Paul raised the question about whether any of the Corinthians were so daring or bold as to bring a case against a fellow believer “before the unrighteous and not before the holy ones.” (6:1) The “unrighteous” would have been unbelievers who served in the capacity of judges and were not bound to act in harmony with the teaching and example of God’s Son. For believers to prefer the judgment of unbelievers would have been an affront to the “holy ones” or fellow believers.
Continuing to reason with the Corinthians regarding this, the apostle asked, “Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the least things? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more so matters of [daily] life!” (6:2, 3)
The apostle provided no details about the role of the holy ones in judging the world and angels, his main point being that they would be handling far weightier matters than those involving the affairs of ordinary life. While on earth, Jesus had told the apostles that they would be acting as judges at the time he would be exercising royal authority. (Matthew 19:28) Paul’s words indicate that this judging would not be limited to the apostles. With Jesus’ being both king and judge by his Father’s appointment, all judging of humans (the world of mankind) and angels would be under his direction and in harmony with the ultimate standard of divine justice. The Scriptures refer to disobedient angels as facing future judgment (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), and it is likely that they are the ones to whom Paul made reference. (6:2, 3)
In view of their future judging responsibilities, it would have been inconsistent for believers not to make decisions about minor or ordinary matters as if they were completely unworthy or unfit to do so. Unbelievers who served as judges had no divine assurance of being granted a far more significant role in judging nor did they know or recognize God’s standard of justice. From the standpoint of a standing before God, they had none and were without honor. For this reason, they could be spoken of as persons having no particular worth. So, when believers chose to take ordinary cases before them, they were seating persons looked down upon as their judges, making them their superiors in relation to the congregation. (6:4)
When thus reasoning with the Corinthians, Paul’s intent was to jolt them to their senses, causing them to be ashamed of how they had acted. Was there not one wise person in their midst who had the capability to judge? By their actions, they suggested that not a single one among them had the needed wisdom, for “brother” or fellow believer went with “brother” to be judged by unbelievers. (6:5, 6)
Taking fellow believers before judges of the world had already meant complete failure or defeat for the Corinthians. It reflected a spirit contrary to that of Christ, because greed, vindictiveness, or retaliation (not generosity, compassion, love, and forgiveness) would have been the underlying factors prompting such litigation. It would have been preferable or better for believers to have been wronged, treated unjustly, or defrauded than for them to take action that wronged others. In this case, they wronged and defrauded their own “brothers” or fellow believers. (6:7, 8)
It appears that those in Corinth who resorted to litigation and thereby harmed fellow believers lost sight of the fact that unjust persons would not inherit God’s kingdom, prompting Paul to raise the question whether they did not “know” this. In the sphere where God is recognized as Sovereign, there is no place for practicers of injustice nor for those who engage in other injurious practices. The Corinthians were not to be misled in this regard, imagining that certain unjust or harmful actions were exempt from divine condemnation. Those engaging in sexual immorality, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes (malakós), men who have sexual relations with males (arsenokoítes), thieves, covetous or greedy persons, drunkards, revilers or defamers, and robbers or extortioners will not inherit God’s kingdom. They will have no share in the realm where God is acknowledged as Sovereign and where his ways are loyally followed. (6:9, 10; see the Notes section for additional comments on 6:9.)
Before becoming believers, some of the Corinthians had engaged in the very practices that would keep one out of God’s kingdom. They had, however, repented of their past conduct and had been washed clean, sanctified or set apart as holy, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the spirit of our God.” On the basis of their faith in the Son of God and the value of his shed blood, they had been forgiven their sins and thus washed clean from the stain of their past transgressions. No longer did they continue in an impure or defiled state, but they had been set apart as members of God’s holy or clean people. They had also been justified or put right with God, gaining an approved standing before him. All this had taken place “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” or on the basis of who he is and what he accomplished through his death. Moreover, God’s spirit began operating within them, producing the changes in their lives that conformed to divine holiness or purity. (6:11; see the Notes section.)
