Four Reasons to Practice Christian Morality
Explore the Bible Series
June 20, 2010
Background Passage: I Corinthians 5:1-6:20
Lesson Passage: I Corinthians 6:1-9a, 11, 13b-20
In his 2007 book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters, David Kinnaman identifies a number of reasons why American Christianity has lost a great deal of credibility with young people (16-29 year olds). Six broad themes emerge from Kinnaman’s extensive research, and, at the top of the list, Kinnaman found that young people believe Christians are hypocritical, saying one thing but doing another.
In his chapter on hypocrisy, Kinnaman reveals that statistically professing “born again” Christians behaved about the same as unchurched people (85% of Kinnaman’s respondents concluded that present-day Christianity is hypocritical). Again, according to Kinnaman’s research, “born again” were statistically as likely as their unchurched counterparts to: gamble, view pornography, steal, consult a medium or psychic, physically abuse someone, consume alcohol to the point of drunkenness, take illegal drugs, lie, have sexual relations outside of marriage, and cohabitate before marriage—on these issues, self-identified “born again” Christians bore no statistical difference from the larger culture.
In one of my early pastorates (I was in my mid-twenties—so, a long time ago), I confronted moral issues that startled me. I discovered that two church officers (a deacon and another church leader) had engaged in an extra-marital affair that had continued for years. Both families knew about the relationship; in fact, almost the entire church knew about it (except for stupid me!). The situation staggered me, and I did not know what to do—given that the offending man was currently serving as the chairman of the deacons. A few weeks later I discovered that the members of a church-sponsored co-ed softball team were engaging in a wife swapping arrangement, and, again, I naively had no idea this was occurring. These situations did not involve people who lapsed into sin temporarily; rather, in both cases, the circumstances revealed long-term, habitual behavior. These revelations paralyzed me spiritually and pastorally.
Subsequent experiences have forced me to deal with more extra-marital affairs, homosexuality, shady business dealings (including theft from church offerings), and a raft of other problems. How can these things go on among the professing people of God? Look folks, the church must ever be a place where sinners can find rest, reconciliation, and redemption—we must never promote self-righteousness. Nevertheless, the church must encourage holiness as well; indeed, genuine holiness always builds on the foundation of redemption and reconciliation.
One other caution seems necessary. Paul called for the Corinthian believers to separate from this man who lived in adultery with his father’s wife. The accused man was part of the body of believers (Paul did not mention the woman’s relationship to the church). Our lesson passage makes very clear what kind of separation Paul demanded. He did not call for separation from unbelievers; rather, he prescribed separation from the offending brother.
I. The Case of a Sexually Immoral Man (5:1-13)
A. The report of unseemly behavior (v. 1): Perhaps members of Chloe’s household brought word to Paul of the sexual improprieties in question. The apostle used a general word for sexual immorality (porneia), but he quickly identified the exact situation, a situation that must have persisted for some time, based on the verbal tense used by Paul. It seems unlikely that this man actually cohabitated with his mother; instead, perhaps he was sexually involved with his father’s widow.
B. Paul’s preliminary verdict (v. 2): Whatever the exact situation, this circumstance repulsed the apostle, and he could not understand the arrogance of the Corinthians in their reluctance to deal with this circumstance. Paul demanded that the church drive out the man, and he called on the church to mourn.
C. Paul’s remedy for the situation (vv. 3-8): Though Paul was not physically present with the church, he loved them and entered into this crisis with them. “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh…”—powerful, mysterious words. Some commentators think this phrase refers to church discipline (excommunication), but others believe the language goes beyond expelling the man from the blessings of church membership. F.F. Bruce, for instance, thought that Paul believed this man might die as a result of his heinous sin, in much the same way Ananias and Sapphira had died for lying to the church (See Acts 5:1-11). In some way, Paul believed this severe judgment might save the soul of the offending man. Moreover, Paul marveled that the church remained so arrogant in the face of such a scandal in their midst. They could not tolerate such sin in the congregation without having a deleterious effect on the whole church, like leaven permeating an entire loaf of bread. Lea and Vaughan highlight the importance of church discipline (almost unknown in contemporary Baptist churches) by quoting Baptist churchman Findley Edge concerning the absence of church discipline.
