Sexual purity

Paul openly declared to Christians that they were expected to live differently than everyone else. He stated:

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 men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: 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. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)

Paul used three terms to describe the born-again Christian; washed, sanctified, and justified and implied that believers have a supernatural type of purity that can only be attained through the name of Jesus Christ and Spirit of God. According to Paul, believers are considered to be completely clean, innocent of all charges that might be brought against them that are of a spiritual nature. In other words, Christians are sin-free.

In spite of the believer’s purified state, Paul argued that restraint was necessary to ensure that a Christian’s purity was not compromised. He stated, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Paul’s reference to being brought under the power of any was likely meant to indicate spiritual bondage or demonic influence. I think Paul was trying to subtly suggest that sin and Satan go hand in hand; any door that we open through sin, Satan is likely to walk through.

Paul’s primary concern related to purity was fornication or sexual sin. He told the Corinthians, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20, ESV). Paul’s practical advice to the Corinthians was to get married if sexual temptation was an issue for them. He said, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

Paul instructed Christians that were married to stay married even if their spouse was not a believer. Paul’s argument for remaining in the marriage was that the unbelieving spouse could be influenced by the godly life of their Christian partner (1 Corinthians 7:14). The only exception to that rule was if the unbelieving spouse chose to abandon the marriage. Paul said, “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). In other words, Paul didn’t expect believers to live in conflict. Paul concluded with the statement, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:39-40, ESV).

A double standard

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians covered several topics that dealt with the distortion of his teaching about grace. Apparently, the Corinthian believers had interpreted God’s grace to mean they could do anything they wanted to and not be punished for it. Paul stated, “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much named amongst the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1). Fornication or porneia (por-ni’-ah) in the Greek was a general term that referred to all kinds of sexual sin including adultery and incest (G4202). Paul pointed out that these kinds of sin were not even considered acceptable behavior for unbelievers. Paul’s frustration with the situation seemed to be focused on the fact that the person that was committing incest was boasting about it in the church as if he was proud of the liberty he had to do such a thing. Paul instructed the Corinthians “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5).

Paul suggested a double standard was appropriate for judging Christian behavior. His comment “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:5) was probably meant as a stern warning against the acceptance of sinful behavior from a person that was born again. Paul explained that we shouldn’t expect unbelievers to act morally because they don’t have the means to do so, but Christians have the ability to overcome sin if they want to. He stated, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

Paul concluded that the best way to handle bad behavior in the Corinthian church was to excommunicate the person that was saved who was continually practicing sin. Paul’s instruction “to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” basically meant that this type of person shouldn’t have a spiritual support system. Outside the church, he would be open to satanic attack and demonic influence that might eventually drive him to a state of despair, and if he was truly saved, a point of repentance. Paul’s logic may have seemed unusually cruel or even barbaric, but it seems clear that he was extremely concerned about the negative influence this unrepentant believer was having on the Corinthian church. Paul stated plainly that believers should not associate with a person that calls himself a Christian, but habitually practices sin. He said, “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 a one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11).