What should we think about the tragedy going on in the Middle-East? The only other event in modern history where more Jews died was the Holocaust. But, equally tragic, even more Palestinians—many of whom do not support Hamas, and some of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ—have died in Israel’s retaliatory strikes. Six thousand bombs have been dropped on an area only slightly larger than the Tri-Cities, but with 13x the number of civilians in it—most of whom are children. But what can be done? If a terrorist kills children and intends to kill more, but then hides behind their own children, so that if you stop him you must kill the child he is hiding behind…what do you do? We can say that it is the blackest form of evil, abominable and despicable beyond description. Golda Meir, one of Israel’s former Prime Ministers, once said that peace will come to the Middle East when people like Hamas love their children more than they hate the Jews. But what can be done? Simplistic answers wither in the face of such tragedy. I don’t know of any more morally vexing situation than this.
But a better question for us might be: What does God think of this? What can He do? Fortunately, this is very clear. The Scriptures of Israel are full of meditations about how God responds when the wicked attack the innocent:
The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
5 The LORD tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the LORD is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
- Ps 11:4-7
First, God sees. He never turns a blind eye or is unaware of the suffering of His image bearers. And when God sees those who love violence, what does He think? He hates that. He is not indifferent or distant or permissive. God hates those who love violence, full stop. Why? Because the Lord is righteous. God is unswervingly committed to what is right, and therefore He stands against unrighteousness. So, David, here, prays for God to intervene. And when we are met with the heartbreaking news of what is happening in Israel and Gaza, we too should pray for God’s intervention. We may feel vexed and unsure of what can be done, but God does not. God will perfectly administer justice to the full, because He is righteous.
Psalm 11 says that God hates those who love violence, but what does God love? Righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
In our text in 1 Corinthians today, we are going to see some different manifestations of unrighteousness. The Corinthians were not given over to the kind of extreme violence we are seeing play out in the Middle East right now. Instead, we see that they are expressing unrighteousness through sexual sin, through pride, and through greed. This isn’t the same caliber of sin, but we still see God’s righteousness revealed in His rejection of unrighteousness. But, surprisingly, we see that God doesn’t only provide a condemnation of unrighteous, but a way to take the unrighteous and make them righteous.
9 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, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 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 Cor 6:9-11
What has Paul been dealing with thus far? In chapters one through four he has been addressing the problems of pride and divisiveness. In chapter five, he addressed the church’s tolerance towards a man committing the gross sexual sin of incest. And at the start of chapter six, he addressed the issue of some in the church suing and defrauding one another. The local church is the visible representation of Jesus Christ on earth, a picture of His righteous character—so, what happens when the church appears to be marked more by unrighteousnessthan righteousness? Paul gives them a sober warning and a hopeful reminder.
A Sober Warning
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? (1 Cor 6:9a)
Do You Not Know…Do Not Be Deceived
“Do you not know” is something Paul says when he assumes that the Corinthians obviously know something but need to be reminded (Paul uses this phrase 9x in 1 Corinthians—five of them in chapter six, 3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 15, 16, 19; 9:13, 24). I’m sure that some of my preaching here gives you new information, but I am willing to bet that most of it is me simply reminding you of what you already know, but are in danger of forgetting. Actually, when we look just a bit later in the verse, Paul says: “Do not be deceived.” So Paul’s concern isn’t only in their forgetting what unrighteousness is but, in their being deceived. Behind the church’s moral compromise isn’t merely the failure of mental equipment or foggy memories, but an active agent of deception. Maybe the reason we tend to forget so much of what God says is because there is someone who is helping us forget.
What if I were to tell you that as you left church today some powerful global organization was going to use all of its resources, connections, technology, and knowledge to persuade you that what you know to be true, what you value, what you believe is questionable at best and outright false at worse? That sounds kind of conspiracy theory-ish, but that isn’t what I am trying to get at—I don’t want you trying to decode secret messages in your newspaper or something like that. But if you accept the Biblical teaching on the existence of Satan, then this is a description of your experience. Satan wants the Church to be confused about what righteousness and unrighteousness is, ‘Did God really say…?”
But this is the gift of God’s Word! We can see what God did say! And so we can avoid being deceived. If you want to check where you may have begun to be deceived, then you can just ask yourself what parts of the Bible feel wrong to you.
