Sex and Wealth in 1 Corinthians 5

Paul states the sin in the church at Corinth is so bad even the Romans would consider it wrong. (See this post on Corinth as “Sin City”.) Why is the immoral man committing a sin like this? Most scholars think money is the main issue. Perhaps the wife was from a wealthy and prestigious family and she is trying to divorce his father. The younger man is attempting to keep any money or property in the family as long as possible.

A second more remote possibility is the man is exercising his freedom in Christ. It appears some early Christians believed they were free from the Law, so in order to demonstrate that freedom, they “sinned that grace may abound.” It is possible the young man was trying to prove his freedom from the Law by breaking a very strong taboo and engaging in an ongoing affair with this step-mother.

Carol and GregSo why has the man not been arrested and charged with the crime everyone seems to know about? In order to prosecute, the husband would have to sue for divorce. If this was an arranged marriage between wealthy families, there would have been complications in setting the marriage aside.

Bruce Winter points out only the husband has the right to prosecute in this case. There is a sixty-day period for him to do this after which someone else could potentially bring charges. Perhaps the exclusive period has not expired when Paul is writing, or maybe there is no one that is “wronged” by the relationship and it is being passed over because of the man’s position and power.

Additionally, if the husband was not a believer the church didn’t have any sway with him to get him to press charges and exile his son. Because the penalty included loss of property, perhaps the man was not willing to prosecute and possibly forfeit some of his own property.

If this suggestion is correct, then there are two strands of culture that the church is struggling with, the sexual sin and the favoring of the rich in the courts. Paul wants to deal with the sinful man within the church itself rather than dragging this ugly situation into the public courts. This has the potential to create an unfortunate principle that Christians who have grave sins ought to be tried in an church-court and not by the government, making it possible for some crimes to be covered up by the church. But this was not Paul’s intent at all! Ironically he is not trying to cover up the sin but deal with it in a public and open way.

How does this idea of dealing with sin “in house” work in a contemporary context? I am not advocating ecclesiastical courts nor should people who have broken the “law of the land” find refuge in the church.But there is a need for local churches to deal with some issues like a family. But this has caused huge problems when a church tries to cover up a legal and moral issue by dealing with it “in house.” (I am thinking of sex-abuse by church staff or priest, etc.) Based on his reaction to the young man in an incestuous relationship here in 1 Corinthians 5, I am certain Paul would have dealt with a pastor who is a sexual predator harshly. “Hand him over to Satan” may very well refer to handing his man to the civil authorities and let him face the full penalty of the law. In a modern context, no church should be sheltering a sexual predator; they ought to be handed over to the state and prosecuted as sex crimes.

But for issues like petty insults and personal disagreements, Paul does not want these brought to the law courts. If your brother in Christ gossips about you and harms your reputation, you should not sue him for slander. Deal with that kind of an issue inside the church.

How do we draw appropriate application between the first century and the twenty-first century with respect to church discipline? Does the modern church offer more grace and mercy to the wealthy members of the community and treat the poor harshly? In many cases, the modern church is quite like the Corinth of the first century.

9 thoughts on “Sex and Wealth in 1 Corinthians 5

  1. There are so many similarities between the first century church and today. I also think you bring up a great point about how the wealthier are treated with more favor in the church today. As Paul addresses church discipline, with both sexual sin and nonsexual sin, there is something for everyone to apply to their own lives. Paul also addresses this in a sense about the arrogance of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:2). They are letting people pass them by without anything being resolved which is causing more issues in the church. It seems to me they feel like they can brush off their sin with no consequences, and their arrogance displays that. This is similar to the modern-day church because many people misuse the grace we’ve been given as a free pass to break whatever law there is, knowing that they can get away with it. It’s like they want to test the people of the church to see if they will be judgement or harsh towards them, while they are the ones pushing the boundaries.
    I think America has the mentality today that wherever someone is in life is because they did it to themselves. I see this in the divide of wealthy vs. poor status and how the wealthy most like can “cover” their mistakes while the poor can’t afford to do so. Whether that’s with having kids, losing a home, or even things like not having food or good clothing, even Christians can immediately go to the thought process that this was the one person’s fault that this happened. Which is completely untrue. They may just not have the resources to prevent things like that. Even looking at many churches in our area, they never reflect the part of town they are in. The people who may be “poorer” or different than us are never the ones sitting next to us in a church, and I think that reflects the work we must do to not only accurately represent the population around us, but also reflect what heaven will look like, with people from all different sorts of backgrounds and experiences. It is time that the church seeks the lost and those who are different than us, so there is no divide between any possible difference in the body of Christ.

