Paul versus Jesus on how to deal with sinners

What does Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 5:11 where he tells us not to associate with people that are fornicators, etc. Paul also says basically the same thing in Rom. 16:17, 2 Thess. 3:6, and 2 Thess. 3:14. How does avoiding people who are living in sin, like Paul seems to be saying we should, fit with Jesus’ life and example of being the friend of sinners and embracing sinners??

Thanks for your help with this question!


One thing we have to be able to understand is Jesus’s purpose and the fact Paul is talking about a completely different kind of sinner in his writings. Look at Mark 2 this passage includes all of us believer and non-believer. We are sick and broken people who need healing and saving. That was his purpose.

Mark 2:16-17
When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this he said to them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Now when Paul is speaking in 1 Corinthians 5:11 if you read a few verses up you understand more what he means.

9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you .

See in the passage there are 2 types of people being talked about. Non-believer and believer. It’s pretty clear Paul is saying that someone who says they are Christian but is openly living like they aren’t is not someone to have in the Christian community. This type of individual has more than likely heard the gospel plenty of times and had opportunities to ask questions and gain a good understanding of discipleship and what it means to follow Christ. Because of this they made a choice to do otherwise and think they can still fellowship and be considered a follower. This is something the Pharisees used to do all the time. Jesus didn’t like this either which is the reason he called them whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27). Jesus wants our hearts, not lip service or fake admiration. He wants the real thing with us which is why true followers aren’t to hang with people who are living in such a displeasing way because it will make them think it’s acceptable.

In Romans 16:17 you again have to read the context. From what Paul is saying there he wants followers of Christ to be aware of the people who try to cause division on purpose. Unity in the body of Christ is powerful and we all need each other which is what Satan is against. He wants to keep us separated and fighting amongst ourselves. The passages in 2 Thessalonians 3 are saying the same thing as 1 corinthians 5. Those people are believers who think they can live undisciplined lives and still be in fellowship. We disfellowship with them to show them they are wrong in their thinking and their actions. We never stop loving them but we can’t pretend what they are doing is okay. A passage to support this is Matthew 18:15-17.

15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established . 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.

To treat someone like a gentile or tax collector would be to treat them like an unbeliever meaning they wouldn’t be in fellowship or under discipleship.
Here is a link to gotquestions if you want to read further into this. Just to note they define excommunication differently.

I hope this helps, God Bless :slight_smile:


Amen, Luna – excellent response!


Thanks for your reply!
I guess when I see Jesus, and how He pursues us even when we are living in sin, I get a different picture than I do when I read some of Paul’s writings. And Jesus does not just love the person who has never been a christian, but also the person that is a christian and has fallen into sin. This is evidenced by the parable of the prodigal son, etc. Since we are called to follow Jesus, isn’t that how we should respond to people even after they have fallen into sin?
Also, what about the verse that says with what measure we mete the same will be measured to us again? Doesn’t that imply that it would be far better to be merciful and loving to people (even people who claim to be Christians and yet are living in sin) than to judge them and not associate with them etc.?

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@simonkinsinger Jesus himself is the one speaking in Matthew 18:15-17. He is the one who gave the command to not have them in the community. When someone is in the Christian community it’s more than just associating. It’s like them being a family member. Jesus is not saying to not love them but to distance yourself because they have an unrepentant heart inspite of knowing what’s right. Paul is simply following what Jesus said to do and telling those under him what Jesus commanded.

Let me ask you this what was Jesus’s behavior towards the Pharisees and does his judgements of them mean he was unloving or unmerciful toward them?



Great response! Totally agree.

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I agree with everything what Luna has written. Wonderful response. And I also (I guess to some extent) understand the heart behind the question Simon has posted.

I’ve had a similar question, but twas towards the church and the implementation of the verses that Paul has written, namely - Excommunication. Theoretically, parts of the doctrine of excommunication seem to be Biblical. But often the way it is implemented is highly biased. Often I’ve seen the church administration excommunicate because of (i) political differences in the church administration, (ii) power play, and (iii) considering only certain types of sins as that which requires excommunication.
Many a times, we don’t take the previous steps seriously. We don’t pray, or wait on the Lord to clearly know the ‘sin’ of our brothers, we don’t have love, we don’t confront in truth, love and gentleness, we don’t listen to what the brother or sister has to say and we don’t consider telling lies or greed to also be sinful as the other sexual sins and hype only about certain sins. The only step taken without the beginning or the end is excommunication.
Often I’ve wondered whether church even feels pain after excommunication. In some sense, according to me, it is like amputation - shouldn’t we miss that part of the body of Christ which Christ had created for a purpose? Sure, we would eventually get used to it and God would enable someone else to take the responsibilities of the brother who was sent out (hopefully temporarily sent out). But, at the moment of excommunication does one feel the pain?

