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Darkness & Light Are Incompatible   Leave a comment

Paul had just finished pleading for the affection of the Corinthian believers. Now he issued a command

Do not become partners with those who do not believe. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

A lot of people concentrate on the first part “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (quoting from the KJV), but you miss a lot of what is said when you do that. For example, the Greek nuance here is very strong “STOP yoking yourselves to unbelievers.” The use of the present imperative shows that Paul wasn’t merely warning the Corinthians of some hypothetical potential danger, but instructing them to stop an action already in progress.

Image result for image of not being unequally yokedSome scholars feel this section is out of place, that maybe it came from another section and was just inserted here by a later scribe because nobody knew where it belonged. Paul was lobbying strenuously for the Corinthians’ affect and then he resumes his lobbying efforts in 7:2. So what’s with the segue?

The misplaced fragment theory is an easy solution to a complex problem that creates more complex problems. It’s easy to shift the “blame” to someone other than Paul, but it doesn’t really address the question. Why did Paul suddenly insert this phrase into the middle of another narrative. Some scholars think he may have been quoting a familiar sermons, a piece of traditional writing or even an Essene text that had been reworked to reflect a Christian point of view. I think that’s extrapolating an awful lot.

I’m going to suggest that the most obvious answer is the most obvious answer. Paul was perhaps responding to news just received from Titus about a continuing problem with pagan associations. Another possibility is that, having asked the Corinthians to “open wide” Paul was now cautioning them about what not to be open to. 1 Corinthians 10:1-22 shows they were clearly in need of such guidance. Perhaps Paul was engaging in a little structural diplomacy. Modern writers call it “gem setting.” By starting and ending with statements of affection, he attempted to cushion the force of his command. The likeliest explanation is that Paul was specifying the cause for the Corinthians’ constraint toward him: their ongoing partnerships with unbelievers. And, ultimately there need not be just one explanation. A number of things could have led Paul to tackle the problem at this point and in this fashion.

We need to remember that he didn’t have a word processor and paper and ink were precious in his day and time. Perhaps he would have rearranged the letter to put points together had he had the modern conveniences that we do today, but he didn’t. And so, there’s a segue in this section, but ultimately, it fits with Paul’s overall message.

What exactly was Paul prohibiting with his command? The range among translations shows that there is no easy answer to this question.

  • Do not try to work together as equals with unbelievers. (TEV)
  • Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. (NRSV)
  • Do not unite yourselves with unbelievers. (NEB)
  • Do not become partners with those who do not believe (NET)

I think we first have to decide who is “the unbeliever” and what does it mean to be “yoked together”. Fourteen out of sixteen Pauline uses of the term “unbeliever” (apistos) occur in 1st and 2nd Corinthians. The majority appear in 1 Corinthians 7 and distinguish those who have made a commitment to Christ from those who have not (7:12, 13, 14, 15). The only other occurrence in 2 Corinthians is used of those whose minds have been blinded by Satan to the light of the gospel (4:4). Here, in 2 Corinthians 6:14, it refers to those with whom there is a conflict of interest stemming from incompatible loyalties.

Paul certainly doesn’t mean to exclude all contact with unbelievers. He wront in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, that the church couldn’t avoid immoral people because that would necessitate removing themselves from the world entirely. So, the command here is concerning a particular kind of contact with unbelievers. Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 52:11, where Israel is commanded to come out from them and be separate suggests contact of a compromising nature (v. 17). But what would constitute a compromising liaison? Would working with an unbeliever be forbidden?

Marriage between a believer and unbeliever would certainly be a legitimate application of the command, which accounts for it being the most common connection made in sermons, but is it the only one? It may not even be the primary application, since the focus throughout is on the church, not the individual believer. This is especially clear from the Old Testament passages Paul invoked to support his prohibition. In each case they deal with God’s covenantal relationship with Israel, which Paul reapplied to the church as the temple of the living God (vv. 16-18).