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    • I liked how you mentioned that they think they can just brush off their sins because they are forgiven or whatever reasons they may have. Even today people know that their forgiven. I think this is related to modern day because we do it, but on a much smaller scale. We do not as bad sins like little white lies because we know it’s not that bad and we are forgiven. We might steal something small from somebody without thinking twice about it. Maybe we think were forgiven or it isn’t as important but we just brush it off. We won’t lose sleep over it. I also liked how you mentioned that we have the mentality that we are where we are because of our actions and choices. While I do believe this to be true a little bit, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Everyone is faced with different circumstances. If you were in that persons shoes dealing with all they have to, more than likely you would do the same thing. The last thing I liked is how you said the church should seek the lost and different. We are all created in Gods image so we should treat each other the same no matter what their social status may be.

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  2. The concepts, ideas, and questions of this post are extremely thought-provoking. However, as I read through the post, there was one thing that caught my attention as a bit of a dispute, and I wanted to offer some insights as to which side of the dispute I support. The post indicates that some scholars believe that money fueled the sexual sin that the Corinthians partook in. The post indicates that other scholars believe that the Corinthians felt justified to sin in a sexual manner because they wanted to demonstrate their freedom from the Law. After reading Longenecker & Still’s (2014) chapter on 1 Corinthians, as well as reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I tend to support the idea that these citizens of Corinth were motivated to demonstrate their freedom from the Law.

    That being said, I would like to propose the idea that these people felt justified to act and sin this way because they felt as if their sanctified status eliminated their need to act and behave a certain way. A personal quest for honor was a major staple to the society and city of Corinth. According to 1 Corinthians 1-4, there were many factors that were attributed to one’s honor; many of these factors were identities or statuses that represented a specific individual. Some of these identities included one’s socioeconomic status, family background, occupation, education, racial background, etc. Another one of these statuses refers to whether or not a specific individual was considered sanctified in Christ.

    On this topic, Longenecker & Still (2014) write “Perhaps the attitude of pride that was transpiring emerged as a consequence of a view that, as “sanctified” people who were not restrained by “the law,” they could adopt even the most morally dubious lifestyle without compromising God’s great pleasure toward them” (p. 122). These authors continue to speak about the pride that is shown by the Corinthians during this time in history. They seem to attribute this sense of pride to their sanctified status. Again, in a society that is dominated by honor, specific statuses take control of one’s life, including their attitude and how they carry themselves. This quote from Longenecker and Still (2014) is very revealing about the selfish nature of the Corinthians, along with their prideful attitude. Paul touches on most of this topic in 1 Corinthians 5-6. The quote connects with the blog post’s initial thoughts about the Corinthians demonstrating their freedom from the Law, but it also mentions an idea that they feel as if they can act however they would like because of their sanctification in Christ.

    This idea that Christians and those who are sanctified and living in relation with God is not supported Biblically, but I believe it is something that many Christians believe in, whether it be some areas of their lives or others. Often times, one can hear Christians say, “well I can do this because it’s not near as bad as what he/she is doing.” This is not a healthy mindset, and it does not please God, but I do think the Corinthians followed this mindset. Christians need to be a light to the rest of the world and live in a manner that honors Christ. Of course, Christians are not perfect, and they will sin just like non-Christians will. However, Christians should never embrace a morally-dubious lifestyle because of their relationship with Christ Jesus.