1. This current failure of Baptists churches reveals that sin is so prevalent in congregations that leadership would not know where to start the practice.
2. Edge acknowledges that reinstituting church discipline would produce major upheaval in Baptist congregations, and he implies that churches and their leaders do not have the moral nerve for obedience to the Bible’s directives.
3. Churches failed to retain the biblical practice because of earlier abuses of the practice. My own research, for instance, demonstrates the gross misappropriation and misapplication of church discipline in the association where my family serves.
4. Christians today have a very low view of the church, and they fail to understand the redemptive purposes of church discipline.
D. Paul’s previous observations about separation from immoral people (vv. 9-13): Apparently Paul wrote an earlier letter to the Corinthians, a correspondence that providence did not preserve for us. In this letter Paul made clear that the church should not separate from non-believers; rather, he called for separation from believers who disgraced the cause of the gospel. Sectarian fundamentalists seek to isolate their members from the larger culture in an effort to control thought and action, but Paul envisioned a different route for God’s people. Again, the apostle concluded this chapter by demanding that the church drive out the offending man.
II. Additional Ethical Concerns for the Church in Corinth (6:1-20): Other ethical concerns troubled Paul as he pondered the reports he had received about the Corinthians church.
A. Lawsuits (vv. 1-11): Apparently, some of the members of this troubled church defrauded one another in business transactions (See vv. 7-8). The words employed by Paul indicate shady, unethical practices aimed at cheating business associates. The apostle was started and dismayed that God’s people could (or would) not settle such matters among themselves; rather, these worldly people took their suits before pagan civil authorities. He reminded the saints that they would, at the end of the age, judge angels; yet, in their foolish immaturity, they could not resolve their comparatively petty disputes. Paul concluded that it would be better to absorb the loss of material gain in order to spare the church the disgrace of taking law suits to the courts (See Matthew 5:39-40). Paul’s counsel, however, did not constitute a blanket approval of business fraud. This type of unrighteousness, especially perpetrated against the brethren, would meet with severe judgment in the Kingdom of God, as would other offenses.
1. “fornicators”: general term that denotes a broad range of sexual sins
2. “idolaters”: the inclusion of idolatry with these sexual terms may reflect the common pagan practice of religious prostitution
3. “adulterers”: those who violate the marriage covenant
4. “homosexuals”: C.K. Barrett takes this term to refer to passive partners in homosexual relationships (See Vaughan and Lea)
5. “sodomites”: Barrett sees this as a description of the active partner in homosexual relations
6. “thieves”: Leon Morris believes this refers to petty thieves
7. “covetous”: those driven by a desire to accumulate wealth
8. “drunkards”: individuals who abuse strong drink
9. “revilers”: persons who berate holy things
10. “extortioners”: people who employ dishonest methods to steal the possessions of others. Some the Corinthians believers, before their conversion to Christ, had practiced such things. However, the grace of God had saved them from this path of self-destruction by cleansing from sin, sanctification, and justification.
B. Sexual Offenses (vv. 12-20): Some of the Corinthians, mindful of their liberty in Christ, abused that liberty to engage in sexual transgressions. The text indicates that some of the believers had engaged in prostitution, perhaps connected with the immoral sexual practices connected with the pagan worship of Aphrodite. The believer’s union with Christ made this practice reprehensible to Paul; rather, he called on the Corinthians to flee from sexual immorality. A Christian’s body serves as the temple of the Holy Spirit and has been redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ; therefore, Christians must glorify the Lord with their bodies.
Personal Note: Dear friends, please forgive the hurried content of the later portion of this outline. My oldest daughter gave birth to our second grandson this morning, and I’ve composed some of this under the distractions of family concerns. Thank you for your kind patience with me.