Image result for image of not being unequally yokedHere in my hometown, the local Food Bank is largely funded by a consortium of churches, but it also receives wide support from civil organizations and individuals. Would this command prohibit such collaborations?

The command is literally Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. The verb heterozygew is an agricultural term that refers to the practice of yoking two unequal kinds of animals (such as an ox and a donkey) to a plow. This would suggest that unequal associations between Christians and non-Christians are what Paul specifically had in mind. Paul was clearly thinking of associations that involve a partnership rather than a casual or occasional working relationship.

The specific kinds of partnerships are left unnamed. This may be because Paul dealt with specific instances in 1 Corinthians, so that the Corinthians understood what kinds of partnerships he meant.

  • He had reprimanded them for allowing their legal disputes with one another to be arbitrated by the secular courts (“in front of unbelievers,” 6:1-6).
  • He had admonished them for participating with pagans in their cultic meals (10:6-22).
  • He had rebuked them for approving of sexual unions with prostitutes (6:12-20) and for taking pride in the sexual liaison between a Christian and his stepmother (5:1-13).

Paul was concerned with the unequal partnerships believers form with secular society( unbelievers). Does this mean that it is not legitimate for the church to be active in society and its structures? Paul addressed this question by means of a series of five rhetorical questions that highlight recognized spheres of incompatibility between Christianity and the secular world. Each is introduced with the relative pronoun tis(what), each considers the partnership of acknowledged opposites (such as light and dark), and each expects the answer “No way.”

For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what  fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14b)

Image result for image of no fellowship between light and darknessThe believer and the unbeliever are driven by a different set of values, the one characterized by righteousness (dikaiosyne), the other by lawlessness (anomia). There are no shared values because the one follows God’s will and the other does not. So there can be no real partnership between them.

Light and darkness are common imagery to describe the way of the righteous and the wicked, found throughout the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (for example, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble,” Proverbs 4:18-19). In Paul’s writings, light is Christ-centered. Darkness was over the whole universe until God created light. Darkness resided in the hearts and minds of humankind God shone the light of the glorious gospel about Christ in our hearts (4:4, 6). This light makes ethical demands on its recipients in the form of fruit that is “good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9).

And what agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:15)

The second set of questions considered the partnership of personal opposites. It is widely thought that Belial (Greek Beliar) comes from the Hebrew term beliyya`al, meaning “worthless, good-for-nothing”. Belial as a name for the devil is found only here in the New Testament. Paul usually referred to the Christian’s archenemy as “Satan” (Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9; 1 Timothy 1:20; 5:15). In the Old Testament beliyya`al also designates the realm of the powers of chaos and so comes to mean destruction, wickedness and ruin (as in Deuteronomy 13:13[14]; Judges 19:22; 20:13; 1 Samuel 1:16; Psalms 18:4[5]; 41:8[9]; 101:3; Proverbs 16:27; 19:28; Nahum 1:11[2:1]. In the Qumran Scrolls beliyya`al is the name of the highest angel of darkness and the enemy of the prince of light, while in other Jewish materials Belial is the absolute enemy of God and chief of demons (Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs; Jubilees 1:20; The Lives of the Prophets 4:6, 20; 17:2; Sibylline Oracles 2.167; 3.64-74; Ascension of Isaiah 3-4). It is because the unbeliever’s mind has been blinded by the devil to the truths of the gospel (4:4) that the believer and unbeliever hold nothing in common.

And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living Godjust as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, andthey will be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16)

Paul’s final rhetorical question considered the partnership of religious opposites, which goes to the heart of the problem at Corinth. Turning from idols to serve the living God was a regular part of the message Paul preached to Gentiles (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; compare Acts 17:22-31). Corinth was home to many renowned temples — the temple of Aphrodite (the goddess of love, fertility and beauty) situated on the Acrocorinth, an 1,886-foot-high fortified mountain, and the sanctuary of Asclepius (god of healing). The pagan temples, which were under the patronage of a particular god or goddess, were a focal point of social activity. Invitations along the lines of “So and so invites you to dine at the temple of Serapis” were a regular social possibility for those living in a city like Corinth.