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  3. Throughout reading this blog post what came to me was how caught up the American culture is in sex and wealth. I say this because I am American and have grown up here my entire life. From advertising and even down to conversations with those around me, sex and wealth are top favorites. Even in passing I have heard individuals say, “If I had more money…” and it is like we are never happy with what we have. It is because the American culture is always coming out with new things and we just want to keep up with the time. We overindulge and idolize the access we have with what’s new. 1 Timothy 6:10 says that money is the root of all evil. We live in a culture that seems to never be satisfied because we are a selfish people. When it comes to wealth, well we see that as the next best thing if that is something we do not have. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income…” (Ecc. 5:10).
    With sex just the same, always wanting more because when you have sex you always crave more. The problem with craving more is that if you’re not married you are meddling outside of the word of God. When you’re outside of the word of God, the devil will pick at you repeatedly. We want what we want and if we do not have a relationship with Jesus, the word of God will mean nothing. What the flesh wants is what the flesh gets. That is just the mindset of those in society today and even with the Corinthians. Paul was telling them what is good and true, but they chose to act out in flesh because they knew of God’s grace. God is gracious but we are not to test Him. Living in our old ways is not what God calls us to do. In regard to sex, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 says, “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”. As brothers and sisters in Christ, this scripture here needs to be a focus point in the church.
    In the church I have not seen favoritism between the poor and the wealthy. I have been raised and taught to love everyone. Treat others as you would want to be treated. We are all children of God, but we all find ourselves in different circumstances. Outside and inside the church, individuals need to know that their circumstances do not define them, and that God loves them so much. He sent His Son to die for us all and we can all walk in step with the Spirit. Paul is just trying to press into those hearts of the Corinthians that they must follow the word of God if they want an intentional relationship with Him. We can not serve man and God. Colossians 3:23 assures us of this by saying that we are called to work heartily for Jesus and not for man. Matthew 6:24 starts off by saying no one can serve two masters. God uses Paul to remind the church in the first century and twenty-first century that we are to love all. As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, we need to love others, as it is the first commandment, no matter where they come from, poverty or wealth. With what God has equipped us with we must share with those who think they are doing what is right.

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  4. The biggest issue in discussing this passage within 1 Corinthians is the differences in culture, law, justice systems and norms between first century Roman Empire and modern-day church of America, i.e. Grace Christian University (but for you PLong, it will always be Grace Bridal College). The biggest issue that can be addressed in this passage is the fact that a man sleeping with his stepmother is not entirely taboo anymore. While listening to my mom discuss her soap operas, through vaguely listening I have discovered that in many, many, MANY instances on these shows that stepparents often sleep with their stepchildren. Often it is a young stepmother who sleeps with her stepson who is older than her (TV has become very weird everyone). TV drama shows have almost normalized infidelity within relationships, and even has partially normalized stepparents sleeping with their stepchildren. America is okay with this as long as 1) the two parties are not related by blood and 2) the stepparent leaves or divorces their spouse and then creates a relationship/marriage with the stepchild. All of this very unbiblical, but it does happen, often with the famous and wealthy. In the ancient world this was much more taboo and disrespectful to the parent of the child (Longenecker). Simply reading this post has given me a headache trying to understand how all of this mess could end well if a divorce were to happen. Ultimately, it would be best if the family could simply work this out internally. This would allow for this mess to be minimal and not create bigger riffs among family members. This passage of course could be taken out of context, as stated earlier in the post with the issues of the church covering up pedophilia throughout the decades. Paul is not stating that the church should never get involved with the law. It is important to protect those who cannot protect themselves, such as children, born and unborn, the elderly and those who have mental development disabilities. I am sure that Paul would have no problem with reporting pedophilia to the authorities if he were still alive today. The issue that Paul is stressing is that those who are Christians (those outside of the church do not apply to church standards, this is stressed throughout Paul’s letters) are to attempt to deal with disagreements, disputes and wrongs with one another rather than continuing to resolve disputes the way they did before they were part of the church. The church is set to a higher standard than those who are outside of the church. This includes trying to use conflict management skills to solve issues, such as talking it out with one another, maybe bringing in a mediator and offering forgiveness and repentance. This would be the best case scenario, as it could result in the child repenting of his sin, the father offering forgiveness to his wife and son and the marriage and family relations being saved.