What might we be tempted to forget or be deceived about? The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (see also Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5). So, what does it mean?
Paul probably brings up the “unrighteous” here because of what he was just saying in the previous verses about the Corinthians suing and defrauding one another: “But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!” (1 Cor 6:8). Paul is shocked that the Corinthians would do wrong to other brothers in Christ. The word for “do wrong” is just the verb for the word “unrighteous” here in 6:9. You commit acts of unrighteousness towards each other…But don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? So, who are the unrighteous? They are those whose life is identified by doing wrong, by sinning.
And Paul goes on to give several examples of what a life of unrighteousness could look like—examples that are not chosen at random, but are specified by Paul by what is going on in the Corinthian church.
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9-10)
There are two main categories of sins addressed here, sexual sin and greed. The other three are the sins of idolatry (worshipping anything in creation as if it was your god), reviling (literally, “verbally abusive people”), and drunkenness. But still all of these are addressed elsewhere in the letter (1 Cor 10:14; 11:21). But let’s turn to the two categories he spends most of his time aimed at: sexual sin and greed.
Now, Christians who tend to be more conservative are usually very enthusiastic about denouncing sexual sin, and Christians who tend to be more liberal are usually happy to call out the problems with greed and consumerism. But, fortunately for us, the Bible offends all cultures! One of the reasons that we know this book isn’t made up is that it is willing to step on our toes.
First, he addresses sexual sin. He identifies the “sexually immoral…adulterers, and men who practice homosexuality.” We aren’t told elsewhere in the letter that homosexuality is happening, but we are given several descriptions of sexual sin, obviously in chapter five with the man in the illicit relationship with his stepmother, and in the verses that will follow immediately after this section. Sexual immorality is a generic, umbrella term to describe any sexual act that takes place outside of marriage and includes the two other vices listed. Adultery is a married person breaking their covenant vows of marriage and having a sexual relationship with someone who isn’t their spouse. But, of course, you’ll remember how Jesus showed us the heart of adultery when he taught that adultery begins merely when someone looks at someone who isn’t their spouse with lust in their heart (Matt 5:27-30).
“Men who practice homosexuality” is actually two Greek words together that describe the active and passive partner in homosexual acts. Just because of the world we live in, this is worth taking a minute to think about. Sometimes, people will argue that the kind of homosexuality that is condemned in the New Testament is different than the homosexuality that takes place today in loving, committed, monogamous relationships. That it was instead denouncing acts of sexual violence, coercion, or the exploitation of children (pederasty). And those are heinous acts, to be sure, that are included in this condemnation. But it just isn’t lexically possible to restrict these words to that narrow definition. If Paul wanted to condemn pederasty, but not condemn two men or women of the same-sex, he could have used the specific Greek word to describe pederasty (paiderastēs). And since both the passive and active partners are condemned here, Paul is not only describing abuse or coercion. See also Romans 1:26-27.
Paul is following the moral teaching of Jesus who condemned all sexual immorality, which would include homosexuality (Matt 15:19-20) and endorsed the Genesis account as an authoritative blueprint for marriage and sexual union: “He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate,” (Matt 19:4-6).
Next, he addresses the sin of greed. He identifies three groups of people: thieves, the greedy, and swindlers. Like sexual immorality, greed is an umbrella term that includes the other vices listed. The greedy are those who are covetous, who just want more than they have, who refuse to be content. And, in time, that greed manifests itself through stealing. Thieves are those who steal in secret, while swindlers (the word Jesus uses to describe the “ravenous wolves” Mt. 7:15 and “extortioners” Lk. 18:11 he condemns) do it out in the open.
Greed is the invisible sin. No one thinks they are greedy. And in this way, this sin is far more dangerous than sexual sin.
And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)
An Inheritance Lost
Twice Paul tells us that the unrighteous will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” To inherit the kingdom of God is to receive everything over which Jesus rules as king. This whole universe belongs to King Jesus. And when Jesus returns He is going to renew and refurbish the created cosmos—make it even better. And then, at some point, He is going to turn to human beings and say: It’s yours. That is stunning. We haven’t gotten to the gospel yet, this is the warning part of the passage, but we all know that no one could ever be qualified to receive such an inheritance. The best person in the world we surely be unworthy of inheriting the entire created world—so if anyone does inherit it, we already know it is because God is that generous, that merciful, not because we are that deserving.
