Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Does one bad apple really spoil the bunch? Can one good apple redeem the bad bunch?

There is in our culture an ancient yet conventional piece of wisdom. It is so ancient that it was part of the teachings of ancient Israel, but it is so conventional, that it was taught to all of us by our grade school and Sunday school teachers.

Our 3rd grade teacher probably put it to us as something like this: After making a glance at the class sociopath, she would look at the rest of the class and say, "Now you remember class, one rotten apple can spoil the whole bunch."

Now that is a common and surface expression of a deeper theological truth understood by ancient Israel, and that is -- put bluntly and plainly, "Human sinfulness is a public disease"

In other words, regardless of the impression that revivalist preachers have given us, it is not true to put sinfulness in purely individualistic terms.

Human sinfulness by definition infects and rots the fabric of the whole community.

Try for example, this hypothetical moral recipe. Take one group of honest people for whom truth telling comes innocently and naturally, add a dash of liars, shake well and allow to sit. What dish will result?

It will not be long before no one in the group will no longer know whom to believe, and it will not be long before someone in the group will blurt out loudly, "Philosophically speaking, what is truth any way?"

Human sinfulness by definition infects and rots the fabric of the whole community.

Take a nice school, and add just a few drug users. Even those who don’t use the drugs are affected by those who do, and the presence of the drugs infects the fabric of everyone’s relationship.

Take one nice, decent highway, add one drunk driver, and everyone on the road is potentially affected by that one driver.

Anytime you are trying to build a society, or a church, or a family, or a group, or a world -- it only takes a few rotten apples to mess it up for the rest of us.

Now the solution to that is simple enough, get rid of the wicked few.

And I suppose the Pharisees, the puritans, the holiness movement, the Ku Klux Klan and the Taliban, and most of us, have in their own time and in their own way have tried to do just that, but they have each failed.

Because they ran into another truth that Israel knew, and that is that you cannot get rid of sinfulness in a human community. There is just too much of it.

To try to do so is like stamping out a gasoline fire. The more you stamp, the more it spreads. And that means logically, that every community, and this community, will eventually move toward becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah. Which is not a pleasant thought.

That is why this story was so important to the ancient people. It was not just an amusing story about the Reno and Las Vegas of the old world and how those cities got what was coming to them.

Sodom and Gomorrah., were surprisingly enough, were not far fetched examples, but according to one Old Testament scholar, models for communities. So that is why when communities heard this story, they perked up their ears and listened.

It was also in this story that Old Abraham came up that rarest of all human discoveries, a new theological idea. Most theological ideas are not new, but this one was. In fact his new theological idea was so revolutionary and mind boggling, that he was both proud and embarrassed to have thought of it.

What if, he said, given the fact that the sinfulness of a few can destroy a good community, what if the economy of God can work the other way? What if the broken and wicked community can be saved and redeemed by a few good apples -- a few righteous.?

That was an idea so innovative, he took it to the source Himself. And when he did so, he did it was if he were the skinniest kid in the neighborhood, drawing a dare line for the toughest bully on the street.

"I know you are going to beat up on Sodom and Gomorrah, but suppose there are 50 righteous, would you step over that line and save them?"

The divine answer, and God step forward and said yes.

"What about 40?"




"20? 10?"


The mercy of God for the righteous is stronger than the punishment of God for the wicked.

But you know the outcome, Sodom comes up short and the prospect for the human community is a dim one indeed. And that is why for us and for ancient Israel, there should be an element of fear for what we need to do next. And that is to put this community in this story.

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