Likely, there are many things in your life which you wish you’d never done. But, you did do these things. You, my friend, are not alone; The early church was filled with people just like you.
“ Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor. 6:9). The “Kingdom of God”, I believe to refer to that heavenly realm (cf. 2 Peter 1:10-11). The unrighteous will not go to heaven.
Then, a list of the kind of people spoken of flows forth (1 Cor. 6:9-10). This is not an all-inclusive list [There are other lists of vices found in the New Covenant (Rom. 1:19-ff; 13:13; 1 Cor. 5:9-ff; 6:9-ff; 2 Cor. 12:20-f; Gal. 5:19-ff; Eph. 5:3-ff, 18; Col. 3:5-ff; 2 Tim. 3:1-ff; James 3:14-16; Rev. 21:8, etc)]. It was a list with which they were well familiar.
1. Fornicators. Those who are guilty of fornication. Fornication is defined as: “Illicit sexual intercourse” (Vine’s); “Every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse” (Arndt-Gingrich); “It includes sexual intercourse with any person of either gender, other than one’s spouse, as well as intercourse with beasts” (Earl Edwards, 17th Annual Spiritual Sword Lectureship, p. 345). Any unauthorized sexual union (premarital, or extramarital) is properly classified as fornication.
2. Idolaters. Those who are guilty of idolatry. When one thinks of idolatry, likely, he pictures one bowing down in some pagan temple to worship at some carved image. This is idolatry. However, even “covetousness” can be classified as idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). He, and He alone must be Lord of our lives (Matt. 6:24; 10:37; Ex. 20:3).
3. Adulterers. Those guilty of adultery. Adultery is defined as: “To have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife” (Thayer); “Unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another” (Vine’s); “In scripture… sexual intercourse of a man, whether married or unmarried, with a married woman” (ISBE); “Adultery involves sexual activity is apparent from far too many passages, both Biblical, and non-Biblical alike” (Personal letter to me from Professor Ed Miller of the University of Colorado at Boulder); “Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his/her spouse” (Personal letter to me from William L. Peterson of Penn State). We might view it this way, “All adultery is fornication, but not all fornication is adultery.”
4. Homosexual (effeminate KJV), and Sodomites (abusers of themselves with mankind KJV). The ESV joins these two items together by simply using the wording “men who practice homosexuality”, and then foot-noting: “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.” The word “effeminate” is defined as “soft… in a bad sense of a catamite, a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness” (Thayer); “Soft… esp. of catamites, men and boys who allow themselves to be misused homosexually” (Arndt-Gingrich); The wording “abusers of themselves with mankind” is defined as: Lit. “a male, a bed”; “one who lies with a man as with a female, a sodomite” (Thayer); “a male who practices, homosexuality, pederast, sodomite” (Arndt-Gingrich).
5. Thieves. Those guilty of theft. This word has been defined as: “One who steals, whether directly, or through some fraudulent method” (Bill Jackson, Commentary on First Corinthians, p. 52); “a thief… an embezzler, pilferer” (Thayer).
6. Covetous. Those guilty of coveting. This word has been defined as: “lit. (eager) to have more… i.e. to have what belongs to others” (Vine’s); “One eager to have more, esp. what belongs to others… ‘greedy of gain” (Thayer); “one who has unlawful desire for more, and it is especially fitting here, considering the motivation in some causing them to take their brethren to law” (Bill Jackson).
7. Drunkards. Those guilty of intoxication. This word has been defined as: “drunken, intoxicated” (Thayer).
8. Revilers. Those guilty of reviling. This word is defined as: “abusive, railing, reviling” (Vine’s); “to reproach, rail at, revile, heap abuse upon” (Thayer). We are speaking of those who abuse others esp. verbally.
9. Extortioners. Those who are guilty of extorting. This word is defined as: “A swindler” (Arndt-Gingrich); The ESV renders it “swindlers”; “A robber, an extortion” (Thayer). Webster’s says of the term “Extort”: “The wrestling anything from a person by force…. In law the offense of claiming or taking as a fee under the pretense of authority.” Bill Jackson remarks, “One who by greedy design Snatches, grabs, carries away that which is another’s. It goes beyond just the behavior that is ‘exhortion’ in the legal sense; used also of the robber. It fits the case of any who takes from others through ungodly means” (Bill Jackson, p.53).
“And such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). The early church was composed of those with all sorts of sinful pasts. Some had been engaged in sexual sins (fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind). Others had problems with money and property (thieves, covetous, extortioners). Still others struggled with other things (idolaters, drunkards, revilers).
“But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified…” (1 Cor. 6:11). **Note: The KJV uses the present tense “are washed..are santified..are justified, while the NKJV, NASB, and the ESV all use in verse 11 the past tense “were washed… were sanctified… were justified.” These later versions more accurately reeflect the original.
They stood in a state of having had their sins washed away (Acts 22:16; Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5; Heb. 10:22; Rev. 1:5; 7:13-14). They were sanctified; That is: They had been made holy unto God. They stood justified receiving acquittal from God, or as preachers of yesterday used to say “Just-As-If-I’d never sinned”.
What encouragement! We can be accepted again by God. No matter what terrible sin is in your past. You can be washed, sanctified, and justified.
Notice: It says such were some of you. Paul did not still count them as thieves, fornicators, or homosexuals so far as their guilty before God was concerned.
It is my belief that Paul brings up this context to warn them not to return to unrighteousness again. Some were defrauding their own brethren (1 Cor. 6:8). Doesn’t this fall within the list of vices mentioned (thieves, covetous, extortioners)? At least one had been involved in fornication (1 Cor. 5:1). Doesn’t this fall in the list (fornicators)? Moreover compare the words of 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 with 6:9-10 (6 of the 9 items enumerated in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 are found in 1 Cor. 5:9-11). The words of 1 John 3:7-8 tie in nicely here: “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil.” Also, 1 John 1:6, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not practice the truth.”