Accordingly, the freedom that Christ opened up to them was liberation from sin and its condemnation. This, however, was not a freedom without limits. Duties were associated with this liberty. Whereas believers might have the right to do certain things, out of regard for the conscience of others they would lovingly refrain from any action that could give rise to needless offense. The apostle Paul commented on this aspect, saying, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” The “all things” include everything that he, as a spirit-guided believer, had every right to do. He recognized, though, that what he could do in certain cases would not necessarily be beneficial in its effect on others and in its outworking for him. Paul was not going to permit anything (any desire or inclination) to gain the mastery over him, interfering with his loyalty to God and Christ and creating a cause of offense or stumbling for others. (6:12)
It appears that there were those in Corinth who did not recognize the importance of not being dominated by desires. They seem to have excused sexual immorality on the basis that it served to satisfy a natural desire, a desire comparable to that for food. Paul, though, made the difference very clear. “Foods for the stomach, and the stomach for foods, but God will make an end to both it [the stomach] and them [the foods].” The body, however, [is] not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord [is] for the body.” (6:13)
On earth, foods suitable for the human stomach are available, and the stomach is equipped to digest these foods. The future glorified body believers are to have does not need food and the digestive system. Moreover, the moderate eating of food has no effect on the inner life of the individual at the present time nor in the future. Therefore, neither the eating of certain foods nor the abstaining from certain foods has any bearing on God’s view of the individual. (6:13)
This is not the case with sexual immorality, for the body is “for the Lord” Jesus Christ, to be used in harmony with his Father’s will and not for sexual immorality. The Lord is “for the body.” He is at one with the body and supplies it with what it needs to remain in living unity with him. (6:13)
Although the resurrection body will be a changed glorified one, having a different nature in an incorruptible state, it will be the entity that links the past life to the future life. This seems to be the apparent reason for Paul’s reference to the resurrection. “God also raised the Lord and will raise us through his power.” The reality of Christ’s resurrection provides the assurance that dead believers will rise through the operation of God’s mighty power. Therefore, they should preserve the body in purity, for the transformed glorified body with which they are to be raised makes a continuity of existence possible. (6:14)
While still on earth, believers belong to Christ and so their bodies are not their own. Paul reminded the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Believers are at one with Christ as members of his congregational body. So Paul raises the question, “So shall I take the members of Christ [and] make them members of a harlot?” His emphatic answer is, “Never may it be!” For believers, their relationship with Christ precludes any union with a harlot or any form of sexual immorality. Through sexual union of any one of his body members to a harlot, Christ would, in effect, be joined to a harlot. (6:15)
This is because, as Paul reasoned with the Corinthians, “Do you not know that one who joins himself to a harlot is one body [with her]?” He then supported this conclusion with words quoted from Genesis 2:24, indicating that, in the intimate relationship of a man and a woman, the two would be “one flesh.” (6:16; see the Notes section.)
The union with Jesus Christ is not of a physical nature, “but the one joined to the Lord is one spirit [with him].” Having the mind of Christ, the believer is one in thought and purpose with him in finding delight in the doing of his Father’s will. (6:17)
For the believer to continue at one with the Son of God makes it imperative to maintain sexual purity. “Flee from sexual immorality. Every sin a man may commit is outside the body, but he who engages in sexual immorality sins against his own body.” Every effort should be made to avoid situations that could lead to temptation. One should strive to escape from such circumstances as would one fleeing from danger to life and limb. Unlike other sins that do not involve the body so completely, the committing of sexual immorality makes the body as a whole, in a very intimate manner, the instrument of sin. Therefore, the man who engages in sexual immorality sins against his own body, which he uses in a sinful manner. (6:18)
For believers, this is very serious, for the body is to remain a sacred place, a temple for the holy spirit that comes from God. For anyone to commit sexual immorality would constitute a defilement of this temple or sanctuary, showing gross disrespect for God who has provided his spirit to promote holiness or purity within the believer and which cleanness should be evident in the outer life. (6:19)
Believers are not their own. They have been bought with a costly price—the precious blood of the Son of God who sacrificed his life for them. As persons purchased, they belong to God and should rightly glorify or magnify him in their owned body, using their whole physical being in a manner that reflects the highest regard for his requirements in matters of conduct. (6:19, 20; see the Notes section.)
In 1 Corinthians 6:9, the Greek word designating a male prostitute is malakós, literally meaning one who is “soft” and designating the passive man or boy in same-sex intercourse. The word arsenokoítes, a compound consisting of “male” and “bed,” appears in the same verse and applies to the dominant male in a same-sex relationship, the aggressive seducer, or the sexual abuser of boys.
Greek manuscripts contain different readings in 1 Corinthians 6:11, including “the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and “the name of the Lord Jesus.”
The quotation in 1 Corinthians 6:16 from Genesis 2:24 includes the Greek words found in the Septuagint reading of the Genesis passage. The Greek form of the word for “says,” which introduces the quotation, has been translated to mean “it says” or “he says.” This is because the Greek third person singular verb (phesín) can mean “it says,” “he says,” or “she says [which English meaning would not fit the context].” In the Genesis account, the statement may be understood as being attributed to God, allowing for the meaning “he says.” The meaning “it says” would also fit, for it is said in scripture or in the Torah.
The concluding words of 1 Corinthians 6:19 (“and you are not of yourselves,” meaning “you are not your own”) may be understood as part of the question that starts at the beginning of the verse. “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the holy spirit in you, which you have from God, and [that] you are not your own?” The other possibility is that the concluding phrase of verse 19 starts a new sentence that is completed in verse 20. “And you are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”
Numerous manuscripts contain an expanded text in 1 Corinthians 6:20. After the admonition “glorify God in your body,” other manuscripts add, “and in your spirit” or “and in your spirit, which is of God.”