Working with Nonbelievers (1 Corinthians 5:9–10)
In chapter 5, Paul introduces the question of working with nonbelievers, a question he will explore more fully in chapter 10 and ultimately in 2 Corinthians chapter 6 (see “Working with Nonbelievers” in 2 Corinthians). At this point, he says simply that Christians are not called to withdraw from the world because of fears about ethics. “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons—not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:9–10). By mentioning the greedy, robbers, and idolaters, he explicitly indicates he is including the work world in his instructions. Although we are to avoid immorality ourselves, and we are not to associate with immoral Christians, Paul expects us to work with nonbelievers, even those who do not observe God’s ethical principles. Needless to say, this is a difficult proposition, although he defers getting into specifics until chapter 10. The point he makes here is simply that Christians are forbidden from trying to create some kind of Christian-only economy and leaving the world to fend for itself. Instead, we are called to take our place in the work of the world alongside the people of the world.