Should Christ followers hang out with sinners? Should we enjoy it? Jesus did. Let’s face it, sinners are a lot of fun to be with, are often loving and loyal friends, and are desperately loved by God. God loves sinners inside the church, too, but Paul tells us we shouldn’t spend time with, or even eat with anyone actively engaged in a lifestyle of sin who also calls him/herself a follower of Christ. Some reasons for this are given in my post on 1 Corinthians 5:1-8. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Paul gives us a better idea of the sort of sin he’s talking about.
Miniature tea set–the teapot is the size of a quarter.
Taking time to sit down with non-Christian friends (say, to tea 😉 ) is vital to the whole definition of being a Christian, and it’s important to remember that we’re appreciating them as friends, not as “prospects”, learning from them, and just enjoying their fellowship because we love them–not so we can put another “notch” on the spine of our bibles. If they never receive or even show any interest in Christ, they should and would still be our friends. That’s not to say we don’t share our lives with them as they share their lives with us–and our lives are in Christ.
Lots of Christians wonder, particularly in today’s lax moral environment, whether we should be friends with people involved in obvious sin–promiscuity and homosexuality come to mind. The answer is, Yes! Should we warn them about their sin? Probably not, in most cases. As long as we’re not “stealth” Christians in their presence–as long as they know Who we follow, our very presence in their lives will convict them of sin (and we pray, give them hope of something . . . Someone who can make their lives better). We might lovingly warn a drug abusing friend of his danger, or urge him (not nag him) to get help, or even tell him that real help comes from God alone, but we must avoid all appearances of judging him. It’s not the place of Christians to judge unbelievers–that’s in God’s hands. In the church, the situation is a little different.
Here, Paul clarifies his previous instructions; both those in 1 Cor 5:1-8 and others he had given in a previous letter (now lost). He had warned the Corinthians against associating with immoral people, and now wants to point out that he hadn’t been talking about immoral people in the world. He was talking about immoral people in the church. We would have to leave the world in order to avoid worldly people, but we should not associate with worldly Christians. The sins Paul mentions are sexual immorality, greed or covetousness, swindling others and worshipping idols. That covers a lot of ground, but I’m sure Paul is just mentioning a few examples. That’s not to say that we should be aware of illegal activities in our acquaintances, particularly actions harmful to others, and take no action. In many cases, it may be our duty to report crimes or even to protect a victim, but most of us don’t encounter that kind of conflict with our non-Christian friends and associates.
Some Christians do choose to actually leave the world, whether to live in some sort of remote commune, community, or culture (say an Abby or a Protestant Christian community or Amish or similar) or simply to keep to their Christian friends, Christian radio, Christian social events, etc., or to keep to their family, as it would be easy for me to do, since we live in a remote area. This isn’t really God’s plan for most of us. Though a retreat from the world for a time of prayer and seeking God might be beneficial, we need to return if we’re to be of any good to a world that desperately needs Jesus’ love.
So, we’re okay with sinners sinning, but not with those who claim to be brothers, while continuing to willfully sin. We’re not supposed to hang out with brothers or sisters who live in sin, or even eat with them. Obviously, Christians sin, and if you yield to the temptation to make a contemptuous remark to the driver who just turned into your lane without warning, that doesn’t mean you’ve just lost your salvation. You repent, God forgives you, and you try not to do that again (in His strength). You might even have to ask forgiveness of others around you, but that still doesn’t mean the church should cast you out. Paul is talking here about habitual, lifestyle, unrepentant sin. He even gives us a list.
- Sexual Immorality: Any sex outside marriage, whether pre-, extra-, casual, hetero-, homo-, safe, unsafe, loving, uncommitted, committed, sadistic, kinky, violent, or any other kind of sex outside marriage. Some kinds of sexual expression are condemned in any circumstances by the bible. Particularly mentioned in a number of passages is homosexuality. Other forms of sexual expression which we all agree are wrong, and are condemned by the general law of love (or in some cases specifically mentioned) would be abuse of children, incest, rape, beastiality, and other unnatural expressions. Jesus explicitly includes the “lustful” look under the category of adultery, which also indicts pornography of any kind.
- Greed or Covetousness: This is a hard one. Greed has been elevated to a virtue in our culture. So how do I decide what “greedy” consists of? Someone who has a bigger house than me? Someone with more, and more expensive toys than me? A greedy, covetous person wants to “keep up with the Joneses”, hates you because you have a new ATV, brags about that big screen TV he just bought to everyone who stands still long enough. A covetous person lives for the next new thing, girl/boy friend, vacation. A covetous person has his/her eyes on stuff (generally someone else’s stuff), and not on God. And that brings us to the next sin . . .
- Idolatry: Idolatry, as you will have heard, is more than just bowing down to a false god in the form of a statue. Covetousness can fall into the category of idolatry if it is strong enough. Putting your job before God, or your spouse before God, or your retirement savings before God, or even your ministry before God can all be forms of idolatry. As Edmond did after Aslan saved him in CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we must keep looking at the Lion (Jesus) and when we do that, everything else will fall into its proper place.
- Reviling: Reviling seems an awkward word to me, but I can’t really think of a more modern one that says the same thing. It means saying harsh, unloving, contemptuous things to and about other people. In cyberspace, one form might be trolling–the act of looking for people who disagree with you so you can say horrible and harassing things to them. If you’re one of those people who can shoot a stupid idea right out of the air with withering contempt that approaches an art form. Well . . . let’s just say God isn’t impressed. Even if the other guy is way wrong and spouting blithering heresy to boot, we’re to behave like God’s children. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell someone she’s wrong. Just do it with kindness and courtesy. God has called us to peace, and He is kind to the ungrateful. We will be, too, if we have His heart.
- Being a Drunkard: I don’t say, simply, drinking, because drinking alcohol, however you may feel about it or about what you personally should do about it, isn’t condemned for itself in the scriptures. Being drunk, however, is often condemned. I believe that, in this day, this sin would also include other recreational drugs (which are never okay, as they are illegal). Paul (and Solomon and others) calls this a sin, not a sickness. It can be a particularly heavy bondage and very difficult to gain triumph over, and we need to exercise compassion and patience with brothers or sisters caught in this (or any other) trap of sin as they struggle to escape. A satisfied substance abuser with no desire, motivation, and making no effort to become free is another matter. Such a one is bringing dishonor to God and contamination to God’s church.
- Being a Swindler: A swindler is a thief or robber, whether a con-artist, dishonest businessman, pickpocket, or housebreaker or bank robber. Simply put, taking that which doesn’t belong to you. God is not amused, even if you feel you deserve to own the thing/money/promotion/fill-in-the-blank more than the other guy.
It’s not for Christ followers to judge the world, but we are commanded to judge each other’s actions (not motivations–see 1 Cor 4:3-4). God judges outsiders–so, Paul says, Put those unrepentent sinners out of your midst. They’re not true brothers and sisters, and they pollute the body of Christ by pretending to be a part of it.
What would happen if we (the Church) actually did this in a kind but firm manner? For starters, we’d probably lose our tax exempt status, and they’d be trash talking about us on CBS, and we’d have people marching around outside carrying signs. And, we would regain a reputation for purity (genuine purity–not the politically correct kind of purity) and we would stop dishonoring the name of Jesus.
But what about ministering to unbelievers? Can we not even invite unbelieving friends to church? Yes, of course we can. But those who call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ must live like it in order to be accepted as fellow believers. If sin is tolerated in the body, it will (and does) make the whole body sick. This does not exclude mercy, by the way. For the satisfying conclusion of this story, check out 2 Corinthians 2:1-11.
May God’s Grace and Peace follow you.