1 Corinthians 6:9-11
March 4, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 15:05 in the audio file.
Or, So Much for Such Were Some of You
One big reason that many professing Christians treat other professing Christians so poorly is that they aren’t committed to their future. They may answer yes if asked, but they do not care that they are set to inherit the kingdom of God, so they must make sure to get what they can today. On his way to the bank to cash a gargantuan inheritance check, one brother is filing an e-lawsuit against another brother for taking a piece of gum without asking, or something like that.
Believers may not have confidence in their future because they do not appreciate what has happened to them in the past, that is, what Christ and the Spirit of God have done to/accomplished for them. Or they may have doubts because they are living in the present no different from the unrighteous culture surrounding them. There are a lot of ways to mess it up, and the Corinthians had tried many of them.
In the first part of chapter 6 Paul questions their practice of taking one another to court before unbelieving judges over petty disputes. They had no good justification for their grievances, for having grievances with their brothers, or seeking resolution from unbelievers. Paul writes that it is not right to go before the unrighteous. That’s a loss for Christians and an inconsistent testimony about our spiritual family. He reminded the Corinthians about their future: in Christ they will judge the world and angels, so they should be competent to figure out lesser matters.
In verses 9-11 he adds to his concern about how they were treating one another. Not only is it not right to go before the unrighteous, they must make sure that they are not behaving like the unrighteous. To do so is a lie about what it means to be a Christian and an inconsistent testimony about our spiritual reality. In this paragraph he reminds the Corinthians of their future: in Christ we will inherit the kingdom of God, so we don’t need to worry about lesser matters. We also shouldn’t act like “men of the world whose portion is in this life” (Psalm 17:14).
While I am partial to taking one paragraph at a time, this is obviously a short one. Not only that, it belongs with the first eight verses as fleshing out the nature of the unrighteous as a reason not to trust them to resolve our disputes. And, it really is short. Why leave it to consider by itself?
1 Corinthians addresses problems propagating in our culture, 20+ centuries after Paul wrote. There are problems in our unbelieving zeitgeist, and there are problems in the defining mood of the church. As one local body of believers living in a 21st century Western culture, we don’t spend a lot of time taking one another to court, though we do find a lot of grasping in our hearts. When it comes to the issues in these verses, we should park, get our of the car, and take a closer look. What I mean is that some of us will need to repent from wrong thinking, wrong sympathies, even wrong imitations.
Why do these verses matter? How does this paragraph belong with the instruction about brothers and small claims court in the first part of the chapter?
It matters because the unrighteous are living in a different world than we are, present and future. The unrighteous march to a different drum beat. Their lifestyle standards are not the same and so believing brothers should not lust after their system. We should not be courting their approval or accommodating their conduct. Why do Christians want to be liked, or to be like, the world?
Christians should know better. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is the dominion of Christ’s rule and Christ’s blessing. His kingdom is a place where His will is done as it is in heaven. It is a place of provision and joy and public honor to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (see verse 11). This is the kingdom that the Lord taught His disciples to pray for (Matthew 6:10). It is the kingdom the Lord qualified us to inherit (Colossians 1:13).
It is not for the unrighteous. They are enemies of the Lord, setting themselves up as rivals to His throne, setting up competing standards of what is acceptable, determining who gets awarded for what. They are not rightful heirs of Christ, they are not promised any share in His kingdom.
After stating the fact of it, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to see clearly and to see specifically.
Do not be deceived, the unrighteous, as represented by this list of ten, will not inherit the kingdom of God, which is stated again at the end of verse 10. Does it need to be repeated so quickly? Apparently yes. And what is it about this reality that is so deceptive, so easy to mistake? Let’s come back to that question after considering the unrighteous characters.
First in this representative list are the sexually immoral. The word covers a range of genital sins. The man in incest in chapter 5 was one of these. The men using prostitutes in the last half of chapter 6 are included. Those whose lusts are uncontrolled, who pursue or play around with behavior meant for married persons but without being covenanted in marriage, these are the unrighteous. A man can say that he cannot control his animal desires, and we can then say that he is not part of the kingdom of God.
Likewise with idolators. Worship of a false god goes with failure to live as faithful image-bearers of the true God. Those who make idols become like them, unable to distinguish male from female because that is of the Lord. They seek multiple partners because they do not know that the Lord is one.
They are not committed in covenant, they are adulterers. This is a specific form of sexual immorality carried out by a man or woman who is already married but who covets his neighbor’s wife. We will see in chapter 7 that remarrying after a wrongful divorce puts a man or woman in an ongoing state of adultery. Those who commit affairs will not inherit the kingdom.
The final part of verse 9 is disputed. Those with an ESV read, nor men who practice homosexuality. That is quite enough to get us in trouble in our current culture, and in a moment we will have the opportunity to jump in with both feet.
The footnote in the ESV states, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.” The NASB (and KJV), on the other hand, translate both words, “nor effeminate, nor homosexuals.” There are two separate Greek words, and they refer to more than what the ESV notes. There are homosexual acts, and there are homosexual attitudes and accoutrements.
It is a problem when men suppress the truth about God that He gives them up to “dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with woman and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men” (Romans 1:26-27).
These are Sodomites, these are gays and lesbians, the homosexuals referred to at the end of verse 9. Their “pride” will keep them from the kingdom. Their unnatural lusts for defining for themselves is damning.
