I Corinthians 5 & 6
The Church is called to be distinct from the world. Some people take this to mean that we should withdraw into a ‘holy huddle’, avoiding contact with unbelievers. But the distinctive identity of Christ’s Body is not threatened by our outside social contacts (whether at work or leisure); rather, it is at risk of being corrupted from within, by those people who claim to be Christians but who live like pagans. All too often we are critical of outsiders while being indulgent towards church members – but it should be the other way round! We are not to go around wagging our fingers at the behaviour of unbelievers (God will judge them in His own good time), but the Church should discipline any member whose manner of life is incompatible with their Christian profession (I Corinthians 5:12,13).
So Paul was appalled to discover what had been going on in Corinth in his absence. Church members were cheating each other and seeking redress through the law courts (I Corinthians 6:1-8). Some were openly worshipping in pagan temples (I Corinthians 8:9,10). And to cap it all, there was a case of such gross incest that even outsiders were scandalised (I Corinthians 5:1). It was as if, having been invited to live in God’s house, they were determined to wreck it.
Sexual sins are not in a class of their own here. Greed, idolatry, verbal abuse, alcoholism, cheating and petty pilfering (such as shoplifting and fare-dodging) (I Corinthians 5:11) are ‘everyday’ behaviours that pervade many churches, often ‘underneath the radar’ – and none of them can be regarded as minor sins. Sexual immorality distorts and damages normal relationships; greed is a form of idolatry, which puts something other than God at the centre of our lives; slander destroys fellowship; drunkenness prevents clear thinking and leads to other destructive behaviours; dishonesty makes it impossible to trust other people. Secular culture tolerates all these things, which makes it difficult for churches to make a stand. But blatant, persistent, defiant sin (Paul is not talking about isolated lapses, but about a way of life) should not be acceptable.
Unbelievers will do as they please, committing all kinds of sins quite freely and without any thought for the consequences. But we are citizens of God’s Kingdom, and we cannot live as though sin does not matter. The grace of God is not a moral ‘blank cheque’. “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” (I Corinthians 6:9) Surely our place in His family is more important than sexual fulfilment, financial gain, or temporary pleasure? Our baptism marked a turning-point in our lives, a decisive break with the past. We have left our former way of life behind, and it should be unthinkable to go back.
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself?” (I Corinthians 6:15) If we truly belong to Jesus Christ, we cannot at the same time be the slaves of our physical appetites. Food, alcohol and sex are all good things – gifts from God – but they quickly become tyrannical masters if allowed to take control (I Corinthians 6:12). Every aspect of our lives must therefore be placed under the lordship of Christ. He paid an immense price to free us from the enslavement of sin (I Peter 1:18,19), so how can we continue to live by the standards of the pagan world? “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.” (I Corinthians 6:19,20)