But, if we are counted among the unrighteous? The greedy, the sexually immoral, the idolaters, the drunkards? We will not inherit that. Friend, this is a sobering warning for us, but do you also see how fair that is? How just that is? God doesn’t owe us heaven. He isn’t being unfair by failing to show superabundant grace to the undeserving—we are undeserving! And if our lives are marked by persistent, unrepentant, unrighteousness—and God is righteous, then what makes us think we deserve anything? The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.
A Hopeful Reminder
But, Paul doesn’t only give a sobering warning, but a hopeful reminder.
“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 Cor 6:11).
And such were some of you
Here is what this tells us:
- The Church is full of sinners.
- The Church is full of saints.
What made Jesus such a polarizing figure? One of the things that made the holy men of the day view Jesus with such deep suspicion was His perpetual acquaintances with people whose lives were marked by unrighteousness! One of Jesus’ twelve disciples was a tax collector. Do you know who tax collectors were—they were greedy people, covetous sinners.
One time, Jesus was invited to a meal by a respected and admired religious teacher named Simon, someone that you would make sure to put on your nice clothes and threaten your children to be on their best behavior for. And as Jesus sits down in walks a woman who is simply described as “a woman of the city…a sinner.” In walks a sexual sinner, a woman that you would hide your children from. The religious teacher and this woman could not possibly come from more different worlds. “…and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment,” (Luke 7:38).
What is going through her head? She says nothing the entire time, only cries, kisses, and wipes the mud off the Savior’s feet with her hair. Here is what isn’t going through her head: My life is wonderful. I’m a good person. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
But we don’t have to guess what Simon thinks, nor what Jesus thinks. We are told: “
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:39-50).
Here is the math of grace. The more aware you are of your sin, the more capacity you have to love the one who forgives your sin.
Convince yourself that your sexual immorality isn’t sin, that your greed isn’t sin, that your drunkenness isn’t sin and you will find very little love for Jesus in you. You’re a good person, your debt isn’t that big. You don’t really need Jesus.
The person who is telling you that you don’t need to turn away from your sin to follow Jesus is lying to you. Don’t be deceived! All true love and joy in Jesus Christ start with admitting that our sin is sinful. When Paul tells the Corinthians “And such were some of you,” he is saying that the Corinthian church is filled with the sexually immoral, adulterers, men who practiced homosexuality, the greedy, thieves, idolaters—all of those people. That is who you were. But that isn’t who you are.
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 Cor 6:11).
What makes someone marked and defined by unrighteousness, transformed into a righteous person? You could say it is something accomplished by someone’s own life choices, to make themselves into a better person. But that doesn’t seem to be Paul’s idea. Did you notice that all of the verbs in verse 11 are passive? You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified. Something happened to you. “…in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
What does that mean? It means that Jesus Christ accomplished something on your behalf that is being applied to you by the Holy Spirit. What has Jesus accomplished? Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead is the central pivot point of the Bible, it is what everything before it is leading to, and what everything after it depends upon.
When Jesus died on the cross He took your sin with Him, and when He was buried he brought your sin with Him, and when He descended into Hell, he brought your sin with Him, and when He rose from the dead…your sin was nowhere to be found. He paid the debt fully that your deeds of unrighteousness had earned—death and Hell.
So that now you can be washed. When you are baptized, what are we doing? We are taking a sinner who has put their faith in Jesus Christ and plunging them under the waters of destruction, just as Jesus was lowered into destruction, and raising them out, just as Jesus was raised from the dead! Because when we baptize someone, we are saying this person has been united to Christ, so they go where He goes. Their sin went into the grave, but they emerged from the grave washed…clean…pure.
Which is why they are also sanctified. This doesn’t refer to the progressive sanctification that takes place, but to the positional sanctification that Paul referred to at the very beginning of the letter. To be sanctified means to be holy, like God is holy.
And lastly, they are justified. Because of what Jesus has done and a Christian’s union with Him, they are not only forgiven, washed, and holy, they are not declared righteous. Just like the woman washing Jesus’ feet is saved by her faith, so too are we now made righteous by our faith in Jesus.
In light of this, flee from unrighteousness! Remember who you are and what Christ has done for you. Christians are sinners still. You must fight and resist sin. God has not removed sin from our lives wholly.