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  5. The culture in the first century compared to the twenty first century is very different with all the advancement we have made, but even with all these advancements we still have a lot of similar problems. One thing I liked about this post is the input from the scholars about how money is the main issue. 1 Timothy 6:10 says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” I know myself personally think that if I have more money that my problems would go away and life would be better and I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way. It’s hard to shake that mindset because the need for wanting money can make you lose your faith. I think money can mask your problems or hide your problems because it gives you a better status in life and the way people view you are different. I see it everywhere I go that people with more wealth are treated better than people who are poor. The view on poorer people in today’s world is that they did it to themselves and get viewed much more scummy than rich people. Richer people can get away with more because of this or even being able to buy your way out of something. There is also a similarity with sex. The way we talk about it and the advertising that uses it to lure people in is a big problem in today’s world. In both cultures having so many different still have some of the major core problems.
    In the church we value wealthier families or people over people who are poorer which is wrong. As Christians we might view ourselves as better moral judges, but we still judge people wrong and treat them differently just on economic status. This is something that even though we know is wrong we do it in our subconscious and act on it without even realizing it. Longenecker says this about Paul “ For Paul, one’s sexuality is bound up with ones spirituality, rather than being separate from it. “ (pg122) he goes on and talks about how sexual practice is part of one’s identity and that a damaging sexual practice emerge from perpetuate a fractured spirituality (Longnecker, 2014). Building a better relatio0nship with god can help fix a damaged sexual identity. We should wait until marriage to have sex and if you don’t that is a sin. The more you practice these wrong doings the more you fuel your sexual appetite. If you work on it with God this can be an issue you fix. This was a very good article about similarities from first century and 21st century within the church.

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  6. Having attended church my entire life, I can say that money is a big topic within the church. A church needs money to keep existing, but many today receive more money than they need to simply stay open. This is great, but also comes with a lot of responsibility. I worked at Day camp through a church this summer and the campers all hated doing music The camp directors knew this, but when the music director came up to them and said she wanted to lead music again, they didn’t turn her down. I was secretly wondering if maybe she was a wealthier member of the church in whom the directors/ pastors did not want to disappoint by turning her down. I also see how at Cornerstone the same guy’s name is on three of their newest and most expensive buildings. That man has recently passed away, but if something were to come up about him being a pedophile I don’t think that they would tear their buildings down. Proverbs 10:22 states “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” I think that this is key in facing situations such as what the church of Corinth did. God does not care about wealth (Prov. 22:2), but rather the posture of our hearts when we give and remember that God’s blessing on our lives is of more value than any money, especially money that is coming from someone who is blatantly sinning.

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  7. The more I read about the church in Corinth, the more shocked I am about how immoral it actually was. The people of Corinth seemed to deal with many of the same issues related to sex and wealth that our society does today. They had issues just like we have today and the church must deal with those issues. Church discipline can be a point of disagreement for many members of the church. I have sadly seen the modern church cover up sin like sexual abuse when it is performed by someone that has a position of authority or influence in the congregation. I believe that there are situations where church discipline is necessary. Situations like slander and disagreements are issues that could be dealt with privately. However, when something occurs that is clearly against the law, legal action should be taken. I have not personally seen the modern church offering more grace and mercy to the wealthy members of the congregation. As far as church discipline goes, I have seen the church completely destroy an individual’s reputation within that congregation. I believe that the church should respond to all things in love and should base their decisions off of that. Often times, churches in this era are caught up in the rules that they have and the first reaction that they have is not in love. I think that love should be the basis of our actions as Christians and as a church. If we are motivated by love and living that out, I do not think that issues like church discipline will be in question.

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