Messy church: Sin (sexual immorality in particular)

I Corinthians 5 & 6

In the realm of human sexuality, moral standards have a universal tendency to drift downwards; what shocked us a generation ago is now considered normal. And the church is not immune to this kind of creeping corruption. But even a sexually permissive society will have some taboos. And we find (I Corinthians 5:1,2) that the church in Corinth were tolerating in their midst such a gross example of incest that even the pagans were scandalised! Even worse, this was no spur-of-the-moment lapse, but an ongoing relationship. And instead of being ashamed, the church was actually trumpeting this case as an example of Christian freedom!

Paul was horrified, not so much by the sin itself as by their lack of concern about it. How could they boast of their spirituality when they were failing to live out the moral implications of their relationship with God? An easy-going tolerance of sin implies a refusal to accept the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice. Tempting though it is to cling to worldly patterns of behaviour, we must root them out of our lives and leave them behind (I Corinthians 5:6-8). This does not mean pretending to be better than we really are; we are to ‘eat’ the “bread of sincerity” (verse 8), not the bread of hypocrisy. It does mean that we should be people who are not afraid to stand in the light of God’s holiness. No church will ever be perfect – but churches should places where sin is neither condoned, nor covered up, but brought out into the open and dealt with.

Some of the Corinthians might have argued that a one-night-stand with a prostitute (as opposed to an ongoing adulterous relationship) was a matter of no consequence. But any and every sexual relationship has implications for our emotional and spiritual health. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!” (I Corinthians 6:15) Paul seems to be saying that, for a Christian, sex with a prostitute is a form of adultery against our Lord! We have a natural hunger for intimacy, yet our capacity for it can actually be destroyed by shallow sexual relationships. The real harm in sex outside marriage is that it is a parody of the complete union of two individuals; it is an unreality, a living lie. Our deepest psychological needs (for love, intimacy and acceptance) cannot be met by casual sex – but they are fulfilled by a relationship with Jesus.

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