To a Christian, an idol is nothing in the world because there is no God but one (1 Corinthians 8:4). On the other hand, to continue to be involved in the pagan cults would suggest that an idol has value. Participation in cultic meals and temple worship would seriously call into question one’s loyalty to God. While the meat that has been sacrificed to an idol is itself indifferent, participation in the cultic meal is not. Such participation not only gives credibility to the idol but also forges a union with the patron god or goddess. Christian involvement leads others to think that there must be something to this after all. Moreover, while the idol itself may be nothing, there is a power behind the idol that is not to be overlooked. This is why Paul equated participation in cultic meals with becoming partners with demons (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).

Therefore “come out from their midst, and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch no unclean thing, and I will welcome youand I will be a father to youand you will be my sons and daughters,” says the All-Powerful Lord. (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)

It’s becoming increasingly common for Christian ministers, once great supporters of public schools, to now advocate for home schooling and private schools because they have come to recognize that public school curricular materials are increasingly in direct opposition to Christian values, calling into question whether Christians should be involved with the system.

Paul described the church (and the individual Christian) as the temple of the living God, or, better, the “sanctuary” (naos)–the most sacred part of the temple structure (v. 16). Paul’s choice of words is significant. The temple of the living God does not refer to a building. From the days of Solomon to the time of Christ, the temple was a physical structure where God made His presence known to Israel, but with Christ’s coming, God’s temple became the people gathered in Christ’s name. The first-person pronoun is placed at the head of the clause for emphasis–We are the temple of the living God (v. 16). I think most Christians today don’t sufficiently grasp this theological point. The evidence for that is that we talk about “going to church,” “the church building” and “entering the house of God”, which leads insider and outsider alike to think of the church as a physical structure rather than the people who gather there.

To be the temple of the living God is to belong exclusively to God and to forsake all associations that would be incompatible with God’s ownership. To drive home this point, Paul cited six Old Testament passages that spell out what it means to be God’s possession. In each case a text that deals with God’s covenantal relationship with Israel was reapplied to the church (vv. 16-18). Phrases from each passage are woven together in an almost unprecedented way, recalling the testimonial collections of the early church.

I will live with them most likely comes from Leviticus 26:11 (“I will put my dwelling place among you”), but Ezekiel 37:27 is also a possibility (“my dwelling place will be with them”). The verb translated live with (enoikeo) means to “inhabit” or “be at home.” The notion is active rather than passive. To be at home is to exercise one’s rights as the proprietor of the house. So for God to inhabit his church is for him to establish his rule there. Walk among them is taken from Leviticus 26:12, with the minor modification of changing the pronoun from second to third person. To walk among is actually to “walk in and around”. God does not merely exercise His rights as proprietor but moves with familiarity from one room to the next.

I will be their God and they will be my people is a recurring promise of Yahweh to Israel in the Old Testament. The first occurrence is in Leviticus 26:12, the most probable source of Paul’s quote–although it also appears in the familiar texts of Jeremiah 31:33, 32:38 and Ezekiel 37:27. The imagery shifts at this point from dwellings to treaties. The language is that of a sovereign to a vassal. Under the terms of the treaty that bound king and vassal together, the king agreed to protect the vassal, and the vassal promised sole allegiance and obedience. This is why worship of God and worship of idols are fundamentally incompatible. While we no longer relate to God as vassals to a sovereign, the essential principle of exclusive possession underlying the Mosaic covenant still holds true (3:14).

