“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12).
The apostle Paul was instrumental in the expansion of the church in the years following Jesus’ return to heaven, traveling around the Mediterranean regions and starting new churches in nearly every city he visited. Even when Paul wasn’t physically present with the churches he had started, his thoughts were never far from them. He wrote many letters to help the churches work through issues arising within them.
The church in Corinth had numerous such issues. Paul addressed many of them in 1 Corinthians, one of which was the Corinthians’ misunderstanding of one of his own instructions. He had previously written that they shouldn’t associate with people living sinful lifestyles, by which he meant believers who chose to not live in the holiness God demands. The Corinthians, though, apparently took this to mean that they shouldn’t be around anyone who sinned, and so they shunned unbelievers.
From this behavior, Paul makes a critical point. It’s impossible to live in this world and not be around sexually immoral people, or greedy people, or cheaters, or people who worship other gods. Indeed, these are the very people Jesus associated Himself with, and they were the ones most responsive to His message of salvation!
We cannot expect those who do not know Jesus to live as those who do. The only reason we who believe in Jesus can refrain from sin is because we have the very Spirit of God living inside us, teaching us daily what is right and giving us the strength to do it. We hold one another to a high standard, because we are called to be God’s holy people.
But we cannot hold those who do not know God to this standard! We must remember that without God, we are no better. God will judge the actions of the world as He sees fit. It is our responsibility to see that we ourselves live as He has instructed us.