Summary: We’re to live such lives of purity that we glorify God not just with our words but with our whole bodies. And as a church we’re to encourage one another to live lives of purity so that the church is strengthened in its purity, not weakened.
As you well know, the Governor-general has just been forced to resign over his failure to censor a priest who was guilty of sexual abuse of one of his parishioners. The Roman Catholic bishop of Phoenix has just been charged with obstructing the course of justice for protecting priests who were guilty of child sex abuse. The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne along with numbers of other dioceses are now instituting a whole range of processes to ensure that sexual abuse by clergy and others in authority doesn’t happen again and certainly is never covered up. And there are many more examples that I’m sure you could think of. So today’s passage has a timely ring about it.
There’s no doubt that this issue of high standards of morality for those in leadership is a burning one for the Church today. But of course those who shout the loudest about that issue, aren’t necessarily so vocal when it comes to the personal morality of the ordinary Christian in the pew.
So the question we need to consider as we look at today’s passage is what sort of standard of life, what level of moral behaviour, is expected of us as Christians? In fact, does it make any difference how we live?
You see, the Corinthians thought they were free to live however they liked, because Jesus’ death had set them free. They’d understood the message of the freedom of the gospel very clearly. They’d understood that Jesus’ death had removed the power of the law. So they thought that meant they could do what they liked.
Well, what do you think? Can we do what we like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else? That’s the message of the rest of the world isn’t it? It’s the message of the gay lobby. It’s the message of much of the mass media. If it feels good do it, as long as no-one gets hurt; or as long as it’s in the privacy of your own home. In fact you could probably say that for the past 30 or so years there have been no absolutes as far as moral behaviour is concerned. Except for the absolute of freedom of course.
I’ve even heard this sort of thing from a Christian leader who was justifying leaving his wife for another woman by saying love was what really mattered.
Many in the church today would justify their actions the way some of the Corinthians did. Look at 6:11&12. They were saying they were washed clean by Jesus death on the cross; they had received God’s spirit, so everything now was lawful. The old legalism of the Jewish religion had been taken away by the presence of God’s spirit within.
So what’s wrong with that sort of attitude?
Well, let’s look at why God’s word comes down so hard on immorality in the Church.
First, look at 5:6: "A little yeast leavens the whole loaf." In the Bible yeast is a symbol for uncleanness or evil. The reason it’s used as a symbol for evil is the fact that when you put even a small amount of yeast in a lump of dough it grows and grows until it affects the whole lump. So too, even a small amount of evil in a community can grow and grow until it affects the whole community. We have a similar idea in the proverb, "One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel." In the week before the passover the Jewish people celebrated the feast of unleavened bread. They’d clean out their houses of every trace of yeast as a symbol of the cleansing their lives required if they were to celebrate the passover with the sort of purity God required of them. That’s the idea behind fasting during the season of Lent. And it’s the idea here. The presence of immoral behaviour on the part of one member of the community will have an implication for the whole church because of the way such evil spreads to affect the whole community.
But he fills this out in 6:9: "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers -- none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." Again, there are those who would deny that God would reject people because of the way they behave. As though God wouldn’t care about people’s behaviour. Well, what do you think God thinks about people whose lifestyle exhibits those sorts of behaviour? I think his word is fairly clear about it. He doesn’t like it.
Mind you, let’s be careful here. We’re not talking about the behaviour of those who are outside the Kingdom of God. Look at 5:10. This is not addressed to those who are outside the church. If we’re addressing them we have deeper issues to approach them with, like their relationship with God and their response to Jesus Christ, long before we ask them about their lifestyle. This is the problem with people like Fred Nile pushing the cause of Christian morality on a world that has no basis for observing such morality. First they need to hear the message of the Lordship of Christ and of the grace and forgiveness offered to them by God in the gospel. Then they need to be brought into God’s presence where they’ll realise that only a purity of life fits their surroundings.