There are also the effeminate. This word is used a few times in the New Testament, including by Jesus Himself. It is a word used frequently in extra-biblical writings as well, for example, by Herodotus. It is used enough times in enough contexts to demonstrate that it should not be limited to the passive partner in homosexual acts. It is those who look and talk like the soft.
The original word is malakos (μαλακός). Jesus said those in king’s palaces are soft and wear “soft clothing” (Matthew 11:8; Luke 7:25), effeminate. It refers to the unmanly, to those “who consciously imitated feminine styles and ways” (quoted by Thiselton).
I am spending more time on this not only because the ESV is unhelpful here, but also because current Christian culture is unhelpful here. Many in the church have adopted effeminate and homosexual mannerisms, speech, dress, styling, hair cuts. Many others who have not adopted the look or talk are nevertheless accommodated to it, or entertained by it. The transgender confusion is down the tracks coming from the train station of being soft.
I read an article from the end of 2016 by a snarky lesbian titled, “Hipsters Broke My Gaydar.” She said she used to be able to tell who here people were, but now it so difficult. Skinny jeans, extra piercings and nose piercings, long hair on boys and boy cuts on girls (more about hair in a later chapter of 1 Corinthians), and other cultural identifiers have been taken up by hipsters, and many of that kind can be found in the church.
Consider case of haircuts from another article on the history of the “undercut”:
The “Undercut”, a fundamental staple in lesbian coif (hairstyle). We all know it and love it, not only for it’s edginess but for it’s ability to help us identify queer ladies out in the wild. One of my favourite jokes is: “What do you call a straight girl with an undercut?…A liar”.
The undercut is the haircut among young boys. Man buns have the same Johnny Weir effect. The openly effeminate and homosexual laugh at us for wanting to look like them. We blend. We are wearing the other team’s uniform, but claiming we don’t know. Worse, it’s like finding a purple helmet with a dog on it, putting it on and walking into your WSU class and being like, “What? I just like how it looks.”
It is not cool. It’s not natural. The Stoic philosopher “Epictetus that for a man to play the role of a woman, or to wish to act as a woman, is for him to complain against his nature” (ἐγκαλέσαι σου τῇ φύσει, Dissertations 3.1.30) (Thiselton). “Philo (Dreams 2.2 §9) associates it with the softer way of life found in the woman’s quarters, which reveals its association with effeminacy” (Garland). It’s passive. It is not righteous.
Read The Grace of Shame for more about this particular problem in Christian sympathies.
So also thieves and the greedy are stuck in the world’s system, to go along with swindlers, the last in the list. These are cheaters and deceivers, some who do their work at night when it’s dark no one is watching and others who do their work during the day shaking your hand on a deal calculated to steal. Those who covet, consumed with consuming, whether they have a little or don’t, are likewise not kingdom citizens. Of course these sorts would not rather be defrauded (verse 7).
There are the drunkards, the pot heads, the addicted to much buzz who want to feel better now, or at least try to forget about things. The revilers are the constant bad-mouthers. They have their own channel of scoff on YouTube, or at least a set of social media followers who drink the daily bile.
So we have sins against God, against nature, and against one another. We have heart sins, tongue sins, sexual sins, property and money sins.
I asked earlier, why does Paul introduce this list with, Do not be deceived? Is it because we in the church don’t want to see this? We don’t want it to be that clear, either because we don’t want to stand out from the crowd or because we believe the lie that these unrighteous are somehow more happy? Are we trying to avoid the blessing of being reviled by the unrighteous (see Matthew 5:10-12)? But they will not inherit the kingdom of God.
While Christians should be clear, we have no place to be patronizing. We shouldn’t empathize, but we should be humble.
And such were some of you. Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous, but the unrighteous. Those who are well don’t need a physician (Matthew 9:12). God rescues filthy, rotten, selfish, rebels. That’s who we were. Not all of those in the Corinthian church were necessarily of the categories of sinners in the previous verses, but enough of them were, and the rest all had their own sins.
Paul describes three things that happened to change their identity, all three are finished. First, you used to be unrighteous but you were washed. Sin soils. It makes men unclean. Second, you were sanctified, not in the sense we usually think as maturing in our Christian walk, but sanctified as in set apart for Him. And third, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. They were unrighteous, but by the work of the Son and the Spirit and the Father they were declared righteous. This is the good news, the word of the cross that transfers us into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love.
In all of these, but for the grace of God, we would still be having no hope and without God in the world.
What all the unrighteous have in common is trying to satisfy themselves in the now. What the Christians have in common is a measured life now in light of their kingdom status.
If we aren’t straightforward about the unrighteous, those who are currently so and what we once were, then we won’t acknowledge the amazing grace in our salvation. The field of pride requires a heavy plow of guilt over our unrighteousness. The fruit of gratitude grows as it is nourished by understanding what we are saved from. All of this weeds out grumbling and grasping and disputing, and it reminds us that our inheritance makes up for it all.
May our testimony be consistent in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
One of the “tips” I gave at last week’s marriage seminar was: stop being angry. Don’t tolerate anger at all. I don’t want to dissipate the force of that specific exhortation, but really, don’t tolerate any unrighteousness in yourself. Being angry doesn’t do you any good when trying to resolve conflict, being unrighteous doesn’t do you any good when trying to live in community. You have been blessed with supernatural powers of grace, love, and fellowship. Go out and use them until you inherit the kingdom of God.
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11, 14, ESV)