Therefore (v 17) introduces the practical implications of verses 14-16. The pledge of the sovereign’s presence and protection also carried with it certain moral mandates for the vassal. The mandate for Israel was that they were to come out from them and be separate. . . . Touch no unclean thing. Paul quoted from Isaiah 52:11, changing the order of the commands and adding the phrase says the Lord. In Isaiah 52:8-12 the Israelites were warned as they leave Babylon that they are not to take any material goods acquired in exile back with them; and those who carry the sacred temple vessels, which had been carefully preserved in exile, are first to purify themselves. Israel was to sever all ties with the idolatries, practices and impurities of their pagan captors. The same is true for the church. God always demands holy living from His people. Since He takes up lodging among us, we in turn are called to separate ourselves from everything incompatible with his holiness (Bruce 1971:215). The verbs are aorist imperatives (exelthate, aphoristhete), making immediate and decisive separation the appropriate course of action.

If the Corinthians do this, the pledge is that God will receive them and be a father to them. They, in turn, will be sons and daughters (vv. 17-18). I will receive you is probably drawn from Ezekiel 20:34. The second part of the pledge is taken from 2 Samuel 7:14 (2 Kingdoms 7:14): “I will be his father, and he will be my son.” Paul saw God’s promise to David that he will be a father to Solomon and Solomon will be a son to him fulfilled yet again in God’s relationship to the church. The singular son is changed to the plural sons, and the phrase and daughters is added, probably under the influence of Isaiah 43:6. There are to be a family likeness and family affection between God and his people.

The entire string of Old Testament quotations concludes with the phrase says the Lord Almighty. The phrase is a familiar one in the Bible. The term pantokrator, which translates the Hebrew seba’wt, is commonly rendered “almighty” but actually means “master” or “ruler of all”. With this phrase Paul emphasized the awesome truth that it is the One Who rules over all Who chooses to dwell among us and be our Father.

Paul concluded this block of verses with an exhortation to be pure and holy: Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (7:1). The language and phraseology are not typically Pauline. He might have been quoting a familiar phrase or a well-known ethical injunction. In the sphere of agriculture, katharizo (“purify”) means to “prune away” or “clear” the ground of weeds–which may not be far off the mark here. The more usual way to construe the verb is to “wash” or “cleanse” of dirt or other filth. Paul’s use of the reflexive heautous would support this sense (“to cleanse yourselves“). The aorist tense suggests a decisive action of cleansing (katharisomen).Cleanliness as next to godliness fits well the religious mentality of Paul’s day. Both Greek religion and Judaism placed an emphasis on physical and ritual purity. Within Judaism this mentality was grounded on the presupposition that uncleanness and Yahweh were irreconcilable opposites. The Essenes, in particular, were well known for their rites of purification and daily immersion practices (Link and Schattenmann 1978:104-5).

From what were the Corinthians to cleanse themselves? According to Paul, it was from everything that contaminates body and spirit. Contaminates is actually a noun denoting that which stains, defiles or soils (molysmos). The noun is found only here in the New Testament, although the verb is used twice in Revelation (3:4; 14:4) and once in 1 Corinthians (8:7) of defiling the conscience through the indiscriminate eating of meat sacrificed to idols (compare Jerermiah 23:15). This brings us back full circle to Paul’s opening injunction to stop entering into unequal partnerships with unbelievers (6:14). The close association of molysmos with idolatry suggests that Paul was thinking especially of defilement that comes from dining in the local temples, membership in the pagan cults, ritual prostitution, active engagement in pagan worship and the like.

The defilement mentioned affected body and spirit. The Greek text is literally “flesh and spirit.” Paul could be using popular language to designate the material and immaterial elements of a person, but he used “flesh” and “spirit” interchangeably at 2:13 and 7:5, suggesting he was looking at the human being from two differing perspectives. This fits with Hebraic thinking, which did not compartmentalize the human being but viewed the whole person from different vantage points (such as physical, spiritual, mental).

The positive side of the exhortation is perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. Holiness becomes a reality as we purify ourselves from physical and spiritual pollutants. Purifying ourselves must be done out of reverence for God–that is, in deference and devotion toward Him to whom we owe everything.