So, seeing the way these verses were implemented, I was upset about these verses and even Paul for writing them. The moment someone pointed to me about Jesus saying similar things, I went back and studied it more. A house divided against itself will not stand. If within the community of believers in the church, there is constant dissension over the same matter due to lack of submission to God’s Word, it would greatly hamper the mission of the church. The world needs the church more than ever right now. We can’t constantly and only minister to those inside the church, especially when one is unwilling to repent. The church needs to as one body reach out, ‘to go and make disciples’.
I love the way Jesus ended that passage. ‘If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.’ And we know how Jesus treated both the gentiles and the tax collector. :grinning: :smiley:

This post is probably going to seem really random but I find your question thought-provoking for both personal and intellectual/academic reasons, so here goes:

When I was hangin’ with the Jews a lot (long story), I remember hearing that there was a rabbinic tradition that Paul had been “planted” among the Christians to corrupt the faith. When I became a Christian, I saw what they meant: Paul seems really different from everyone else who writes in the NT. I’m not saying I agree with that rabbinic tradition, just that I sense the same disconnect you do. I’ve always struggled with Paul (not least because of his page-long sentences—I mean really, punctuation is free, Paul!).

On the academic note, I wrote my dissertation on a church topic (though I did not study theology). Basically, I applied a sociological theory of organizational structure to the church. I didn’t do much with the early church, but what I did say there was that when Christ ascended to Heaven, the “charismatic” period of Christianity ended and a kind of institutionalization began. “Charismatic” in this sense doesn’t mean what Christians normally mean by it: It means that the ability to follow the “original founder” of a religion or organization or whatever has ended (or in this case, at least fundamentally changed) with the now-physical absence of that person. What happens in that person’s absence is pretty typical historically: The community tries to continue to live the life the founder preached, but if they’re going to endure as a community without the founder’s personal “charisma” there (in the flesh) to bind them, they need to create “structures” around the community that will hold them together. So they start meeting in fixed places (at first homes, then church buildings), start assigning “offices” to people to do the work of the community that previously people had just volunteered for (deacons were the first in the NT, and then that turned into priests), start coming up with rituals that define them and distinguish them from others (just look at all the stuff in the Catholic and Orthodox churches), and start making all kinds of rules about who can belong inside these structures and who doesn’t belong. In the absence of the original founder’s charismatic presence, these are the things that give order to the community. (And yes, there is a sense in which they are quite earthly… but I’ll stay off that soapbox.)

From that sociological perspective, Paul is an institutionalizer: He is the only Apostle who did not know Christ in the flesh, so he probably saw this whole Christian community thing very differently from those who did, and his tendency to set very clear rules definitely displays a “post-charismatic” tendency (again, in the sociological sense).

In the past few decades (well, ever since the Quakers, really), there’s been a strong tendency to undo the institutionalization of the church to recover a more “charismatic” (in both the sociological and Christian sense now) approach to faith. That being so, it’s no wonder to me so many people struggle with Paul today.

Not sure how clear/helpful/interesting that is, but I do tend to see the issue from both a theological and sociological perspective, and the latter helps me deal with the struggles I have with the former.

@simonkinsinger, there is no difference between how Jesus treated people and the way Paul treated people. As was stated below or in a previous text Jesus treatment of the Pharisees and Sadducees was very hostile he called them children of the devil of the synagogue of Satan my paraphrase. Paul after having explained in his epistle to the Romans that we having died to sin, (which means we are no longer under the reign and rule of sin) because Jesus died to sin and having been United with him in his death we are also United with the Lord Jesus in his life. this means that when someone who claims to be United with the Lord Jesus in his death (having been as Colossians puts it “transported out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the son of his love”) and also United with Christ in his life which is the New kingdom of righteousness there will be a freedom from the tyranny of sin and NO desire to willfully sin as much as you like. Paul says “so should we sin so that Grace May abound, may it never be!! “Again my paraphrase. The point that Paul is making in the passage you quoted above is that you cannot be regenerated and a part of God’s New kingdom of righteousness and willfully sin and like it. If you do that “you are a liar and the truth is not in you” 1John 2:4
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.
Jesus was always talking about the two kingdoms this is what Paul is talking about Paul is simply laying out that you cannot be a part of God’s kingdom and do those things and so the real Christians should not fellowship with someone who is obviously still in the other kingdom. You can’t call those people Brothers or cannot worship God with someone who doesn’t worship him at all. but this is not the same as someone who falls into sin who is a Christian. That person is still justified no matter how bad the sin. can they backslide? Absolutely but the evidence of their original regeneration is that they are miserable while they’re backsliding, but their justification,” the judicial pronouncement of the right standing with God by God himself”( because of the death burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus) cannot be done away with.
I hope this helps to clarify just a little