assumption she is a virgin when she is not (22:21), (5) a man who compels a betrothed virgin to lie with him (22:24), and (6) a malicious false witness (19:19).

These six examples from Deuteronomy have a remarkable parallel with the six sins mentioned by Paul.

God's command in such cases was clear -- purge the evil from your midst. The difference is that in the Old Testament the purging was done with stones!

In conclusion, the church must appear different because the church is different!

1 Peter 2:9-10 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)