That Christians would strive to live a holy life is a wholly appropriate response to the promises of God’s presence (v. 16), His welcome (v. 17) and His fatherhood (v. 18).

Judging the Church   Leave a comment

The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians focus on the problem of fleshly divisions within the church. Little factions, each with their own leader, had arisen. Worldly wisdom was embraced in place of the wisdom of God in Christ. Pride was a distinguishing feature of these Corinthians. In their false pride, the Corinthians began to judge Paul (and other apostles) unfairly, and to look down upon him, his ministry, and his message. Paul had gently rebuked these saints, and at the end of chapter 4, he urged them to heed his admonition so that he would not have to come to them “with a rod” (4:21).

Image result for image of christian courtsWhile the Corinthians were wrongly dividing over petty distinctions, they were unwilling to separate themselves from a church member who persisted in a sin so abominable that even the pagans of very rowdy Corinth were shocked. Paul rebuked the church for failing to exercise church discipline on a man who was living with his father’s wife. Paul informed the church of his action, even from afar, and urged them to follow his example. They had somehow misunderstood his previous letter, supposing that he was teaching that Christian separation is separation from unbelieving sinners. Paul corrected this misconception not just for them, but for us as well.

The divisions Paul spoke of theoretically in chapter 4 are now addressed specifically in chapter 6. Paul sought to show the Corinthians the “higher road” of morality, which doesn’t come from civil laws but from the gospel.

When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? 1 Corinthians 6:1

Paul had been exceedingly gentle in the previous chapters, only indirectly introducing the problem of divisions in the church. How dare the Corinthian Christians air their disagreements out before the unrighteous rather than go before the church!

Paul was distressed on many levels in this topic:

  • Disputes were erupting between believers in the church. Christians were at odds with one another.
  • These disputes between believers were being taken to the secular courts by these Corinthian believers.
  • Unbelieving judges were being asked to arbitrate between Christians.
  • When these disputes were taken before unbelieving judges, the whole ugly ordeal was carried out before the curious eyes of unbelieving spectators. The world gets to watch these Christians fight with one another in court.
  • These disputes had not been taken to the church, where they belong.

Remember what Jesus said about church discipline in Matthew 18? Disputes between believers should be resolved as privately as possible within the church, unless the wayward saint chooses to disregard the church, in which case that individual should be publicly disfellowshipped. Instead of these two individuals at Corinth going through this process, they took their grievances to the local courts to seek a judgment from an unbelieving judge. Paul was flabbergasted.

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters! So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow ChristiansInstead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 1 Corinthians 6:2-6

Paul asked a sequence of questions which indirectly exposed the pathetic condition of the saints at Corinth. Five times in this chapter Paul asks the question, “Do you not know…?” This strikes a very hard blow at the pride of the Corinthians, who think themselves so very wise, and Paul so very naive and provincial in his thinking. I suspect Paul had already taught on these subjects and was flabbergasted that they had forgotten.

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (see Daniel 7:21-22, 27;  Matthew 19:28; Revelation 20:4.

Paul assumes they do know it, and that their actions are completely contradictory to their theology. If Christians are going to reign with Christ and participate in the judgment of the world, how in the world could these Corinthians turn to the unsaved for judgment? If the righteous will judge the unrighteous at the Second Coming, how could the Corinthian Christians look to a heathen to judge the righteous

Do the Corinthians not know that they will be judging the angels? (See Isaiah 24:21-22; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Revelation 20:10)

If they know, why would they feel they are unable to judge in trivial matters of this life?

Both the Old and New Testament scriptures are clear that the saints will judge the world. However, there is no clear statement in the Old or New Testaments (other than this statement by Paul) that the saints will judge the angels. It is not a great reach to infer this, however. The saints will reign with Christ when He comes and establishes His kingdom. When Christ judges the world, we will participate. Through Jesus, God will also judge the angels . If this judging of the angels is also a part of Jesus’s reign, and if we shall reign with Him, then we too will judge the angels. Furthermore Paul, as an apostle, was given the authority to reveal that which is a mystery in the Old Testament. If the Corinthians had begun to trust in other (false) apostles, then perhaps it was time they reconsidered their source of authority and revelation. If they were listening to Paul, they would know such things.

