The word for the day is “outside.” Today’s society presents us with a choice: either prejudice or toleration. To avoid prejudice, is our only option to accept anything or anyone as part of our fellowship? In our reading of 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:11, Paul teaches that we must draw a line between who and what are “inside” and “outside the church.” Paul says, “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters since then you would need to go out of this world” (OSB vs. 9-10).
Today we will review the cases that reveal the need for discernment about what should be accepted “inside” of the Body of Christ and what should remain “outside.” Furthermore, we will learn how we should relate to “insiders” and “outsiders” according to the principle that we live “in” but are not “of” the world.
What is “Outside” the Fellowship Must Not Be Allowed “Inside”
In our reading of 1 Cor. 5:9-6:11, we learn more about St. Paul’s anguish over his church at Corinth. His first concern is the presence of openly immoral people in the congregation. He has already described the conduct that he finds abhorrent (1 Cor. 5:1-5). For one thing, the Corinthians are partaking of the holy gifts of Communion with a member who is openly engaging in gross immorality. Thus, they are uniting themselves with him and his unrighteousness. But the apostle had directed that his flock should not keep company with “anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, covetous, extortioners, and idolaters” (1 Cor. 5:11).
Now, however, St. Paul finds that he must clarify his counsel. In this letter (titled “1 Corinthians), the apostle explains that he did not mean that the faithful should avoid contact with anyone who is outside the congregation. In the culture of the time, that would have been impossible. But he said that he had referred to the tolerance of immorality inside the church.
What Is “Inside” the Church Must not Be Taken “Outside”
Paul’s second concern is that members in the congregation are judging one another. Not only that, but they are taking each other to the civil court over their differences and allegations of cheating and other wrongs. But the magistrate in this court is a pagan who is called on to judge the members of the Body of Christ. The apostle says that it would be better for believers to accept wrongs than take their fellow members to a pagan court outside the circle of faith. The Orthodox Study Bible comments, “Love of litigation is a love of greed, hatred, and retaliation.” Christians ought to be possessed of generosity, mercy, and forgiveness” (OSB on 1 Cor. 6:7). Accordingly, Paul expects that the members of the Body of Christ can handle their affairs inside the fellowship of believers.
In summary, Paul teaches that the church should treat the transgressor who is engaging in open sexual and unrepentant immorality as someone who is “outside “the congregation. But he says that their lawsuits against one another should be handled “inside” the congregation. Therefore, we see that Paul draws a clear line between those who are inside and those outside the fellowship of faith and the communion of the faithful.
How can the faithful relate to others who are outside the church and yet honor the distinction between those inside and outside it? In Galatians, St. Paul teaches, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Our relationships with those outside the fellowship of faith are essential for bringing others into the church. But that does not mean that we accept the world’s thinking, attitudes, and behavior around us.
In the World but Not of the World
The Lord said that those who are His own are “in the world” but “not of the world (OSB John 15:19; 17:14). Thus, we exist in the world. But we do not share the belief, values, attitudes, and ways of life of the world. We should not bring the leaven of the world’s ways into our fellowship in Christ lest it corrupts the whole loaf of our fellowship. Yet, we should relate to those who are “of the world” for their salvation that they come to know Christ through us. The difference between our life in Christ and the life of this world is the difference between living in the light and living in darkness. Let us so live that those who are in the dark may see the light of faith and love in us.