1Co 5:9-11 “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 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.”
It would appear by the apostle’s words here that the epistle we have as “First Corinthians” is actually not Paul’s first letter to these brethren. The tense of his statement here would indicate that he had previously written a letter to them. In this letter he had admonished them not to company with fornicators.
The admonition to “not company” with fornicators carries the idea that these were not people we wanted to be seen hanging out with. We do not want to give the impression that we are partakers in the fornication of others or that we approve such behavior. Fornicator’s, as used in this particular instance, is not limited to just sexual immorality but to the giving in to the lust of the flesh in any number of ways.
We are told to avoid the “if it feels good, do it” crowd as much as possible. However, Paul also understood that while we may not be of the world, we are certainly in the world. We cannot completely avoid worldly people, but we should not seek worldly friendships. This is not to say that we should not be civil or that we should treat those who still find pleasure in the world as being beneath us, but we should hold ourselves to the path of righteousness that God expects of us.
Paul is teaching us that we should avoid sinning against ourselves (fornication). We are also to avoid sinning against our fellow man (covetousness, extortioners). Certainly, we should not sin against God by the worship of those things that are not God (idolaters). However, we need to also realize that in doing any of these things, whether we perceive them to be against ourselves or against others, they are all ultimately sins against God. Christ said “As much as you have done it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me (Mat 25:40),”
While we are instructed not to company with fornicators, covetous, extortioners, and idolaters, Paul also recognizes that the complete avoidance of these is impossible in the world. As a matter of fact, he says the only way we can escape such as this altogether is to no longer be in the world. Then we are told that we are to hold ourselves to a higher standard than that of the world.
Based on this, Paul’s earlier letter was apparently focused on the interaction of God’s people living in His kingdom with those living in the world. In this letter we read as “First Corinthians” he has narrowed his focus to those living within the kingdom. We are to no more “keep company” with those in the kingdom that commit such things than we are those who are without. Paul is telling us there is no double standard here.
If behaviors are to be avoided in the world, it is even more so in the church. We know we should not hang out with people who walk in an ungodly fashion in the world. Because someone is called a brother (or sister) does not make it less important to not walk with them in their ungodliness. Indeed, if anything, it is more important. We do not refuse their company because we dislike them but because we love them.
Our refusal to company with those who are guilty of the things Paul has written about here should be based on our love of God and our love for them. It is not something we should do haughtily as though we ourselves are above the allure of the world. This should be done with prayer and humility that God might be pleased to grant them repentance with godly sorrow.
May God give us the courage to not eat with those who willfully sin against Him while at the same time keeping in view that we are brothers and sisters!