Verse 4 is understood in a number of different ways, depending upon the translation. I prefer the translation (paraphrase) of J. B. Phillips: “In any case, if you find you have to judge matters of this world, why choose as judges those who count for nothing in the church?”  If the saints will judge both the world and the angels at the coming of Christ, why in the world would they turn to the world’s judicial system to pronounce judgment in a dispute between two believers? Paul had just written in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, that natural men cannot understand thing Spirit of God, so why would church members turn to them for judgment in spiritual things?

Wasn’t there even one wise person among the Corinthians who was qualified to judge the dispute between these two believers? This church thought it was very wise. They were so quick to judge Paul and find him wanting. They proudly followed one leader and condemned the rest. Where were these Corinthian “wise men” when they were needed? They were very good at judging when they wanted, so why was no one able to judge such mundane matters? Believers were at each other’s throats before the world.

The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this wayBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:7-11

For the competitive Corinthians, life was all about winning and losing. Lawsuits are certainly about winning and losing. Paul argued that any Corinthian Christian who took another believer to court had already lost. Going to court with a fellow-believer is a no-win situation. The better way is to take the loss. Yeah, Paul is telling us that it is better to be a victim than a victor. We want to argue against that because we don’t want to take a loss because of our pride. We don’t want to let the other person get the better of us. We don’t want to lose — money, possessions, prestige …. We protect and exercise our rights, no matter what the cost to others. Our rights are unlimited … the other guy’s can be limited.

Christians are supposed to have an utterly different value system from the unbeliever. When Jesus invited men to follow Him, they were instructed to “take up their cross daily” to follow Him. Thus, the Christian is a person whose life is dominated and directed by the cross of Calvary. It was on the cross of Calvary that Jesus was wronged to bring about our salvation.The wrongful death of Christ is the model for the Christian (see 1 Peter 2, 18-25). This is the reason Jesus taught His disciples not to retaliate, but to return good for evil (Matthew 5:43-48). Paul teaches us similarly (Romans 12:17-21). Jesus taught that if a man forces you to go a mile, you should go two miles instead (Matthew 5:41). The one who asks of us should receive from us (Matthew 5:42). Our goal in life is not to accumulate possessions or to protect and preserve them. We are to give all these things up, gladly. Our attitude should not be to seek our own interests ahead of others, but rather to seek the interests of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2:1-8). This being the case, we should be willing to be wronged and defrauded, especially for the sake of the gospel and for the testimony of the church.

Yes, I am an individual rights advocate, but the non-aggression principle teaches that my rights are not more important than the other person’s rights.

It is a terrible thing for a Christian to take another Christian to court. In verses 1-7, Paul addressed the plaintiff, the one who felt offended or ill-treated and urged him to take his grievance to the church and to risk suffering loss rather than damage the reputation of the church and hinder the gospel by exposing the sins of a brother to the world. Love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). Paul then turned to the defendant, who might have been feeling self-satisfied at that moment, comforted by Paul’s rebuke of his adversary. Paul didn’t left him off the hook, though.

If the plaintiff must be willing to be wronged and defrauded, it’s not an invitation for others to wrong and defraud. Some of these Corinthians Christians are crooks, and they prey upon their fellow Christians. Paul warned them that heaven is not a haven for sinners, but a blessed sanctuary for those who have been saved, whose sins have been forgiven because they have forsaken their sins. Some Corinthian Christians were once sinners with sinful lifestyles, but that was the past, and this was the present. Paul provided a broad and all-inclusive list of their sins that include:

  • those who commit sexual sin outside of marriage (idolaters),
  • those who serve other gods of various kinds (idolaters),
  • those who commit sexual sins against their partner in marriage (adulterers),
  • passive (effeminate) and active (homosexuals) sexual deviates.
  • thieves
  • those who lust for what others possess (the covetous),
  • alcoholics (drunkards),
  • those who speak against others (revilers), and
  • con artists (swindlers).

This is a sampling of those who won’t make it into heaven because heaven is a holy place, because God dwells there. Consequently, unholy people will not be there.

The Corinthian church included people who had previously lived such sinful lives, but when they were saved, this became a past, which should be forgotten and forsaken. Salvation includes repentance. Repentance means that we not only agree with God that we are sinners, doomed to eternal torment, and that Christ’s righteousness will save us, but also that we turn from a life of sin to a life of righteousness. Of course this does not mean that we will live a life of sinless perfection. It means we can’t keep on living in sin, as we once did while we were unsaved. Salvation is the process of turning from darkness to light, from death to life, from sin to righteousness. Salvation means that we should never consider continuing on in sin, even though God’s grace is greater than all our sin (see Romans 6:1).

That’s a sobering thought! The gospel is about sinners who are turned from sin to righteousness. It is one of the greatest comforts for the Christian. What we were as unbelievers, we are not now as Christians. Our sins of the past are not only forgiven, they are forgotten by God. God doesn’t treat us like felons on parole. The Christian who was once a thief is not just an ex-thief; he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, replaced by a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). What we once were as an unbeliever, we will never be again. No sinner is too far gone for God to save.

Paul had a very different view of the relationship of the past to the present than that popularly held by many psychologists and psychiatrists today. In the psychological world of our day, what one was in the past determines what he is in the present. This is why so much time and money is spent digging up the past. It makes a great excuse for sin in the present. Paul’s thinking was just the opposite for Christians. What we were in the past does not determine what we are today, because the cross of Christ separates us not only from our sins but from our past. Christ stands between us in the present and us as we were in the past. What we were is not what we are. The cross of Christ is the reason why we can be now what we were not then. Christians cannot and must not be crooks. It is not because Christians cannot sin, but because they must not sin. For a Christian to be a crook is for a person to return to that wicked state from which he or she was delivered by the grace of God in Christ.

When we were saved, we were completely saved, severed from our past identity and given a new identity. We were washed, cleansed of our sin and our guilt. We were sanctified, set apart from sin unto holiness. We were justified, legally declared righteous through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed to us by faith. All of this transpired in the name of Jesus Christ.

Paul rebuked the Corinthian saints for failing to resolve their disputes with one another within the church. Paul wanted his readers to see the folly of taking spiritual matters before unbelievers, who have no grasp of the real issues. Paul knew, as the Corinthians should have known, that the legal system deals with the protection of men’s rights and the seeking of one’s self-interest, while the gospel is about the surrender of one’s rights and the seeking of the best interests of others. If the dispute cannot be resolved within the church, Paul advocated that the offended party suffer the loss, for the sake of the gospel. In no case should any Christian think that breaking the laws of man or God is something a person can continue after coming to faith in Christ, as though this doesn’t matter. Crooks do not go to heaven. Only saints do.

Why did Paul take this situation in Corinth so seriously? He was gentler with them over condoning sexual immorality in the church than he was about lawsuits between Christians. The issue is the unity of the church, the body of Christ. The church is one body, and believers are all brothers. The focus of each believer is to build up the body of Christ, which means that he must build up individual believers. Taking a fellow-believer to court is not what building up is about. Generally, we take another person to court to take him apart. The church is a temple, the dwelling place of a holy God. To destroy the temple by attacking its members is to invite divine destruction (3:16-17). Lawsuits in Corinth were a denial of the gospel. To continue to act as we formerly did as sinners denies the radical change the gospel makes. We were sinners; we are now saints, a holy nation, declaring the excellencies of Him who saved us (1 Peter 2:1-11). As Christians, we cannot persist in thinking and acting as we formerly did, apart from Christ.

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